Caring about what you do

This week we have a guest post from David DeBrot, Manager of the Learning Skills Unit, RMIT Vietnam. The team at LSU run a blog ( with a focus on the student experience of tertiary study.

Visit the blog and watch a video they created to explain their role on campus here

Fruit stacked at a market, Vung Tau

Fruit stacked at a market, Vung Tau, (cc)

‘An organization is not an entity of its own – it is a group of individuals.’

It’s a strength, not a weakness

What is it that separates people with talent and opportunity who achieve quality outcomes from those who also have talent and opportunity but don’t achieve in the same ways? I would suggest it’s the ‘C’ word – care (that is, to feel interest or concern). To care is the god particle of human enterprise – it makes all other individual effort possible.

The quote above is from my former colleague and it continues to follow me around campus, to meetings, during informal discussions and in response to e-mails. It remains with me because of its power in recognizing the potential of individuals to enact real change at any organization, universities included. I also see it in the team I work with – they talk about what they care about and the change they want to see. And a big part of making any change happen is caring that it does happen.

But it hurts

Caring about what you do is frequently self-eroding. A quick thought experiment can illustrate this. Imagine you care about something getting done well. Would you put more effort into it? Would you have high expectations for the outcomes of your effort? And if you became even more invested in the outcome and your level of caring increased, would the levels of effort and expectation increase as well?

Your answer, combined with the philosopher Seneca’s view on anger, reveals an interesting conclusion. If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, consider Seneca’s definition of anger: it is the gap or distance between your expectations and reality. Meaning, if you care and your expectations increase and reality doesn’t match these, then you may be disappointed or angry and hesitate to care more in future.

Caring hurts sometimes, but it can also make ‘work’ a lot less – well – work. It can make your 9-5 more enjoyable, easier to invest in and more rewarding. Rather than occupying a significant part of your day and week with activities whose outcomes you may not have much interest in, the same time could be spent engaging in these activities with effort you genuinely expect to deliver some positive outcomes – be it intrinsic or extrinsic. This could shift your experience of ‘work’ from a (perhaps unpleasant) distraction from things in life you really care about to a spectrum of what you care about, made up partly of your working hours, which can be rewarding professionally, personally or both.

It takes a village

Being able to care does require some tending from others. First, feeling that others above you and next to you also care about similar things – and dare I say it – you. If no one seems bothered about what you’re doing or how well you do it, then your interest in investing more energy will likely decrease. Often this isn’t the case and people do care about what you’re working on, but they are afraid to say so. See this Harvard Business Review article for the commonplace of negativity at work and the importance of appreciation.

Second, we must observe that cynicism is not a norm in our organization. In other words, we need to see that the majority of the people around us can be open, frank and realistic when discussing an idealistic or optimistic future goal or vision without also being expected to snark and naysay. And when we demonstrate our care for a project or issue, we need others to recognize this.

Third, we must have a good model. Someone who is comfortable speaking about their own care or commitment on an issue and attempts to get other people to do the same. It helps if this person is also in a supervisory or leadership role and is aware enough of their own actions and context to avoid causing people not to care.

But what if they just don’t care

  • Don’t waste time caring about people who clearly don’t care. Perhaps they don’t know what they’re doing at your organization or why they’re there. This could be a cause for their apparent lack of care.
  • Be aware of your expectations – if you are contributing a lot more care and effort than others, there is likely to be a gap between your expectations of the outcomes and reality. A healthy trimming of expectations may reduce disappointment later and reserve your energy and care for other areas or projects.
  • Talk with those you are working with about what you do care about as individuals and a group. Language such as ‘invested’, ‘interested’ and ‘matters to me’ can be used if ‘care’ is too touchy-feely for you.
  • Ask people directly if they care about something. See what happens. You can always rephrase with ‘Do you want (x,y,z) to succeed?’, ‘Are you interested in this?’, ‘Does it bother you if this doesn’t succeed?’.
  • Caring is a strength not a weakness – be ready for warfare from those who are cynical, consistently negative or combative – The Art of War and The Prince are two particularly useful books for anyone in any organization who may come up against these types.
  • It is often easier to make someone not care than to care. Be careful that you are not willingly doing the former as both are infectious.

If you accept causal determinism, and that caring about something leads to greater effort, then the link between how we act on what we care about and the result seems to be strong. Given that universities are working largely with ideas and people, it would be hard to confine or measure just how far your care and the results can travel.

If you’ve read this far, it seems you care – at least a little. And now you’ve just got to show it.

Share your thoughts and comments below!

What does ‘Work readiness’ mean in a creative discipline?

Posted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

It’s only natural that some of RMIT’s six graduate attributes (Work-readyGlobal in outlook & competenceEnvironmentally aware & responsiveCulturally & socially awareActive & lifelong learnersInnovative) align in different ways to different programs. Educators and policy-makers at RMIT have always acknowledged a ‘complex conception’ of these attributes; in short, that they mean different things in different disciplines. Fine art students, for instance, can be seen as work-ready graduates, having been through a degree structure which is studio-based and involves the continual feedback and critique of artists (peers, lecturers and visiting industry professionals). Their study years prefigure the life of a working artist.

But I now have another convincing position about employment prospects in fine arts with the recent expansion of the internship program in the School of Art:

VART3510: This is a Work Integrated Learning course designed to facilitate a practical working relationship between you and selected arts and cultural organisations. You will participate in an internship or artist in residence program in an arts or cultural organisation, company, festival, gallery, museum or studio, through dual negotiation with the industry and School. You will be expected to work as negotiated by the host organisation, to address and solve real issues in an arts industry workplace environment.

Open Day always buzzes with energy and eagerness for the RMIT School of Art offerings. It is an opportunity for students to ask questions directly to faculty. One stands out; maybe because answering it with certainty tended to be quietly problematic. The question, framed in all sorts of ways, is essentially: “What employment opportunities exist for me when I complete my fine art degree?”

Foremost on my mind was the employment prospects for graduates referred to in a recent post on ArtsHub: “…only 2%, will make a decent living from it (an art practice), the rest will usually have to supplement their earnings as artists with a second or third income, and even then they will earn less than most people” (Isbel, 2012). 

Investigating further, I found supporting evidence in the report published by Australia Council for the Arts titled: “What’s your other job?”, a census analysis of arts employment in Australia (2010).  This report states that the average annual income for visual artists occupations in 2006 was $31,200.  More recent figures from the Graduate Careers Australia (2011) state the median salary for Bachelor Graduates for visual/performing arts is now around $40,000 (under 25 years of age it reduces to $38,000).

On Open Day, I preferred to follow along these lines:

  • Our highly qualified staff train students to: practice as a professional artist; work in a studio; exhibit locally, nationally, internationally (with Artist-run Initiatives, commercial galleries, public spaces); apply for funding, commissions and residencies opportunities; enter major art awards and contribute to the ever-expanding arts and creative industries.
  • You may go on to further study ie. Honours, Masters or PhD. Often I needed to elaborate why they would wish to do this; according to the Graduate Careers Australia, in 2011 the median salary for artists with further study increased to $50,000
  • Teaching is a real option with good employment prospects.  Here’s a brief overview:
  1. Secondary teaching – you will require a Diploma of Education in addition to your Bachelor degree
  2. TAFE – you require industry experience, an established art practice and a Certificate IV Training and Assessment
  3. HE academic and research positions – you will require industry experience and an established art practice, as well as devoting a substantial period of time to postgraduate studies (MA or PhD).  In addition, all ongoing HE staff now require a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning and quality contributions to the body of knowledge in your specialist area.

Regarding ‘industry experience’ – this may encompass the arts industry, the creative industry and cultural industry. This can be confusing and clarification was often requested from the prospective students (and their parents). Regarding an ‘established art practice’ – this requires dedication to practice and generally a significant outlay of money to establish an artist profile so, in the meantime, most will probably need another job…

Introducing the internship opportunities seemed to be well placed at this point. Keeping in mind that most of the aspiring fine art graduates will not make a living from their work but instead need to be realistic about what related professional position is best able to complement their practice, if indeed they wish to practice. Students need some time to consider where are the graduate skills and knowledge best placed in the industry and identify at an early point in their study, what skills and knowledge they need to develop to meet industry needs.

So, back to Open Day, in the last couple of years I have been able to continue with something like this:

  • In your final year, we offer an arts internship program that helps position you in a related field of work (that may serve to complement your practice).  Preparations can begin as early as first year:

VART3510: Learning in this course is primarily ‘on-the-job’, complimented by a series of tutorials and workshops aimed at assisting you in identifying and developing employability skills, develop an awareness of the arts and creative industries and workplace culture, prepare for placement and be able to demonstrate reflective processes in response to the experience.

I was enthusiastically engaged in expanding the internship program for students over the last two years to better prepare a higher number of undergraduate students for industry related employment and professional practice. Enrolment numbers have tripled in this time, the interest continues to grow and real employment outcomes are possible for students. In many cases students who have completed their placement continue relationships with their chosen host.

Informing our prospective students and first year students of the placement opportunities begins the discussion around career planning and identifying employability skills. From first year, students can prepare with industry-related volunteer positions, making contact with RMIT Student Services for Work and Careers resources, leadership (LEAD) and mentorship programs.

My hope is that the course continues to strengthen, providing more opportunities for students to meet RMIT’s graduate attributes. Work-readiness and its allied principle of career development should be seen as a uniting principle in the learning and teaching strategy. There is more work to do in establishing richer relationships with hosts and a clearer picture of how industry would like to work with us.

For the majority of art students who are not able to ‘make it’ as a professional artist, (remembering that this may only be the first phase of life, and of their artistic lives, after their university study) it’s important to have a solid plan in place to build confidence and prepare them well to contribute to the culture that nurtures art practice.

Share your ideas about internships, work readiness or any of RMIT’s graduate attributes in the comments below!


Stuart Cunningham, Peter Higgs, Simon Freebody and Peter Anderson (2010), What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney

David Throsby and Virginia Hollister (2003), Don’t give up your day job: an economic study of professional artists in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney

Paul Isbel (2012), What it takes to become an artist for keeps, artsHub

Australia Council of the Arts

Australian Association of Graduate Employers Ltd

Graduate Careers Australia

Arts Hub Australia

RMIT Graduate Attributes

RMIT Strategic Plan 2011-2015

RMIT Academic Plan

Work and Careers at Student Services

A scientific take on teaching improvement

Guest Post by Dr Kylie Murphy, Academic Development Group, College of Science Engineering and Health.

A group of students dissect a fish.

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

As the College of Science, Engineering and Health’s new Inclusive Teaching and Assessment specialist, it’s perhaps fitting that I lean towards science-based teaching and learning advice; that is, advice based on experimentally derived empirical evidence. This post is not a lesson in scientific method and I am not arguing that scientifically validated knowledge is the only valuable type of knowledge. I would however like to highlight a few practices that the best available empirical research in education has shown, repeatedly and consistently, improves student achievement — including in mathematics and the sciences. Drawing heavily on Professor John Hattie’s (2009) meta-analytic work, I’m offering only the bare bones here. If your interest is piqued, you’ll need to pursue the fleshy details for yourself!

Not wanting to get bogged down in statistical jargon, it’s worth noting that to be deemed a large ‘effect size’, the improvement in student achievement needs to be greater than the effect of ‘typical teacher’ practice. Large effect sizes usually indicate that, compared to the norm, a greater proportion of students progressed and they progressed considerably.  Now, the bony synopsis…

Classroom climate

In the category of classroom environment, the largest positive ‘effect’ on student achievement comes from environments that are welcoming of students and their errors. This is presumably because emotionally safe climates promote effort and risk-taking.

Curriculum design

On the matter of curriculum design, the findings are very consistent and transcend subject boundaries. The most important attribute is ‘balance’ between learning objectives that focus on increasing ‘surface knowledge’ (e.g., memorisable definitions and facts) and those concerned with ‘deep understanding’ (e.g., where the focus is on finding relationships between concepts, inferring hypotheses, identifying patterns and themes, generating arguments, and exploring useful applications). Not surprisingly, focusing too much on one and too little on the other has a minimal effect on student learning.

Students in an RMIT lab

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

Specific teacher practices

There are many practices known to increase student achievement. These include having high expectations (i.e., not prejudging students), building and maintaining positive teacher-student relationships, undertaking regular professional development, paying genuine attention to learning objectives, formulating clear success criteria, setting challenging tasks, providing clear explanations and examples, providing opportunities for guided practice followed by constructive feedback, and continually seeking feedback from students as to the effectiveness of one’s teaching.

The biggest contributing factor is…

The biggest contributors to greater achievement appear to be not what the teacher does but what they get their students to do. For example, in more effective mathematics classes students are encouraged to be active in exploring potential solutions for most of the time (with as much or as little teacher assistance as is necessary), to go beyond the successful solution to the problem to include the interpretation of the solution, and to be diligent in frequently checking the quality of their work.

Students measuring water quality

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

You may be wondering what measures of achievement were used in the 800 meta-analyses (i.e., thousands of individual studies) on which the above generalisations are based. You may wonder how the ‘effect sizes’ were calculated. You may have any number of bones to pick! For the answers, and a few concessions, grab yourself a copy of Hattie’s (2009) ‘Visible Learning’ published by Routledge, and read Chapter 2.

In conclusion

What’s important to know is that a great many studies converge to support the above principles of effective teaching. While even more effective strategies may be yet to be scientifically studied, and more scientific research on effective teaching is sorely needed, it is noteworthy that teaching practices with the largest effect sizes in individual studies tend to be similarly effective across studies involving different subjects, student ages, and student demographics.

Whether we look to experimental evidence or other forms of evidence about what makes teaching effective for most students, universities must invest in the pursuit of this evidence and invest in their teachers. More than ever before, universities need to provide evidence-based training, resources, and support to enable academics to maximise learning and achievement for the increasingly diverse students entering our increasingly competitive higher education sector.


Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

More information about Hattie can be found at and our own Tom Coverdale’s terrific discussion paper on Inclusive Teaching, which draws on Hattie’s work, can be found at;ID=s1ket45y2qrb

Share your thoughts about improving the quality of learning and teaching in our comments section!

RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo Preview

Guest Post by Diana Cousens, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching Unit, RMIT.

Opens a link to the program for RMIT's Learning & Teaching Expo 2012

Click on the nautilus shell see the full program!

Transforming the Learning Experience is the theme of RMIT’s Learning and Teaching Expo this year. Held over four mornings from 27 August to Thursday 30 August 2012, the Expo will host speakers and offer seminars and workshops of national relevance to the higher education and also VET sectors.

Each morning is dedicated to a particular specialisation in learning and teaching and includes speakers and practitioners from RMIT, other universities and important members of organisations such as TEQSA and OLT (formerly ALTC). With the theme of Transforming the Learning Experience it is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we might enhance the student experience and re-imagine our teaching using a range of innovations including our new learning spaces and RMIT’s global presence.

Come along and hear from our invited keynote speakers about what is happening in the tertiary education sector, hear what your colleagues have done to improve student learning outcomes and bring along your own experiences or questions for discussion time.

The Expo runs from 9.00 to 1.00 with lunch from 1.00 to 2.00.

You could also win an iPad! You’ll be in the running for an iPad just by filling out a short feedback sheet.

Register to attend at: login required).

Date: Monday, 27 August – Thursday 30 August

Venue: Storey Hall and Bundoora campuses.

On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday the Expo will be held in the City Campus at Storey Hall and on Wednesday it will be held at the Bundoora Campus.

Day 1: New rules of the game
Monday 27 August
Storey Hall, City campus
Keynote 1: TEQSA and the new regulatory environment
Ms Lucy Schulz
Executive Director, Regulation and Review Group, TEQSA

Keynote 2: AQF, TEQSA and ASQA – Simple acronyms with far reaching consequences
Professor Geoff Crisp
Dean, Learning and Teaching, RMIT

Day 2: Teaching for all
Tuesday 28 August
Storey Hall, City campus
Keynote: Inclusive teaching in Australian higher education: Findings from a national study
Professor Marcia Devlin
Open University Australia

Day 3: Access all areas
Wednesday 29 August
Building 224, Bundoora campus
Keynote: An Education ‘In’ Facebook
Professor Matthew Allen
Head of Department, Internet Studies, Curtin University

Day 4: Engaging globally
Thursday 30 August
Storey Hall, City campus
Parallel Sessions with Vietnam – Saigon South & Hanoi
David DeBrot
Landon Carnie
Chi Le Phuong
Kieran Tierney
Minh Nguyen Duc
RMIT Vietnam

We look forward to seeing you there!

Applying for a teaching award next year? Start collecting your evidence this semester.

Apple in front of a 2013 calendar

(cc) Flickr: dscblogphotos

Posted by: Kym Fraser, L&T Group, Design and Social Context College, RMIT.

People apply for teaching awards for a range of reasons, including recognition for their teaching and academic promotions application evidence. Writing an application usually takes a bit of thought, time and effort. However, there are benefits to doing so. The process of writing an application provides an opportunity to reflect on your teaching and reassess what you are doing, the work that goes into your application also may be of use in a promotions application, and of course your teaching award application may be successful!

Successful applications for teaching awards usually tell a compelling story and are backed up with substantial and varied evidence. While you may be able to write an application in a weekend, the evidence is usually collected over several semesters or years. It’s useful to think in advance about the story that you are going to tell through your application so that you can make sure that you collect evidence that will support your story.

The story

Who you are and what you are trying to achieve with your students needs to come through in the first page of your application. You need to tell the reader a story that sets the context and scene. Keep in mind that the person assessing your application may not know anything about your discipline, your students or even your institution if the application is for a national award. You will need to provide a fair amount of contextual data within the first page (or less depending on the page limit for the application).

An individual’s story can be told in different ways. Often it is framed in terms of a problem. Below are two quite different examples from academics who have successfully applied for an ALTC (now OLT) Teaching Citation (names have been changed).

Violet teaches ‘voice’ to students at a small university. Her story was framed in terms of comparing her teaching with her peers who teach at major metropolitan universities in a conservatorium of music. Her peers teach up to six students in their classes and all of their students have completed voice exams up to level 6. Violet teaches up to 25 students in her classes, many of whom have never taken a voice class let alone completed an exam. Violet’s application shows how she chose a very different teaching approach from the one that she experienced as a student. The approach chosen was based upon the particular needs of her very different group of students.

Ben took over the teaching of a core economics subject for first-year business students. Most of his students would study economics for only the first year and then major in a different discipline (management, marketing etc). Ben found that his students didn’t attend classes and the failure rate for the subject was very high in the years leading up to when he took over the subject. Ben taught the subject as it had been taught and collected attendance and pass rate data. He then changed the curriculum, significantly improving both class attendance and the pass rate. Ben’s application tells the story of the transformation of the student experience through a complete update of the curriculum and assessment process.

You need to tell your own story and help the assessor to understand your particular context, students and what you are trying to achieve with them.


It’s likely that you will have to include student evaluation data for which you won’t have a lot of space, so you may need to summarise it in a way that makes sense. For example, if you were making the case that you improved the curriculum incrementally over time, you could use a table showing improvement for specific questions on end of semester student evaluations (Table 1). Or if you were showing that the curriculum you developed fosters certain learning outcomes for students, you may use a table to show excellent student evaluations in the unit over time (Table 2). You may also use student comments judiciously throughout the application to good effect; but it is advisable not to use more than three or four.

Table 1. First year student evaluations in NUR107 over 3 years

Questions 2010 2011 2012
The lecturer encouraged students in this unit to reflect on their personal learning 3.27 4.39 4.7
My experience in this unit has encouraged me to accept greater responsibility for my own learning 3.54 4.24 4.6

Table 2. Third year student evaluations in ED322

Questions 2010 2011 2012
The content of this unit contributed constructively to my learning of the subject 4.89 4.78 4.92
My experience in this unit has increased my confidence in my ability to teach science 4.76 4.84 4.72

Data- necessary but not sufficient

Your student evaluation data will need to be supported by other evidence. The evidence that you collect and use in your application will depend upon your story and what achievements you are trying to show.  It is likely that you will also be asked to demonstrate peer recognition of your teaching. Your evidence might include things like:

  • student results from national competitions
  • learning and teaching grants and publications and citations of these publications
  • awards from your profession’s national or state body
  • testimonials from community groups/companies/schools/hospitals et cetera, at which your students have completed their practicum or volunteered
  • testimonials about the influence of your teaching from students who have gone on to be successful in their field
  • testimonials from colleagues from your discipline or university who have adopted some of your teaching ideas/approaches.

You might also include that you are:

  • your School’s representative on the Faculty/University teaching and learning committee
  • a teaching and learning award assessment panel member
  • a reviewer for an L&T journal
  • an editor for an L&T journal
  • a member of a state or national discipline committee.

You should also mention instances where you have:

  • reviewed another university’s program
  • run a workshop on an aspect of your teaching for your school/department/faculty/university
  • given a keynote address at a teaching and learning conference
  • examined honours/masters/Ph.D theses.

As you can see, applying for a teaching award requires you to thoughtfully collect relevant evidence over a period of time. Your teaching and learning deputy head of school or your academic development advisor will be able to help you as you begin to plan for your teaching application.