Posted by: Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.
Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.
With the project team busy working on things behind the scenes, on Friday 7 June, Professor James Arvanitakis launched the Inclusive Teaching Conversation Series, sharing his experiences of life at university. The stories and experiences he shared with us started from his first day at university. As a first in family student, he recounted how he sat through his first lecture (for film studies, which wasn’t one of his courses) and, based on the advice of his mother, carried both his passport (so people knew who he was) and a container of lamb to feed new friends.
His first year wasn’t brilliant in terms of grades and it would be fair to say that after being called into the Dean’s office (where it was suggested he might be better following his father’s footsteps into a trade) a young James could have been part of that statistic we call ‘attrition’. Luckily for us (and his current students) James completed his studies and after an early career that involved stretches in the finance and not-for-profit sectors, he returned to university for postgraduate study and eventually to teach.
He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year in 2012, and now teaches into large classes at University of Western Sydney where the student cohort is culturally diverse and where a large percentage of students are also the first in their family to attend university.
James’ focus on the student is evident in almost everything he speaks about. By donning his pirate eye patch, he challenges conventional delivery techniques and has introduced new strategies which he continually tweaks including the use of social media. Alongside his research and publication interests, he keeps his teaching material current and engages with his students by letting them use their language to unpack topics such as gender and racism.
It got me thinking about my first experience of tertiary education, moving from assisting academics and researchers doing field work, to becoming a mature-aged student sitting in a lecture theatre listening to the theories of Freud. As a mature-aged student, I thought I understood what it meant to study. I thought I would fly through my degree and its assessments. But the reality was quite different. I remember the pressures of working part-time (to pay my mortgage, student fees and to eat!), learning how to write an essay and understanding that I was expected to interact with my lecturers and ask questions. Along with assignments, group work and
becoming a critical thinker I was also trying to maintain some sort of a social life. And if you’d asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, little did I know that some of the position descriptions I’ve ended up with didn’t exist in 1987. The same can be said for this student cohort, will they walk into a job after graduation that didn’t exist 10 years ago?
Sitting in the workshops that accompanied the launch and observing James’ teaching, he modelled many of the principles for inclusive teaching during each of the workshops. So for those of you who have not accessed the new pages, I would strongly suggest that you visit each of the principles and its supporting strategies. The strategies can be used for you in two ways, as a guide to help you design your practice to ensure that it’s inclusive or as a tool to reflect upon and refine your teaching:
As a project team, we invite staff in each of the three colleges to share with us any resources that you have developed which reflect inclusive teaching approaches and if you would like to be involved in promoting or working alongside the project team to incorporate inclusive teaching strategies into your teaching we encourage you to make contact with us!
Don’t forget that you can find the rubrics on the English Language Development Project page in the Teaching Resources area of the RMIT staff webpage. Please contact Barbara Morgan at the Study and Learning Centre for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All photos in this post are © RMIT University. Photographer: Carmelo Ortuso.
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