Two Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning will be awarded to three RMIT teachers as part of the annual Australian Teaching Awards for University Teaching on 12 October.
Dr Stephen Gaunson and Dr Alexia Kannas will be awarded for development and facilitation of an innovative, flexible and applied Cinema Studies major that empowers students from diverse disciplines to become critical thinkers and practitioners.
Dr Nicky Eshtiaghi will be awarded for a creative, adaptive and inclusive approach that enables chemical engineering students to become successful learners and develop into ethical professionals.
For Gaunson and Kannas, the citation acknowledges the hard work they’ve been doing in the Cinema Studies major over a number of years.
Kannas described the hesitation students have had engaging with theory, often being unsure about what value it will add to their learning experience and future practice.
“Initially, many students perceive our discipline as an area with more ‘traditional’ academic conventions and practices than those associated with their other practice-oriented subjects,” she said.
“In response we developed a cohesive Major of Cinema Studies subjects into which students are able to bring their own interests and creative practices, as they undertake a journey from introductory critical analysis through to advanced reading in theory. ”
The flexible design of the course has enabled relevance and application across a range of disciplines. With social learning through collective screenings, it scaffolds skill development through a lens of cinema.
Students recognise and value the transferability of skills gained for diverse disciplines – and a course from the major has been selected as a key case study in an Australian Research Council-funded project.
Gaunson said, “The positive impact of our approach is clearly shown through sustained improvements to Student Course Experience Survey.
“In the time that the team has developed and co-facilitated it, the major has consistently achieved outstanding results on both Good Teaching and Overall Satisfaction scales, well above School and University averages.”
The pair are currently working on a series of publications which will allow them to connect their teaching approaches with teachers in both the national and international higher education community.
Also being awarded is Dr Nicky Eshtiaghi, a passionate believer in diversity, who is honoured “to be recognised as one of the top 89 teachers in the nation for doing something that is indeed a labour of passion and love”.
Eshtiaghi views difference as a resource that enriches learning in chemical engineering, but also understands its challenges.
“I believe all students should have the opportunity to develop their full potential. Many of our students face many challenges due to their diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and personal circumstances. So learning environment should be tailored based on their needs.”
Her inclusive strategies include design and facilitation of a safe learning environment; creative use of technology to offer multi-modal learning experiences; industry partnerships for professional learning and ethical practice; effective mentoring; and disciplinary and industry leadership.
Eshtiaghi hopes that these approaches will help ensure the “next generation of chemical engineers are adequately trained to become successful ethical professionals”.
Her contributions to learning and teaching and leadership in ethical and sustainable practice have resulted in excellent teaching evaluations as well as teaching, research and industry awards – receiving the 2017 Caltex Teaching Excellence Award, being named Victorian Professional Engineer of the Year in 2015 and receiving the ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions Award of Excellence in Chemical Engineering in 2014.
The Australian Teaching Awards for University Teaching national awards of $10,000 each recognise the contribution that individuals and teams make to enhance student learning outcomes in a specific area of responsibility over a sustained period, and encourage continued excellence in learning and teaching.
Story: Rhys Cranney