Reimagined avenue for student feedback unearthing transformative teaching approaches

Reimagined avenue for student feedback unearthing transformative teaching approaches

Design Studies Lecturer Dr Rachel Jahja explores alumni perspectives on student experience to uncover teaching practices that positively impact students' learning journey and career.

Dr Rachel Jahja is a Lecturer in Design Studies within the School of Communication and Design at RMIT Vietnam. She’s committed to fostering an empowering and transformative student-centred teaching approach. 

Holding the belief that there was more pedagogical potential in exploring what constitutes an authentic connection between a tertiary learner and teacher, Rachel sought to understand the key qualities and attributes that make a tertiary lecturer memorable from the perspective of alumni in creative disciplines. 

By employing a more qualitative approach than what was available through the Course Experience Survey,  

Rachel’s research investigated the values, attributes and approaches among teachers that contribute to positive university learning experiences that stay with students long after their tertiary education journey and into their careers. 

Why did you bring this research-based approach to inform approaches to L&T in the course?  

Currently, educators base their teaching practice on and shape their courses around CES results. The core issue with this process is that students, when they engage with CES, are still in the midst of their courses and are undertaking final assignments. So, they haven’t had the opportunity to critically reflect on their course experience.   

So, for an educator that values good teaching practice and wants to make an impact on the lives of students – connect with them, empower them, create a quality teaching experience for them – the CES platform does not provide thorough data to discover what students need to do so. 

This prompted me to find another avenue to gain deeper insights into the qualities of what makes good teaching for a quality learning experience: alumni.   

Can you explain your research process? How did you go about it?   

This study employed a qualitative research approach, using content analysis to analyse data collected from electronic transcripts of surveys conducted through the Qualtrics online survey platform.  

NVivo software was utilised to identify patterns and themes in the data, with manual analysis also used for confirmation. The online survey was distributed through the researcher's LinkedIn profile, with an anonymous opt-in invitation.  

It included a combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions, covering topics related to the research questions, as well as biographical details about the participants and their influential educators. 

Participants were required to hold a tertiary certificate in a creative discipline and to be currently or previously employed in a creative field.  

They needed to be able to reflect on a tertiary educator who had a significant impact on their life during and after university.  

The study aimed to have a minimum of twenty participants to ensure diverse data from an international group of practitioners and to minimize potential cultural bias. 

The open-ended survey questions were designed to gather information about patterns and themes in creative practitioners' perceptions of transformative experiences during their university studies, the qualities and methods of tertiary lecturers that influenced lifelong learning, vocational influences, and personal influences that had a transformative effect on creative practitioners. 

Thinking about your research, what findings did it deliver, and how have these influenced delivery of learning and teaching in your course?  

The study generated three sets of findings.  

Firstly, findings identified five core teaching methods and approaches used by influential tertiary educators, including effective communication, active facilitation, motivation, nurturing support, and inspiring passion for the discipline.  

Secondly, findings revealed that personal transformative educator attributes included being supportive, invested, a motivator, sincere, and passionate, while professional transformative attributes encompassed critical thinking, professional dedication, effective communication, creativity, clarity in skill instruction, high intellectual knowledge, and leadership skills.  

And finally, findings indicated that transformative educators influenced students by promoting increased respect, empathy, openness, good professional conduct, and ongoing self-development. Professionally, they provided core knowledge, career guidance, ongoing support, and practical workforce strategies. 

In terms of the findings informing my teaching approach and providing insights to disseminate to other design education lecturers, study findings suggested that authentic teaching and learning should mirror a sincere expression of oneself and can lead to transformative learning experiences, underscoring the importance of personal development and comprehension. Moreover, critical self-reflection by students during the learning process is essential and can be promoted through course evaluations. 

Professional transformative educator attributes encompassed critical thinking, professionalism, effective communication, creativity, clarity in skill instruction, a high level of intellectual knowledge, and leadership skills. Educators were encouraged to lead by example in demonstrating these attributes. 

The study also delved into the personal impact of educators on practitioners' later lives, emphasising the importance of increased respect, empathy, openness, good professional conduct, and ongoing self-development. Recommendations for educators involved providing opportunities for students to reflect on their learning experiences. 

Concerning professional influences, educators were regarded as mentors and guides, offering essential knowledge, career guidance, continuous support, and practical workforce strategies. Recommendations for educators comprised staying updated on industry knowledge, offering diverse career advice. 

Scholarly practice is an important element of an educator's professional progress, can you reflect on how through this project you've engaged in scholarly practice? 

Scholarly practice is an integral part of my pedagogical and professional development. In engaging with this research, my intention was to explore the potential benefits of improving authentic-transformative teaching and learning practices and to offer recommendations to creative tertiary educators.  

These recommendations were intended for educators seeking to evaluate, develop, or adjust their current teaching methods to align with more transformative and authentic approaches.  

The goal was to enhance student-educator relationships, which could influence both the present and future personal and professional development of creative students and practitioners. 

Although this study will be published as a chapter in a book on authentic teaching and learning in tertiary education where the findings will be disseminated to a wider academic community, my personal takeaway from this research was more practical.  

When in a classroom, I still try to be a moving communicator and expert of knowledge in my field, but I also pay as much homage to the value of being a facilitator, motivator, nurturer and inspirer to increase my chances of enhancing the potential positive connections I might make for creating a long-lasting transformative student-centred authentic learning.  

Rachel's upcoming projects

Rachel’s research is part of a collective effort of researchers from RMIT Vietnam who came together for a Learning & Teaching initiative exploring the role of authenticity in teaching and learning. 

The research is expected to be published in a book titled “Authenticity in Teaching and Learning”, edited by Glen O’Grady, with a publication date of 2023/2024. 

Rachel has also developed the app ‘Revealing your inner Designer’ that is an educational tool to support first year university students in art, design and architecture-related subjects transition into university.  

The app aligns to the core of her research and pedagogical practice as a transformative digital tool that debunks the notion students commence university as 'blank slates' and supports students to reflect on their lifetime of experiences to realise their unique identity and help them commence their journey as designers in the making.  


About the Author 

Dr Rachel Jahja is an Australian multidisciplinary designer and academic specialising in spatial design theory and practice. Rachel has over ten years experiencing teaching in design and interior architecture in Sydney and Saigon. Her multidisciplinary background in philosophy, psychology, product, interiors, design and architectural theory are integral to her teaching and publishing in design pedagogy. Rachel is currently the co-lead of the Creativity, Heritage and Society Research Cluster and chair of the Sustainability committee at RMIT School of Communication & Design, Vietnam.

14 November 2023


14 November 2023


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.