In week three of our finalists series, we get to know the early career academics at Macquarie who are already making a big impact in teaching and the sessional staff whose dedication to their students knows no limits.
Register to attend the Awards ceremony on 21 November and help us celebrate all of our Highly Commended finalists and winners.
Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Early Career Award
This award recognises staff for their quality teaching and support of learning and the impact they have on influencing, motivating and inspiring students to learn.
Maggie Lee, Department of Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics
Rarely is a situation black and white. Which is why Senior Lecturer Maggie Lee is inspired by industry to develop her students’ professional judgement before they attain their associate actuary qualification.
But using professional judgement to solve problems in risk and financial modelling for the first time is often daunting for students. To alleviate this, Lee develops a personalised ‘mutual learning community’, where students lead discussion and become ‘co-creators’ in their learning.
She invites guest lecturers from large financial institutions to showcase the breadth of actuarial problems – and to inspire students on their career journey. Industry practitioners also provide feedback on assignments to boost her students’ employability skills.
To make her teaching more relevant to emerging industry needs, Lee also designed a new curriculum that extends beyond traditional financial services contexts to modern technology contexts. This included creating Macquarie University’s first Actuarial Data Analytics unit.
“The pandemic has shown that it is now more important than ever to develop future business leaders who can use their professional judgement to be fearless, adaptable and innovative in an increasingly uncertain world.
Through my step-by-step guidance, it is incredibly rewarding when students start to confidently and persistently express their own ideas to an ever-changing business context and in turn, mature in their professional reasoning,” says Lee.
“I truly appreciate the space that Maggie has provided for students to provide their thoughts and insights in the discussions, where no student is deemed either right or wrong as the questions are often open‐ended.” – Macquarie student
Dr Foad Taghizadeh, School of Engineering
Dr Foad Taghizadeh “enthusiastically embraces” the biggest challenges facing his electrical engineering students: remembering complex material and a lack of practical experience.
To tackle this, he ‘flipped’ his classroom to create a more engaging learning environment, and implemented the ‘project-based learning’ approach to bridge the gap between theory and real-life application.
After success in his Electrical Machines unit, the third and fourth-year lecturer extended his model to Electrical Networks before helping a colleague use it in Smart Power Grids.
“In engineering, students are easily demotivated by the complexity of the material, particularly if the lessons taught are not reviewed right after the lecture. I have been using the scholarly strategy of simplification and repetition, and have observed how this helps students understand and solve complex problems without easily forgetting them.
“I’ve also witnessed an improved balance between theory and practice as well as significant improvements in learning and better student inspiration, engagement and teamwork skill development,” says Taghizadeh.
“Foad is a fantastic mentor and lecturer, offering his expertise in a very clear manner that helps in understanding complex electrical engineering procedures and problems.” – Macquarie student
“Probably the best unit offered at Macquarie. Good content, taught at a good pace, good incorporation of practical lab activities, and a well-thought, highly relevant project in the second half of the semester.” – Macquarie student
Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Sessional Staff Award
Recognises staff for their approaches to teaching and support of learning that influences, motivates, and inspires students to learn.
Hijab Alavi, School of Computing
Hijab Alavi has been a casual academic for six years. She genuinely cares for her students, and always goes the extra mile to give each individual the tools to succeed in both physical and online classes.
Her teaching method involves tailoring her lessons to the needs of a particular class and making the content relevant to today, based on her philosophy that every student is different, and the same approach may not work for all cohorts.
“I believe that just providing a theory is not sufficient as students will be expected to apply these outside the classroom. This approach inspires and motivates students as they can see a realistic future goal and it makes them feel more comfortable to ask questions about both the course content and career ambitions. I foster student engagement by explaining the concept, letting the student attempt the question and then showing them the step-by-step method to solve it,” says Alavi.
Alavi’s students also rate her highly – thankful for her one-on-one support and ability to engage everyone in the class. Alavi actively encourages participation from all students, tailoring her questions for easier, shorter responses.
“I genuinely care about my students’ future, and it’s always great to receive messages from them, updating me with their career goals.”
“Hijab was so friendly and bubbly, and she managed the class well. I really liked that she encourages everyone turn on their video cameras because it made it feel more like a class.” – Macquarie student
“Hijab always ensured that everyone was participating and was doing so at a high standard.” – Macquarie student
Loren Demol, Department History and Archaeology
Drawing on her own confusing or overwhelming experiences as an undergraduate, Loren Demol is able to demystify ancient history to the many non-historians who take her units. Students from disciplines outside the Faculty of Arts often take ancient history units as electives, and find it difficult to reference ancient evidence and support their arguments.
Demol created succinct essay and referencing guides for her undergraduates and includes a summary of key points from lectures at the outset of every tutorial to connect the content.
She also responds to every discussion forum post and writes a weekly summary post to consolidate the topic.
“My teaching philosophy is to provide students with discipline-specific training and knowledge of how people lived in, and understood, the ancient world in an encouraging academic setting which supports and fosters students’ interest in ancient history,” says Demol.
“Loren was the best tutor I have come across in my university studies and made this unit very exciting, fun and informative. If I had a chance to take this unit again I honestly would.” – Macquarie student
“My tutorials with Loren have been wonderfully engaging and filled with her own personal notes relating to the content every week. She is such a lively, passionate and knowledgeable asset to the teaching staff for the department.” – Macquarie student
Joshua Fitzgerald, Department of Chiropractic
Joshua Fitzgerald is highly “infectious” – in a good way. His enthusiasm (and jokes) are so engaging, his students consistently acknowledge his energy and efficacy as a teacher – with many nominating him for Learning and Teaching Awards.
His person-centred approach to teaching mirrors the vision he has for his students – to become safe and effective person-centred clinicians.
“Utilising my privileged position of teaching widely across the undergraduate and postgraduate chiropractic degrees, I am afforded the opportunity to build bridges for students, highlighting the interconnection between units and how they are constructively aligned.
“I take great care to cultivate safe, supportive and inclusive learning environments that invite all students to participate in active learning and critical thinking. I partner with students to empower them to navigate their learning materials through deconstruction of complex concepts, teacher and student storytelling, interactive kinaesthetic demonstrations and games. This allows me to scaffold, contextualise and transform their learning experience. I am humbled by my students’ support of this approach,” says Fitzgerald.
“I have not met a teacher who is willing to give more energy and drive into their efforts in class. I personally believe Josh is the sole reason for me having a chance of passing the unit he teaches due to content load and difficulty. He knows how to make even the most confusing concepts understandable.” – Macquarie student