Failing the nation in science

Posts by Liz Johnson

2016 AGM presentations

ACDS Annual General Meeting 2016

The ACDS AGM was held at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne on October 17 and 18.  The program drew out discussion on research impact, postgraduate education, work-integrated learning, standards and excellence in learning and teaching and the equity program, ATHENA SWAN. Participants toured the Australian Synchrotron which is looking forward to expansion with its core funding recently secured by the Australian Government.


Keynote presentations:

Impact and Industry Engagement, Dr Kevin Cullen, CEO UNSW Innovations

Impact of the ACOLA review on Science PhDs, Prof Robyn Owens, DVCR UWA

ACDS WIL Project, Prof Liz Johnson, ACDS TL Centre

Building industry into the curriculum, Prof Tina Overton, Monash

Introduction to the Australian Synchrotron, Prof Andrew Peele, Director Australian Synchrotron

Evidence-based practice in teaching, Prof Tina Overton, Monash

Standards and Criteria for Excellence in Teaching, Prof Denise Chalmers, OLT National Senior Fellow

Evidence-based practice for STEM learning

‘…every university now has at its disposal the tools to improve undergraduate STEM teaching, and no defensible reason for not using them.’ (Bradforth et al, 2015) 

The ACDS has launched its first occasional paper “Evidence-based Practice in Learning and Teaching for STEM disciplines” from Prof Tina Overton (Monash) and Prof Liz Johnson (Deakin). This paper presents core principles for  effective learning and teaching strategies that can be derived from the research evidence of how students learn. The evidence is very clear that:

  • learning (and assessment) is constrained by available working memory,
  • learning can be improved by creating explicit links from existing to new knowledge and scaffolding learning
  • preparation before a new learning experience allows better learning, and
  • active learning strategies are much more effective ways to create deep learning.

The paper presents key research papers in STEM disciplines that build from this understanding of how learning learn to examine the evidence for the effectiveness for active teaching strategies including:

  • pre-lab exercises and preparatory reading for lectures,
  • flipped classroom that embeds scaffolding and active learning, and
  • authentic learning and assessment that is more engaging and can promote long-term learning
  • technology-rich teaching which is still an area of active research.

The authors link each finding to the implications for learning and match to practical advice for learning and course design that will improve learning outcomes.

Download here and use this paper to stimulate discussion in your discipline or Faculty about effective learning and teaching.

Bradforth, S. E., et al. (2015). “University learning: improve undergraduate science education.” Nature 523: 282-284.

Re-thinking the Science PhD

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, is a big fan of the PhD. His speech on July 29th, at the Park Royal Melbourne Airport, available here, makes a powerful case for an expanded vision of it. The PhD should return to its roots as an experience that creates deep, adaptable and capable thinkers, fit for a challenging world beyond discovery research. PhD students are not just ‘academics in utero’. 

The speech was made to open a national forum convened by the ACDS and ACGR (Australian Council of Graduate Research). The forum was held to raise awareness of the  recommendations of the Review of Australia’s Research Training System, commissioned last year by the Federal Government from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).  

Their report, released on April 14th this year, makes recommendations about the conduct of postgraduate research that will have considerable impact on science faculties. The Chief Scientist’s speech provides an eloquent and entertaining insight into the imperatives driving such recommendations. 

He goes on to argue for changes to business incentives to collaborate with universities. He notes the opportunities for research students provided by the initiatives in NISA, and commends models such as the Canadian Mitacs and French CIFRE programs that connect research students with industry.