Hilary Coleman

ACSME Panel: Learning from each other: a tale of two education sectors


Hilary is an education-focussed academic at the University of Canberra, concentrating on first year chemistry. Her previous roles working in countering violent extremism and as a school science teacher have given her a unique perspective on the challenges faced by students and teachers today. Her focus is on the school-to-university transition and bridging this boundary using deliberate and evidence-based practice.

How have you engaged in crossing the boundary between secondary and tertiary education sectors previously?

I’ve worked as a fulltime teacher in both sectors, so I’ve personally spanned this boundary. As a school teacher I brought research and applications into my teaching. For example, the creation of resources to introduce and scaffold the reading of papers to senior students or the highlighting of research as a focus for Science as a Human Endeavour tasks in the Australian Curriculum. Whilst as an academic I’ve presented action research to school teachers for professional development and have employed school pedagogies to decrease attrition and improve student feedback in my unit; Chemistry1a.  

What were some of the challenges and successes of these experiences?

Until I’d worked fulltime in both sectors, I had trouble fully appreciating the nuances, demands, opportunities and limitations of each. One of the greatest challenges is that – whilst there is a continuum of learning progression, maturation and skills for our students – there is often currently a distinct divide between the training, priorities, expectations and job descriptions of educators in schools versus universities. When, in reality, the cognitive science of learning does not suddenly change for a student from semester 2 in Year 12 to semester 1 in first year uni.

Both sectors have their own unique set of challenges, such that things that seem simple, achievable or difficult on one side, might be the opposite on the other.

However, all of the success from these experiences has come because, despite these differences, everyone wants the same thing: students to flourish through their learning. When staff in both sectors are able to understand each other’s nuances, expertise can flow in both directions to the advantage of all students and institutions.

How have these experiences influenced (or not influenced) any future plans to work between these sectors?

Supporting students in their transition from school to uni is an exciting space. I’ve still got much to learn, but am very fortunate to have had authentic experiences in both camps. All of the skills learned contribute to enhancing student outcomes and I’d love for more of these experiences to be shared across the school/uni boundary.

I have short- and long-term goals to design sessional staff training incorporating school pedagogies; to increase school students’ exposure to literature and research; to establish a community for practice for sharing education literature (many school teachers do not have access to publications) and to increase the sharing of teaching expertise in both directions through collaborative professional development.