Friday, 6 November 2015

When science undergraduate student and co-founder Scott Runacres took to the LaunchPad stage to pitch his bespoke adventure business, Vagabond, to a panel of leading entrepreneurs and a 100-strong audience, he wasn’t sure what the reaction would be.  

Vagabond is a collective of three students whose ambition is to share the beauty of Australia with the world through showcasing adventures of their own online, inspiring people to do their own adventures. They will also run weekend trips around Victoria and eventually week long expeditions between Melbourne and Sydney.

Scott and his co-founders, all students of the Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges (Honours), walked away from the inaugural LaunchPad night with much more than expected. The judges awarded them $4,000 and they scooped the audience choice award of $2,000. This money will help them to buy equipment and insurance to start offering trips this summer.  In addition, Vagabond were given the offer of mentoring from an established global travel company and have been asked to run a trip for The Henley Club.
The Vagabond team receive their award
The other enterprises funded on the night included Living Books (seed-containing books to promote family engagement around gardening and sustainability), Cocktail Cargo (a subscription service providing cocktails in a box) and The Conscious Wardrobe (an ethical clothing platform). Another enterprise called Bioquisitive, which has established a BioHacking community in Melbourne, also gained a lot of interest on the night.
The Conscious Wardrobe celebrate their award

The LaunchPad awards night was the culmination of the student's second year studies where they have been learning about the fundamentals of entrepreneurship alongside their science majors.

LaunchPad offered a unique opportunity to bring together a diverse community comprising students, alumni, supporters and staff from across Monash University, along with key industry figures and entrepreneurs. The high quality of the student pitches and the overall positive atmosphere of the night were praised by the judges, participants and audience alike.

Judging panellist and entrepreneur David Urpani said it was an “entertaining, educational and inspiring night”. David Urpani will be joining the course as entrepreneur in residence in 2016 when the students do a unit that emulates an incubator environment.

The Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges, the only Honours degree of its kind in Australia, aims to equip a small cohort of passionate and ambitious science students with the capacity to make change on the global stage.  Our students study science but in the wider context of entrepreneurship and business, meaning that they develop core skills and competencies such as leadership, science diplomacy and communications.

Combined with the skills and knowledge learned in their science major, they will be ready to step straight into a diverse range of roles, from policy makers and government advisors to industry business owners and leaders. This is made possible through their engagement with industry and key influencers throughout the degree course. Our students proactively undertake internships, mentoring and outreach initiatives as well as getting involved in intimate dialogues and masterclasses with inspirational leaders from across industry.

As part of their course the students also need to do two internships with a focus on leadership or entrepreneurship.  This summer many of our students will be undertaking internships across a broad range of social and scientific enterprises in far flung corners of the globe – from Papua New Guinea and Vietnam to the UK and India, to name a few.

Second year student Nigel Abello says being involved with the Global Challenges course is one of the “biggest things that has impacted his life to date”. Nigel is heading off this summer to Nepal undertaking an internship with a social enterprise enabling locals to become self-supporting through entrepreneurship. When he returns to Melbourne he will be completing a second internship with Picture the Coast, another social enterprise, undertaking a project to take the longest picture of the coast of Australia.

Through these internships Nigel says “I am keen to broaden my worldview and get a more direct understanding of how my understanding of science can impact communities around the world”.

Living Books were awarded a fellowship awarded by Leesa Charlotte of The Henley Club (center right) to attend the Global Ideas Conference
 As one of the Faculty involved in the course it is inspiring and rewarding to see the development of our student's capacity through their entrepreneurship studies.  Getting the opportunity to support students, like Scott, who dreams of taking his physiology major and becoming a social entrepreneur, express his purpose through his university assignments feels like we are bottling magic.  Who know where these dreams will next take them and who they may be able to impact.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2014


This blog  is written by Prof. Roberto Weinberg from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University who, amongst other accomplishments, was recently awarded the Science Faculty Dean's Award for Post Graduate Supervision 
 Symbiosis. The relationship between research students and supervisors is based on symbiosis: a collaborative effort directed at research. Candidates learn to do science and their efforts are an essential ingredient of our research output. Research students are at the core of our research efforts.
The best days in my supervisor life are those where, with one of my students, we sit in front of a new data set and start building a map of possibilities, paths, experiments all leading to new insights. These are days of great excitement, creativity and exchange, which I hope fire up the student’s curiosity and drive. Like many symbiosis, there is some tension in the relationship: large amounts of reading, steep learning curves, strict scientific thinking, demand for high-level questioning, quality documentation and writing, and numerous questions left unanswered, new questions raised, certainties dissolved. 
  
Some symbiotic relaitionships may turn parasitic.  Supervisors sapping the energy and directing the scientific production of students for their own gain, while providing minimum input and arguing that “a no input policy” is good for student independence. Conversely, students failing to reach maturity and draining supervisor’s energies and knowledge without adding to the shared knowledge of the team.
 Now we are faced with increased downward pressure in what constitutes a PhD  and with that there will be further pressure in this symbiosis. The issue is reducing our completion times. Soon after I arrived at Monash, over 10 years ago, a senior admin academic was making the case to a large cohort of academics that we needed to improve completion rates no matter what. “Err, no matter what?” someone interjected “will this not lead to an erosion of the quality of our PhD thesis? ” and the as expected the reply was the hypocritical “absolutely not”. Well, ten years on we are faced with even stronger requirements to reduce completion times. We are now faced with the conundrum of how to adapt our expectations to this imposed reality. Can we adapt the research questions to simpler, less risky ones? How far down can we take the content of a PhD thesis and still maintain an internationally acceptable level?  How can we shorten the maturation period that candidates need to start producing outcomes? How is this symbiosis going to flourish in the future?  
Considering that students carry out the bulk of our research, the way we adapt to this new imperative will impact on our collective research outcomes. This also means that now more than ever, we need to make our best efforts to attract the absolute best PhD candidates.  Outstanding Schools and individual researchers are often happy to wait and catch what falls in their net. We need a sharp change in attitude.  If our aims is to develop truly outstanding research, we need to actively seek the best students and then provide them with the best possible research environment. In this regard, high pressure for short completion times may not always be helpful.
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Technological advancements are rapidly changing the way students use and interact with educational materials. Students now have access to a range of electronic devices that make learning more interactive, flexible and mobile. In the USA, a national study of student use of technology found that students are drawn to and recognise the benefits of technologies and prefer classes with online components. In Australia, the DEEWR Digital Education Advisory Group forecast that due to the rapid uptake of smart devices by students, teaching and learning settings are moving to a ‘bring your own device’ environment, where the choice of technology is paramount.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/
While undergraduate science curricula present text-based learning materials to students predominantly in hard copy formats, the increased affordability, functionality and portability of electronic devices calls for evaluation of more technologically “savvy” ways to deliver these materials. Electronic notebooks, or e-Manuals, may be one such means. Depending on the software and device, an e-Manual can facilitate online submission of assignments, provide direct access to ‘authentic’ internet materials, enable integration of multimedia files and permit digital inking for drawings and figures. Furthermore, e-Manuals have the added advantage of allowing staff to update and add to learning materials in real-time, as well as reducing both printing and environmental costs.

Despite the potential advantages of using e-Manuals in education, there have been only a few isolated efforts to integrate electronic devices across several domains, including food chemistry, education, and chemistry research. Furthermore, very little has been reported on student perceptions of their readiness to utilise such platforms, or concerns they may have about the viability of e-Manuals for practical activities. 


Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/snre/
Device use and ownership
First year biology students were surveyed at commencement of their degree studies about ownership and confidence in using personal computers, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The majority of students (57%, n=1209) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel confident enough to use my mobile device to write up my practicals directly into an e-Manual”. Yet despite this indicated confidence, half of the students agreed or strongly agreed that an e-Manual would be “more difficult to use than a printed manual”.  Furthermore, although e-Manuals provide many additional features when compared to hardcopy formats, most students were either ambivalent or thought that an e-Manual would not enhance the learning process (neutral - 54%, disagree-strongly disagree - 33%).

Hardcopy vs Electronic use: A disconnect
Student reluctance to engage with the e-Manual is likely due to the disconnect in the use of hardcopy versus electronic devices within the practical environment. Learning is facilitated by active reading, which involves the physical manipulation of text by way of writing, annotating, and/or drawing. While personal computers, in particular tablet devices, attempt to replicate these processes they are not yet as efficient or user-friendly. Students commonly undertake many active reading strategies during practical activities and this may be the preferred way for them to support their learning. The use of an e-Manual for reading information, following instructions and gathering data runs into issues with syntopical reading, which involves simultaneous use of more than one document or page.  In addition, inking tools for writing and drawing remain inefficient and awkward, and do not adequately mimic the experience of drawing on paper.


Image credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science

Another concern raised by students was the potential for damage to personal electronic devices during practical sessions by exposure to laboratory chemicals or breakage due to physical impact.  Despite this misgiving, it is envisaged that such events would be no more common than with regular use outside the learning environment, due to strict safety protocols already in place. Protective covers could be added to further reduce such risks. Potential loss of data resulting from such events may be mitigated by ensuring that students regularly back up electronic data, either to a portable storage device or cloud-based storage system.

Software availability
At the commencement of this project in mid-2013, an educational technologist was employed to conduct a full market analysis of the software available to support an e-Manual. Despite an extensive analysis, there does not appear to be software currently on the market that fulfils our requirements. These include accurate replication of a paper-based practical manual, with other key criteria being digital inking, text entry, online submission, and integration of multimedia and internet content. Until such software becomes available, students will quite understandably continue to have misgivings about the advantages of using e-Manuals.

Facilitating change for students and staff
It is inherently clear that the transition from hardcopy to electronic learning formats requires a carefully planned management strategy that encourages and supports both students and staff in the transition process. When experiencing change, it is not the change itself that takes people out of their comfort zone, but rather the loss of something that is closely held and viewed as important, that can create discontent. In the instance of transitioning to an e-Manual, it seems that the ease, nostalgia and comfort of using paper to read, take notes and draw may be the biggest hurdle for students.

To navigate the period of disequilibrium during the transition phase to an e-Manual, it is essential that academic and teaching managers have the resources to support tutors and students. This support should involve additional training for tutors and subsequent coaching and technical support for students. It is also crucial that alternative methods to mitigate the experience of loss are identified. For instance, students not wishing to use aspects of an e-Manual (e.g. the desire to continue to draw diagrams on paper) are shown alternatives during the interim (e.g. taking photo of drawn diagram and inserting it into the e-Manual).

Once the obstacles that make students reluctant to use technology for practical activities are removed or overcome, the value of e-Manuals for such modes of learning may be more fully realised.

Acknowledgments
Funding for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

Aspects of this project were also funded by the Monash University Science Faculty Teaching Innovation Fund and this work was conducted by the authors in collaboration with Bruce Weir, Simon Clarke and Chris Thompson


This is an edited copy of a recently published report for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) news (2014, 36, 24-25). The report was written by Dr Sherrie Caarels, Dr Gerry Rayner and Dr Rowan Brookes, in the School of Biological Sciences.
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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Teaching Leadership

In an increasingly complex, diverse and ambiguous world there is a growing need to develop effective leadership capacity in scientists. The scarcity of leadership development for scientists represents a substantive disadvantage for the discipline and its practitioners. It’s a necessity to develop leadership skills in concert with a science education so that our future science leaders have the capacity to meet the challenges of the modern world.

A science degree that teaches leadership

The Bachelor of Science Advanced - Global Challenges (Honours) at Monash University weaves leadership, policy, business, communication and entrepreneurship into a traditional science degree.  Leadership is explored throughout the four year degree within targeted units. The course aims is to develop global citizens who have the capacity to create impact through science by instigating action and affecting change in the broader community.  Underpinning the student's leadership development is the principle that leadership is an action that can be exercised by anybody with the tools to mobilise a group of people to achieve a new reality (e.g Heifetz et al. 2009).

Teaching approaches

Effective leadership development requires teaching activities that represent complex realities of human and organisational dynamics (Parks 2005).  Throughout the course students are given the opportunity to respond adaptively to shifting realities, to manage themselves in challenging situations and help other people tolerate disequilibrium. To teach leadership we use a range of experiential learning approaches within the classroom environment and through outreach with the broader community.  These experiential learning approaches include the following:
  • Case-in-point teaching is an integral part of teaching adaptive leadership.  Case-in-point is an immersive teaching approach where participants use themselves and the dynamics of the group to generate opportunity for reflection and build leadership capacity (Johnston and Fern 2010).
  • The case method approach was developed at the Harvard Business School and is used to develop analytic and decision making strategies using real-life issues.
  • Immersive community outreach presents students with the complexities of leadership challenges.
  • Improvisation exposes students to creative problem solving, flexibility and stepping into the unknown. 
Students improvising during role playing.
Critical self-reflection is an essential leadership tool. Developing this skill allows students to simultaneously remain aware of the present whilst making strategic problem solving decisions encompassing broader social systems and organisational challenges.  Self-reflection provides a pause where the students can analyse what they are seeing, hearing and learning from their experiences (Blount 2007). Students undertake self-reflection after group work activities, leadership workshops and many of their experiential classes.

Sustained group-work activities fosters strong collaborative working relationships, builds the capacity to provide meaningful feedback, strengthens emotional intelligence and encourages interpersonal skills. Group student activities include running seminars, writing policy briefs and undertaking group presentations.

Networked students
Building personal and professional relationships is a major focus through the course and students have a range of opportunities and experiences to foster these networks.
  • Retreat - To kick start the course, students have a 3-day retreat camping undertaking physical activities with a focus on rapid group bonding
  • Mentors -  Students are required to have a mentor from outside the university context to draw strength, courage and support from
  • Peer support - 25 motivated and engaged students who remain as a cohort throughout the course
  • Internships - Providing an immersive opportunity to participate in real world issues
  • Students in conversation with Christine Nixon.  Photo credit: Tim Arch
  • Leadership ‘dialogues’ - Regular intimate conversations with community leaders where students gain practical information through discussions of personal leadership journeys, values and philosophies
  • Digital leadership - Using social media, such as blogging and Twitter to spread ideas, develop a profile and create an online community.
Student +Dale Kurian George tweets his thoughts about science and leadership.

Major leadership themes

There are several major themes explored in the leadership component of the course many of which are from the adaptive leadership framework (Heifetz et al. 2009).
  • Leadership vs. authority
  • Creativity and risk-taking
  • Persuasive communication and leadership presence
  • Connecting to purpose and ethical decision-making
  • Thinking politically and mobilising others

Conclusion

Science undergraduate students can be taught skills to exercise leadership effectively.  This can be accomplished using experiences within and outside the classroom that enables students to negotiate complex real world issues. A research study is currently underway examining the student's perceptions of leadership studies in science education and the teaching approaches used in this course.

This blog supports a poster by Dr Rowan Brookes, Dr Susie Ho and A/Prof. Cristina Varsavsky produced for ACSME 2014.

ACSME2014 poster


References

Blount, A 2007, ‘Critical reflection for public life: How reflective
practice helps students become politically engaged’, Journal of Political Science
Education, vol. 2, pp. 271 - 283

Heifetz, R, Grashow, A & Linsky, M 2009, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Harvard Business Press: Boston

Johnstone, M & Fern M 2010, ‘Case-in-point. An experiential methodology for leadership education and practice’, The Journal Kansas Leadership Center, vol. Fall pp. 99-117

Parks, S 2005, Leadership Can be Taught.  A Bold Approach for a Complex World, Harvard Business Press: Boston


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Monday, 28 July 2014

I reflect endlessly on the current disparity between the esteem in which education and research are held in the university sector, about means to blur the teaching–research dualism, about the fruitful nexus between teaching and research, and about what each can learn from the other.

Here I highlight one area in which science education researchers have something important to learn from their non-education science research colleagues.   

While most successful non-education science researchers in Monash University’s Faculty of Science lead groups in which postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students do the bulk of the day-to-day work, this model is currently absent from education-focused research in our Faculty. 

Stimulating such a model, with an associated intensification of education-focused research that lifts the bar for such research Faculty-wide, is the purpose of the recently-launched Science Education Research Fund.  This a new scheme, which will fund a three-year postdoctoral fellow to contribute full-time to the science education research programme of the successful applicant, much as postdoctoral fellow would contribute to the research programme of non-education science researchers.

I view this as an important step forward on a number of fronts, not the least of which is a small closing of the gap in the present disparity between the level to which science education research is funded and the level to which it should be funded.  Another advance is encouraging science education researchers to embrace, where appropriate, the “research group” model incorporating postdoctoral fellows which is so successfully employed by many non-education science researchers.    

Applications close tomorrow, and I can't wait to be inspired by them!
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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Rowan -  Coral Warr, recipient of the 2014 Dean's Excellence in Teaching Award for Excellence, writes an informative blog about juggling the demands of a teaching and research academic.

Teaching and research staff come in many flavours, and have different balances between the two areas of academic activity. I genuinely love both teaching and research, do both equally, and continue to do so 13 years into my academic career. Teaching is immensely rewarding and satisfying, and the good feelings it brings help buffer against the unpredictable rollercoaster ride that is research.

These days due to immense pressure regarding research success, it can feel hard to justify spending lots of time on developing new teaching approaches and innovations. Sometimes you feel you should just do the same thing year after year and conserve all your energy for research. But if you are someone who loves teaching, continually trying to improve is really just a necessity to feel happy and satisfied that you are doing your job well. And of course teaching is the core business of universities, and no matter how much pressure we feel about our research we need to be great educators too. 

I think we can be confident that our leaders all know this and in fact support us putting time and energy into our teaching (even though it may not always seem so). As evidence of this, I was this year awarded the Dean's Excellence in Teaching Award for a number of innovative teaching approaches I have developed. While it’s great to get this recognition, much more important is the enjoyment I’ve had developing and implementing every one of them, and how working on them has helped me through some tough times with research. 
Image Credit: Flickr - kosmolaut

But how do we juggle the two core academic activities of teaching and research to find the time to be innovative? I’ve tried different ways of doing this during my career, and seen what works best for some of my colleagues too. And of course, what I see is there is no one size fits all solution. It depends on your personality, on your type of research (eg. are you lab or field-based), on the size of your research group, and other activities you are engaged in. For example, early in my career the School kindly put all my teaching in one semester with the idea that the other semester is then all free for research. 

Some staff really like this. But for me it just didn’t work, for two reasons. First, as someone supervising a lab-based research program, the research didn’t stop during the semester I was teaching. I still had to do all my research tasks. This was tough. Second, I found I like the structure teaching provides. In my non teaching semester I had a big “to do” list but none of the tasks had deadlines. They got done eventually but I felt inefficient compared to when I was teaching and accomplishing lots of tasks all the time. And I missed all the rewards that teaching continually provides. 

So for me having my teaching and research spread throughout the year works best. But you may be completely different. Hopefully everyone has a Head of School who understands this and is willing to implement different strategies for different staff.

When is the best time to work on teaching improvements? Well this falls into the category of do as I say and not as I do! Of course it is straight after the teaching event when you realise what you could have done better or differently. Does it happen then for me? Well no, rarely. But what I do is implement reflective practice. Either straight away, or at the latest at the end of a block of teaching, I make notes in this regard. That way if I can’t get to it until a later time I can remember what the issues were and what I might try to change.

So while it might feel it takes too much of your time to be innovative with your teaching, the rewards in terms of personal satisfaction are immense. And, as we all know, it only takes a few students to tell you how much they loved something, or that they now understand something, to make it all worthwhile.

Associate Professor Coral Warr is the Deputy Head of the School of Biological Sciences. She is a molecular and cellular geneticist whose research focuses on how cells respond to signals from their environment, using the fruitfly Drosophila as a model organism. She is a passionate teacher of genetics and teaches at all undergraduate levels.
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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Today I did something humbling. I logged into the Monash Uni online lecture recording system, and listened to myself giving a lecture. Urgh! Does my voice really sound like that? Hang on, I think what I just said there was not entirely accurate. I say “actually” a lot. Wow, Chris, that was a really, really bad joke. Strangely enough, many of the 200-odd students in the room laughed.

The undergraduate university lecture has come in for a hammering in recent times. The momentum is all for ‘active-learning strategies’ - inquiry oriented learning, problem based learning, collaborative learning, group work, POGIL, IBL - and the list goes on. And I am personally one of the many who have espoused this, reforming lab programs and reformatting our classroom activities in first year chemistry. There’s no question in my mind that learning is enhanced when students not only absorb the answers to questions, but are pushed to come up with the questions that need to be answered.

Death By PowerPoint: The didactic lecture (Me talk. You listen.) almost certainly has inherent problems. It’s foundation lies in the idea that the teacher is a fountain of knowledge, and that by some as-yet-undefined and mysterious process of brainwave osmosis, that knowledge is transmitted to students purely by talking at them for 50 minutes, non-stop. And for the past couple of decades, this has routinely gone hand-in-hand with a smorgasbord of PowerPoint slides, cluttered with even more information to be absorbed.

That might sound like an extreme case, but there’s a LOT of that going on in our lecture theatres. At the same time, there are many lecturers who are mixing things up: showing short video clips, telling contextual anecdotes, promoting Q & A, and telling jokes, presumably better than mine.

What future for The Lecture? Burgeoning enrolments and blossoming cohorts ensure our classrooms are bursting at the seams, and the business model of universities means this is not going to change any time soon. Small group tutorials and lab classes, and the beneficial learning environment they enable, are increasingly being squeezed out by ever tightening budgets. It seems that lectures are here to stay – how else to deliver content to our army of young minds?

There are alternatives of course – our content can be delivered online. Learning management systems (eg. Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) not only host our materials, they incorporate discussion forums, facilitate quizzes and host our gradebooks. Multimedia options are playing a greater role, for example short, online videos have quickly gained popularity in recent years, as software packages like Camtasia have emerged to make producing such things incredibly easy.

I have heard many people speculate that within a few years, lectures will simply disappear. Yet despite all of the new and technology-enabled methods for delivering learning materials and programs, our own focus groups and polling in chemistry suggest students still value the lecture. Late last year  ~500 first year chemistry students were polled to gain their perceived value of face-to-face classes. Not surprisingly, our small group tutorials are very popular, but what did surprised us was how popular our lectures are. Students clearly see lectures as playing an important role in their learning, whether they attend in person, or watch and listen to a recording elsewhere, at a time of their choosing. In contrast, our more interactive 'workshops' did not rate as highly.


"I found lectures/workshops/tutorials to be an effective way to learn about chemistry."

So if lectures are here to stay … If we are to accept lectures are valued by students, maybe we don’t need to change anything? Maybe 50 minutes of Me talk. You listen. is enough? Personally, I don’t buy that. The way that the modern student engages with information is changing, and technology is enabling us to do some cool things in the classroom (eg. clickers, digital inking, class polling, snap quizzes). In chemistry, we have been bringing back the ‘lost art’ of demonstrations, which at some point got phased out to squeeze in that extra couple of PowerPoint slides! I'm not suggesting we all have to be circus performers, but we should be thinking outside the box, and looking for the best way to engage our students' minds for that 50 minutes.

Perhaps more importantly, a lecturer is a human being. I think students like the fact that a real person fronts up and shares their knowledge in a large, group forum. They deliver expert knowledge, share their research, tell their nerdy jokes and anecdotes, and students identify with that. And with that I urge my lecturing colleagues to embrace their own style and approach, whether that is by using carefully crafted PowerPoint slides, by digitally inking a tablet, or by sporting a bucket of chalk in Theatre S13. Oh, and have fun - it's infectious.
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