Science

Profiles: Transformative teaching

Dr Louise Lutze-Mann and Associate Professor Chris Tisdell
Friday, 10 April, 2015
Lissa Christopher

UNSW academics don’t just do outstanding research, they also excel at passing on their knowledge to students.

Louise Lutze-Mann is determined to convey to her students the excitement and wonder of science.

“My teaching philosophy is inspired by W.B. Yeats,” she explains. “Yeats said ‘education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’. If I can ignite students’ enthusiasm, they will pursue knowledge of their own volition and my task will be to further their education, rather than to force it.”

Dr Lutze-Mann and Associate Professor Chris Tisdell, both from UNSW Science, received prestigious Teaching Excellence Awards in the latest round of honours from the national Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT).

Also recognised was a team from UNSW Medicine that received an award for Innovation in Curricula, Learning and Teaching. OLT citations were given to a further five UNSW staff – Dr Kar Ming Chong, Professor Sami Kara, Dr Sue Morris, Associate Professor Jacquelyn  Cranney and Dr Rachel Thompson.

Lutze-Mann, of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, is a highly engaging teacher of molecular and cell biology whose innovative approaches help stimulate critical thinking and independent learning. Lutze-Mann also teaches in engineering and medicine.

Her scientific research focuses on the potential of new and existing drugs, including anti-psychotics, for the treatment of cancer, and on the side effects of using ionising radiation to kill cancer cells.

As a teacher, Lutze-Mann has developed tools and techniques that allow students to explore the scientific process, think like scientists and solve problems. These include innovative practical classes, sophisticated virtual laboratories, use of video animation and demonstrations in lectures, and learning tasks such as designing an informative game or web page based on the features of cells.

Tisdell, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has inspired millions of students in Australia and around the world through his innovative online approach to mathematics education.

His free e-textbook, Engineering Mathematics: YouTube Workbook, has exceeded one million downloads in more than 200 countries since it was launched in 2012. He has also attracted a global fan club for his hundreds of other free YouTube university-level maths videos, which have exceeded five million downloads since he began making them in 2008. This has made his virtual classroom the top-ranked learning and teaching website in Australia on the education hub YouTube EDU, and among the top 40 in the world.

“I’m passionate about free education and making sure people anywhere in the world, at any time, can have access to the mathematical skills that are critical for careers in science, engineering, technology and finance,” says Tisdell, who is also Associate Dean (Education) in UNSW Science.

The prize awarded to the team from UNSW Medicine recognises the transformation, over the past decade, of the faculty’s undergraduate medicine program. The new curriculum is far more focused on preparing students for real-world professional practice. It supports a range of learning styles and encourages independent learning, critical thinking and the sorts of teamwork skills that are central to contemporary medical practice.

One of the particular strengths of the curriculum is the way it brings together students from different stages of the program, says Professor Philip Jones, who shares the award with Professor Tony O’Sullivan, Dr Peter Harris and Professor Patrick McNeil.

“Bringing students from different years together has resulted in a powerful culture of peer teaching and collaborative learning, and prepares them for working in healthcare teams where clinicians with differing levels of expertise and experience work together,” Jones says.

Fourteen UNSW staff were also honoured in the UNSW Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence for 2014. For a full list of winners go to teaching.unsw.edu.au/awards.

This article appeared in the UNSW magazine.