Issue 9
Monday, 05 November 2018
Charles Darwin University
Professors Greg Shaw and Ruth Wallace are heading up Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society and Education respectively
Professors Greg Shaw and Ruth Wallace are heading up Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society and Education respectively

Seamless transition for social sciences and education

Long-time CDU academics are steering two important new areas of the university, with Professors Ruth Wallace and Greg Shaw now heading social sciences and education teaching and research.

The College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society brings together expertise in Indigenous knowledge practices, human geography, disaster preparedness and management, languages, humanities and the creative industries.

The Dean, Professor Ruth Wallace, said the college aimed to be a leader in creative and innovative approaches to engaging with many distinctive perspectives on the world, generating new ideas and critiquing the old.

The college brings together interdisciplinary knowledge to help others understand the social world and to become problem-solvers and leaders in enacting positive social change.

Twenty-five years in Northern Australia, in roles ranging from VET lecturer through to one of the region’s leading researchers, has taught Professor Wallace the value of partnerships.

She said the teaching and research agenda would be built around partnerships.

“Those partnerships can range from a small Indigenous community in Central Australia to collaboration with the leading universities and scientific institutes in the region.

“It just makes sense. The more integration our teaching and research has with new or different ideas, the stronger and more beneficial the outcomes will be.

“Local, national and international partnerships will be the strength of the college as it evolves. I want it to be the real point-of-difference for our programs and something only CDU can offer in terms of the scale and significance of the partnerships I want to form,” Professor Wallace said.

The college will focus on real-life problems, using its internal interdisciplinary knowledge to work with other leaders in the field, bringing additional research and knowledge horsepower to the task.

Professor Wallace said that through partnerships, not only could a deeper understanding of these real-life problems be achieved, but a greater capacity also could be built within the college through the process.

“We want to focus on what the business and workforce of the future will look like. We want to focus on issues that arise from that thinking and play a role in shaping what the future might look like. It’s a big task but it’s a lot more achievable if we look to work with other knowledge sources in the area.”

To help deliver the college’s agenda Professor Wallace plans to adopt the concept of Design Labs being used by Stamford University and MIT.

“The Design Lab idea is appealing because it better integrates teaching and learning and helps break down the silo nature of stacking a number of disciplines together. Ideally, a Design Lab can be your intellectual home for student, PhD candidate, researcher and subsequent professional activities,” she said.

The college will be based on four Design Labs. The Inspire Lab will focus on Indigenous learning and research. The Thrive Lab will focus on disaster management and building preparedness. The Northern Institute Lab will concentrate on social and policy research. The Art Lab will be the home of creative industries and humanities teaching and research.

The new Dean of the College of Education, Professor Greg Shaw, wants to restore CDU to its position as the pre-eminent provider of online teacher education.

With 30 years of experience at CDU and its predecessor institutions, Professor Shaw has seen competitor institutions catch up and challenge CDU’s strength.

“For 35 years, this institution has been pioneering distance teacher education. As the only source of teacher education for thousands of kilometres, we needed to take advantage of new technology in our teaching,” he said.

“We were good at it too. We were the first in Australia to take Initial Teacher Education online. This opened up the opportunity to become a teacher to countless more people than just those who could physically attend the university.

“Today tertiary education, and particularly teacher training, is highly competitive. We need to develop the next generation of innovation in online teacher training, in how we facilitate learning and how we use and promote technology.

“One of my priorities as Dean is to see how we can transform our online teaching and learning. We have to be transformative,” Professor Shaw said.

His transformation agenda will look at online teacher training from two perspectives. “Firstly, we need to consider students because they are at the centre of what we do. We need to understand the expectations and needs students have for online learning and whether the learning experiences we are facilitating are as good as they can be,” he said.

“The transformation project will look at how we can further develop our online learning so what students get out of the experience is the best possible outcome. We can draw some inspiration from the techniques used in other situations, such as in MOOCs and see what can be adapted to our environment and needs.

“We also need to look at how we can develop better and deeper online learning within the resource framework that we have. We want to deliver the best possible experiences for students, but we also need to do so in an internally sustainable manner.

To help articulate the balance between student expectations and sustainable teaching, Professor Shaw said he wanted to develop Principles of Practice that dealt with learning and well as teaching.

“I think it’s important that both sides of the equation have respect and understanding for the other. Bringing some clarity to that relationship is an important step because online learning operates outside the traditional parameters of teaching,” he said.

Professor Shaw said underlying the re-energised online teaching efforts would be the attributes of CDU’s approach to students.

“And that is making students feel genuinely valued and supported as they progress with their learning. Whatever online learning technology looks like in 10 years’ time – we have to ensure that our students never feel they are just a user name or email address to CDU. We hope that our students feel connected in a community in their learning and continue their connections following graduation.”