Award-winning teacher shares her secrets for class engagement

Posted by on 13 September 2016

ACAP Psychological Sciences lecturer Dr Natalie Morrison received the 2016 Navitas Professional Institute (NPI) Award for Teaching Excellence. The key consideration for this award is the nominee’s approach to teaching that influences, motivates and inspires students to learn.
Natalie joined the college in 2014 and is one of many faculty members to bring field experience to the classroom. She has a 15-year background as a clinician and researcher in mental health, government agencies and at NGOs and previously taught and researched at the University of Western Sydney and Macquarie University. Natalie is currently studying for her Masters in Clinical Psychology.

Natalie’s teaching focus is on first-year subjects, which means she is exposed to the broadest set of ACAP students, spanning school leavers to career-changers.

“It can take six years to become a fully-qualified Psychologist, and I want to ensure that whatever their background, my students start with the right motivation and engagement to want to continue their learning,” she said.

Natalie’s teaching philosophy is based on four fundamentals: motivation, feedback, technology and constant learning. She shared the main insights underpinning her style:

1. Give students drive and motivation, not just content
Spend more time on early ‘getting to know you’ activities, particularly for those studying online. Make the most of face-to-face class time, allowing for different types of interactions through small and large group work, and at a whole-class level.

2. Be present and plentiful with feedback
It is especially important for teachers to join online discussions, in both synchronous and asynchronous contexts. Teachers should also give individual feedback on students’ abilities at different points along the way, via formative assessment, so they understand their weaknesses and take action in time for high-stake assessments.

3. Embrace technology for better engagement
Finding new and different ways to engage students is the big challenge for teachers in online and blended learning environments. All ACAP lectures are available as online recordings, usually in the form of slides with narration. For the benefit of her remote students, Natalie includes a ‘webcam view’ of herself in her videos, and even turns the camera around to include participating classmates in the viewers’ range, adding realism and inclusivity to classes taken on-screen.
“Perception is everything; if students feel they get more out of seeing me pace up and down the room, that’s fine,” said Natalie.

4. Seek input and keep learning
Student skillsets are shifting and teachers should continually question their practice to maintain relevant engagement. Don’t wait for the results of student evaluations to understand how things are going; use ongoing polls and forums as channels to open direct discussions during the course, while there is time to take action if change is required, or if something is lacking.

“Being a student again myself helps me understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to think about the challenges students face. Exposure to different teaching environments means I’m constantly reflecting,” said Natalie.