UniServe Science News Volume 16 July 2000


UniServe Science Workshop: Evaluating the New Teaching Technologies

Ian Johnston
Director, UniServe Science

The fifth national workshop was held at The University of Sydney on Friday, 28th April. The theme of the workshop was evaluation, not just of IT materials but of teaching techniques in general.

There were two keynote speakers: Professor Mike Prosser from La Trobe University (at that time), talked about the educational aspects of evaluation, and Professor Ann Sefton, the leader of the Graduate Medical Program at The University of Sydney discussed one of the largest Internet-based teaching programmes in the country, which has had evaluation built in from the start. As well, there were 82 academics attending from most states of this country, including one visitor from New Zealand and seven from Thailand. The seven contributed papers included issues relating to the evaluation of projects in physics, chemistry and biology, experiences at distributed campuses and the commercial potential of IT solutions. The proceedings of the workshop are available on-line at

As is now the tradition at UniServe Science annual workshops, the last session of the day was devoted to an open-floor discussion of issues raised during the day. Three questions occupied most of the discussion. As usual, opinions differed, and some interesting points were made.

How can we who value innovation in teaching convert our colleagues?

There were those who felt that it had to happen by example. Innovations that are successful will impress others and a ripple effect will ensure that these new ideas will be accepted by the more conservative teachers. Others were less optimistic and felt that successful innovations had to come from the top down. If they are not promoted by heads of departments or deans, they are unlikely to be widely adopted. Perhaps the main need was for more professional development to bring the information to those who do not perceive there is a problem in the first place.

How can we assess whether learning is 'deep'?

Among the ideas brought out by the keynote speakers was the thought that students needed to have more ownership of their studies. In discussion it was felt that we should make students aware of the approaches to learning and get them to think about how they study, and perhaps then they might adopt a more responsible approach to assessment.

It was believed that IT had the capacity to allow a variety of kinds of examining, and this could lead to assessment for deeper learning. However it is important not to trivialize assessment. Lastly, while there is a need to make students enthusiastic about the subject matter, it must be remembered that depth of learning is a desire to understand. It is not the same as enthusiasm for the subject.

Are universities under threat from commercialization of tertiary education?

There is a foreseeable threat that private companies could seek to take over the teaching of the more popular first year courses. If that happened, it would mean that universities would have to specialize much more in what we offer students. Certainly there is a decline in postgraduate student numbers, and we need to investigate more aggressively web delivery of graduate courses. Maybe, in the end, there will be a need for some kind of liaison between the smaller universities and large consortiums or franchises.

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UniServe Science News Volume 16 July 2000

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