Staff win national awards for teaching and curriculum design

UNSW academics don't just do outstanding research, they also excel at passing on their knowledge and skills to the next generation of thinkers.

Chris Tisdell 1

Associate Professor Chris Tisdell

UNSW academics don't just do outstanding research, they also excel at passing on their knowledge and skills to the next generation of thinkers.

Associate Professor Chris Tisdell and Dr Louise Lutze-Mann, both from UNSW’s Faculty of Science, last night received Teaching Excellence Awards as part of the Australian Awards for University Teaching. 

A team from UNSW Medicine was also recognised with an award for Innovation in Curricula, Learning and Teaching. The annual awards are the most prestigious of their kind in the country. 

Associate Professor Chris Tisdell, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has inspired millions of students in Australia and around the world through his passion for maths and 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 big global fan-club for his hundreds of other free YouTube university-level maths videos, which have exceeded four 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 Associate Professor Tisdell, who is also Associate Dean (Education) in UNSW Science. 

Dr Louise 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. Dr Lutze-Mann teaches in three different faculties: Science, 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, Dr Lutze-Mann has developed inspiring new 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. 

“My teaching philosophy is inspired by W.B.Yeats, who said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. I want to convey the excitement and wonder of science to my students because, if I can ignite their enthusiasm, they will pursue knowledge of their own volition and my task will be to further their education, rather than to force it,” says Dr Lutze-Mann. 

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,” Professor Jones says. 

In notifying UNSW of the awards, the Minister for Education, Senator Chris Pyne, noted that “the UNSW Medicine program is recognised as one of Australia’s most outstanding university programs … and has set a benchmark for similar programs.” 

UNSW Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer congratulated all the winners for their dedicated efforts and for giving UNSW students the best learning experience possible.

“Outstanding results like these show how research-intensive universities can also be centres of excellence for teaching. The old dichotomy – research versus teaching – no longer exists. Top universities like UNSW must be great at both,” Professor Hilmer says.

The awards were presented by Senator Pyne at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.