Grants worth $435,000 help universities move into modern age 


Researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU) have received grants worth $435,000 to improve learning environments and build leadership capacity in the Australian university sector. 
A collaborative initiative between CDU, Queensland University of Technology and Edith Cowan University has been awarded $212,000 by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) to identify ways of retrofitting existing university learning spaces so they may better complement modern learning approaches. 
The modern approach suggests that students get more out of university if they actively engage in dialogue with their lecturers and fellow students using a range of technologies. 
CDU Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering and Information Technology, Barbara White is one of the three leaders on the project. 
“There is currently a huge divide between modern teaching and learning approaches and the physical spaces where university education is delivered,” Ms White said. 
“Teaching practices today have been influenced by rapid changes in technology. The old teaching model where the lecturer delivers information from the front of the lecture theatre to students while they dutifully take notes is no longer an effective model for many 'tech savvy' students,” she said. 
“Unfortunately, our teaching spaces are designed for the old way of teaching.” 
CDU Associate Professor and Theme Leader for Social Work and Community Studies, Deborah West was also involved in a recent successful bid for an ALTC grant of $223,000 in conjunction with consortium partners University of South Australia and Queensland University of Technology. 
Building on the work of two previous ALTC leadership projects, the new project will focus on enhancing the academic leadership skills of heads of schools by trialling the use of an academic leadership program and a customised 360-degree feedback tool. 
“Academic leadership is poorly understood,” Dr West said, “but it is critical to fostering high-quality teaching and high-quality learning outcomes for students. 
“The past decade has seen enormous change in our universities and there is an urgent need to provide better professional development to the people charged with leading teaching staff through this change,” she said. 
“The ALTC grant recognises this need and will help us to implement approaches tailored to the unique challenges of the university sector.” 
Both projects are due for completion in 2010.