Not all students learn effectively just by reading or listening. That’s why, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the next generation of Australian teachers is being taught the importance of ‘learning by doing’. What’s more, their methods are being put to the test well before graduation, thanks to interactive exhibitions that are assessed, at least in part, by how well the preservice teachers engage passers-by.
Building 10 isn’t the first place you think you’d find an elderly woman’s living room. But from 26 to 27 October last year, that’s what happened. Sort of.
As part of the assessment for the English Studies 2: Images of Australia subject, students had to not only show how Australia has changed over time, but bring it to life, too.
For education student Melina Andrew and her team that meant re-creating an elderly woman’s living room. They named their display ‘Gwen in Purgatory’, after the Tommy Murphy play about a 90-year-old woman caught in a web of technologies that have kept moving faster, even as she has slowed down.
Says Andrew, “We drew three different living rooms, each from a different era, with each including a different coloured element – a wall, the carpet and a shelf. We demonstrated physical change through the different styled living rooms; emphasising how new and exciting fashions come into place over time.”
To make their display interactive, Andrew’s team included music and QR codes. While the music was used to encourage empathy, Andrew says, “The QR codes delivered additional information on each of the living rooms.
“Above each drawing we placed its respective QR code and the passers-by had to scan it to learn about what era that living room was in, what technologies are in it, how it changed, et cetera.”
The combination, adds Andrew, “gave our exhibit ‘life’, ultimately helping the passers-by understand what was happening.” It was, says Andrew, good “especially for those learners who find it hard to write an essay.”
Mirna Farah agrees. Her team created a video and model houses featuring QR codes to show how female stereotypes have changed since the 1920s. Farah’s group was inspired by the stories of Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine – the real-life crime queens who first came to prominence as the instigators of Sydney’s 1920s Razor Gang Wars. (You may remember their stories from the fourth season of Underbelly.)
Farah says, “Their slew of brothels, sly grog markets and drug trades defined this time in Sydney’s history, and changed the role of women from what was expected to what was possible.
“Having the QR codes on our work made it more interesting and interactive. We had a lot of people really get into using the iPads to scan the QR codes and find out information about how these women changed Sydney, subverted the role of women that was prevalent in the 1920s, and became the unofficial queens of the city.
“At the end they got to do a quiz too, and, if they answered enough questions correctly, won chocolate as a prize.”
For Farah, the assessment was not only a win for the passers-by, but her as well. “It was definitely more interesting than an essay, and is a good way to get some variety into university.”
And that, says School of Education academics Dr Don Carter, Dr Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn and Dr Tracey-Ann Palmer, is the point. “This was the first time we’d run this assessment, though the project-based learning approach underlying it had been developed in two other subjects we teach,” explains Pressick-Kilborn.
“The goal of the assessment is to inspire future teachers to use new technologies to promote engaging and meaningful learning for their own primary and secondary students.”
“It’s vital that the teaching and learning strategies we use in tertiary settings create a sense of possibility and inspiration for our preservice teachers in their own future classrooms.”
To help students in the lead up to the assessment, the academics enlisted the help of Learning Technologist Ariane Skapetis from the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning. Her job was to not only help students uncover the tools available to them (think QR codes, augmented reality, Google forms and audio and visual materials), but also to provide ideas for how the students could integrate them into their displays.
The result? “I was absolutely blown away,” says Skapetis.
So too was Pressick-Kilborn. “Integrating learning technologies like this provides one possibility for how we might design future assessment tasks. Watch this space!”