Andy Ballard – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile for Andy Ballard Senior lecturer (AUT University) Award for Sustained Excellence in tertiary teaching 2014
Three concepts are core to how I understand my role as a teacher. They are the primary importance of:
- the teacher–student relationship,
- meaningful engagement, and
- learning is fundamentally active.
Learning is dependent on the relationship between the learner and the teacher. Like all relationships, the foundation for success is mutual trust. In order to build trust, I begin each new class by inviting students to generate questions about topics that would affect their trust in me. My answers are authentic and have covered topics ranging from my marital status and sexuality to tips for success on assessments and my biggest mistakes in business. By answering openly and honestly the students start to build trust in me, and I get to know their concerns and build trust in them.
.As part of relationship building, I am very explicit with the students about my approach. They quickly learn to come to class to discuss and actually apply what they are learning and they understand why they will not be viewing PowerPoint slides.
Learning is fundamentally an active social activity. Th e classroom is a shared, collaborative space for learning, and I strive to reduce the focus on me in the classroom, instead creating a learning environment in which they see themselves as cocreators of knowledge. Students are encouraged to see both the space and the class as ‘theirs’.
Seeing learning in this way requires students to have well-structured opportunities to think deeply with each other about a focused set of concepts or issues, rather than an environment in which the objective is coverage. A variety of learner-centric activities, from simulations to debates, are some of the ways in which I do this.
Strongly related to the social aspect of learning is engagement. As a teacher strongly connected to industry, I weave stories from my commercial life into the classroom. The value of these stories is immense. First, they serve to capture student interest in the topic because the students can see why they are learning it and that the theory relates to practice.
Second, by sharing them I enable students to reflect on the stories, discuss their meaning and critically analyse their importance. This helps students to appreciate that despite what theory might sometimes suggest, in the complex real world of business nothing is monocausal. The stories also provide students with practical situations to complement their theoretical learning. These practical examples are frequently mentioned by students in their own reflective portfolios as being critical moments of understanding. Furthermore, as they analyse a problem and ask me for additional context, I find myself reflecting more deeply on the event and its theoretical basis causing new understandings of the theory to emerge.
Underpinning all of this is the injection of my own optimism and enthusiasm to ‘infect’ my students with the same feelings, in the hope that these feelings will remain with them at least throughout the remainder of the class, and beyond.
Work-integrated learning in social entrepreneurship
The authenticity of bringing in industry experience is further complemented and extended by the creation of authentic learning environments. One of my recent papers (SIFE 307000) provides an example of a high-engagement, authentic learning experience. In this paper, students in Enactus worked on real projects in an innovative form of work-integrated learning.
In the Enactus organisation students work to apply business knowledge and an entrepreneurial mindset to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need, in their communities. At AUT we decided to assess this multidisciplinary applied learning in an undergraduate paper. In other words, we did not view Enactus as an additional activity, unrelated to the students’ classroom learning, nor did we view it as a simple source of credit for community volunteering. Rather, we viewed Enactus as an integral part of our students’ learning: a service learning experience based on principles of problem-based learning; a capstone experience structured around the principles of engagement theory.
This is the sort of experience that makes learning meaningful for students and excites their passions. Under my leadership, the SIFE 307000 paper was revised, making it a 60 point alternative to our cooperative education capstone rather than the 15 point optional paper it had been traditionally.
The magic of team-based learning
I introduced Larry Michaelsen’s form of team-based learning to our integrated law, social science and management core paper MBR 476140, to address problems around lack of student preparation for classes and concerns about inequity in groupwork. This approach had never before been used in an integrated paper.
Team-based learning is an approach where students work in consistent teams throughout the semester. At the beginning of each unit of work, the students take a short ‘reading review’ based on readings assigned on the new unit. Then, before they receive their marks they take the same review as a team using an immediate feedback scratch card. Both results count towards their mark for the paper. This encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning, both to gain marks in the individual test and also to avoid losing face in front of their teammates. The team test rewards teams that promote open discussion and value diversity, because the students quickly learn that the dominant members may not know the answers and that the quieter members may well have valuable input. The scratch cards encourage teams to continue to debate and choose a new answer if their first one was incorrect, increasing their learning. All of this team work builds towards authentic team assessment at the end of the semester, so the students appreciate that they do need to be able to understand and apply the content that has been assessed in the reading reviews.
This change had an enormously positive outcome for students. At the end of the semester, 97 per cent of students (n=400) recommended that team-based learning be used in the paper in the future. They said that the groupwork was fair and reasonable. In addition, the pass rate increased from a range of 75-84 per cent over the previous six semesters to 93 per cent. In the paper review, the teaching team commented that they felt that students’ essays were of a higher quality than in previous semesters, specifically in terms of application of theory. They further commented that student attendance was exceptionally high, and that the students in class had clearly completed their required readings and were engaged with theoretical discussions.
This entire process owes its success to a combination of the psychology of groupwork plus the students’ focus on assessment. In this way, the assessment is really used to drive their learning rather than simply to measure it. A further benefit is that I know exactly what the students know from their reading and what their misconceptions are before I begin to help them learn in the classroom. So reading review functions as diagnostic, formative and summative assessment.
Real-time assessment marking
An important aspect of my practice and my ability to be responsive and engage in a programme of continual enhancement is to create opportunities to hear from, and respond to, students and colleagues. Many students have commented to me that they sometimes fi nd it diffi cult to understand what lecturers actually want to see in assessments. To try to enhance their understanding, I make marking visible. I do this by marking a piece of student work ‘live’ (with the student’s permission) on the document camera, providing a real-time commentary about what I am thinking to enable students to better understand assessment criteria and how they are applied in practice. It’s a very simple thing to do, but it’s enormously valuable to students.
I love what I do, and the better I learn to do it, the more I love it. Every student I succeed in engaging with and inspiring reinforces my choice of career and my self-belief. I fi nd student success to be enormously rewarding; success in learning, success in assessment, success in competition and success in careers all give me huge satisfaction.
Plans for the future
As the initial shock and euphoria at being honoured with this award start to wear off , I find I am increasingly asking myself, “What next?” While I don’t yet have any specific answers I know that I am looking for something that is daring, different and experimental; something that will challenge me, inspire me and sustain me. In the short term I shall probably spend some of the award money attending outstanding overseas conferences, such as the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference in Vancouver 2015. In the longer term, it depends on the direction I now take.
Peer & Student Comments
Andy is a master in this art; he built relationships with the student body and pushed us to apply ourselves in ways that have helped me to grow as an individual. His guidance and focus to listen to us when problems arose as well as the advice given on a range of matters, both in and outside class, supported me in my learning during my studies and later in life. I have attended five different universities, both overseas and in New Zealand, and have had a vast number of different professors but none can compare to Andy’s teachings and personality.
Tihana Sardemann, Former student
I had the opportunity to work closely with Andy who mentored me in my role as president of Enactus AUT from 2011-2013. During this period I discovered in Andy a true passion for teaching and an incredible drive to make a difference for his students.
Andy’s diverse skill set has allowed him to step out of the classroom and mentor students through the process of preparing for a variety of national and international competitions, including Case Competition, Enactus World Cup and Hult Prize Social Enterprise Challenge. He brings to his teaching a unique approach as mentor and friend, giving students the confidence to not only work with Andy but also challenge him, and on occasion leave him with a new lesson and change in perspective to share.
Andy is an innovator at heart and always strives to adapt, change and grow with his students.
Afra Abdeen, Former student
I can say without hesitation that without Andy I would not have become a chartered accountant nor would I be the owner of a successful business. I am a high school dropout who had low self-esteem. I enrolled in a university to better myself after an accident left me unable to continue working as a baker. I never thought I could complete a degree – in fact most of my family thought I couldn’t either. During the course I had computer problems that led to me losing a substantial essay two nights before it was due. At this stage I was so used to being told I couldn’t do it I accepted I couldn’t.
I emailed Andy and asked to be removed from the course. Andy set up a meeting to discuss the email. During the meeting it was made very clear from Andy that he believed in me so much that I couldn’t leave the course. I am unable to put into words how this meeting made me feel however it was during this meeting that I started to believe in myself. I went home and rewrote the essay, which was submitted. This self-belief meant I finished the course and received one of the highest marks for that class. However the best thing I received from Andy was a belief in myself.
Jason Lougher, Former student
In addition to being able to convey the subject matter in a meaningful, interesting and practical way across a broad range of students, Andy also has a gift for encouraging students to grow as individuals, pushing them to become better students and people. One of my clearest memories is that of Andy pushing me to be more self-aware of how I interact with others in my group, of my impact on them, and challenging me to see things from other team members’ perspectives. It is not uncommon for teachers to try to develop these sorts of soft skills. However, in my experience, few teachers manage to inspire students to do so as effectively as Andy. Further, I am not alone in my experiences, with numerous other students expressing similar sentiments.
Jessica Dye, Former student