Judy Brown - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Judy Brown (Associate Professor of Accounting, School of Accounting and Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2004
Associate Professor of Accounting, School of Accounting and Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington (VUW)
Judy Brown has received four VUW awards for special achievements in teaching including being recognised as one of the 100 ‘Great Teachers' by VUW alumni. Profiled in a VUW advertising campaign in 1997, she was described as "an accountant with attitude". As passionate about the education process as she is about her subjects, she says her aim is to leave students with an educational experience that lasts well beyond their years at university. "I have a commitment to education for personal agency and citizenship, as well as for employment." She is described by one student as "the very essence of what it means to be a truly gifted educator".
"If your teachers are good, the students have a chance to be great"
Anonymous comment from student evaluation form, 2003
When I joined the staff at VUW, someone suggested to me that successful lecturing was just ‘performing in front of a class'. I thought at the time - and experience soon confirmed - that teaching goes far deeper than this.
I was a very nervous first-time lecturer. Indeed, I am still far less confident about my abilities than receipt of this award might suggest. When I returned to tertiary study as a ‘mature' student, I enrolled extramurally at Massey University, choosing accounting because it had ‘good job opportunities'. Two years later I transferred to VUW and picked up political studies for ‘interest'. Somewhere around my second year I fell in love with education. I loved the exposure to competing perspectives, being able to make up my own mind about issues and the sense of intellectual freedom.
In 1988 I was awarded a VUW senior scholarship and a position as an assistant lecturer. Very excited but daunted at the thought of ‘becoming a lecturer,' I spent weeks preparing for my first lecture, recited it many times to my Old English Sheepdog and remember very little about the actual presentation. At the end, students packed up their books as though it had been a ‘normal' lecture and a fellow Honours student I had planted up the back reported that I'd given a credible enough impersonation.
I strongly believe there is no ‘one right answer' when it comes to successful teaching. I am happy to share my ideas with others, but with the strong caveat that teaching can never be a ‘recipe'. I encourage colleagues to expose themselves to a diversity of teaching philosophies, styles and methods to find a way that works for them and their students. As in research, I think it is a question of trying to understand where you ‘fit'. Students benefit from exposure to a variety of teaching approaches.
Students, as well as lecturers, have different views on the purposes of a university education and thus on what constitutes ‘good' teaching. In accounting, this debate manifests itself in issues such as whether we are teaching for accounting or about accounting, the appropriate balance between technical and conceptual material and whether we are preparing students primarily for the job market or educating in a more classical liberal arts sense (Humphrey, Lewis & Owen 1996).
I belong firmly in the liberal arts tradition. I have a commitment to education for personal agency and citizenship, as well as for employment. I place a high value on the concept of human potential. I work hard to try to make a difference for students in terms of their own self-development and fulfilment. While recognising the importance of a solid technical base, I focus on attempting to foster ‘reflective practitioners' rather than skilled technicians. I aim, through my teaching, to leave students with an experience that lasts well beyond their years at university.
I also value intellectual independence, academic freedom and the university's role as ‘critic and conscience of society' very highly. For me, this means not only choosing my own research directions but also a responsibility to expose students to competing perspectives. I take the research-teaching nexus very seriously, working hard to be an active researcher and to share the ‘world of research' with students and other stakeholders. An important part of this involves communicating the power of ideas and research to the world of practice.
In line with these values, I theorise the education process as a ‘dialogic' rather than ‘banking' endeavour: one that views and fosters students as active learners on an ‘intellectual journey' (cf objects in whose heads knowledge is ‘deposited').
I realised early on that an ‘information transmission' approach does not really engage students, so made a transition to more interactive teaching. I have worked actively to ‘decentre' my classrooms, working with students, encouraging them to think and process in various ways. I make heavy use of interactive lecturing, peer-based methods, group discussions and web-based technology. I play a facilitative role. I use my knowledge to introduce students to issues, to extend their understandings and to provide them with resources that encourage their own independent learning.
I adopt a multi-layered approach to the design of teaching material so that students can work in different ways. I incorporate visual, aural and read/write activities and provide opportunities for students to work alone and in groups. I include course material for sensors (e.g. practical problem-solving activities) and intuitive learners (e.g. those who prefer thinking about concepts and possibilities). My reading lists typically contain a mix of practitioner-based and theoretical articles.
I spend considerable time researching the content of my teaching material, making sure that I am up to date with research literature, theoretical debates and their policy implications, and always include research articles in the courses I teach. I link topical practical issues in financial accounting with relevant research literature and use academic papers to extend material in textbooks. I include discussion of various aspects of my own research where relevant and provide opportunities for students to work on their own research projects. I would never agree to teach anything unless I was prepared to make a ‘research for teaching' commitment.
Passion and enthusiasm
I let my passion for the subjects I teach and my interest in students and their ideas show. In tutorials students interview and introduce each other in the first class, and I try to hand assignments back to them individually by week two. I often start courses with questions designed to surface students' starting assumptions and understandings of topic areas. This helps me understand where they are coming from and pitch material at an appropriate level.
I encourage students to get to know each other through class introductions and group discussions, and aim for enjoyable but challenging classes. Students often feel tense about learning complex financial calculations. I try to reduce stress levels by working up from basic examples and through the use of peer-based methods. Because I place so much store on the exploration of diverse perspectives, I work hard to establish trust and sharing, both between myself and the class and among the students themselves. I set ground rules in the classroom (e.g. respect for other people's viewpoints, encouraging people to ‘try ideas out' and understanding viewpoints without necessarily agreeing with them). I get students to take turns in leading small-group discussion and draw out quieter students through peer-based methods.
Stimulating student interest
I try to engage students in a variety of ways. For some, this means making plenty of ‘real-world' connections. I keep a file of newspaper clippings and use them to illustrate theoretical concepts and debates. I link issues to standard-setting activities at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of NZ and wider policy developments. I also encourage students interested in pursuing abstract ideas and ‘pure' research, pointing out the dangers of being ‘too trapped in the present'. One way I like to do this is to pair up ‘idealistic' and ‘practically oriented' students to help them appreciate what they might contribute together.
"I aim... to leave students with an experience that lasts well beyond... University"
I also encourage students to think laterally and creatively. By looking at how ideas and accounting frameworks have changed over time, I encourage them to think about how knowledge and practice may change in the future.
In large classes I encourage active engagement through interactive lecturing and peer-based methods. I might lecture for ten minutes on one side of an accounting controversy and then get students to come up with counter-viewpoints. Or I might ask them to write a brief reaction to a statement from a press clipping and then share their results in a ‘buzz-group'.
Small classes provide greater opportunities. I get students to email me a one-paragraph reaction to assigned readings a day before class, then combine the responses and distribute them for small-group discussion. I am also sensitive to the need for students to have periods of quiet reflection to build up their positions and have recently begun experimenting with the use of student journals.
I encourage student interaction outside the classroom (e.g. through study groups and online discussion groups and bulletin boards).
I often start courses by pointing to the course objectives for critical thinking and asking students what they think that means. I then share some of my own thoughts and quotes from the literature. I also introduce students to practical tools (e.g. the ARG technique - Are the premises Acceptable? Are they Relevant? Do they give good Grounds for accepting the conclusion?). I show students how I approach an article, interrogating it as I read. I recount how I used to sit in traditional lectures and ‘argue' in my head with the lecturer. I encourage students to ask questions and not take things at face value by suggesting examples of the sorts of questions they might ask.
Assessment policies and practices
I emphasise higher-order learning (e.g. analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and try to ensure there is space to reward creative and original thinkers. Where I have introduced competing perspectives, I follow this up in assessment. I set reflective essays that encourage students to expose their underlying values and assumptions, and explore how they affect their view of accounting. I expect students to perform calculations and to explain why they are done in a particular way. I also use informal assessment strategies and place a priority on providing timely and constructive feedback to students. Many of my class activities help students to self-assess.
I am keen to continue to develop my own skills in ‘dialogic teaching' and to work with others interesting in sharing ideas about teaching-learning philosophies and practices.
With the help of my award money, I aim to pursue the research-teaching nexus and explore the challenges of the teaching issues surrounding sustainable development, a timely area given that a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development begins in 2005.
"I encourage students to ask questions and not take things at face value"
Peer and Student Comments
The whole method of evaluation was well planned, as the written assignments, debates and reporting on debates encouraged us to re-evaluate ideas, evaluate new ideas and develop new skills.
I loved the material and being taught how to think critically, a huge help in all my courses.
Judy's enthusiasm/passion for the topics! Really rubs off on to students.
Open discussion/debate atmosphere is fantastic - you feel like you are able to truly open up and explore issues.
Finally being able to have a mind-expanding experience that will stay longer than the final test.
Extremely stimulating - encourages development of your own opinion on accounting procedures, assumptions and regulations.
Constructive comments on essays.
Anonymous comments from student evaluation forms
Three features of Judy's teaching are evident to everyone, students and colleagues alike. These are her preparedness, her enthusiasm and passion, and the research behind her lectures... As a fellow teacher I believe Judy's greatest contribution to teaching is her ability and willingness to meet each student where they are at, even in very large classes.
Philip Colquhoun, Lecturer in Accounting
Judy's firmly held educational and scholarly convictions, her outstanding abilities as a scholar and teacher, a passion and determination to contribute positively to the educational experience of all her students and generally to the academic enterprises of teaching and research, plus a very genial and generous approach to everything she takes on constitute one of those quite rare combinations that produce a simply inspirational university teacher.
Alan Cameron, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law
Judy has provided inspiration and mentoring to her colleagues and has enthused countless accounting students with a desire to extend their learning horizons. She is a university teacher with quite exceptional qualities and expertise...
Professor Brenda Porter, Head of School 2003-04 and Associate Professor Yvonne van Roy, Head of School 2000-03
Judy Brown... enables deep learning to take place by allowing multiple backgrounds, values and beliefs to take centre stage, giving them voice and enabling discussion and argument between them... [She] stands in front of a class with contagious energy that brings alive the material without sacrificing its academic richness... [She demonstrates] absolute passion... absolute commitment to her students... absolute enthusiasm...
Pala Molisa, Michael Fraser and David Carter, Teaching Fellows and PhD students, School of Accounting and Commercial Law