Dr Warwick Murray - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Warwick Murray (Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2006
Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington
Warwick is a geographer focusing mainly on globalisation and development studies. He has taught geography in the United Kingdom, Fiji and Chile. This has exposed him to the very processes of globalization and development that he teaches. He helped design the first undergraduate major in Development Studies in Australasia, introduced at Victoria University in 2003. The major combines existing courses across the University in an innovative way emphasising the inter-disciplinary nature of Development Studies. Warwick is influenced by a qualitative and a reflexive approach to both teaching and learning. Warwick instils a sense of passion for studies, a keen interest in the relevance of the subject and a strong grasp of the material. He is more than happy to sing to his students if he thinks it will get their attention and stimulate learning!
Why I am a geography lecturer - I love the world but want to change it.
I am in love with geography. As a young lad, my mum tells me, I would draw maps of imaginary countries complete with mountain ranges, roads and towns. By the age of nine I could recite nearly all of the capitals of the world. I daydreamt about far away places and people and wanted to know more.
I remember the day I decided to become a geography teacher. It was 15 July 1985, the day of Live Aid, the concert organised by Bob Geldof for famine relief in Africa. I was so deeply upset by the images of famine that I felt pure outrage for the first time in my life. At the same time I was profoundly impressed that people were trying to do something about it. I knew then that I wanted to understand the world and its inequalities and problems in order to try and make the world a better place.
I set my sights on geography at university and, ultimately, teaching in order to diffuse the sense that understanding global problems is the first step towards their solution. I now believe that tertiary teaching is, in fact, one of the most effective forms of activism. Although I have clearly not changed the world as I hoped I might when I was younger, over twenty years later my motivation remains the same. In the past ten years as an educator I have sought to share my passion for understanding global problems through the lens of geography with students at all tertiary levels.
I also learned something else through Live Aid that has influenced the way I approach teaching; combining performance with genuine concern can be a potent way to promote participation. I have subsequently learned that teaching is far more than just performance in front of a class, but it remains integral to my identity as a motivator of learning. I use music and other forms of recital to enthuse, entertain and - I dearly hope - inspire.
Incidentally, the Monday after Live Aid, Mrs Taylor, my geography teacher, asked me for my homework on Australian sheep farming. I told her I hadn't finished it because I had been watching the concert, which after all, was "real geography anyway, Miss". I got detention for a week! Sometimes it's tough being a musical, activist geographer!
Diverse globalised opportunities
Since gaining my PhD in 1997 and beginning my career as a geographer focusing mainly on globalization and development studies, I have had the good fortune to work with diverse peoples in diverse places. Before my present post I held positions at the University of Birmingham, UK (1996-97); the University of the South Pacific (USP), Fiji (1997-2000); and Brunel University of London, UK (2000-2001). I have also taught in Spanish in my main research site, second home, and subject of my PhD - the wonderful country of Chile. Travelling in this way has exposed me to the very processes of globalization and development that I teach. I have learned so much from my globalised and transnational students. This helped me enormously when designing, together with my colleagues, the first undergraduate major in Development Studies in Australasia, introduced at Victoria University in 2003. It has also helped me in my role as Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Asia Pacific Viewpoint.
Respect for the knowledge and innate capability of students is crucial to the way I approach teaching. I seek to break down hierarchy and communicate without superiority; I attempt to remain very open to ideas and encourage intervention in all situations. This tends to bring out the best in students. Teaching in four countries, to people of dozens of cultures over the last ten years, has taught me that there is no right answer, and no single model for either geography or the way it is taught.
My ‘philosophy' - mushy peas and all the Es
I only really thought about my ‘philosophy' of teaching when first pulling together evidence for my successful application for a teaching excellence award at Victoria in 2003. This was odd given the number of years I have been trying to impress upon students, especially postgraduates, that in order to interpret and analyse social scientific data it is critical to know where one is ‘coming from' theoretically. The reading I have been doing since 2003 has helped me develop a more critically reflexive approach. I realise that I am a teacher who wants to promote deep learning with a meaning rather than reproducing orientation. I favour a qualitative and reflexive approach to both teaching and learning. I see teaching in small part as transmission, in slightly larger part as organising student activity, but wholly as making learning possible. Ultimately, of course, all of these things overlap.
When I begin each trimester I think ‘mushy peas and four Es' - I really do! ‘PPP' refers to Preparation, Performance, and Participation; these Ps are ‘mushy' because they intermingle. I talk about the Es a little later. I believe in solid, watertight, preparation of materials, outlines, aims and objectives, reading lists and visual and musical materials. I then seek to perform in a way that hooks students and invites them to learn. Students need to want to learn, and performing enthusiastically stimulates that motivation. The type of ‘performance' will vary according to the mode of teaching. In the large lecture theatre my aim is to create the sense for every student that we are holding a personal conversation. Having gained students' attention and trust, I seek their participation. If students participate in learning situations, they are more likely to feel that they are unearthing things by themselves. My central goal in teaching is moulding this sense of discovery.
A central part of my performance is musical. I have written numerous songs tailored for course material. These include songs that reflect on the nature of learning (‘The more you know the less you know'), and more specific case study material (‘Santiago Nights'). One, ‘Must a Man Sell His God', deals with the impacts of globalization on peasants in Chile, who received their farms in a land reform, but who are now losing it to multinational agribusiness - this was the subject of my PhD thesis. The line: "now in the dust is planted gold, and green vines grow in the desert of old, green teems down the once empty river beds, floods people's homes, floods people's heads", illustrates the impacts of globalised financial flows on peasant farmers' individual lives.
Using such material works on a number of levels: it transports students to the field by way of sound and theme; it humanises and breathes life into the issues (land reform and peasant marginalization are not that exciting to non-specialists I realise!); it illustrates that there is more than one way to represent and communicate geographical ideas; and, it is a marker which helps learners retain information. Students have asked me about the songs years on and can still recall their themes. I realise I am not Paul McCartney, and this song is hardly ‘Yesterday', but my eventual goal is to put together an album to accompany my Routledge textbook Geographies of Globalization (Murray, 2005).
Learners need a fundamental reason to interpret facts rather than just learning and repeating them. Achieving this brings to mind another acronym I have evolved; EEEE - standing for ‘Entertain to Enthuse, Enrage to Engage'. The first part of the acronym is self-explanatory. Enrage to Engage means my intention here is to incense students about global problems and to elucidate the links to their own lives. For example, I start a second year course Worlds of Development with a video of famine that links Western over-consumption with under-nourishment in Africa. Showing students that I am personally concerned, upset and sometimes infuriated about global issues stimulates greater compassion on their part. Revealing subjectivity is a crucial step in stimulating deep learning, especially in human geography where right and wrong are relative terms.
In some ways my job is easy. I have the good fortune to be teaching subject matter that is inherently fascinating and often controversial. It is relatively straightforward to make even the duller points of globalization or development geography appealing. I am trying, however, to go far deeper than the diffusion of disciplinary concepts and information and seek to impart a fascination with learning in and of itself.
Effective teaching gives students a reason to learn beyond the requirements of the job market and this lies at the root of successful education. I encourage students to arrive at their own conclusions through individual investigation and research; where learners have ownership of their educational discovery this raises morale, levels of engagement, and - in my experience - development and retention of knowledge. As I have so much to learn about the world, and love to do so, it is not difficult to be enthusiastic. Learning together with those you ‘teach' is a privileged livelihood.
Peer and Student Comments
"Warwick has great enthusiasm and knowledge of the topics we covered"
"Warwick is inspiring and can justify his viewpoint 100% but can also approach things in a balanced way"
"He manages to put a smile on my face every lecture - both informative and interesting."
"It's brilliant coming in to the sound of music every day!"
Anonymous student comments received on end-of-course evaluations
He is an innovative teacher who is able to enthuse his students. His mode of teaching in interactive and his assessment techniques are creative. These qualities combined with his remarkable sense of humour and communication skills make him a first rate teacher.
Professor Vijay Naidu, Victoria University
Warwick's greatest personal quality in my estimation is his affability and lack of pretension. He was always cheery with both students and his departmental colleagues, a quality which has endeared him to them. Yet underneath this exterior is a serious and committed academic, hardworking, concerned and often deeply affected by the issues influencing the people's lifestyles he studies.
Professor Patrick Nunn, University of the South Pacific
As a student I found Dr Murray's classes dynamic and very engaging. He has a number of skills and qualities which make him an excellent teacher; the use of relevant and topical examples for explanation, personal insight, humour and innovative exercises engage the class. His demonstration of key concepts is always remarkably clear, concise and interesting. Above all, Dr Murray's passion for his field and genuine engagement with students is a potent combination.
Anton Griffith, former student
Dr Murray has the ability to enliven an audience, and his enthusiasm for his work is infectious. He also manages to balance his confidence in what he knows with humility about what others may know. He is extremely adept at promoting a participatory environment for learning. He is a superb role model for other lecturers and teachers.
Dr Teresia Teaiwa, lecturer, Victoria University
Warwick has the personality, the knowledge and the enthusiasm to bring people along with him on his journey of discovery. As far as I know, his teaching returns are the highest in the university. I am reliably informed that they are among the highest ever seen. Students clearly appreciate his mixture of passion and precision and find him inspiring.
Professor Philip Morrison, Victoria University