Faculty: Faculty of Science and Technology
School: School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Discipline: Environmental Science
Phone: +61 3 925 17051
"Teaching has to engage the students. Students need to know that they are in charge of their learning."
A lecturer and Unit Chair in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Ms Janine McBurnie joined Deakin in 1996. She teaches a number of large first-year units and supervises Honours students in the areas of coastal geomorphology and coastal management.
As an educator Janine is motivated by a love of the environment and a deeply held belief that environmental management needs to improve. Her career has focused on helping people from diverse backgrounds to understand and appreciate a range of environmental issues from a variety of perspectives. Janine believes that having insight into others' points of view is critical to successful environmental management.
Janine has played a key role in developing subjects for first-year students as part of an award-winning teaching team. She is Chair of a formative, first-semester, first-year unit, Ecology and the Environment. This offers specific challenges: large class size, students who are new to university and a diverse cohort, including students from non-science disciplines.
Engaging students is Janine's biggest challenge. She aims to deliver a learning experience that is motivating, topical, relevant and informed by current research. She works closely with tutors and tutors at least one class herself. This gives students the opportunity to ask her questions and means Janine can more closely monitor progress and follow up with students if they have missed classes. Janine emphasises her accessibility to students and offers a range of contact options to ensure they have someone to talk to.
Janine encourages her students to understand that they are learning to learn and that they are in charge of their learning. When a student recently posed a question which Janine could not answer in detail, she promised to research the issue and report back. Other students also researched the question and sent Janine resources to share with the class. In this way students realised they could find out information themselves as well as learning from their teacher and from each other.
Janine uses a range of approaches and innovations to cater for different learning styles. Her students recently collected and analysed songs about environmental issues. These included the Joni Mitchell tune Big Yellow Taxi, which generated discussion about use of the pesticide DDT and land clearing. Because a cover version had been recently released, the song was familiar to school leavers as well as mature age students. By combining music and environmental issues in this way, Janine enjoyed the experience of seeing a class of four hundred students completely engrossed as they analysed lyrics and discussed how attitudes had evolved since the song was originally released in 1970.
Role play has been another successful strategy. Janine develops scenarios as close to the start of semester as possible to ensure currency. She strategically groups students so that they have to consider and argue cases contrary to their own opinion. This has led some students to change their original views. Because of the complexity of many environment issues, Janine helps students to understand different perspectives on the basis that effecting change requires insight into diverse perspectives.
Media analysis exposes students to the broad scope of environmental issues. By discovering the extent of media coverage around environmental issues, students personally connect to their studies and relate a variety of issues with their own lives.
Online technology has been critical to timely communication with students. Some are new to science and anxious about learning. All expect quick responses to their queries. Janine uses Deakin Studies Online (DSO) to respond to individual questions, allowing multiple students to benefit. Janine also uses iLecture. Online assessment gives students feedback with 24 hours, building confidence.
Ongoing review of her teaching has been essential to Janine's success in engaging students. When student feedback showed that students were struggling with the pure science component of a unit which, traditionally, had been taught before its application, she reversed the content sequence. Students built confidence as they learned why particular knowledge was needed before covering it. Janine analyses Student Evaluation of Teaching and Unit (SETU) responses to understand which approaches have and haven't worked according to the student perspective. She is part of a close knit teaching team that shares her openness to new ideas and approaches.
Although her interest in environmental science is as strong as ever, in recent years Janine's research focus has moved from fieldwork to teaching. With colleagues she is participating in a 2008 Strategic Teaching and Learning Grant Scheme (STALGS)-funded project to identify the core skills, knowledge and professional development that graduates find most valuable in employment and develop a framework for assessing the perceptions of graduates in relation to job-readiness upon course completion. Janine is also interested in researching transition to university and students' perceptions of science and its applications.
Teaching awards have given Janine a profile in her areas of interest and led to further opportunities. She is a member of the recently established Transition Working Party of the Academic Board and, with Faculty support, will attend a conference on transition into and out of University later this year. A further benefit has been the opportunity to meet other educators who are working in similar areas, and to compare experiences.
Janine is also taking a leadership role in the following teaching and learning related activities: