Teaching and Learning Forum

Susie Macfarlane

 Susie Macfarlane

Research Fellow—Scholarly Teaching and Learning

Faculty: Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences
School: Psychology
Discipline: Psychology

Campus: Burwood
Phone: +61 3 925 17790
Email: susie.macfarlane@deakin.edu.au

"For me, enjoyment and meaning come first. If I am valuing and enjoying what and how I am teaching, that allows me to be open to the expected and unexpected outcomes of what I do, and drives me to create learning experiences for students that similarly enhance their enjoyment and engagement."

Ms Susie Macfarlane is a Lecturer, Unit Chair and Teaching and Learning Coordinator in the School of Psychology.


Susie is a passionate educator who aims to engage students in active and meaningful learning experiences that have significance for them as individuals, and that result in high quality learning outcomes. Providing a variety of carefully structured activities and formative assessment tasks, she assists students to build their capacity to use the analytical tools and skills of the discipline and to critically reflect on and manage their own learning and development.

Approaches and methods

Susie's approach to teaching and learning is based on enthusiasm for the subject matter, respect for students and responsiveness to their needs, and a belief in the importance of encouraging students to identify and harness their own source of motivation to drive their engagement with the course content and learning experiences associated with their studies.

As subject coordinator of a 1200-student, compulsory first-year unit, she has introduced innovations to enhance student engagement. These include the design and implementation of weekly interactive online tutorials using the Elluminate Live synchronous eLearning environment and the implementation of a reflective health behaviour change assessment task. In the latter, students set health behaviour change goals and strategies within a structured framework that requires reflection on action and subsequent refinement of the plan where required. The highly structured process is based on current best practice for ensuring successful health behaviour change, and most students achieve their goals and notice changes within weeks. This is very exciting and empowering for them and, as a result, they develop intrinsic motivation and take responsibility for the change process. Students write a post each week using the Journal tool on Deakin Studies Online (DSO). They record their progress in relation to that health behaviour change and are guided to relate their experience and their progress to weekly course materials. Outcomes of this exercise, in terms of health behaviour change and learning, are very effective. Many students have also reported that they have been personally transformed by the experience and that they feel empowered to apply the skills that they have developed through this exercise to other areas of their life, including enhancement of their studies and academic performance.

Susie carefully structures formative assessment tasks so that they build upon each other to scaffold skill development. For example, in one unit the first assessment task requires students to undertake a database search to identify peer reviewed journal articles on a given topic. Successful completion of this first task enables students to perform the second assignment, which requires students to work with the information they have found. By offering students a choice of assessment tasks Susie aims to inspire students' intrinsic motivation and thereby optimise their engagement with learning activities and course materials from the outset.

Audio Icon Audio clip: Susie Macfarlane on assessment and transformative learning

Enhancing teaching

For Susie, personal meaning and enjoyment are the keys to enhancing her teaching practice as these drive the desire to create engaging, relevant and transformative learning experiences for her students.

Susie values the process of critical reflection on her practice, examining her assumptions and student feedback as she considers whether her teaching goals and student's learning goals have been achieved. However, Susie feels that this position of critically reflective practice is one that we can also encourage our students to adopt and believes that the Student Evaluation of Teaching and Unit (SETU) process in isolation may act to reduce student's agency by requesting them to think about how they were taught, rather than to consider ways in which they contributed to or could enhance their own learning. To address this, Susie is working with her colleague Dr Ben Richardson on a project in the School of Psychology to design an integrated, scaffolded and supportive learning framework, whereby at each stage of the undergraduate curriculum, students consciously manage and reflect on the quality, process and outcomes of their learning experience. This goal will be assisted by two further processes: the embedding of academic literacy skills within the undergraduate curriculum, and the constructive alignment of each assessment task and learning activity with the learning outcomes of that unit.

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Research and teaching

At this stage in her early career development, Susie is using research to understand the value in her teaching practices and the factors in these that are important. In one unit, when she introduced weekly questions that linked student learning with personal experience, she found that students began to monitor and mentor themselves to the extent that they needed less frequent feedback. This effectively disproved an assumption she had made earlier in the semester about the usefulness of weekly feedback.

Susie is currently researching the impact of implementing biweekly eLive sessions in the unit she chairs. These sessions comprise interactive learning activities such as active listening and motivational interviewing, and are open to both off-campus students and on-campus students unable to attend on-campus tutorials. She has surveyed students about their perceptions of the benefits and any challenges of the eLive learning experience, and the characteristics of the facilitator and the learning environment that support their learning.

She is also part of a Strategic Teaching and Learning Grant Scheme (STALGS)-funded project that will develop, trial and evaluate a semi-structured problem-based collaborative approach to tutorials to assist health and social science students in the development of Deakin Graduate Attributes associated with working in interdisciplinary teams.

With colleague Dr Ben Richardson, Susie has received funding of $10 000 from Kinect Australia and WestVic Division of General Practice to evaluate their telephone Health Coaching program. The six month program is aimed at supporting individuals with, or at risk of, diabetes or heart disease to develop and implement a customised plan for health behaviour change.


In 2007 Susie was a Deakin University Institute of Teaching and Learning Professional Development Fellow, supporting staff development across the University in relation to plagiarism detection, management and prevention. She also worked collaboratively with the Faculty Education Developer, Dr Ian Story, to support staff professional development in the effective implementation of educational software to enhance teaching and learning.

In her role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator in the School of Psychology, Susie has facilitated significant staff development in online learning by conducting a school-wide audit of staff proficiency in the Deakin suite of educational software, and provided customised training and ongoing, just-in-time support to all staff across all campuses. As a member of the Faculty Teaching and Learning Committee and the Faculty Teaching Leaders Group, Susie has been a significant contributor to the development of the vision, approaches and strategies for teaching in the Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences.

Susie is also taking a leadership role in developing, documenting and disseminating strategies for the provision of formative feedback that effectively supports learning. In addition, she is passionate about developing and disseminating strategies for the design and moderation of online learning environments and experiences that enhance learning.


  • BSc (Psych) (Hons) [Monash]
  • Graduate Certificate of Higher Education [Deakin]



  • ALTC Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (team)—For transformation of the teaching approach in the School of Psychology through redevelopment of content, delivery, and student and staff engagement into a model of excellence


  • Deakin University Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching and Learning


  • Institute of Teaching and Learning Professional Development Fellow



  • STALGS grant (project participant)—Developing face-to-face and online tutorial-based collaborative learning: Evaluating an approach to enhance student engagement and the development of graduate attributes
  • Kinect Australia and WestVic Division of General Practice—evaluation of telephone Health Coaching program around Diabetes and heart disease (with Dr Ben Richardson)


  • Early Career Researcher Grant



  • Faculty Teaching and Learning Committee
  • Faculty Honours Committee
  • Disability Liaison (Academic) School of Psychology
  • Higher Education Research Group

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29th July 2010