Teaching and Learning Forum

Dr Tess Knight

Dr Tess Knight


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

Campus: Burwood
Phone: +61 3 924 46595
Email: tess.knight@deakin.edu.au

"We have to know our students, to try and touch them in some way, to inspire them to learn."

A lecturer in the School of Psychology, Dr Tess Knight teaches postgraduate and undergraduate units and supervises students. As a joint appointee of the Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences and the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ITL), she is involved in strategically developing teaching and learning at Deakin by providing a conduit between the faculty and the ITL. Tess co-edits Teaching and Learning Matters, a global electronic newsletter for University staff, and is working with other joint appointees on development of a new teaching and learning framework online.


Tess began her working life as a high school teacher. She returned to study to upgrade her teaching diploma, intending to combine her psychology qualification with education by working as a school counsellor. Instead, her love of learning led to a career in academia. As an educator, her primary goal is to inspire her students with a love of learning.

Student engagement

Tess believes that it is essential to know students' needs and to try and touch them in a way that inspires them to learn. She recognises and seeks to understand student diversity in terms of baseline academic ability, culture and study mode. Tess also considers the diverse contexts in which her students learn and the emotional strain which some experience. Many students combine paid work with study; some juggle full time work and full time study. The environments in which they study also vary enormously. In one extreme case, an off-campus student was unable to post an assignment for fear of being caught in crossfire.

Assisting students to achieve the best possible grades and preparing them for future careers are important educational goals. Tess aims for something more, to foster deep learning in her students—learning that is personal, relevant and important. Deep learning transforms by generating new understandings and fosters a love of learning that is the basis of lifelong learning. For Tess, her greatest reward as an educator is hearing from students that they have been inspired to go beyond compulsory reading and activities.

Audio Icon Audio clip: Tess Knight on deep learning

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Approaches and methods

Tess takes an inclusive and learner-centred approach to her teaching and uses a range of methods to cater for diverse learning styles, including whole-class discussion and debates, role play, case studies, group discussion, audio and video presentations and fieldwork.

She finds that celebrating students' diversity can be a very powerful tool in the classroom. Tess teaches a unit on adult development which encompasses the topic of death. To make this difficult subject relevant and meaningful, she encourages her diverse student cohort to talk about rituals relevant to their families and culture. This approach allows students to take other perspectives and to learn something that is relevant to their personal lives.

For off-campus students, Tess uses eLive and encourages students to use Deakin Studies Online (DSO) to post their ideas, feelings and understandings, to chat among themselves about readings, concerns and things they don't understand. Tess fosters collegiality and independent learning among students by encouraging them to explore topics among themselves and to add to each other's knowledge, as well as consulting her.

Tess designs assessment so it is personally meaningful to students. In a recent exercise, students interviewed older people about how they perceived turning points in their lives and what the effect of those had been on their development as an adult. Students drew on their understanding of development theories and perspectives, and considered how they interacted with the case study. Feedback was enthusiastic. Students reported insights into ageing and into the experiences of older adults. Some felt as though they had met their interview subject properly for the first time through this exercise, even though many had spoken to family members. For Tess, the greatest reward came in feedback that students had learned and gained so much that they felt their mark was incidental to the significance and value of the exercise.

Students also complete a reflective journal through semester. They begin by recording their perspectives before discussion and reading have commenced. During the unit they reflect further, combining the theory they have studied with their personal perspective. At the conclusion of the unit students can use the journal to trace their learning journey as evidenced in their responses. Students were asked to grade themselves on this process. While some were initially uncomfortable with the idea, the majority found that self assessment enhanced reflection.

Audio Icon Audio clip: Tess Knight on student engagement and diversity

Enhancing teaching

As a lifelong learner Tess reflects on her practice and aims for continuous improvement. She asks students to set objectives at the start of semester and draws on these in developing the material covered. She revisits students' goals during semester to investigate whether they are being met and whether new goals have emerged as study of the unit continues.

Tess finds that students' reflective pieces and qualitative responses to the unit and how they feel they have grown are most relevant to ongoing enhancement of her teaching.

A benefit of teaching awards has been the opportunity they have provided for reflection: through the articulation and celebration of achievements but also as a means of identifying potential gaps and areas for further improvement or innovation. Perhaps most significantly, teaching awards serve as a reminder of the importance of ongoing reflection.

Research and teaching

In Tess' view, research and teaching are inseparable activities which are of equal relevance and importance. She draws on her research to develop examples in teaching topics. This year she is writing a paper on turning points in adults' lives based on students' case studies. She is also planning a paper around pedagogical aspects of the turning points case study exercise.


Tess is available to supervise research undertaken as part of the Graduate Certificate of Higher Education and is interested in collaborating with other Members of the Teaching Leaders' Forum on research focused on learning experiences.

Other teaching and learning related activities in which she is taking a leadership role include:

  • coordination of the Faculty mentoring programme for first-year students
  • formally and informally mentoring new staff members.


  • Grad Dip Ed (Psych) [Monash]
  • PhD [Deakin]



  • Jim and Alison Leslie Award for Excellence in Teaching


  • Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Recognition of Outstanding Teaching


Memberships (Teaching and learning related)

  • Faculty Board
  • Faculty Student Affairs Committee (2006-2007)
  • Faculty student support group
  • Faculty Teaching and Learning Committee
  • Academic Progress Committee Chair, School of Psychology

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29th July 2010