Teaching and Learning Forum

Ms Vanessa Brotto

Ms Vanessa Brotto

Position: Lecturer

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

Campus: Burwood
Phone: +61 3 924 46621
Email: vanessa.brotto@deakin.edu.au

"I do set the bar high, but I give students plenty of encouragement and I try to keep them entertained along the way."

Ms Vanessa Brotto teaches undergraduate and postgraduate Nursing units and is a practising clinical nurse specialist.


Shaped as a teacher by her own learning experiences, Vanessa aims to motivate students by making lectures as colourful and as interesting as possible. Vivid memories of two outstanding lectures from her student days still inform her practice. One involved the use of cartoons to engagingly illustrate concepts and link these to memorable examples; the other used photographs of patients and colourful diagrams to explain theory around a particular aspect of patient care. In her own teaching Vanessa liberally uses relevant multimedia to engage students, drawing on her communication skills and enthusiasm for her subject matter to provide a thorough and dynamic learning experience.

Approaches and methods

Respect and support for the development of students as individuals are cornerstones of Vanessa’s approach. She keeps communication lines open, offering students a range of options for contacting her, and encourages questions. Vanessa also aims to be as transparent and clear as possible about expectations for assessment. To further promote positive learning experiences for students, she also mentors and supports sessional teaching staff.

For Vanessa, lectures are a passion. She believes a sense of humour is critical for engaging students in an enjoyable learning environment and, whether impersonating a cell or telling a joke to break the ice, leads by example to encourage engagement and interaction. Vanessa builds practical demonstrations and activities into class in a range of ways to make learning literally active. She is careful not to put students on the spot, however, always calling for volunteers to participate in such activities. In a lecture of more than 400 students, Vanessa used a conga line to demonstrate what happens when drugs are bound to proteins in the body. Feedback from former students reveals that this was highly memorable, as was, more importantly, the concept it illustrated. Props, which include sample equipment from medical companies, are also important for engaging students in hands-on learning.

Recognising that students in the Bachelor of Nursing degree bring diverse backgrounds and abilities to their studies, Vanessa aims to help all students to discover their potential. She seeks to inspire a passion for nursing in her students, combined with respect for others that will be the foundation for lifelong learning. To cater for varying learning styles, Vanessa incorporates visuals, audio and text into every class, placing great value on diverse pedagogies for reaching different students in different ways. She also challenges students as appropriate by increasing the complexity of material or enlarging its scope to explain links to other subject areas.

Nursing units are based on a problem-based learning pedagogy, which recognises the importance of integrating theory into practice for safe care of patients. A practising clinical nurse specialist, Vanessa draws on her extensive experience to show students the relevance, context and application of material. She incorporates contemporary case studies and actual hospital documents into most tutorial scenarios and includes current stories, modified to protect privacy, about patient care. Vanessa was closely involved in the restructuring of the Nursing Laboratories at the Melbourne Campus at Burwood, helping to plan a new treatment room to realistically simulate the clinical environment.

Audio Icon Audio clip: Vanessa Brotto on essentials of teaching and learning in nursing

Enhancing teaching

Vanessa believes strongly in the value of professional development and chose to complete the Deakin Graduate Certificate of Higher Education, attaining excellent results. She was motivated and inspired by learning about new teaching methods and found the interaction with academics outside nursing to be a great source of new ideas and approaches to teaching.

In addition to Student Evaluation of Teaching and Units (SETU) feedback, which is generally very positive, Vanessa directly seeks student comments and draws on these to shape her teaching for the future. Encounters with former students who are now nursing have affirmed the practical benefits and lasting value of her approach to teaching and learning.

Outside class Vanessa has run optional programs to enhance learning. One initiative around drugs and nursing attracted more than 400 students. The overwhelming response and feedback from students attested to its usefulness.

Research and teaching

Vanessa has published and presented on nurse education in relation to medication and laboratory teaching. Having had exposure through conference attendance to nursing education approaches in the United States, she is keen to research the effectiveness of current approaches to nursing education in Australia, with the aim of collaboratively developing evidence-based innovations and enhancements.

While on an academic exchange program at the Schools of Nursing at the University of Peking and Wenzhou Medical University in China, Vanessa shared some of her techniques for teaching critical thinking skills. Through this experience she gained a greater understanding of the international student experience and the very different learning background that international students from China bring to their Australian studies. Vanessa has incorporated her insights into her teaching practice to cater for some of these differences and make classes more accessible.


Vanessa is currently also taking a leadership role by:

  • mentoring academic staff (she developed a handbook for clinical teachers in 2002 that is still used in updated form)
  • developing a new medication course for nurse practitioners as part of the Master of Nursing degree
  • developing new undergraduate subjects
  • reviewing several nursing journals.


  • BNurs/BAppSc (Health Promotion) [Deakin]
  • PostgradDipAdvNurs (Critical Care) [La Trobe]
  • MNurs [La Trobe]
  • GradCertHigherEd [Deakin]



  • Deakin University Award for Teaching Excellence


back to top

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

29th July 2010