2020 AAUT– Meet Deakin’s Wildlife and Conservation Biology degree team


MARCH, 2021

Rewards and Recognition

Assoc. Prof. John White, Assoc. Prof. Raylene Cooke and Assoc. Prof. Mike Weston

Pictured left to right: Assoc. Prof. Raylene Cooke, Assoc. Prof. John White and Assoc. Prof. Mike Weston

Assoc. Prof. John White, Assoc. Prof. Raylene Cooke and Assoc. Prof. Mike Weston recently won an Award for Programs that Enhance Learning at the 2020 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT). The award recognised their work on Deakin’s Wildlife and Conservation Biology degree, which provides students with the opportunity to take part in immersive international experiences and develop skills, experience and attitudes to become highly employable conservation practitioners, ready to tackle the global environmental challenges facing society today and into the future.

We spoke to Assoc. Prof. John White about the AAUT award, Deakin’s Wildlife and Conservation Biology degree and the process of applying.

How does it feel to have your work recognised by the AAUT?

We’re all delighted. It does confirm to us what we’re doing something pretty special. It’s great to have our work recognised nationally.

Tell us about the Deakin’s Wildlife and Conservation biology degree.

Our submission was around the idea of creating globally competent and globally prepared wildlife and conservation biology graduates. Over the last 12 years, we’ve developed a process to prepare graduates, so they have the field skills and the theoretical skills of their area, but are also skilled in intercultural communication, with a much broader depth of understanding of international issues.

In the past, our students were mainly going overseas on exchange to Western countries, where they received a Western experience. We wanted our students to be working in biodiversity hotspots around the world, so we created a global engagement program.

One example is a field program study in Borneo for 16 students a year. We really immerse ourselves in the issues from both the Indigenous perspective, through to the government perspective. We live in Indigenous communities and really get a feel for the complexity of conservation issues in Borneo.

Another example a global environmental placement, where Assoc. Prof. Raylene Cooke and her team send out up to 100 students to locations around the world, from working in a rhino sanctuary in Uganda, through to more basic placements working in conservation in New Zealand for students with less experience.

What was the impact on students?

We’ve managed to build the number of students who actually get an international experience from what was 5% of our graduates to a point now where 79.2% of our graduates in the past 3 years have completed their degree having had an international experience, a level of internationalisation that substantially exceeds the Australian average of 21.9% (AUIDF Learning Abroad benchmarking 2019).

For me, what’s great about running the Borneo unit is that we go there with students, and so we actually get to see their skills grow. Something that becomes apparent very quickly is that students often have strongly entrenched Western viewpoints. They’ve been trained in that way of thinking and they’ve also been trained in certain solutions that work in Australia, or work in Europe, or work in North America. When you go to another place and ask students to immerse and really start to understand what’s going on, it’s very challenging at first. I don’t think students realise how entrenched their worldview is until its challenged by somebody else’s worldview.

What value did you get out of the submission process for AAUT?

Going through the application process was good for us, in a sense that it allowed us to really crystallise a little bit of the logic behind what we do and put a narrative behind it. It was a worthwhile exercise for us to really sit there and consider what we’ve been doing and the strategy behind it, taking the time to write a really clear narrative that showed how we planned the process, what’s changed and adapted.

The process was really well supported by the University. We had a mentor assigned to us who helped with the initial draft, then there was a drafting process where we got feedback. The process confirmed for us that over last 10 years of really hard work, and a lot of time away from home, we have produced something very unique.

What was it like working with our Deakin mentors in developing your submission?

Our mentor had won a team award in the past, so it was good to have somebody that had done it before, who could bring a ‘teacher’ view to the application. They had really valuable feedback as we went through the process.

What advice do you have for Deakin colleagues who might be thinking about nominating for AAUT in 2021?

If you have a good case to put forward for your work – do it. Try going through the University’s initial process of faculty teaching awards as a good way to familiarise yourself with writing these kinds of applications. Take stock of what you’re doing, and if there’s leadership behind the work and there’s a clear narrative behind what you’re doing, go for it.

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