2020 AAUT– Meet Dr Craig Parker and Assoc. Prof. Harsh Suri
Rewards and Recognition
Pictured left to right: Assoc. Prof. Harsh Suri and Dr Craig Parker
At the 2020 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT), Dr Craig Parker and Assoc. Prof. Harsh Suri received a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning for their sustained and coherent suite of innovations to support international students in developing environmental and social responsibility and employability skills in the Master of Information Systems program.
We spoke to Craig and Harsh about their citation.
How does it feel to have your work recognised by the AAUT?
Craig: Personally, it’s been wonderful to get national recognition for our work. It was great to see feedback in the award notification letter saying how good not only our work was, but also the quality of the application. It’s just nice to know that our work is valued on a national level, not just important to us within our department.
Harsh: Craig and I have been working together since 2015 and what’s remarkable about Craig’s work is that he has a very honest engagement with the real challenges that students are experiencing. He actually engages with the lived realities of students, he doesn’t sit on a high moral ground and judge students. He sets very high academic standards, but at the same time he also provides empathetic scaffolded guidance throughout. So, to have that recognized is fantastic.
Tell us about your citation.
Craig: International students face real challenges around employment, a lot more challenges than domestic students when it comes to getting a job here in Australia. These issues relate to things like not having Australian work experience, as well as building the confidence needed to promote themselves to employers. Opportunities to work with industry are usually only offered in courses during capstone units or internship electives. I thought, how can I give students that real experience outside of those traditional opportunities?
Over the last five years I have been refining an approach where International students connect with real businesses to do their coursework assignment. An example is an assignment we do with industry around sustainability.
Harsh: Environmental and social responsibility is something that all business schools talk about for accreditation purposes. Students often feel that even if they learn about all these environmental and socially responsible behaviours, industry will be more focused on promoting profits. Craig has integrated the assignment with the industry. He asks students to go and source a problem from a real business owner and evaluate a potential sustainability solution in a large coursework unit. Students also develop important employability skills while doing this assignment.
Craig: The approach has presented a lot of challenges, such as how do you make sure that the assignment is different each year? Especially when you have little control over what businesses they’ll connect with or what sort of problems those businesses might have. That’s where the scaffolding aspect becomes really important. International students much prefer specific guidance to help them through that process. So, we created a report format that clearly indicated what sort of information they had to put into the report, and therefore what sort of things they had to find out from the business owner. There was scaffolding in terms of how to even approach businesses, how to get business owners interested in sharing information about their businesses with students for this assignment, and then how to interview them about their issues.
What was the impact on the students?
Harsh: So, it’s not just teaching students about sustainability issues or environmental issues in an abstract way, it’s about helping students build employment skills. I was recently in a carbon literacy training session, and in the UK and lots of other places they’ve actually started including carbon literacy in position descriptions. This is giving our students a competitive edge and showing them how they can walk the walk and not just talk the talk. We also redesigned the assessment so that students were required to actively seek, interpret, evaluate and act upon real life feedback from industry, their peers and their teacher to improve their solutions. Students in this program reflect upon employment skills in the introductory unit of this program and then build on this in multiple units through the program. They also engage with reflections from alumni who have successfully secured professional employment in Australia.
Craig: Often students initially feel that the process is too challenging, but as the trimester progresses, they discover that they can handle the assignment because they have the support. Students have submitted the report and given feedback about how it was a real challenge, but it was also a great eye-opening experience for them on how to seek employment.
What was it like working with our Deakin mentors (previous AAUT winners) in developing your submission?
Craig: Our mentor was just an absolute gem, and was instrumental in helping us to focus the application. The mentor’s initial advice was to identify three or four key strategies. Our mentor really got us to reflect on our core strategies and our core message that would run through the whole application. The advice was based on the mentor’s own experience, which made it even more compelling.
What advice do you have for Deakin colleagues who might be thinking about nominating for AAUT in 2021?
Craig: It’s worthwhile considering because it allows you to learn that there are things you’re doing that are really innovative and worth celebrating. There are also other things that can come out of the application process. For instance, we’re using a lot of the evidence we gathered for our application to write a journal paper. There’s a lot of benefit you can get from this sort of reflective process.
Harsh: If you think you’re doing some good stuff and your students are really benefiting from the work, I would strongly encourage you first to go and talk to your colleagues in the DLF faculty pods and draw upon them as critical friends to build your narrative. A strong message I would like to say to people is – you’re not alone. The second thing is, if you’re not successful with your application, it doesn’t mean that you’re not doing good work, it might mean that you just need to sharpen your narrative. There’s a lot of support within the University, within Deakin Learning Futures, with past successful recipients of awards and they’ll all support you and they’ll be with you in this journey. We are particularly grateful to Barbie Panther and Tony Joel for being our mentors through this process.