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Dr. Reza Kachouie and Stephen Williams

17 March 2023

Meet AAUT winners Dr. Reza Kachouie and Stephen Williams

Dr. Reza Kachouie and Stephen Williams received an Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning for their innovative transformation of the Business Analytics unit, achieved through the implementation of active learning and experiential learning approaches.

We spoke to Dr. Kachouie and Williams about their Citation, the work they did on their unit, and the benefits they gained from the AAUT application process.

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

Reza: It’s great, especially because the work is being recognised for the positive affect we have on the students’ learning and their employability. We’re very humbled to receive that recognition.

Can you tell me about the work that received a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning? What was it? Why did you do it? What were the benefits to students?

Reza: The Business Analytics unit is one of the largest data analytics offerings in Australia, with about 2000 students enrolled per year across four campuses. Our students come from diverse backgrounds, in terms of culture, language, and their starting points on maths, writing and computer skills. Our students have different learning styles, some are self-learners, and some follow the unit. When we first started to work with this unit these different learning styles caused some issues. If we went slowly, some of the students would be bored. On the other hand, if we progressed too quickly other students would miss out.

We decided to implement a middle-based strategy, using experiential learning and active learning approaches to give students some part of the responsibility for their learning. The three parallel threaded case studies – one for lectures about a university, another for seminars about a manufacturing company, and another for assessments based on an industry-led project – aimed to engage students with examples close to their interests and lived experience. By using one case study across the unit, it meant students didn’t need to learn a new case study each week, minimising their cognitive load.

We designed and recorded a series of videos based on the case study, so a student could go through the videos on their own pace without being pressured by the class. Then they could come to class and explore more critical aspects of their learning activities, such as how to communicate their findings effectively.

We also worked with the Students as Partners team in the Office of the Dean of Students, designing the project to make sure that anything we do moving forward is providing equal opportunities for every student to participate in this larger unit.

Stephen: The phrase that I use with our students in Week 1 is that I think that a data literacy could be the defining theme of your career. It’s an incredibly transferrable skill. We use industry partners to build the case studies that show this– artificial case studies supplemented by a real-life industry partner so that students get a taste of what data literacy really looks like. That covers data awareness, data capture, data analysis and importantly data communication. Those earliest stages are increasingly automated, but data communication is something that could differentiate students in their future roles.

What was the development process like? What value did you find in the process itself?

Stephen: The development of the unit and the application were very rewarding. For the development of the unit itself, it was fabulous to work with some really smart colleagues, Judy Currey was wonderful to work with, very encouraging, very practical, helpful, and generous. We had wonderful support from Associate Professor Christine Contessotto, the Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning for the Faculty of Business and Law. Christine has been a very big supporter during both our VC Awards application process and this AAUT process. Craig Parker, Senior Lecturer, Deakin Business School, who was wonderfully generous with his time, providing advice about what to include and importantly what to exclude and how to phrase the application.

Reza: Associate Professor Barbie Panther and the Teaching Capability team were very supportive. They explained what was expected of us in the application, and then we put everything together and Barbie went through the details and supplied constructive feedback.

For me, it was a learning journey, rather than just showing what we had done. Whenever we received feedback questioning our choices, it led us to read more background on different education theories, to think about how to frame them, to put ourselves in our students’ shoes.

What advice do you have for staff thinking of applying for an AAUT or another award?

Reza: My advice is start sooner rather than later; it’s a big job. Seek out as much feedback as you can, like informal feedback from colleagues, or more formal feedback through the University like the mentor process on offer. These awards are a peer review in teaching and learning, so talk to people to see what they are doing, and how they feel about what you are doing. It’s also a good idea to try to attend workshops and teaching and learning conferences as you can. Present your work and try to receive feedback on what you’re doing.

Stephen: I can encourage people go through the application process from a career development point of view. It’s an excellent opportunity to put your work in front of senior people, and highly skilled people. I would also encourage people to not put the cart before the horse; the award follows the actual work itself. That’s where Reza’s thoughts about peer collaboration and peer review come into play. Surround yourself with people who are high achievers and build a community of practice that will challenge you, and help everybody to be better.

You can find a full list of 2022 AAUT winners through the AAUT website.


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