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David Boud

9 March 2023

Meet Alfred Deakin Professor David Boud, AAUT 2022 Career Achievement Award winner

Alfred Deakin Professor David Boud, Foundation Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) has received the Australian Awards for University Teaching 2022 Career Achievement Award. This prestigious award recognises Professor Boud as one of Australia’s most exceptional educators and educational leaders.

Professor Boud is also Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology Sydney and Professor of Work and Learning at Middlesex University. He is Australia’s most internationally renowned educational researcher in higher education. He is a global leader and pre-eminent scholar in his fields of higher and professional education, workplace learning, and assessment and feedback which has led to reforms across the Australian and global higher education sector.

We sat down with Professor Boud to discuss the award, the many changes to higher education throughout his career and where he thinks the industry is heading.

How does it feel to have won the AAUT 2022 Career Achievement Award?

It’s very gratifying to get something like this. It’s not something you expect. Getting that recognition is an indication other people think you’ve been doing good things.

What have been the most significant developments in higher education across your career?

Every time I think about this in a different context I come up with a different set of answers. Early in my career everyone was completely fixated on teaching, they weren’t fixated on learning. Over the years, in different ways, there’s been a shift from what teachers do to the effect we have on students. That’s been manifest in terms of student-centred learning, which means different things at different points of time, but we’re increasingly recognising that we’re in the business of helping people learn, rather than giving a performance as a teacher.

The other shift that’s occurred is from an exclusive focus on what people do in classrooms, lecture theatres or labs to seeing that there’s a broader range of experience. We now have much more experientially based activities both on campus and off campus, for example the rise of Work Integrated Learning (WIL). Early in my career – and as a student – I went to a university that had what we called ‘thick sandwiches’; you could either do a normal three-year degree or you could spend the third year out in industry and then come back. Even this model only occurred in a few institutions. What we’re seeing now is that all students have some kind of experience out there in the workplace. in industry or in the community, and that’s a normal part of what we offer.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges for higher education over the next ten years?

We are going to be doing what we’ve been doing for the last 10, even 20 years, and that’s doing more with less. We are not going to get more resources from government, and there will be resistance from students about increasing their contribution as well. We’ve got to think smartly about what we deliver to students to have a bigger effect with potentially less resources.

This is a world-wide phenomenon. As higher education reaches a greater percentage of the population, we can’t have the same level of resource that occurred when it was an elite activity for a very small number of people, so we need to think about doing things differently. We’re facing those changes at Deakin post COVID-19 and we’re innovating to give students a better experience.

We’ve also been pursuing a model in higher education that worked when we were small and elite, and that model hasn’t fundamentally changed as we’ve become almost universal. In this basic model of higher education, a student comes along to a university and enrols in an offering that we determine for the student so they can get our qualification – because we know what’s good for them. I think we are going to see increasing pushback on this model from learners, saying, ‘I want to do something that university can help me with, but what I want doesn’t really align with what you’re offering in your courses right now. How can you be more responsive to my needs?’ If we are going to service a greater proportion of the population, we’re going to have to be more responsive in quite new ways.

How do you feel artificial Intelligence is going to affect higher education?

AI is going to be absolutely everywhere. We coped with all these other applications of technology in the past, we shifted from writing to word processing, then in word processing we shifted from spellcheck to syntax checks that helped improve our writing. As much as it seems like a huge shift on the AI front, it’s just a part of a trend in which we are increasingly using technological aides to enable us to study and work. AI will become normal, very quickly; we’ve got to adjust to this new normal and we need to help our students adjust as well. It’s a part of the environment, it’s a part of the world we are in now. We’re coming to grips with it from a staff perspective, we’re figuring out what it will mean for assessment and teaching.

On the assessment front, AI is exposing things we should have already dealt with. For example, we assess technical knowledge, recall, putting forward information you could easily look up, but we want students to be able to express it themselves. Now, we’re going to have to run more complex, interesting, personalized, and staged tasks. In fact, we’ve been moving in that direction already, we just need to speed up because AI is going to make some of what we did in the past rather redundant.

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

The important thing is, it’s not about the award. It’s exactly what we say to the students: it’s not the grade, it’s what you do to get the grade. My advice is to focus on things of enduring value and significance. If you do that very well, and if you progressively improve what you’re doing over time, recognition will follow.

I’ve been in involved in all sorts of innovations over my career. The things that I look back on now as the most significant changes, at the time nobody would have taken any notice at all. Not only would I have not gotten an award for these changes, but they would also have been entirely dismissed as a waste of time. I was a very early pioneer of reflection in learning, self-assessment, peer learning, experience-based learning – at the time I wouldn’t have expected to get any recognition whatsoever.

If you’re really committed to improvement, to innovation, to learning – just get on and do it. Down the track, when you’ve got some data, some evidence that you’re doing really well, then you can actually start to talk about it, then you might expect to ger recognition and awards, but that’s not the starting point. The starting point is doing something worthwhile and then refining it.

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

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