Barry Yau

Lights! Camera! Learning!

While Netflix was having its moment in homes across Australia in 2020, it was also being replicated in teaching environments across Australia. So according to Barry Yau SFHEA from the ANU College of Law, who has likened his diverse teaching experiences last year as akin to playing leading roles in productions shown on Netflix, within the cinema, or on stage at the theatre. 

With a decade-long history of convening, coordinating and teaching into the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, Barry was familiar with the online asynchronous world. A physical relocation to Cairns resulted in an invitation to teach at James Cook University (JCU), while concurrently retaining his ANU teaching position. The net result was the necessity to branch out into less familiar delivery modes, against the disruptive backdrop of a pandemic. 

“I use the analogy that asynchronous teaching is like Netflix, because when you are a viewer of Netflix, you can choose what to watch. You have flexibility with your time, and with asynchronous online teaching, students have flexibility as to how they set their pace of learning,” he says. 

“They can do it as they please, they can take in different chunks at different times, so I equate asynchronous online to Netflix.” 

While Barry had long mastered the art of the ‘Netflix of teaching’, his foray into face-to-face teaching of a first-year introductory subject at JCU led him down a path less travelled. He had previously engaged in week-long face-to-face induction sessions with the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, but his experiences with this delivery mode hadn’t been sustained. Predictably, the adjustment involved some curveballs, and while he likens the asynchronous method to Netflix, he draws close similarities between the face-to-face synchronous experience and performing in a theatre. 

“It is live, it is in front of you and if you make a mistake, they notice it,” he says. 

“One thing I had to learn, was to try to not only develop my own knowledge of the course material, but how to connect with the audience, some of whom may not want to be there. Trying to establish that connection was much harder that I thought, much harder. It even came down to thinking, ‘what am I going to wear?”

When Barry’s asynchronous face-to-face experience was cut short by the pandemic just four weeks into Semester One, 2020, he transitioned into his third delivery method in the space of six months – synchronous online, which he terms as the ‘cinema’ of teaching. 

“When you go to a cinema – and even watching a movie at home – you don’t know how the audience is reacting because you can’t see them, the performers don’t know,” he says. 

“In a way, synchronous online teaching was like that. My students chose not to turn on their cameras, and I know other lecturers worldwide face that same problem, so I could not read the audience, even though I was live.”

While it isn’t uncommon for teachers to engage in at least two of the three in any given year, the necessity for Barry to embrace all three, in a short space of time, presented him with both a unique learning opportunity and a steep learning curve. He is grateful for the experience and the lessons he took from it. 

“It really gave me a great perspective about audience engagement, because the students are the audience,” he reflects. 

“What I enjoy most across all the modes is being able to motivate students to be comfortable in the learning zone and at the same encourage them to excel beyond their comfort zones.”

February 2021

Barry Yau teaches in the GDLP (PLT) online program at the ANU School of Legal Practice (formerly ANU Legal Workshop). Since joining ANU full-time in 2012, Barry has convened Commercial Practice, as well as Consumer Law, with the support of a dedicated team of talented legal practitioner/mentors based across Australia. 

Kristie Broadhead is the Team Leader of Promoting Excellence team in the Education Communities and Environments (ECE) – one of the three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT)