Between Professor Samantha (Sam) Bennett, Dr Gemma King and Dr Sofia Samper Carro, the commonalities are clear. All three were recently recognised with Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT), all are from the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), and all are educational leaders within their disciplines of Music, French Cinema and Language, and Zooarchaeology, respectively.
For Sam, teaching was something she fell into by accident 18 years ago, after being asked to help out a teacher from Westminister College. After some initial apprehension, she recalls taking to it like a ‘duck to water.’
“As soon as I experienced teaching, literally within a week or two, I knew that was what I wanted to do. However, prior to having that experience, I didn’t see it as a career option for me at all,” she said.
“I was just going to carry on working as a musician and a recording engineer, but then I began to see how I could make a go of that in an educational context. It was all about taking opportunities, which I didn’t have growing up and I didn’t have when I first left school.”
Fast forward to 2021, and Sam is a leader within music technology education. Her teaching CV includes a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education and Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, and her pedagogical approaches are globally recognised.
“I think that my courses are unique because they are student-led in terms of assessments, in terms of learning outcomes and in terms of content as well. I am very keen to ensure that the students are learning what they want to learn, rather than me making presumptions or predictions about that.”
While Sam’s studio in the ANU School of Music is a long way from the streets of Paris, where Gemma King led her students on immersion trips in a pre-Covid era, their initial forays into teaching were similarly fortuitous. After stumbling into teaching as a PhD student, Gemma was soon hooked, and like Sam, her ensuing teaching achievements have included an ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education and Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Her satisfaction derives less from student mastery of the French language, and more from the potential impact the French language and culture will have on their lives.
“There is an assumption that students who take a French class should come out with strong French speaking skills, and that is true,” she said.
“But what I love to see in my students is all the other skills that they cultivate in a language classroom. So curiosity about foreign cultures, humility, and that ability to be comfortable making mistakes and not feeling like they have to be perfect all the time.”
“My classes are about language and culture, but they’re also quite personal. So I get students to do projects about their own lives and to think about what they want to do in their careers and to structure their assessments around that.”
Gemma’s vision for the lives and future careers of her students is shared by Sofia Samper-Carro, who was a recipient in the early-career category of the AAUT awards; this recognition follows on from her 2019 ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Early Academics. When tasked with the redesign of archaeological courses in 2016 and 2018, Sofia’s aim was to provide students with a realistic, unfiltered and practical perspective of an archaeological career.
“When I redesigned the courses, I tried to do it in a way that gave the students some practical, real life skills to help them become archaeologists,” she said.
“What I was doing was putting them in the lab, showing them the materials, helping them become researchers by taking them through all the stages you need to follow to become a zooarchaeologist or environmental archaeologist.”
Sofia’s research and teaching are closely intertwined, something she believes is of great benefit to both teacher and student.
“When we do research, we’re normally really focussed on using all these technical terms, and then you try to teach that. You have to think about how you teach it to someone who doesn’t have any foundational knowledge of what you are talking about.”
For Sam, Gemma and Sofia, official recognition for their teaching on the back of a challenging 12 months is a nice reward, but not the primary driver for their work. All are unanimous in their commentary that student impact, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of students, is their main motivation.
“I think it’s important to consider how much impact we can have on our students’ lives through our teaching, and for me, it’s where I see the real meaning in the work we do when students pick up the material that we discuss with them, and take it on,” Gemma said.
“It’s really lovely to be acknowledged by the university and by Universities Australia, but what’s really, really meaningful for me is that the fact that students began this – this process started with a nomination from a student, and that really means a lot to me personally.”
Featured group photo (from left to right): Dr Gemma King, Dr Sofia Samper Carro and Professor Samantha (Sam) Bennett (Photo by Tangyao Zhang)
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).