What are teaching awards? And why do we want one?

A colleague was awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching award the other day. We went to Brisbane for the ceremony. She is officially one of the best university educators in Australia. It is a big deal and she deserves all the kudos she can get, because she really does do a great job.

As I was sitting in the audience listening to what all of the recipients had achieved, I could not help but compare their achievements with my own and that of my colleagues. Engagement? Check. Innovation? Check.  Authenticity? Check. Plus we do all of that in a distance environment (which, for many of the Go8 is incomprehensible). So why are we not more recognised, or even more valued, as educators?

The answer is quite simple.

Our applications are not up to scratch. We spend so much time teaching our students, that we do not record what it is that we are doing. It is as if the time taken to complete an award application is time away from teaching. Which it is. There is an assumption that an award application is extra work. And in an sector where workloads are already huge, it is simply an extra onus with limited return.

Yet, I’m not sure that this is a helpful attitude. Should we not be looking at this from the perspective of what we can share with others? What we consider “normal” in distance education is innovative to those who still think MOOCs are the way of the future. We progressed through the teething problems of online learning a decade ago. We have moved on so far that we find it baffling to see that universities are showcasing video lectures as innovative. These other universities have been trapped in the old fashioned lecture/tutorial model. A flipped classroom? Wow, what a great idea! Anything that breaks them out of a traditional model is innovative – and wins them awards! I am sure they would be truly staggered to see a flipped classroom in a distance environment with authentic assessment and an engaged cohort. Our normal.

But completing the application is where our problems begin. Blowing one’s own trumpet is part of the challenge. The awards are individual, and academics tend to be a humble bunch. We do what we do because we believe in creating a future for our youth, not because we want an award. Step one, then, is convincing the academic that an award application is an effective use of their time.

Articulating what it is that we actually do is the next problem. And articulating it well is considerably more difficult again. An application needs to be pithy, succinct and really well worked. This is a process that takes time and professional advice.

So what are awards? And why do we want one?

An award gives us authority to share our practice with others. To get recognition for what we do well and to encourage other educators to learn from our own experiences. As educators, we want to teach. An award is us teaching other teachers. It is not trumpet blowing, it is a responsibility: a responsibility to the sector, to our students and to industry practitioners employing our students. If not us to show how innovative teaching should be done, then who?

Dr Celeste Lawson is Head of Program, Professional Communication, Central Queensland University, Australia.

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