Dr James Wakefield on innovation and student engagement

by | 28 Mar, 2019 | 0 comments

In his learning and teaching, Dr James Wakefield breaks down preconceptions that accounting is boring, with innovations that make it engaging and valuable for his students. He talked us through how he goes about creating these experiences for students.
dr james wakefield

Dr James Wakefield

Please tell us a little about what your citation was awarded for…

I received a 2018 Universities Australia Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning for “A sustained research informed set of approaches to influence, motivate and inspire students to engage and achieve higher performance in introductory accounting and beyond”.

What have been some of the benefits of your approach to learning and teaching?

To ensure sustained and effective teaching and learning outcomes for students, I strongly believe in a consistent process of teaching development and renewal. It’s a philosophy I have adopted since subject coordination and teaching the first year undergraduate introductory accounting subject in 2008, a compulsory subject in the Bachelor of Business program at UTS. Over this period, approximately 16,000 students have studied the subject, situated in large classes consisting of up to 350 and 40 students in lectures and tutorials respectively. A substantial proportion of students have preconceived views that accounting is boring and irrelevant to their future careers, leading to a lack of student interest and low engagement. I take a proactive approach to address the challenges associated with students’ negative views of the subject, through developing teaching approaches and implementing innovations to enhance student motivation, engagement, participation, collaboration and performance. Further, I adopt a research informed approach to examine the efficacy of my teaching approaches and innovations. I also received the UTS Learning and Teaching Award for Individual Teaching in 2017, in recognition of my efforts.

How have students responded to these new ways of learning?

It is important to remember that students learn in different ways, and accordingly different strategies work in different ways for different students. I have led projects recognising diversity in student interests and motivations to study introductory accounting, applying different methods to engage them from screencast assignment, to tablet annotation and sharing technology, peer review forums and large class synchronised interaction. It is recognised that simply applying new ideas and innovations is unlikely to yield the desired implications on student learning without a research informed approach. This means ensuring constructive alignment through reviewing subject objectives, how we facilitate the learning process (taking into account a diversity of students motivations and interest levels) for students to achieve the best learning outcomes and aligning the assessment accordingly.

Any tips for others who might wish to try out your ideas in their subjects?

There’s a range of innovations that I used and examined. Tablet annotation and sharing technology facilitates transparent and tailored formative student feedback and guidance. This technology involves the use of a tablet computer, in which the tablet screen image is duplicated onto the central classroom projector, to take photos of student homework that both the student and tutor can actively annotate. This greatly improves the ability of students to explain the challenges they are facing and allows the tutor to specifically recognise and tailor the class discussion. This motivates students to thoroughly complete homework and facilitates a more active and collaborative learning approach in tutorials.

Any innovation I’ve been using more recently is a new system integrating lectures slides, quizzes and forums into one online system, using a platform called Zeetings. Large lectures are frequently criticised for being a passive environment, where students are expected to receive and store information. This is particularly problematic in introductory accounting where students lack the intrinsic interest in the subject. The system allows the lecturer to automatically bring up lecture slides, quizzes and questions on students’ electronic devices to facilitate high engagement levels in large lectures. Prior systems were limited as students needed to enter separate activity codes to answer each question, whereas Zeetings has a wider variation in question types available which can be instantaneously delivered and mirrored on students’ electronic devices. My observations indicate there is greater student attendance, focus and the interactive questions are useful in maintaining class pace.

I’m always happy to meet anyone interested at UTS regarding ideas for their subjects.

What has changed in your discipline in the time you’ve been learning and teaching?

I think more broadly, including my discipline, there is a focus on pedagogically sound teaching practice in higher education, which needs to move with the times. We need to recognise that the needs and preferences of our students is changing substantially. We are teaching students that interact and communicate differently from the students 10 or even 5 years ago. The world is changing quickly and students expect learning experiences that are interactive and participative in nature. Students will quickly lose focus if the learning experience is not designed to a facilitate a collaborative learning approach. One way teacher to student dialogue, the domain of traditional lectures, is no longer effective. We need to think of ourselves as learning facilitators, rather than lecturers.

What’s something new you are hoping to try or explore in learning and teaching in 2019?

Most recently we have been trialling OnTask in 2018, a system being piloted across a number of universities in Australia, which facilitates the delivery of personalised and tailored emails to students. We specifically track students’ level of engagement and performance throughout their time studying introductory accounting and send each student a tailored email based on their learning needs. The technological infrastructure is providing us with more opportunities all the time to tailor the learning experience so each students can achieve their best learning outcome, and OnTask is one example of this infrastructure. The challenge is applying new teaching technologies in a way that is research informed so students achieve the very best learning outcomes. This plenty of research and consideration needed in this area. It an exciting time to be working with our students to achieve and improve great learning outcomes.

Feature image by William Iven.

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