Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Education, for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning


Associate Professor Ben Corry

Research School of Biology, ANU College of Science

Synopsis: Ben has developed a range of teaching strategies that deeply engage students in a large class setting. These include novel tutorials that demonstrate the process, creativity and application of the scientific method; and approaches that allow students to apply and contextualise their understanding with real world examples. Together, these provide students with the skills, knowledge and creativity to address new challenges within the discipline.

My love of teaching focuses on having genuine interactions with students and helping them develop skills that allow them to tackle the challenges they will face in their careers. However, achieving these things is challenging when faced with a class of more than 180 students. Furthermore, realistic laboratory experiments in the discipline typically take months and involve expensive equipment, while simplified prescriptive laboratories can belie the creative nature of the scientific enterprise.

I want students in my course to learn what it is like to be a scientist and to apply problem solving skills, rather than simply memorising discipline specific knowledge.

A goal in designing tutorials for the course is to nurture scientific creativity, by giving students the opportunity to come up with new ideas and invent ways to test them. For example, students may be presented with a real scientific problem with only a rough guide as to the process of how to address it.

I believe this not only yields better practitioners of the field, but can yield a deeper level of learning that can be applied across many areas of study. There is a power that comes from being able to infer things from foundational knowledge and so students are encouraged to explain complex phenomena based on simple principles.

When they learn something about basic cellular physiology, I want the students to be able to infer how this manifests itself in human experience. Students will be asked to explain complex real world problems with the foundational knowledge they have learned, and to identify gaps they need to fill to address these problems.

My hope is that students realise that the knowledge they learn in any of their courses can be integrated into an explanatory framework to address a diversity of real world problems. “…these tutorials simulated the sometimes opaque 'idea' of addressing a problem scientifically, and encouraged the process, allowing one's mind to gather the facts and begin throwing ideas around in a critically engaged and creative manner.”

Ben Corry