Associate Professor Taryn Jones is the program director for Physiotherapy at Macquarie University. In 2017 and 2018 she received a student nominated VC teaching award for ’significant contribution to the quality of student learning‘. I asked Taryn to share her thoughts about teaching and what it means to win these awards. Her answers should inspire every teacher to reach higher!
How does it feel to be recognised by your students in this way?
“It’s absolutely a great honour. Ultimately students mean the most in this role and their perspective counts immensely.”
Taryn is quick to shift the spotlight from herself to the unique programmatic design of FMHS courses. “Students come into a relatively small cohort and form a strong bond with each other and staff over the 3 years. They keep in touch and we often see them at conferences and alumni events. It’s very satisfying to be part of their learning journey.”
What made you decide to be a teacher?
Taryn was a successful senior clinician (rehabilitation physio) before she came to Macquarie University. She sees the move to academia as both a natural transition and opportunity for career advancement. “Teaching has always been part of my role, so it was a natural progression. Being able to draw on authentic experiences in the classroom is really useful and gives you validity as a teacher.”
When I suggested to Taryn that she possesses the characteristics necessary to make learning begin (Rogers, 1994) she shrugged it off, insisting that therapists naturally possess the traits of nurturing, empathy and authenticity. “I get as much job satisfaction working with students as I did working clinically with people after horrendous accidents.”
Taryn also sees an opportunity to bring about improved practice within the profession. “You have a greater ability to instigate change within the profession by being able to influence the way young professionals come into the profession. There is a ripple and multiplier effect.”
As the Macquarie University rep on the Council of Physiotherapy Deans of Australia and New Zealand (CPDANZ), Taryn explains that she has potential to influence the education of the profession more broadly than just her own cohort. “I also draw on the larger ‘Community of Practice’ to inform my own teaching. Ultimately, I want the whole profession to continue to lift and keep the quality within our course.”
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
Teaching across the course provides Taryn with a macro perspective, enabling her to help students navigate the different parts of the course. “Knowing the course so well enables me to do that and see strategically where things may need to shift or move a little.”
“My teaching moves from a fairly traditional lecture/tutorial approach in the first year, when foundational knowledge is being developed, to one of mentor in later units, where students are taught through more of a continuing professional development approach.”
Taryn describes her teaching as a safe space, where students are collaborative equals in the learning experience; where their perspective and opinions are valued. For her, the learning environment is a place where students can ask questions without fear, gain feedback and can be led through a complex clinical reasoning process.
“We need to remember that third year students are nearly our colleagues. Respecting our students as adult learners, allowing them to make informed choices; having a respect and understanding that students face a number of significant challenges. If you give respect, you get respect.”
To prepare students for professional life, Taryn takes an ‘active learning’ approach, frequently using group-based discussion. Rather than providing answers, students arrive at an understanding through a process of inquiry. “As a clinician, we have to clinically reason through what a person’s problems are and how to manage them. So, I model the process in the class to arrive at an answer in the same way.”
What role do you play in your students’ success?
For this question, Taryn goes big picture. She’s adamant that the health problems of today won’t be solved with current thinking. To get students critically thinking, Taryn takes an inquiry-driven approach. She requires students to draw upon current evidence and provides a supportive learning environment that facilitates new ideas, creativity, and innovation. “It’s giving students the permission to do that and be more comfortable with the ‘grey’ so that they’re not just expecting black and white. I want students to have the self-confidence to rationally justify new ideas.”
Taryn tells her students about the ‘learning pit’ and how they should expect to feel uncomfortable as the brain processes new information/ideas. Her aim is to build student knowledge and facilitate acquisition of transferable skills such as critical thinking. Is it any wonder, that Taryn’s students find her so inspiring?
What is your most recent innovative practice?
Taryn is trialling ‘infographics’ and ‘podcasting’ as a means of supporting students’ ability to create concise health information messages that have emotional impact and stick rather than just deliver information. “I see it as part of my role to help students imagine themselves into future roles that they may not have thought of or currently exist.” I’m blown away, again!