Just this past week Alex Bhatti was awarded not one, but two Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching awards, in the categories of “student-nominated” and “early career”.

Alex considers herself privileged to teach in the Master of Public Health course, with some of the most diverse students in the university, 80% of which are international. This diversity in literacy, education, culture and work backgrounds creates a significant challenge that she enthusiastically embraces.

Designing and delivering learning experiences that cater to student diversity is challenging. Cementing student engagement early in the program is imperative for motivating and setting up students for continued engagement. It is therefore essential that students’ early experiences with a course are appealing, interesting and captivating.

Alex Bhatti, Associate Lecturer, Department of Health Systems and Populations

Alex also feels honored to work in such a supportive environment, and credits learning a tremendous amount in her early career from other academics, mentors and the learning designers within the Faculty since she started in 2016.   

In this article Alex shares how she caters for student diversity and engages students from the ‘get-go’ in the Master of Public Health.

How does Alex cater for student diversity? 

Alex has purposely created an adaptive learning environment allowing students to navigate through choices within the learning design and work at their own pace in a way supportive of inclusive learning. For example, she created a package of interactive online resources to provide students a series of memorable learning experiences that: complement face-to-face teaching, embrace students’ multiple modes of learning and allow students to tailor their learning journey. She also looks to deliver content in a variety of ways to further cater to the multiple ways in which students learn.

How does Alex engage her students?

To engage students, Alex includes interactive sessions within her face-to-face teaching sessions; everything from discussions, role plays, placing post-it notes around the room, sharing group tasks, presenting in class and learning from each other. To further increase student engagement, Alex utilises a variety of activities including online and real-time in-class quizzes, online discussion forums, knowledge checks and virtual bulletin boards using a digital wall called Padlet. The quizzes and knowledge checks offer students immediate formative feedback and the virtual bulletin boards allow students to be creative as they can upload a range of resources including text, infographics, videos and images. In 2018, over 90% of students engaged with the online bulletin boards in advance of the class.

With the Padlet activity, the collection of student-curated resources then acts as a repository for an in-class group presentation as well as serving as an ongoing resource for future learning.  Online discussion forums are used to maintain the momentum of student engagement during online learning weeks, where timely personalised feedback is provided to encourage further discussion amongst students. 

What is your teaching philosophy? 

My teaching approach reflects my teaching philosophy, to deliver transformative learning experiences with strong connections to real-world public health practice.

Alex Bhatti, Associate Lecturer, Department of Health Systems and Populations

How does Alex design curriculum? 

Alex designs curricula thoughtfully: learning is scaffolded, and lectures and activities are aligned to assessment tasks, graduate capabilities and professional practice. For example, interactive online resources complement face-to-face teaching and were designed to transform otherwise dry content into memorable and meaningful educational experiences for students. All learning resources are thoughtfully and purposefully designed to elicit student engagement by connecting their learning with professional public health practice. Student feedback has acknowledged the value of these resources being delivered in a blended format. Designing resources in a sustainable way (I.e. do not require regular updates) has enabled them to be used beyond the MPH program, by the wider FMHS as part of a Connected Curriculum suite of resources.

Alex uses authentic and reflective tasks and assessments, including drawing on her own public health practice, as transformative learning experiences that emulate real-world public health professional practice, allowing learning tasks to become more meaningful for students.  To bring learning together, Alex purposefully uses reflective tasks within and at the end of the units she convenes.

How has Alex’s teaching excellence been recognised?

The innovation in Alex’s teaching has been recognised numerous times: through being awarded a Faculty Citation for Contribution to Student Learning (2018) and through dual Vice-Chancellor Learning and Teaching Awards in 2019 with students reporting: “She had creative ideas for class lessons and made them interesting and engaging”; [Alex] delivers engaging content and gets students to think and explore new knowledge with great skill. It is always organised, approachable but sets clear expectations. She is excellent at getting the cohort to discuss and engage in learning together”.

Alex Bhatti with her proud family at the 2019 awards ceremony

What makes Alex’s teaching so popular with students?

Alex is acknowledged by students for her ability to motivate, support and inspire them through the integration of high-quality online student resources and face to face learning experiences that support practical skill acquisition and application of higher-order thinking skills. Alex also provides real-world examples of public health practice, showcasing the types of diverse roles that exist to motivate and inspire students as they consider their own future public health careers.

Further, Alex invites guest speakers to describe their own evolving and flexible career pathways to further inspire students.  Student feedback to date has been unequivocal:  linking learning to real-world professional practice is beneficial to their learning and inspiring.  Students voted with their feet and sent multiple nominations in for the student-nominated award.

Describe an innovation you have initiated? 

Having identified the need to embed employability skills at a course level, I initiated, organised and delivered a Careers Forum for MPH students in 2018 and again in 2019 as a way of engaging students with employment as they approach the end of their degree.

Alex Bhatti, Associate Lecturer, Department of Health Systems and Populations

The Forum has included a skills training session on how to address selection criteria, external guest speakers from a range of organisations at different stages of their public health careers, guided discussions around skills employers are looking for and opportunities for students to network. 

With all this effort, passion and dedication to teaching is it any wonder that Alex won two VC teaching awards this year?  The FMHS are extremely proud of Alex’s success.

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Posted by Lyn Collins

Senior Instructional Designer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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