Recognising and celebrating our award-winning teachers – and the methods and approaches behind their award-winning practice.

Professor Anina Rich is based in the School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences. While her research into selective attention and information processing may give her an edge when developing and delivering engaging learning activities, it’s her passion that translates into exceptional teaching that seems to stay with her students.

In 2022, she won a Vice Chancellor’s Student Nominated Award for her teaching.

Anina Rich is a brilliant convenor and lecturer. Her material and delivery are engaging, dynamic, relevant, and very well structured. She is always happy to have a chat, to answer questions, and always goes above and beyond for her students.

Macquarie student

When she started teaching undergraduate Cognitive and Brain Sciences units in 2017, Anina’s goal was to inspire, build research and critical-thinking skills, and motivate and engage. “I aspired to clearly present complex information, be inclusive and ensure every student gets something from my units – even if only an appreciation of how amazing the brain is.”

She expected this would be a solid model for teaching, but was surprised at just how rewarding it is too. Below, she explains some of the approaches she uses to spark engagement.

Anina’s commitment to this unit and the enthusiasm she brought to class every Monday morning really helped engagement. I also really liked the use of the Active Learning Platform throughout lectures to test our understanding and keep online classes interactive.

Macquarie Student

Your use of the Active Learning Platform (ALP) is a key reason you were nominated by your students. What are some of your tried and tested features?

I use the ALP in a few ways – I have a test slide at the start that asks for something about their experience of the course – for example, see this slide I send out in Week 1. This allows me to see how many students are connecting to the ALP for the lecture, but also gets some useful information so I can provide clarification if needed!

Gauging student experience in week 1 through the ALP
Checking understanding

During the lecture, I have quick multiple choice quizzes that check for understanding of content just covered. It also acts as a quick break and a reset for attention as they have to interact.

I also have a Discussion point in the middle of my two-hour lectures, where I ask the students to apply knowledge I’ve just given them – they discuss in small groups (or if they’re listening to the recording, I ask them to think about it) and put their answers in a text slide on the ALP.

Her lectures are extremely engaging and I loved the ALP slides mixed in with breakout rooms

Macquarie student

Finally, I always have a text option at the end asking for questions or comments. This then gives an option for students who don’t feel confident speaking out in the lecture to ask a question, but also for students listening to the livestream or the recording. I check this at the end of the lecture and the end of the week, putting my answers in the Discussion forum in iLearn for later questions.  

I always turn off the Q&A option in the ALP because it diverts attention from the lecture. And I make sure not to continue talking when asking them to do a quiz – because they won’t be listening.

I think the lack of the video of the lecturer on the recording/livestream in a lot of lecture theatres means the online experience is lacking – it’s much harder to maintain attention when you are just seeing the slides with audio.

Your style of teaching is perfect for my style of learning… I’m finally able to walk away from a unit truly believing that I got the most out of it.

Macquarie student

How would you describe your teaching style, and how has it changed from when you first started teaching? 

I try for an engaging and relatively informal style in my lectures. When I first started, I used my standard ‘rule-of-thumb’ for research seminars of 1 slide/minute to work out how much content to include – I very quickly realised this doesn’t work for teaching! I’ve added in a lot of structure to each lecture to make sure students know what we’ll cover, and to give summaries to guide their study at the end.

I use teaching strategies based on research – both my research on attention and research on best practice for teaching. As an example, in our Cognitive & Brain Sciences units, we have the students do open-book quizzes on the reading prior to the lecture (for 10% over the semester), which helps them prioritise the reading – based on research that (a) pre-reading aids understanding and retention of lecture content; and (b) quizzes on the reading are needed to get students to actually do that pre-reading! I start the semester explaining why we have the different features and mention the research that shows it leads to better learning outcomes and memory for the content.

One lecture she started talking about info on the slide then stopped and said “Sorry, none of you are attending to what I’m saying because you’re all trying to read the slide.” She then read the slide to us, explained how and why it was important she read the slide first, then continued. Anina knows how attention works and uses it to make lectures engaging.

Macquarie student

I also combine textbook-based information with illustrations from current research, as well as having guest lecturers come in to talk about their areas of passion.

Teaching within your area of passion makes such a difference, both to the students, who can tell when we’re interested in what we’re teaching, and for us, as it makes teaching much more enjoyable!

Interested in applying for a Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Award in 2023?

Visit our Awards in Teaching webpage for application dates and details.

Acknowledgements: Banner image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay. Other images courtesy of Anina Rich. Post compiled and edited by Karina Luzia

Posted by Teche Editor

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