Recognising and celebrating our award-winning teachers – and the methods behind their award-winning practice.
Using a blend of learning methodologies, an innovative cross-faculty collaboration between educators and students in the Macquarie Business School and the Faculty of Science & Engineering, has brought forth cross-disciplinary capstone units, designed to ensure that final-year business and science students learn from each other’s unique disciplinary perspective.
In 2022, the team – Dr Nathan Daczko (FSE), Dr Prashan Karunaratne (MQBS), Dr Natalie Spence (FSE), Dr Matt Owers (FSE), Dr Joanne Dawson (FSE), Dr Andrea Chareunsy (MQBS) won the Educational Leadership Award (the first time a team has won this award!)
At the heart of this collaboration: partnering in the design of two (down from 40+!) capstone units for the Bachelor of Science (FOSE3000 – Making Science Work for You and Society) and the Bachelor of Commerce (MQBS3010 – Agility and Excellence in Business); use of the University’s new physical and online teaching spaces with a unique blend of learning methodologies to keep students actively engaged; and an innovative three-week collaboration involving students-as-partners and co-creators in learning. Below, the team offer some advice for working on a collaborative project of this scale and size.
This was an extensive cross-faculty collaboration. What would you say to those seeking to do similar cross-faculty educational projects?
We offer three pieces of advice:
- Find benefits for both sides of the collaboration, and common or complementary themes.
The collaboration between Commerce and Science was first mentioned at an ideation meeting during the concurrent development of the two individual capstone units. Given that both units were planned to be interdisciplinary and address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a cross-faculty collaboration seemed like a natural extension.
- Ensure the support of faculty leaders.
The idea gained traction when the executive deans of the two faculties in 2021 discussed the benefits of cross-faculty collaborations in teaching to enhance the employability of our students. In Science, from the beginning we had the support of the then Associate Dean Learning & Teaching James Downes, and in Business we had the support of the Executive Dean Eric Knight who was keen to see the confluence of science, technology, business, and commerce.
- Design the collaborative elements well and keep improving.
We found that including learning designers in the planning and implementation of the cross-faculty educational project was highly beneficial. We considered how the task could help each student team expand their thinking early in their projects and fit the exercise into each unit’s workflow. The task empowers students to act as consultants using their science or commerce background, and to appreciate problems from others’ perspectives. A great outcome is that students appreciate that diversity of background/perspective adds value to solutions. We primed the students in each class prior to the collaboration events and incorporated feedback from the students to improve it each year. A key tip is to plan early so that unit guides and the Macquarie Curriculum Management System (CMS) entries align.
This is the first time a team has won the Educational Leadership award. What are some of the opportunities and challenges of working as educational leaders together on this sort of project?
The collaboration started with a conversation: we found we were speaking the same language when we discussed the pedagogical benefits and possibilities for students.
The biggest benefit of this sort of project is that we have met new colleagues from across campus and have learned new concepts from outside our field of expertise. It is not only the students who are learning and working across disciplines. We have all watched and learned from each other in terms of new teaching practices and the collaboration itself has been great for our professional development. The only serious challenge is that everyone is time poor. In this collaboration, we have developed ways to improve the efficiency of how we interact with the learning management system by using Python scripts to quickly sort projects into the SDGs and map across the two capstone units.
The collaboration made us all realise that ultimately, we all want the same outcomes for our students. The learning outcomes of both units revolve around enhancing our students’ employability skills. By working together, we were encouraged to find the common ground that existed between the two faculties, and the employability skills of our graduates was the clear commonality. By focusing our lenses more on skills rather than content, we began to see the collaboration as an opportunity. The discipline-specific lenses and knowledge become the means to activating skills, rather than an end in itself.
I found the consultancy activity pretty fun as I enjoy explaining concepts to people. I initially found it a bit tricky to guess what the commerce students would already know about the science involved and what I could help them with.FSE student
This project taught me the importance of other perspectives through analysing the feedback by the Bachelor of Science students, which then allowed us to make adjustments to our product offering … evident in our adoption of Tencel as a fabric that could be used to make 100% sustainable clothing.MQBS Student
Your application mentions using Deslaurier and colleagues’ findings to maximise student learning. Could you tell us more about how this approach influenced your design thinking for the BSc and BCom capstones?
Deslaurier and co-authors (2019) explore active learning to challenge students in the classroom. They show that students learn more in active classrooms but feel like they learn less because of the increased cognitive effort during active learning.
It takes time for both teachers and students to get used to the unique and innovative format as well as the challenges of the unit. By around the third or fourth week, both parties realise the metacognitive benefits of active learning. Learning then occurs at two distinct levels: the synthesising of knowledge from different disciplines; and the development of transferrable skills via active learning in itself. In effect, learning is not solely about the output, but also about the process.
Active learning is an employability skill in itself. The World Economic Forum lists ‘active learning and learning strategies’ second to ‘analytical thinking and innovation’ in their top 10 skills of 2025. Students probably realise in the workplace how important the skill of active learning is as they tackle change in the world of work. Some of our recent graduates have told us that they have been able to showcase their experiences and expertise gained from the cross-faculty collaboration in their capstone units during interviews and job applications.
Feedback from the teaching team is that they too are professionally developing via the active learning methodology: learning content from across disciplines and learning how to actively learn. It’s been a win-win for all of us!
Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.
Applications are now OPEN for the 2023 Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards.
Visit our Awards in Teaching webpage for application dates and details.
Acknowledgements: Banner image by Shutterstock. Post compiled and edited by Karina Luzia