Alex Blackham outside Education Building

A model student

Thursday, November 10, 2022
Brenton Stacey

Brenton Stacey

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Brenton is Avondale University’s Public Relations and Philanthropy Officer. He brings to the role experience as a communicator in publishing, media relations, public relations, radio and television, mostly within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific and its entities.

Alex heads back to school and is “giving it 100 per cent”

She hasn’t studied for 15 years, but Alex Blackham is not only back in class, it’s like she never left school. “Our lecturer reads to us while we sit on a mat. My back gets sore! But you understand how a child feels.”

A busy mother of three boys, Alex is a primary teacher in training because she wants to make a positive impact in the lives of children. “If I learn something new, I can’t wait to use it next time I’m on prac or with my kids at home.”

Students like Alex have rated our teaching courses as number one in Australia for learner engagement.* This is according to the Student Experience Survey conducted as part of the federal government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching initiative.

As the largest survey of higher education students in Australia, results from the survey matter. They perhaps reflect our ethos as a Christian university, says Dr Sherry Hattingh, Head of the School of Education and Science. “Engagement’s about people and our relationship with them, and both are important.” Lecturers know students by name and by academic standing. A recurring question is, “How can we help you continue making progress?”.

In class, activity and reflection are key. “We’ll demonstrate then get the students to practice on each other, and then we’ll talk through the process,” says Sherry. A lecturer from another school asked Sherry, “How’s your class attendance.” “Our students say, ‘I prefer being on campus because I know when I come to class, I’m involved.’”

This is true for Alex, who is “always hanging around after class.” “If I don’t understand, I feel totally comfortable asking questions.” Alex is one of Sherry’s students and appreciates the way she makes learning engaging. “She told us, ‘I’ll ask you to move if you sit at the same table.’” The tables are grouped like in a primary school classroom. “I not only got to know everyone in class, I got to hear new ideas.” Alex learnt how to structure a literacy block through experiential repetition. “Sherry developed a block and put it up on the wall. We started with a devotional, did a mini lesson, some group work, then took a break. It was the same each week.”

To model good teaching online, personal connection is key. “We’ll post videos so students can see what we look like, we address students as if they’re the only one watching, and, of course, we host Zoom meetings,” says Sherry. But learning online is more difficult because students will engage on their terms, “so while we’re working hard to make the connection stronger, engagement rests with the student as well.”

Alex appreciates the support she receives from Sherry and the school. She remembers submitting an assessment late one night but receiving an almost instant email in reply. “I panicked and thought, Something must be wrong. It wasn’t. My lecturer was simply letting me know I’d covered all the tasks and submitted correctly. It was a huge relief to get that reassurance.”

* Course rank 2021. Visit for more information.

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