Teacher of the week: Scott Barnes

Scott Barnes is a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics.

I am the Program Director of the Master of Speech and Language Pathology program in the Department of Linguistics. My research interests are, broadly, communication disorders and the organisation of interaction, and I specialise in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. I commenced in my current position at Macquarie in the middle of 2013. Immediately prior, I was a postdoctoral fellow in the Discipline of Speech Pathology at the University of Sydney. I’m currently carrying out a research project on people who experience communication problems following a stroke affecting the right hemisphere of their brain.

What are your main teaching commitments?

I teach almost exclusively in the Master of Speech and Language Pathology program. My main teaching areas are acquired language disorders (conditions like aphasia, traumatic brain injury, and right hemisphere damage), related speech pathology interventions, and ways to measure language and communication in speech pathology practice.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a university teacher?

One challenge of teaching in a professional, postgraduate program is that students can become very (understandably!) focused on the technical skills involved with being a speech pathologist. This can encourage them to engage in superficial learning, and to reproduce others’ practices without much thought about why they are (or aren’t) sensible. This might seem like a marginal problem, but it is an important one in the context of ensuring that people with communication and swallowing disabilities get the best care possible, and also for spurring progress and change in the profession itself. So, as a teacher in the Master of Speech and Language Pathology, I have to find ways of supporting students with developing their technical skills, while at the same time ensuring that they’re thinking critically about the principles, theories, and research findings that are (or aren’t) informing them.

What has helped you improve your teaching most and why?

My answer is quite boring, but here goes: reading, thinking, and practising. When I find myself unsatisfied, or frustrated with some aspect of my teaching, I try to set aside time to read and think. This helps me systematically review the conceptual or practical angle I’ve adopted. In addition, there are lots of practicalities involved with teaching that are difficult to anticipate, or completely understand, until you’ve actually lived through them. Two small, but I think important practical things that I’ve worked on incrementally are: 1) verbal explanations of complex concepts that are accessible, but don’t elide their complexity; 2) task instructions and scaffolding for in-class tutorial-type activities.

What’s been your most memorable moment in teaching?

Perhaps surprisingly, lots of my memorable moments in teaching have emerged from marking. It’s really satisfying to me when a student can take a learning experience I’ve designed, engage with it in a deep fashion, and then apply that knowledge rigorously in an assessment task. It’s even more satisfying when they use that knowledge to do something creative, that I hadn’t anticipated, or even disagree with. (I’m always pleased when I can elicit principled disagreement!). More superficially, a student once called me over in a lecture break to show me a Reddit post, saying “hey, you’re a nerd, you’ll like this.” Up until that point, I wasn’t aware that I was one, so it was a bit of hammer blow. (As an aside, a friend of mine once received an LET survey response on which the only (qualitative or quantitative) feedback was, “Karl is a cool nerd”. I think this is a low-key excellent bit of feedback).

Who is your favourite music band? Why?

I’ve always thought this is a cruel question. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve enjoyed the collective recorded output of Deerhunter and its members (i.e., including Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza). Their work is quiet varied, and I think Bradford Cox is an interesting person. I’ve also had a lot of fun seeing Royal Headache live with my friends.


One thought on “Teacher of the week: Scott Barnes”

  1. Scott,
    I believe you have made important discriminations here: for example that technicality is not synonymous with the structure of significant concepts in the field (though clearly co-dependent).
    The right hemisphere is also intriguing for speech pathology (and much else): I wonder what led you to that domain of enquiry? I will ask you directly.

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