Melanie Bishop in the field

The student in the driver’s seat: Melanie Bishop on teaching

What’s that old adage about teaching a man to fish? Associate Professor Melanie Bishop was recently honoured with a Vice Chancellor’s Citation for her work in enhancing student learning through active approaches – including setting up a ‘mock fishery’ in her classroom!  We asked Melanie to share some of her teaching experiences.

Melanie, how has teaching changed since you began your academic career?

MJ Bishop - image courtesy Melanie Bishop
Dr Melanie Bishop

“When I commenced my position at Macquarie in 2008, like most science academics, my view of what made a unit was a couple of lectures and a practical each week. My delivery was teacher-focused. Over the last eight years, my view of a teacher has changed from a ‘deliverer’ to a ‘facilitator’. The internet is rich with many excellent resources, including readings, videos, podcasts and interactive websites. With knowledge available at the click of the button, I no longer consider my role as a teacher to present students with facts, but to help them to make sense of and evaluate the quality of resources, integrate information across disciplines, and to use it to solve real-world problems.”

What’s your best tip for keeping students engaged?

“The students need to be placed in the driver’s seat, such that they take ownership for their learning. This involves learning not by ‘listening’ but by ‘doing’. For example, one of my favourite activities is creating a mock fishery in my classroom. The students are each fishermen and we observe what happens to the status of the stock and the condition of the environment under different scenarios of management. The students very quickly learn that the strategy that might land them the greatest profit in a particular season may not be economically or environmentally sustainable over the longer term. They learn far more in this way than by simply reading about fisheries management.”

What’s your best time-saving trick or shortcut as an academic?

“Don’t feel that you need to produce all resources from scratch. There are a heap of great materials freely available online that can be curated into an online unit, using careful scaffolding. Why produce my own video on a topic if I can find an eloquent YouTube video of the world expert talking on it? Similarly I have found some great role-play games produced by respected organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that I have been able to adapt and incorporate into my unit.”

What’s your favourite technology or tool to use in teaching?

“Not necessarily my favourite tool, but I must say I am rather fond of the twitter feed! As I am reading the newspaper online over breakfast, I can tweet pertinent articles into my online unit using the feed. A great way to show the students how the topics they are learning about apply to the real world.”

Tell us a bit more about what led to your learning and teaching citation.

“The citation recognises my leadership in implementing active-learning approaches that enhance student engagement in the Sciences. Since 2014, I have taught using a flipped classroom approach, in which students complete online activities each week before attending tutorials in which face-to-face time is used for role-play, problem-solving and debate.”

Melanie Bishop is an Associate Professor in Macquarie University’s Department of Biological Sciences. Find out more about Melanie’s Flipped Classroom experience here.