By David Klar
Being open to push boundaries, rethink traditional curriculum design, and consider different ways to achieve learning and improve student experience and academic results are central to the education philosophy of Dr Voula Gaganis (PhD(Med) ’05), Course Coordinator of Medical Science and Senior Lecturer in Human Physiology.
It forms part of the process behind her curriculum assessment and design, working in collaboration with students and colleagues to achieve relevant and effective change.
“Working with students as partners is critical to the success of where we are going with any changes,” Dr Gaganis says. “Students are our first point of contact to identifying what’s working well or needs improvement.”
Dr Gaganis and College of Medicine and Public Health colleague Associate Professor Christine Barry have been recognised for their significant contributions to the quality of student learning, receiving citations in Universities Australia’s annual Australian Awards for University Teaching.
The national citations are awarded each year to individuals or teams whose contribution to their chosen field has had a significant impact on the quality of student learning. This year, 78 citations were awarded to recipients at universities across the nation.
For Associate Professor Barry, who teaches anatomy and histology, the award highlights the impact that educators can have on students’ experience and learning.
“My teaching in anatomy is strongly influenced by knowing my students rely on this knowledge for safe and competent clinical practice in medicine and allied health,” she says.
“Many high-performing students find anatomy challenging, so I aim to help them develop different strategies for the different types of learning that anatomy demands.
“This includes team-based tasks that develop written and verbal language skills, so students gain confidence using anatomical terminology, as well as hands-on, three dimensional tasks in which students physically interact with material, such as manipulating anatomical specimens or plasticine sculpture to develop visuospatial understanding.
“The professional world that our students graduate into is constantly changing. New understandings of disease, new medical and surgical techniques, and imaging advances all influence how we understand the human body.
“New educational tools also present us with more options for how we can help students gain the knowledge and skills they need to serve their community as graduates.”
Transforming traditional pedagogy to active learning by using an innovative technology-supported approach across large medical science classes has been a focus for Dr Gaganis, with improving student engagement, experience, and academic success the result.
“Medical science has never been more visible in our local and global community than now,” Dr Gaganis says. “The creation of new or increased job markets due to the pandemic were key drivers for change and the expansion of Flinders’ offerings in medical science.
“Laboratory Medicine is a key addition to the medical science family, and future growth is in fostering the needs of students with clearly defined study pathways mapped to employment opportunities. The course changes were made possible with the support and collaboration of colleagues in our medical science team and our strong relationship with industry partners.
“I see the Flinders medical science graduate of the future as a knowledgeable critical thinker in the medical science disciplines, who is also future-focused, socially accountable and enterprising.”
Dr Gaganis, a Flinders graduate herself, is highly regarded amongst the student cohort and well known for her personal approach in building rapport through open and clear communication, removing the “unapproachable academic” stereotype.
It’s an approach that draws on her years of experience from both student and educator perspectives.
“As an educator, I too am always learning – I continue my education with postgraduate study in the Master of Education (Higher Education) here at Flinders. I am inspired by my own learning that ‘a single spark can start a fire’ – this is how I see the effect that I can have as an educator with my students. It excites me that I can be part of the process where a spark can ignite transformative change in a student’s learning journey.
“I have been fortunate to experience Flinders University across varied roles, initially in research as a PhD student in Clinical Pharmacology under the supervision of Professor Kathie Knights, a post-doctoral researcher in Clinical Pharmacology, followed by more than a decade teaching in the Doctor of Medicine program as a problem-based learning educator and lecturer in Medical Science.
“I am extremely grateful for the support of my family and take inspiration from my children Maria, Paul and Angela, who learn and achieve in different ways and challenge me to think of how I can differentiate my teaching approach to meet the needs of diverse cohorts.
“I am also inspired by the wisdom of my late father Michael Tsoutsikos. His words give me strength and courage to push boundaries to achieve new things.” Associate Professor Barry also pays tribute to those around her who have been a part of her academic journey.
“I’m grateful to have been taught by many excellent university educators in my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, to work with wonderful educators at Flinders University, and to have a very supportive Dean of Education, Professor Alison Jones.
The award has given both educators the opportunity to participate in the National Teaching Award Mentor Scheme and has introduced them to inspiring teachers at other universities.