Dr Anna von Reibnitz is a Senior Lecturer in Finance and the Finance Masters Convenor within the College of Business and Economics (CBE). She has taught across the Finance curriculum, from compulsory introductory courses with hundreds of students to elective advanced courses with less than 20 students. Her student-centred teaching focuses on engaging with students of all abilities, backgrounds and cultures to encourage deep understanding, passion for the subject and, above all, a love of learning.
Anna's quest for new ways to inspire and excite students has led her to introduce innovative teaching methods that emphasise active engagement and authentic learning to equip students for the competitive world of Finance. This is highlighted in her role as course convenor of the ANU Student Managed Fund, in which a small number of top students are selected to manage a substantial endowment fund to support University prizes and scholarships.
Her passionate and engaged approach has led to multiple awards as an educator, including the National level 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching Award for Teaching Excellence (Law, Economics, Business and Related Studies category), the 2015 CBE Award for Teaching Excellence, the 2011 ANU Commendation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning, and the 2010 CBE Award for Excellence in Tutoring. She is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Anna received her PhD in Finance in 2013 from the ANU, following from Bachelor degrees in Economics and Commerce, First Class Honours in Finance and a University Medal. Her research in investment management and asset pricing has been published and cited in leading scholarly journals, industry articles and teaching case study series, and has attracted funding from multiple grants. Her industry experience includes working with the Australian Government Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Treasury, Schroders and Continuity Capital Partners.
Q: What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?
My motivation and my inspiration are simple: my students. As academics it's easy for us to forget that our purpose is not just to advance knowledge, but also to pass that knowledge on. It's on the teaching side of academia where you can see a tangible impact of your work, as you expand your students' minds, empower them, equip them for the future and, in doing so, change their lives. I'll always remember reading a comment from one of my students who wrote: "Often, good teachers become voices in your head, and Anna is now a permanent resident in my mind." There's no better reward than that.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?
I most enjoy the ability to help my students harness their unique passions and talents as they embrace their future. The time at University is often a pivotal point in a person's life: our students come to us with exceptional raw talent, but that talent must be nurtured and tapped in order for them fully to grasp the opportunities they have to develop - and later fulfil - their life goals. It is an honour and a privilege to play a part in this process: by being passionate about what, how and the people that I teach, I aim to go home every week feeling that I've made a difference.
Q: How do you motivate, inspire and engage your students in and out of the classroom?
For me, authentic learning is critical - classes need to be brought into the real world. When students choose to come to University, they're investing in their future. So the more they can see how the skills they're gaining can be applied in that future, the more they engage with the subject.
I therefore focus on real world applications. For example, I structure assignments to reflect realistic working scenarios and give students real data to analyse. In Portfolio Construction, my students complete a group assignment in which they recommend a superannuation portfolio for a client with realistic objectives and constraints. In such projects there's no one right answer: even in industry, three different experts will often recommend three different portfolios. This gives students the freedom to push the boundaries of what they think they can achieve. They also finish with a product that can showcase their skills to future employers.
Q: What qualities do you need to be an outstanding teacher in higher education?
Teaching is as individual as learning, but I think there are common themes. Good teachers care about their students, they are enthusiastic about what they're teaching, and they are willing to push boundaries (and risk the odd failure) to find new and innovative ways to promote student understanding.
For me, the single most important quality is a thirst to keep developing your teaching practices. There is an elephant in the room in higher education: while academics spend years learning how to research, few of us learn formally how to teach. Instead we learn on the job, we learn from our mistakes and our successes as we go. Because of this, reflection is vital. What works? What doesn't work? Why? How might I improve further? For some this might be a personal journey, others, including myself, find considerable value in continuing professional development through avenues such as the Educational Fellowship Scheme. Either way, the key is to embrace the understanding that the journey will never end: you can always move closer to becoming the best teacher you can be.
Q: What are the ongoing challenges in developing your teaching practices?
Because no two classrooms are alike, the greatest challenge is that it is difficult neatly to pin down the most pressing avenue for development to increase my effectiveness as a teacher. I have learnt that, while there is comfort, there is also a danger in defining your teaching philosophy or style too narrowly. Teaching practices that have proved highly effective in a class of ten or twenty students, typically do not work in a class of 600. Strategies I have found to engage students in an advanced course can leave those in an introductory course feeling overwhelmed. In addition, within a single course, the content is never static across semesters - material needs to evolve with the changing world. And, most importantly, a single course in a single semester is made up of unique students with their own individual learning styles, and I continually work to gain a greater understanding of how those differences should shape the ways in which I guide students to gain a deeper understanding of the material. There's no hiding from the fact that ongoing development takes time, effort, and dedication. Luckily, the rewards are immense!
Q: Tell us about an approach you have taken in the classroom of which you've been proud.
One of the highlights of my career is my role as Course Convenor of the ANU Student Managed Fund. In this role, rather than a traditional lecturer, I am a mentor who guides and advises students in a true meeting of authentic and active learning. Under the guidance of myself and another academic, Associate Professor Geoff Warren, a small number of top students are responsible for managing a substantial endowment fund to support University prizes and scholarships. This includes the day-to-day functions typical of a managed fund, such as making investment recommendations, generating reports, and monitoring performance and risk. Students are in the fund for two consecutive semesters, the first as junior analysts and the second, as they develop, as senior management who run the fund and help train the junior cohort. The course aims to expand student learning opportunities through an activity-based, deeply applied program, enhancing the attraction of ANU as an innovative and advanced place to study, improving student employment prospects and facilitating deeper student engagement with industry. It is a unique opportunity for our students to learn in a way that also has a worthy purpose, and I am deeply proud to be a part of it.
Q: If the VC asked you how you would change teaching and learning at the ANU, what would you say?
My suggestion would be to raise the profile of teaching to match that of research and, in doing so, cement ANU as a world class leader in education. The ANU has long been recognised for the outstanding quality of its research, but particularly in recent years we are starting to show that our education, too, has potential to stand among the very best. In the 2017 Australian Awards for University Teaching, ANU educators received five of only 16 Awards for Teaching Excellence available nationwide, with our winners spanning a broad spectrum of subject areas. For a University so identified with research to also achieve such strong national recognition in education is rare. By further promoting the importance of education in academic deliverables, by encouraging our teachers to continue to innovate in course delivery and content, and by listening to how our students respond to that innovation, we are poised to become a real force: a research intensive university that also leads the nation in providing top quality, cutting edge education across undergraduate and post graduate levels, and over the gamut of academic subjects.