Mr Jeremy Smith

Australian Award for University Teaching - Award for Teaching Excellence
Lecturer, Research Engineer
Research School of Engineering
ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science

Jeremy has had various roles at ANU since graduating from there in the late 1990's including research assistant, entrepreneur, student, sessional educator and currently academic lecturer.  Jeremy has been responsible for developing, delivering and coordinating courses in engineering at ANU for both undergraduate and postgraduate coursework since 2007. Since 2011 he has been involved with five ANU education grants, in 2014 led an Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) Seed Grant, and has secured over 100 short-term mobility scholarships for engineering students. 

In the last five years he has lead innovations in humanitarian engineering education, including the first later-year dedicated humanitarian engineering course in Australia, the inclusion of for-credit short-term overseas experiences into engineering, and most recently enabling ANU to become the first Australian university to be part of the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenge Scholars Program. In 2016 Jeremy was recognised for his work at ANU through an Australian Award for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation, and in 2017 was awarded an AAUT Award for Teaching Excellence for leadership in humanitarian engineering education in Australia over the last 10 years.  He is a member of Engineers Australia and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

Q&A

Q: What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

The students I work with inspire me. I get to work with students who are studying engineering to create a positive impact on society,  and who are looking at the world they have grown-up in and see injustice, inequity or inequality. They have thought about what they are good and what they enjoy, and are now studying engineering to see their future work and any technology they may develop help to overcome those issues. This always reminds of both the purpose of ANU, to work on challenges of national and international significance and to discover new opportunities to improve quality of life, and of the engineering professions role of working for the benefit of humanity and society.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?

I enjoy working with students as they explore their potential in what they can achieve, not only with their engineering, but in their motivations and passions. As an educator, the construction of a new study program or learning activity that creates good learning outcomes for students can be very rewarding.

Q: How do you motivate, inspire and engage your students in and out of the classroom?

Basically I engage students in hands-on engineering. As an engineer, as in any career, you never stop learning, and we are always students in one form or another. Getting engineering students involved in engineering is a great way to inspire them as well as to give them a sense of ownership of their work and studies. This exposes students to the full breath of engineering, from calculations and modelling, through design and prototyping, to engaging with a range of stakeholders and people outside the campus. It helps provide a sense of connection for the students between their studies and the engineering field and profession.

Q: What qualities do you need to be an outstanding higher education teacher?

Creativity, good communication and patience all help. I find being on a shared journey with students and seeing course material through their eyes and perspectives is particularly important. I enjoy project-based and intensive mode teaching for this reason, as the students and myself are applying knowledge in new ways to new challenges, and building a shared learning community. I believe qualifications or formal training in teaching and learning are important, as this recognises that teaching has its own skills and body of knowledge. The training and qualifications I have gained through ANU have been a big help for me in improving my teaching and for enhancing the student experience.

Q: What are the ongoing challenges in developing your teaching practices?

Having the time to properly evaluate teaching and learning approaches and outcomes. Once a course finishes the time we have allocated to it also finishes. Additional time is required to fully evaluate what went on in the course, what the students learnt and the overall experience. It is absolutely necessary to continuously improve and innovate in our education design and delivery. In terms of new ideas and research, I am fortunate to be part of a professional association involved with engineering education which includes annual conferences, winter schools and mentoring opportunities. This is a great way to keep up-to-date with new approaches to teaching and learning in engineering education and to sharing ideas.

Q: Tell us about an approach you have taken in the classroom of which you've been proud.

Running an intensive course in engineering and building a learning community around it, which I first did in the winter term in 2015. The intensive mode allowed a wider range of learning activities, so we were able to have longer workshops and class discussions, but also excursions, most of which our engineering students had never had before during their university studies. One of these included a walk with an Aboriginal ranger in a nearby nature park exploring the local flora and engineering tools and artefacts common to the area. Standing on the top of a hill in the winter sun with a group of engineering students learning about engineering that is tens of thousands years old was mind blowing for all of us. These excursions also built a great sense of community among the students

Q: If the VC asked you how you would change teaching and learning at ANU, what would you say?

Provide recognition and career paths for sessional and contract staff involved with education. These staff are making significant contributions to the core business of the university and bring their own experiences to share with students. We have staff who come in to support teaching and build up a wealth of knowledge in education, but ultimately find it difficult to stay as there are few opportunities for permanent positions, career development or promotion. In engineering we are finding many of these are parents, particularly women, returning to the work force after career breaks. This is a way to not only improve educational outcomes but to improve our gender diversity, which in engineering is unfortunately very poor.