January 2019 Issue
- UOWx program experiences rapid growth giving students the competitive edge
- Staff profile: Dr Tracey Kuit, School of Biological Sciences.
- Mental health prevention strategies for student wellbeing essential to academic journey
- Enabling learning through transforming assessments in higher education
- Fostering students’ agency over their future careers
- Student profile: UOWx award winner, Joel Coelho reaches for the stars
- Learning Labs going from strength to strength, campus by campus
Staff profile: Dr Tracey Kuit, School of Biological Sciences.
Ever since she was a little girl, Associate Professor Tracey Kuit has wanted to teach.
She recalls setting the chalk board up in her garage playing schools with her sisters at their family home in Bargo, South of Sydney and Tracey would always be the teacher.
“I never wanted to be the student, I always wanted to be up the front doing the teaching,” she affirms.
Little did she know what she was acting out was to become not only her passion, but her life-long profession.
While studying her undergraduate degree in science, to make ends meet Tracey tutored students in maths and science, which further reinforced her desire to become a teacher.
After going on to study an Honours program in veterinary microbiology at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI) in association with Western Sydney University (WSU), her thirst for research continued, and in 2001 Tracey embarked on her PhD at EMAI with the University of Wollongong, investigating porcine pneumonia caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae.
Upon graduating with her PhD in 2005, Associate Professor Kuit landed a six month research assistant position at UOW, at the same time starting a graduate diploma in education for high school teaching.
Soon after, she was offered the chance to take on the coordination and lecturing for a first year biology subject which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her work as a research assistant and subject coordinator continued, and in 2008, Associate Professor Kuit was competitively appointed as a full time teaching intensive academic in the then School of Biological Sciences.
“I knew I always wanted to teach, so when a teaching intensive position at the University of Wollongong came up I was ecstatic - I get to specialise in teaching at one of the best Universities in Australia and in a discipline area dominated by research - science,” she says.
Associate Professor Kuit coordinates the learning and teaching for over 1,100 students in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences per year. Over the past 10 years she has coordinated the learning of more than 10,000 UOW students.
“I love teaching and supporting student learning. I love seeing the diversity of students that come to first year molecular biology, seeing what all their different aspirations are and trying to support them in the best way I know how, to help them be successful,” she shares.
Tracey attributes her enjoyment of studying science to inspiring lecturers. She recalls finding her transition to university at WSU challenging, and despite wanting to give up, with perseverance eventually the tide turned.
“When I started my second year I had a couple of lecturers who dramatically changed my experience, one lady in particular in biochemistry – Dr Mary Campbell.
“She saw something in me that I hadn’t seen and nobody else had seen, and she really fostered in me this mindset that if you really want to, you can do well at this.
“I did my first biochemistry assignment which was a cardboard poster and I put so much effort into it as I really enjoyed the topic and I received a HD.” Tracey smiles as she recalls having to look up what that meant. “That was the turning point, just someone saying you can do this, it changed everything” Tracey says. I found my place and I started to really enjoy being a student at University and I couldn’t get enough, taking on additional research projects over summer in second and third year.
Tracey established great connections with her lecturers and she reflects on the deep impact being mentored had on her study experience, and subsequently her own teaching style.
Tracey says the legacy of her mentors lives on and she is regularly reminded of them.
“Every time I step into a classroom I’m thinking, of the 700 students that I’ve got in molecular biology at the moment, how many of them just need that person to see something in them or show them that it is possible”.
“I want the students to know that I really care about their learning journey, and I want to see them do the best they can even if they’re one of 700 in the room at the time,” Tracey reinforces.
Associate Professor Kuit’s primary research interest is focused around the scholarship of learning and teaching in science.
With student cohorts in excess of 500, her focus is to find ways to maximise the learning experience for a diverse range of students.
She says she puts a great deal of effort into supporting students before, during and after class using readily available technology including Moodle and additional tools. She is leading the use of electronic notebooks within lab teaching –being of key importance for maintaining data and records in the workforce.
“I incorporate different styles of teaching. I use flipped lectures, which involves providing students with learning modules that students can look at before coming to class. When they come into the lecture theatre we can get straight into some interaction, and discussions and go through questions based on what they’ve covered before coming to class.
“They’re not just turning up to the lecture expecting the information just to be dumped on to them. Some students love that style of learning, some don’t, and there is still content in science that is best delivered face-to-face, so my approach is always blending the online with the face-to-face,” she says.
Tracey emphasises the importance of thinking beyond the science content as part of the learning process. Using the course content, she helps develop other more general skills students are going to require throughout their university life and beyond including; team work and communication skills which she teaches through group research projects and presentations, self-reflection and peer learning. All with hundreds of students at a time.
Over and above her busy classroom role, Associate Professor Kuit’s teaching leadership flows into mentoring other academics.
“Some of the key areas where I lend support include designing subjects for large student numbers, developing assessment strategies, ensuring academic integrity of student work, all the things that guide curriculum development.
“I also do a lot of peer review of other academics to give them advice and guidance on how they might improve, as well as recognising the great things they’re doing in the classroom or online,” she says.
Tracey is a strong supporter of recognising the great work performed by teaching staff and has reviewed over 70 applications for internal and external awards and grants and she has a rich history of success in these areas herself. She also mentors staff within and outside the institution in these processes.
Passionate about improving teaching and learning, Associate Professor Kuit sits on several committees across the institution and national tertiary networks, where she readily shares her teaching expertise.
Most notably, she is part of the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and she was awarded their Shimadzu Education Award in 2018, recognising outstanding achievement in education in biochemistry or molecular biology, especially innovation and creativity in education.
As Deputy Chair of the Wollongong Academy for Tertiary Teaching and Learning Excellence, Tracey says the academy allows her to work with colleagues across the University who share her commitment to enhancing teaching and learning.
“WATTLE is one of the highlights of my job. The committee work hard to support the institution through its staff and students, promoting excellence in Learning and Teaching, something UOW is recognised for globally,” she says.
Despite academic promotion traditionally favouring those with an impressive research portfolio, she encourages colleagues who share her passion for teaching to persist with what they love.
“When I reflect back 10 years I can see how far the University of Wollongong has come in not only recognising but celebrating learning and teaching. I guess you have to create a niche position of your own and if that is in teaching, I would say, don’t give up on it. Become a great teacher, lead improved change and support those around you.
“The higher education sector is constantly changing - however universities will always need students and they will always need good people who are knowledgeable and passionate to be put in front of those students. I am living my childhood dream, although technology has overtaken the chalkboard,” Associate Professor Kuit says.