Dr Russell Walton has a grey bread and is wearing a black top

Meet Learning Development team member, Dr Russell Walton

Meet Learning Development team member, Dr Russell Walton

Tell us about yourself and provide an overview of the student service, seminars/consultations you offer to our students?

I am Dr Russell Walton, but I prefer everyone to just call me Russell, and I am a member of the Learning Development team from the University of Wollongong. The seminars that we offer are focused on the fundamental skills range across issues such as referencing, report writing and reflective writing, with intermittent practical workshops on paraphrasing. Students can also book an individual and a group consultation but please advise me of attendance in advance. Except for writing the task for you, I can provide support across a wide gamut.

What can students do to prepare for your assistance, and how can they minimize the likelihood of encountering issues that necessitate your services?

I suggest student should come to us with a clear idea of what you want help with and the relevant documentation ready for me to view. When I can view the task description, I can ensure any advice fits with the subject directions.

During the seminars you can ask any related question, but it will help if you come with some idea of what you want to know. As a teacher, I love questions because they indicate that you want to get better.

Everyone, regardless of position, needs to be aware of their own limitations. From a student perspective it is important to be unafraid to ask for advice. Especially in the early stages of your study, much of the content you are covering is either unfamiliar or has not been studied for some time. It is only natural to be unsure when encountering these issues. Our Learning Development consultations are just one option to help you which is possibly the most underused facility in tertiary study, but seeking advice from the person who will mark your paper can be surprisingly productive. You also need to be aware of your own learning practices. Read quality academic sources from reputable journals to help you gain an understanding of academic writing.

What guidance or suggestions do you provide to help students minimise stress and maintain effective learning experience?

My life has had more than its fair share of ups and downs, with ongoing significant issues with depression. We all bring our own baggage to the tasks we are asked to complete, regardless of age. Imposter syndrome is remarkably common. The point is that there is not much you could talk to me about that I have not encountered at some point. From an academic perspective this triggers my empath tendencies toward students’ difficulties. You are *not* alone in your studies, even if you feel geographically isolated. Recognising that, with the corollary of reaching out for help rather than festering in despair, will go a long way to limiting your stress levels.

You should also recognise just how much study you can take on. Everyone can learn and get better, but there is a wide disparity in life circumstances that dictate just what is realistic for you. If you are stressed, then it will be harder to absorb and learn your study content and express that learning. Breathe. Then breathe some more!

What is your perspective on using AI technology in the context of academic writing?

We are currently stuck with AI. However, my personal view is that there is minimal benefit to using AI for reports or any other assignment. While my concerns are holistic, they are underpinned by three factors:

  • Personal understanding of content: using AI for assignments teaches students how to ask AI questions at the expense of gaining their own content understanding. AI makes mistakes in content, but without student understanding that will not be recognised.
  • Academic misconduct: AI works by accessing content that already exists online, thus presenting content that may not be paraphrased to a satisfactory standard, or misrepresenting that content, and potentially exposing the student to academic misconduct concerns.
  • Employer perceptions: potential employers quite reasonably expect students to be able to articulate and demonstrate usage and knowledge that is grounded in students’ subject results. Where those results are based in AI rather than personal knowledge of usage and practice there will be a disconnect between employer expectations and employee capacity. This presents an existential threat to students’ continuing employment prospects, while simultaneously undermining the credibility of all academic qualifications, regardless of how they were obtained.

What advice would you give to students to ensure a smooth transition to tertiary education?

Read quality academic journal articles. This will serve the double purpose of enhancing familiarity with academic writing, although some can be quite obtuse, and increasing content knowledge. From experience, non-native English speakers frequently struggle with some basic grammatical issues rather than the bigger picture. Perhaps most notable are: 1) when and where to use “the”; and 2) the rules for singular and plural usage. Reading quality English academic writing can help address these issues.

For those returning to study, as I noted earlier, it is important to be realistic about how study will fit with your personal life circumstances. Mature-age students often try to ‘prove’ that they can keep up with the younger, usually single, students; a false premise. You bring a wealth of life experience, but you also bring the trappings of that life experience. This is most commonly evident in having children or other family commitments. Being realistic about study capacity can contribute to both maintaining family connections and ability to focus on study.

What activities do you enjoy engaging in outside of work?

My leisure time is focused on family; we have four adult children who excel in different fields. For myself, my primary interests, in no particular order, are: 1) reading – I have approximately 3,000 books across a wide variety of fields, but with definite emphases on folklore/mythology, history and spiritual wellbeing; 2) gardening – we are blessed with a large backyard and there is little better than getting your hands in soil and feeling the connection; 3) gaming – I am not a hardcore gamer (a damaging condition) and do not play for challenge, but sometimes you just need to release inner negativity; 4) cycling/walking – I don’t drive, with my entire motoring experience being limited to a few weeks, although I have considerably more experience with motorcycles. Having recently had a double knee replacement there are considerable limitations in cycling/walking, but it is getting better and I am optimistic of getting moving properly again.