When life resumes to some semblance of normality – when we all go back to uni, work and the world outside – what will we remember about our time working and learning from home?

Without a doubt, the convenience and comfort of attending Zoom sessions in trackies and Uggs will be a recollection we’ll hold dear.

But one important memory will be the tireless perseverance and passion of VU’s lecturers, who navigated their way through new technology (“Can you guys hear me?” “Unmute yourself!”) and often trying circumstances, to ensure their students could continue to thrive.

It’s little wonder VU students recently ranked highest in Victoria for learner engagement (2019 QILT student experience survey).

We chatted to four of our education icons you might recognise, to discover how they’ve managed to keep students engaged.

Sparking joy for future teachers

Keo Lin, education

Keo Lin is an Education lecturer in the First Year College who is passionate about imparting his more than 10 years’ experience as a school teacher and his great sense of humour upon students.

What’s been the most challenging thing about teaching online?

Not being able to pick up the non-verbal cues has definitely been a challenge. In a face-to-face setting, you might see the majority of the classroom stare at you as if you’re explaining advanced nuclear physics, you kinda know it’s time to take a step back and re-explain things.

How do you continue to motivate students?

I say to them – there’s things we can control and things that are out of our control. All we can do is focus on what we can control and make the best of it. I also like to use emojis so that they know that – as Pinocchio says – “I’m a real life boy!”

How have you stayed socially connected while we’re in lockdown?

‘Animal Crossing, New Horizons’ couldn’t have come out at a better time – thank you, Nintendo! I’ve been using that to hang out with friends – I’m such a nerd right?

Do you think the Block Model’s single unit focus has helped students learning online?

Yes, although I think it’s hard to appreciate the situation while you’re in it. But I ask them to imagine simultaneously transitioning four subjects to online learning like other unis, and they get it!

Education lecturer Keo Lin inspires and motivates with his positive outlook.

Activating positive change

Jacqui Katona, arts & education – Moondani Balluk Aboriginal Academic Unit

Jacqui Katona is a lecturer in Aboriginal history and politics with Moondani Balluk. A Djok woman from the Kakadu area of Northern Territory, Jacqui has worked for decades as an advocate, including assisting her family to prevent uranium mining at Jabiluka in Kakadu National Park. With Yvonne Margarula, of the Mirrar, she shares the Goldman Environmental Prize for Island Nations 1999.

What are some of the challenges of online learning, & how have you overcome them?

During the first online block we were all adjusting and it was harder to stay engaged. But students have become more confident with Zoom, to a point where now I need to reinforce they raise their hand or speak through the chat function! I’m hearing more and more thoughtful and insightful comments.

How else do you engage students early on?

We explore some complex issues and a lot of critical analysis is needed. Some people are unsure of the right thing to say, so in week one we do myth busting and stereotype smashing. We set boundaries and discuss cultural identity and acceptance of different cultures which helps build trust.

When doe online learning shine?

Through Zoom, I use documentary and film excerpts to tell stories and share historical and personal experiences of Aboriginal people. We watch together and discuss during class. Integrating visual learning with the discussion has continued to work well.

How do you stay motivated as a teacher?

Like everyone, I accept that some days are better than others – but it’s important to keep sharing these lessons with students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to learn them. When students are passionate about becoming participants in positive change I know I’m making a difference.

Passion for teaching all in a day’s work

Alan Hayes, biomedical & exercise science

Professor Alan Hayes is Assistant Dean, Western Centre for Health Research and Education, and researcher at and VU’s Institute for Health & Sport, with specialisations including muscular dystrophy, exercise and muscle physiology and clinical exercise science.

How have you stayed motivated, & motivated students during online teaching?

If you’re passionate about educating your students, it shouldn’t matter what the medium is, you still come to class enthusiastic and excited about the things to be learned. That always rubs off.

Are there things that worry you about students’ wellbeing in lockdown?

Yes, you can’t help but worry, particularly about their mental health as it is such a big issue now. You try and look for any triggers that they may not be coping. I’m currently teaching a unit called Exercise is Medicine, and in the breaks I encourage students to do physical activity. Sharing anecdotes about your own life makes everyone realise that you’re not perfect, and that’s OK. If there’s times you’ve felt flat and eaten too much chocolate, students can relate.

Do you think VU’s Block Model has unique benefits in online study?

I do – students get to see the same person three times per week so they know who to go to with any issues, the assessments are completed without the distraction of other units. The option of taking up other units in winter is another advantage of the Block Model. And the fact they are still in interactive workshops is better than recorded lectures, which is the only option some unis are using.

Biomedical and exercise science lecturer Alan Hayes keeps students engaged with his love of teaching.

Overcoming challenges through connections

Rui Lee, electrical engineering

Rui Li is an Academic Teaching Scholar with VU’s First Year College, with years of experience in electronics including wearable technologies, and with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She recently submitted her PhD dissertation.

What's been the most challenging part of online learning?

The teaching workload has been heavier and it’s difficult to handle multiple digital platforms, but my main aim is ensuring a smooth and pleasant learning experience and keeping students engaged.

How do you stay so motivated, & how do you continue to motivate students?

During class time, I use technologies (i.e. Zoom breakout rooms, Padlet, shared documents) to engage students and encourage them to connect with their peers.

I encourage students to create their own Zoom sessions after class for topic discussions, and for leisure chats.

What are you doing to stay socially connected in your world?

I’ve been FaceTiming with family and friends and I’ve joined a virtual Zumba class with friends to stay active and fit.

Engineering lecturer Rui Lee encourages students to stay connected with one another.

Find out more

While we run our classes online during this time, our students are experiencing great results thanks to the VU Block Model.

Apply now, start April

If you have questions or feedback about VU's COVID-19 response, please contact:

Phone: +61 3 9919 6398
Email: [email protected]

Keep up to date with VU's response to the coronavirus. This page includes links to FAQs for students and staff, and helpful information and links to government sites.