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UWS congratulates Dorothy Hoddinott, the winner of the 2014 Australian Human Rights Medal December 11, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Margaret Vickers

On December 10, Dr Dorothy Hoddinott received the 2014 Australian Human Rights Medal in recognition of her extraordinary support for refugee and immigrant communities over many years.

She is the principal of Holroyd High School, a school where almost 60% of the students are of refugee-background. She describes the young people enrolled in her school as children who have suffered unimaginable traumas, who have fled for their lives, often coming to Australia by boat. Almost all have had no schooling or interrupted schooling. Defying the odds, the majority of them complete an HSC at Holroyd. Approximately 40% enter a university, with a substantial proportion being admitted to the University of Western Sydney (UWS). The UWS School of Education (SoE) proudly offers a number of programs to support the educational success of refugee-background students. Dr Hoddinott has been a consistent mentor and supporter of all our efforts in this direction.

In 2006, the UWS Vice Chancellor asked the SoE to explore problems that were arising as more children from conflict-affected countries such as Sudan, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Sri Lanka arrived in Australia. These children had mostly never attended school, never sat in a desk, and were completely unaware of the established cultural norms and practices of Australian schools. Teachers at the front line – especially those in the Intensive English Centres (IEC) – were alarmed by what they were confronting. Our first project involved asking IEC teachers to participate in study circles where they shared their experiences over several weeks. Prominent among our first participants were IEC teachers from Holroyd high school. In conversation with Dorothy and these teachers, we gained fundamental insights into the challenges involved for schools. This work gave us the inspiration to promote new projects, supporting refugee-background students in local schools and at UWS (see Ferfolja, Vickers, McCarthy, Naidoo & Brace, 2011).

From these early beginnings two substantial programs have emerged. The first is the Refugee Action Support (RAS) program, a joint initiative of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and the NSW DEC. Through RAS, refugee-background students in secondary schools receive in-school assistance and after-school tutoring aimed at developing their literacy skills and improving their engagement in schooling. RAS was pilot-tested by the SoE in four Western Sydney high schools in 2007. It is now supported by four Universities and operates in Western Sydney, the Riverina and the ACT, involving over 20 secondary schools.

The second program is Equity Buddies (EB) – a for-credit cross-level student mentoring program supported by an Office of Learning and Teaching grant. EB provides support for refugee-background students, helping them to form social networks and to understand the unwritten rules that underlie University success. It has now been recognised as a program that delivers more broadly defined benefits for first-year students and their mentors, including a stronger sense of ‘community’ on campus, improved writing and referencing skills, better time management, and greater cross-cultural understanding (McCarthy, Vickers & Zammit, 2014). EB is now a continuing part of the UWS curriculum that will soon be extended to other schools and campuses across UWS.

In April 2014, UWS awarded Dorothy Hoddinott the degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of her support for social justice and her work with refugee-background students. The School of Education would like to thank Dorothy for her inexhaustible inspiration. We extend our warm congratulations to her as she now receives the 2014 Human Rights Medal.


Ferfolja, T. Vickers, M. H., McCarthy, F. E., Naidoo, L. & Brace, E. (2011). Crossing Borders: African refugees, teachers and schools. Canberra, ACT: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.

McCarthy, F. E., Vickers, M. H., & Zammit, K. (2014). Facilitators as pedagogical leaders: the acquisition of requisite forms of capital in University settings. In S. Gannon & W. Sawyer, Contemporary Issues of Equity in Education. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press.


Professor Margaret Vickers has a distinguished career in education in international policy development, and as a senior academic leader and researcher. She currently holds the position of Adjunct Professor in the School of Education and the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney.

UWS: A success story in teacher education and educational research November 18, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Steve Wilson

It has been a good year for the University of Western Sydney (UWS). Recognition of the university’s reputation as a quality institution has recently been captured by the recent publication of the Times 2014 World Higher Education Rankings. Here, UWS is noted as being amongst the top 100 of the world’s ‘young’ universities (under 50 years of age). It has also been included for the first time in the rankings of the top 400 universities in the world, marking it in the top 2% of all universities around the globe. These are great achievements for a university marking just its 25th anniversary in 2014.

There is also reason for the academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS to be justly proud of their own achievements in teacher education, research, and their engagement and leadership in the community. This is because a 2013 Report resulting from a high level external cyclical review of the UWS School of Education (2012), has concluded that:

The School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) has evolved into what can be considered a success story in terms of education faculties in Australia (Report, p.i).

In their report the review panel, comprising highly placed Education senior managers from other Australian universities and education systems, provides advice to the School on ways it can improve: this is, after all, a fundamental purpose of such reviews. Significantly, having consulted with UWS university students and graduates, school principals, teachers and community members during the review process, it congratulates and validates the School for the quality it is achieving, and points to a number of features of the School’s degree and research programs which have led to highly successful outcomes in teacher education and educational research being achieved by the School.

It is this success I wish to focus on here, particularly as teacher education programs across many universities often receive bad press from detractors (particularly some politicians and people in the media) who seem to often lament the quality of graduates of university teacher education, but who do not usually take the opportunity to investigate and understand what really happens in university teacher education. This is an alternative, and evidence-based good news story, from UWS.

The features of the UWS School of Education programs which are evaluated and praised by the review panel in its report include the following.

UWS’s ‘clever’ and effective course design
UWS has a postgraduate model of teacher education, meaning that students enter teacher education having completed a Bachelors degree. Through this pathway they bring an experience and maturity into their teacher education which assists them in becoming critical and classroom ready teachers. At UWS, facilitated pathways through Bachelors programs leading into the Master of Teaching degrees provide students with certainty in accessing postgraduate teacher education. According to the Review panel,

Introduction of the Bachelor of Arts pathway into the Master of Teaching was an especially smart move as this helps to prevent large numbers of students completing four years of study in education only to realise that they do not want to become teachers. This is a powerful model for linking undergraduate to postgraduate courses (p.22).

Course content and teaching approaches are also recognised by the panel as high quality features, and are addressed below.

Engaged learning and teaching
The panel’s Report commends the School on the experiences it provides to its student teachers through its program of service learning. Describing service learning as “one of (the School’s) great strengths” (p.7), and quite distinctive to what is offered in other universities, it praises the School for the range of community service projects in which student teachers can participate, and for the vast numbers of student teachers engaged in these programs (who each gain course credits for undertaking voluntary work). Commenting on the value of student teachers having the opportunity for deep engagement with people in the community, it notes that:

The Panel heard that the process of ‘getting to know people one-on-one’ through programs can be transformational – both for the UWS students and for the members of the community participating in the program (p.7).

The panel also notes the very positive responses to these programs from both student teachers, and community agencies and their clients. It notes the positive outcomes these programs achieve, including, as just two examples of many, preventing high school students from dropping out, and helping refugees improve their learning success through tutoring programs. The panel notes that feedback from external agencies and individuals involved in the service learning programs is extremely positive:

Feedback from this group was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude and thanks to the School (including its students). One external partner that has received over six hundred student volunteers from the School spoke of the “clear commitment of UWS to build capacity in the region” … It became clear to the Panel that exemplary results are being achieved through community and regional engagement and the Panel wishes to congratulate the School on its outstanding engagement performance (p.i).

High graduate satisfaction
A clear outcome of the review is recognition that the School of Education is marked by outstanding teaching, indicated by high levels of student satisfaction with the programs and teaching. In expressing this, the panel notes that:

The Panel received many reports of the School’s outstanding learning and teaching performance, including the programs, focus, quality of teaching, and content of curriculum. The School has strong results in the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) [an Australia-wide instrument for measuring graduate satisfaction with university teaching] and Student Feedback on Units (SFU) surveys, as well as excellent scores on the My University Website (p.21).

A notable element of this feedback from the panel is that it took the opportunity to meet with many present students and former graduates before making this assessment of the quality of UWS courses and teaching. Some of the comments from present and former students relayed in the report include: ‘the course was wonderful’; ‘our tutors are excellent and provide the most unbelievable amount of resources’; ‘lecturers go out of their way’; ‘teaching is excellent at this university’; ‘some subjects are cutting edge’; ‘academics try so hard’, and that the School is ‘such a better atmosphere than my first (other) university’ (p.24).

More generally, the panel reports that student comments noted

The outstanding support provided by academics within the School, including the levels of empathy and understanding shown to students experiencing stress and/or personal difficulties (p.24).

In a summative comment, the panel notes that the “overall quality of the School’s teaching and learning is excellent” (p.21). This is something about which the School’s staff should be very proud. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Review indicates that while some politicians and others may choose to criticise and even disparage university teacher education programs, the quality of their graduates, and point to low levels of student satisfaction with their teacher education programs, this is certainly not the case with UWS, as just one example in the university sector.

High employer and community satisfaction
While staff in the School of Education have always felt that the quality of their graduates was high, the review and report confirms this. Noting that many UWS graduates find employment in highly culturally diverse areas of Sydney, the Panel notes that:

feedback from external partners also testified to the quality of the School’s graduates and their work-readiness for highly diverse settings … (and) it was impressed that students were confident of their preparation for the diversity of the region” (p.21).

The general capacity of UWS graduates, as identified in both classroom practicum and service learning settings, is praised by external stakeholders. Some of their comments tendered to the review, as mentioned in the report, include:

The Panel also heard that that the School’s students and graduates are viewed as being enthusiastic, caring and “very knowledgeable about the needs of children”. Others commented that “UWS students are of a very high standard”; “students are fantastic”; “I am amazed at the quality and enthusiasm of the students”; and that students on practicum “know what they are doing” (p.3).

Quality and engaged research
The UWS School of Education has built up a strong research program which is both theoretically sound and of high relevance and impact (particularly, though by no means exclusively, through its engagement through research with social and educational issues in the greater western Sydney region). In reviewing the scope of educational research conducted within the School and research centre, the panel’s report

notes that the School’s research concentrations focus on: educational psychology; global children, families and communities and education; transnational knowledge exchange; equity of educational outcomes; youth transitions and high school completion; and, social ecology (p.13).

More recently, the Centre for Educational Research in the School has strengthened its research program by adding in the theme of sustainability through education.

Endorsing the quality of educational research at UWS, the panel comments that “the School has on its team a number of the best educational researchers in Australia (and in one or two cases with global reputations)” (p.13). It also notes that, relating to results in the national Excellence of Research in Australia (ERA) 2012 research evaluation process:

It is the Panel’s view that research in the School is being done well … and the Panel congratulates the School on achieving an improved overall ranking of ‘3’ … which is classified as average performance at world standard, and … now clearly above the sector average of 2.4 (p.15-16).

The panel also comments on the School’s “good reputation for graduating” students undertaking research higher degrees such as doctorates, and on the “high degree of support provided to them”, including “regular meetings with mentors who were clearly busy; opportunities to attend conferences and workshops; and, opportunities to take part in project planning of programs” (p.17). The panel concludes that “overall, the message from research students was that the School has a strong focus on the future and is “a fantastic place to be a researcher” (p.17).

The motivation for reporting these achievements at UWS is that teacher education within universities is sometimes subject to uninformed, and often quite negative, criticism. This is a good news story out of UWS which is worth reporting because, as just one example in the higher education sector, it shows a different and successful narrative for university-based teacher education. Such stories enable those who work within universities to be proud of what they do, and those outside of them to have confidence in what universities are achieving.

The message from this review of the School of Education at UWS and its recent report is that academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS are achieving quality outcomes. They should feel justly proud that they have a good, successful model of teacher education, supported by outstanding university teaching, and a world class program of educational research. They are achieving high quality outcomes in each of these areas.

This review indicates that current UWS students, former graduates, schools and learning institutions who employ these graduates, teachers who work with them, and the community at large, have every reason to be confident in the education that graduate teachers and researchers who have attended UWS have received. They should be equally as confident in the capacity of these graduates to make lasting, positive impacts on their professions, on the lives of children and the general population, and on the world, during their professional lives.


Steve Wilson is Emeritus Professor at the University of Western Sydney and Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at UWS.

Equity Buddies: A student social network supporting retention and achievement at UWS August 26, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Professor Margaret Vickers

When we ask how the University of Western Sydney can contribute to the Western Sydney community, we need to recognise that UWS itself needs to function as a community, creating new social connections and supporting all the students who come to us.

Equity Buddies (EB) is a for-credit cross-level student mentoring program developed with support from an Office of Learning and Teaching grant. Initially designed to provide support for UWS students with refugee backgrounds, it delivers clear benefits for the mentors as well as the mentees who participate in EB. These benefits include a stronger sense of ‘community’ on campus, improved writing and referencing skills, better time management, and (importantly) greater cross-cultural understanding. An alarming finding from our review of student reflections was that many students seemed, through Equity Buddies, to ‘discover’ for the first time that if you use relationships as a resource you can solve problems, do better work, and feel more confident. One student said,

This gave me a completely different idea about what the University experience can be. It’s not just about results.

This was not an isolated comment. Many students were surprised that ‘community building’ and ‘networking’ could be so powerful.

In the first iteration of EB, 50 second and third year students committed to one-to-one mentoring of 1st year students who met with them each week, engaging in mutually-negotiated activities that were sometimes social and sometimes academic. The broader significance of this project is that it demonstrates that students, many of whom are new arrivals or even students from refugee backgrounds, can provide very effective supports for first year students. Mentors found that in the process of doing this work their own academic skills improve. All students who participated in EB interacted with and learned from people whose cultural backgrounds were different to their own.

This was not merely a process that broadened the perspectives of Anglo-Australians; students from immigrant families reported similar learning, and a growth in respect for others. For example, a Christian Iraqi decided – after making friends with a Lebanese Muslim – that Islam was not always a ‘punitive and narrow’ religion. A Somali immigrant sympathised with and supported a newly arrived Vietnamese international student who is still struggling with English. Numerous examples could be cited.

Students come to UWS from very diverse ethnic backgrounds and often they remain sequestered within these ethnic groups after enrolling. By structuring opportunities for our students to know and support each other academically and socially across these divides, we could well make significant contributions to improved cross-cultural understanding in the Greater Western Sydney region.  

Margaret Vickers is a Professor in the Centre for Educational Research in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Equity Buddies was established in 2012 through a grant awarded to Margaret Vickers and Dr Katina Zammit. The project manager is Jan Morrison.

Serve to learn, learn to serve May 6, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Dr Loshini Naidoo

By experiencing service learning, pre-service teachers develop pedagogical and professional skills as they teach, and learn from, transnational and Aboriginal high school students. This strengthens their insight and appreciation for their own lives, and the diversity of of the lives of others, and gives them a desire to continue serving and making a difference.

Many definitions have been offered for service learning but the most fitting definition is provided by Bringle and Hatcher (1995, p.112), who state that service learning is “a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organised service activity that meets identified community needs”. The value of service learning is aptly described by Eyler and Giles (1999, p. 8), who point out that

experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action. Both learning and service gain value and are transformed when combined in the specific types of activities we call service-learning”.

The ability to fully promote civic responsibility and build on the academic course content is integral to service learning activities ( for example, through the Crossing Borders, Refugee Action Support (RAS) and Community Action Support (CAS) programs offered in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney). Service learning is also embedded in the formal teaching unit (subject) “Diversity, Social Justice and Equity” in the Secondary program, where pre-service teachers are given an opportunity to develop the inter-relationship between theory and praxis (click here to access an overview of these programs).

As a result of globalization, an increasing number of transnational students in Australia face the challenge of learning English as well as acquiring an understanding of how Australian institutions work socially and academically: i.e. how to behave in formal and informal settings, what the rules are, and how to relate to peers and lecturers. Therefore increased acculturation to the university as a social setting is essential for students who are attempting to understand how to negotiate their transitions from university to work, especially for those who are seeking to explore the options available in terms of teaching in Australia.

The Crossing Borders peer mentoring strand is offered to any Master of Teaching student who was trained overseas, whose previous degrees were obtained overseas and who is expecting to work in education in NSW. The program is intended to support the development of critical thinking skills; raise self awareness and understanding of others; provide opportunities for refining a wide range of interpersonal skills; help define the elements of effective group interactions and encourage transnational students to reflect on aspects of their own culture and those of others.

In the Refugee Action Support (RAS) program, which involves tutoring newly-arrived high school refugee students, pre-service teachers learn about the individual histories and backgrounds of their students, about cultural differences, and about gaps between what students know and what schools expect of them. This type of interaction leads to a personalisation of the refugee students by the tutors, imparting a lesson of needing to know your students in order to teach them. For pre-service teachers, diverse service learning experiences like tutoring refugee students and mentoring transnational pre-service teachers can be useful in moving prospective teachers toward greater cultural sensitivity.

Finally, the Community Action Support (CAS) service learning program involves mentoring high school Aboriginal youth in a variety of literacy and communication areas. This service learning program occurs in a remote area of the Northern Territory, Australia, and allows pre-service teachers to experience life in an Aboriginal community from an Aboriginal perspective. Pre-service teachers see the experience as an opportunity to adapt their knowledge and skills to this unique context and challenge pre-conceived notions around Aboriginal education.

It is evident that pre-service teachers who have engaged in these service learning activities learn how to connect educational values with community action in a relationship that benefits everyone involved. In so doing, they have learned to serve in ways that bridge the gap between service learning experiences and classroom processes. Through the lens of reflection, those involved in these service learning experiences discover its very essence. As a pre-service teacher stated on completion of their service learning activity, “I am now ready to teach”.

References:  Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1995). A service-learning curriculum for faculty.  Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2, 112-122.   Eyler, J., & Giles, D. E. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publications.

Loshini Naidoo is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is highly experienced in the design and delivery of, and research and scholarship around, academic service learning for teacher education students. Loshini was recently announced as a recipient of the International Centre for Service-Learning in Teacher Education’s Outstanding Individual Educator Award for Outstanding Contributions to Service-Learning in Teacher Education for an educator outside of the United States, and receives this award at Duke University in North Carolina in June, 2012. The School of Education at UWS is fortunate to have a group of highly accomplished academics in the area of service learning, and together they have gained national and international recognition for the quality of the programs they offer and the positive impact they have on outcomes for school and teacher education students, and on community agencies and their clients.

The importance of academic service learning in universities May 1, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Associate Professor Diana Whitton

Here, Diana Whitton points to the development of academic service learning programs in universities which strengthen student skills and sense of commitment to the community, while providing valuable knowledge and service to community organisations and those who rely upon them.

On the front page of the careers section of the Sydney Morning Herald on 2.4.11, the feature article of that week was – Start the climb – how volunteering can kick start your career. The development of volunteering, work integrated learning and cooperative learning is being reformed within universities by an international focus on academic service learning. Developing systematic reciprocal approaches which benefit host organizations and students, service learning is leading to new forms of community development.

The skills and knowledge attained within university classrooms are being utilised through service learning placements in a range of agencies throughout the community. There is a desperate need in community organisations to have reliable people who can assist in their outreach programs, and this fact has seen the growth of university academic service learning in which students provide organisations with assistance. The advantage of service learning is that students bring high level skills to their placement, whilst they also generate good will, understanding, and empathy, along with important relevant knowledge of their communities.

However, the challenge remains that while universities espouse to being part of the community, when it comes to service learning courses which engage with the community, these courses are often under-rated or maligned, and are not strongly supported. Faculties have often not adopted the concept of service learning but perceive it as an internship, volunteering, work integrated learning, or professional experience: programs which are undertaken for a quite different reason to service learning. For service learning to survive – which it must do – the ‘ivory tower’ needs to be with the community totally, developing, supporting and generating the links between the students, academics and the community, rather than counting the cost of the process in terms of dollars and cents and not goodwill. We need to support a new currency that relates to the cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity and cultural knowledge that is generated for students, academics and community agencies and their members.

Thus opportunities need to be created that permit students to undertake all forms of service learning – direct (working with and in a community); indirect (working for a community group); advocacy (developing strategies to promote the community); and, research (undertaking investigations to develop the knowledge base of the community), within their study so they develop fully as professionals ready to work within the community.

The process involved in creating effective service learning experiences has the students undertake four stages of engaging with communities: devising, developing, delivering, and  documenting their project plus critically reflecting on what they are undertaking. It is only the reflection on the learning which leads to the gaining of academic credit for students. The process is not a replication of traditional internships or professional experience, but rather the opportunity for students to undertake real life projects at the request of a community, and solve them.

The following are examples of just two academic service learning projects that are continually making a difference. Over the last year a few groups of students has taken on the project of working with the South East Neighbourhood Centre in Daceyville. Their project has entailed creating a product that is sustainable and will bring in funds to the community on a regular basis. At the Centre’s request, a cookbook has been created. The students had a fund raising dinner to make money to buy the food to have enable the preparation of the recipes that had been provided by the staff and community at the centre. Assistance from a range of people was obtained (all pro bono) to cook, style, photograph and test each recipe to create a first class cook book – Neighbourhood Table – which will now be promoted by another group of students and launched in the community.

A second group of students have been working with a large Australian NGO, Mission Australia. The agency requires support on many levels to maintain their recycling of mattresses. For years mattresses have just gone to landfill but MA has set up a recycling plant to strip down the mattresses and recycle all components. The project has seen two-fold involvement for the participating university students: to find a constant source of mattresses so the recycling may continue uninterrupted; and, to develop a resource to use in the community to educate people about how they can be part of the recycling process. To date the students have contacted numerous hotels to secure a supply of mattresses and are now developing a DVD of the work undertaken by MA that can be used in the community and schools. The MA project has created jobs for 10 people who have previously experienced long term unemployment, and so the work of the university students is making a difference to the lives of many other people.

Diana Whitton is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her areas of expertise are in gifted education, pedagogy, and academic service learning.

The content of this post relates to a previous post written by Loshini Naidoo, titled Pre-service teachers and refugee high school students – new ways of becoming a 21st century teacher

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