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Professor Sally Kift - Equity Holy Grail for Learning

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

By Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation

Professor Sally Kift, James Cook University

Photo credit : Dr Renée Ralph

Murdoch, Western Australia – Over 270 participants attended the 32nd Western Australia Teaching and Learning Forum (WATLF) 2023 for two days (Feb 2-3) hosted by Murdoch University in partnership with Curtin University, University of Western Australia, Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University. It was a sold out event supported by senior academic and early career academics, professional staff and students from local, international and interstate.

This year’s theme University Life : Being, Becoming, Belonging indicated the post-COVID impact on Higher Education and how technology transformed the way teachers interact and engage with students face-to-face and online.

Welcome to Country was given by Elizabeth Hayden (Aunty Liz) who encouraged the positive way ahead. She acknowledged the changing of the tide of Higher Education embracing the First Nations culture in curriculum, offering better decision-making processes and alternatives for the youth and potential leaders. She praised Hon Kim Beazley AC, one of her favourite people who is warm, knowledgeable and amazing. She said having met him, Hon Kim Beazley AC understood the First Nations issues well and she admired him for what he has done for the Aboriginal culture.

Aunty Liz shared her position as a First Nations individual subjected to disparaging remarks and racism in her life – the audience gasped with her truth-telling and she moved us teachers to do the very best for students, so that students are left wanting more content from us.

Welcome Address by Professor Andrew Deeks, Vice-Chancellor and President, Murdoch University stated that technology plays an enormous role in teaching, facilitating and engaging students. It has become part of our lives and to progress we have to learn how to use that tool effectively. He said that we will continue to share our ideas, strengthen and challenge our teaching practices to educate our students and generate new knowledge.

Professor Sally Kift, James Cook University delivered a warm, hilarious and knowledgeable Keynote Address. She has 30 years’ experience within the Australian Higher Education policy, practice and executive leadership. She emphasised equity of learning for students during post-COVID and this year’s theme of Being, Becoming, Belonging was apt and timely in contemporary Higher Education.

She, herself was learning new terms such as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) versus the state of Joy of Missing Out (JOMO), as all of us are in the state of learning, unlearning and relearning. The new terminology expresses perhaps the lived experiences of a student at university navigating through complex cultural and digital dimensions. In the mix, the labour transformation within the tertiary education sector has been shrinking, with unemployed academic, professional staff and graduates.

So while the total number of people in work was slightly lower in November 2020 than in May 2019, graduates fared better than individuals without a degree-holder.

It is a genie in a bottle situation where teachers have to focus and still inspire life-long learning students and uphold student equity in these challenging times. The search of the Equity Holy Grail must prevail.

Professor Kift cited Jason Clare MP who was the first in his family to graduate and he emphasised that education changes lives – simply by looking at where he's at now. Post-COVID, there is an increase of part-time students 35% (making up of mature age students) and an uptake in disability students.

How do we create an environment for all students to be, become and belong in diversity to be included so that they are known, mattered and cared for?

Recent statistics show that 56% of the student cohort, are still the first ones to graduate in their families from Higher Education.

Just learning and coming to university is one dimension, the other aspect is student well-being in the areas of digital skills, digital well-being and data security. Professor Kift cited Alexander Mihai, in the hybrid learning environment how do we as academics offer personalised mediation and explained teacher presence? As part-time students are balancing either part-time or full-time work, exploring studying options with either face-to-face attendance and/or online – their lives are busy, fast-pace, chaotic and these students’ are time poor. It is a juggling act for academics to offer quality learning to these students in their complex life challenges.

In Curriculum Land, the first assessment for first year undergraduates is linked to their experiences where they are needing to seek out academic support. Professor Kift states there are multiple ongoing transactions that are meted out in a ghostly way.

The anxiety the undergraduates are facing, will need to be normalise as they create a new identity and a sense of professional identity to exist and this is the transition point within higher education.

The students will experience imposter syndrome am I good enough to be in university? Doubts will resurface and as academics, we can lend a helping hand to these students from dropping out of the course or unit.

We understand the issues of education capital and social capital so when the students question Who am I?

Are we the Fish out of water that equate to the cultural alienation at university?

Are we the Fish in water?


Are we the Fish happily out of water riding a bicycle?

We have to understand the education landscape has changed and we have to relearn new ways to humanise our online class versus one student’s experience feedback “I have a closer relationship with my Internet provider.”

Professor Kift shared that pedagogical warmth is required as supported by Peter Felton and we have a role in building a community for students in the classroom face-to-face and/or online. It is vital that we start building these relationships as to avoid panic-gogy and entangled pedagogy. She leads us to The Blend - operating in the Third space where learning and teaching is transformed. Students as Partners (SAP) offer feedback after each class to review what they learn to the lecturer or tutor.

And Voila! Here we are today - academics and students are either dancing the perfect dance or swirling in the perfect storm.

Full house at Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre, Murdoch University


copyright@The Brilliant Foundation

Snapshots over two days

Associate Professor Jane Coffey, Curtin University presenting on meaningful careers whilst navigating technology and AI - The essence of sustaining a career and life-long learning.

Dr Samuel Teague, Data Analytics, Murdoch University - his heart-rendering presentation "Into The Wild" captivated us

Dr Miriam Sullivan, Team Leader, Teaching and Learning, Edith Cowan University after her presentation on PASS, Workshops, Individual Appointments and Studiocity - which four offerings are used most by students?

Professor Issa and Dr Hall, Curtin University

Dr Carmela de Maio, a lawyer and a sessional academic from Edith Cowan University giving a talk on Academic Integrity - a holistic approach involving educational institutions, government, academics for students.

Aunty Liz giving the Welcome to Country

Dr Carmela de Maio, a lawyer and a sessional academic from Edith Cowan University giving a talk on Academic Integrity - a holistic approach involving educational institutions, government, academics for students.

Presentation on Rubric Matrix helping students to develop their learning skills in critical analysis

Professor Wendy Erber, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Western Australia.

Professor Wendy Erber, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Western Australia. Professor Erber explained the evolution of blood transfusion and storage with Socrates underpinnings in relation to the COVID 'war'. Irene Lee, educational technologist shared her identity as having an established role in the Third Space due to COVID and her role with academics.

Day 1 - Dr Renée Ralph, Curtin University at Nuts and Bolts Pitch and Workshop

Dr Miriam Sullivan, ECU (right) and I - thank you for being kind and supportive.

Dr Bep Uink Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, Murdoch University - Embedding a Relationships-First Strategy into Higher Education Systems

Associate Professor Dimple, Curtin University on the Feedback Loop designed to give students clarity in the unit.

Associate Professor Dimple, Curtin University engaging the audience.

Dr Vanessa Galvin, early career academic at Curtin University presenting on the importance of History in relation to architecture and the physical space(s) that we live in.

Dr Bep Uink Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, Murdoch University

Dr Renée Ralph, Curtin University with Dr Vanessa Galvin, Curtin University and Dr Carmela de Maio, ECU

Professor Issa and Dr Hall, Curtin University - helping our students and giving them staggered feedback throughout the unit is integral - a stellar and brilliant presentation!

Professor Johannes Hermann on Viva Voce, group assignments, forming groups and peer feedback

The three musketeers from Curtin University, Dr Jacqui, Dr Mike and Dr Judy preparing their Nuts and Bolts pitch on learning optimisation

Lunch time under the beautiful trees

Dr Renée Ralph, Dr Mike Baldwin and Dr Sandra Martain, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Management and Marketing (SoMM), People, Culture Organisation (PCO), Curtin University.

Note of Gratitude

Thank you to Murdoch University, sponsors and organisers for making WATLF 2023 happen. It was my first WATLF and I thoroughly enjoyed the collegiality, warmth and friendships made. We all learnt so much from this forum and the ideas shared will come in useful this year's teaching. What a brilliant community of being, becoming and learning!

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