A ‘whodunnit’ crime drama that draws students back into class wins Australia’s top uni teaching prize

Three lecturers who made a gritty ‘film noir’ style crime drama to re-engage students in their psychology course have been named the Australian University Teachers of the Year.

The University of Queensland team used their film to hook students into the content – driving up class attendance, quiz scores and retained knowledge.

Professor Blake McKimmie, Professor Barbara Masser and Professor Mark Horswill from UQ took top honours at the Australian Awards for University Teaching in Canberra tonight.

Professor McKimmie said the team had noticed attendance in some lectures had dropped to just 30 per cent – and only 10 per cent of students were catching up later with recorded lectures.

“We wanted to send a clear signal that we wanted our students in class – and we decided to do something that would be meaningful to them,” he said.

“Instead of just sitting there listening to us, it’s actually our students participating and applying the knowledge.”

For each module, students watch a section of the crime drama, starting with a murder.

They follow the investigation as witnesses are interviewed, police conduct line-ups and the suspect is questioned. Role play, quizzes and weekly in-class assessments keep students engaged.

The film at the centre of the course, Who Killed Janine Jenker? was produced between other teaching commitments, at nights and on weekends.

The team called in favours from contacts, friends and family, including Professor McKimmie’s mother, Australian filmmaker Jackie McKimmie (Australian Dream, Gino).

“When we said we were going to make a crime drama, most people said we were insane, given the budget we had and the time. And they were basically right,” Professor McKimmie said.

“Good teaching is about the right balance between student engagement, student learning and student satisfaction. For me, the reason to come to university is to not only learn, but to love learning.”

Class attendance jumped to 90 per cent. Weekly online quiz scores improved by 87 per cent and in-class test scores rose by 25 per cent.

The University of Queensland team were among 14 outstanding teachers and teaching programs to win these prestigious awards, which recognise brilliant teachers in Australian higher education

Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry AO congratulated all the winners warmly.

“Great teachers not only help us to unlock a world of knowledge – they also inspire us,” she said.

“On behalf of university leaders across the country, I express our profound gratitude to the nation’s outstanding university educators.”

“These awards not only pay tribute to individual teachers. They also recognise developments in teaching practice and student learning, sharing it across the sector for the benefit of all.”

Details of all the winners of the 2019 Australian Awards for University Teaching are here.

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