Germ of an idea wins university Teacher of year

A microbiology Associate Professor who assigns students to harvest microorganisms from their own body and scores their ability to communicate complex scientific ideas to their parents has been named the Australian University Teacher of the Year.

University of Queensland Associate Professor Jack Wang has a unique approach to teaching future doctors and nurses the basics of medical hygiene that COVID-19 has made so familiar to all Australians.

“I get them into the lab with and without face masks and get them to cough on agar plates – and they see the impact. That is much more powerful than just telling them to wear a face mask,” Associate Professor Wang said.

The Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) were established in 1997 by the Australian Government to celebrate and reward excellence in university teaching. Universities Australia has been running the program since 2018. The awards have become a valued form of recognition for university educators Australia wide.

Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry congratulated Professor Wang on his award.

“I thank Associate Professor Wang for his work to make microbiology more widely understood in the community. He challenges his students to become citizen scientists in the digital age,” Professor Terry said.

Associate Professor Wang has taught more than ten thousand students since 2010. Student participation is at the heart of his method, including first year students capturing microorganisms from their own skin for research on bacteria levels on the human body. Associate Professor Wang also tests students’ ability to communicate these kinds of discoveries in layman’s language.

“I have video assessment tasks and podcast assessment tasks where students who gave us their microorganism data explain what that means in a short video or podcast targeted at the general public,” he said.

The Australian Awards for University Teaching celebrate outstanding achievements in university teaching. Nominations for these prestigious awards are assessed by independent panels of expert academics from across the sector.

This year’s Career Achievement award was given posthumously to Professor Tracey Bretag from UniSA.

“Professor Bretag was a leader in her field, and throughout her career she worked tirelessly to raise awareness on academic integrity,” Professor Terry said.

Universities Australia Chair Professor Deborah Terry extended her congratulations to all the winners.

“The recipients of these awards are an amazing group of people who have dedicated their careers to student learning. Their expertise makes a difference to the lives of many.”

Other teachers acknowledged in the awards include:

  • Dr Amanda White from UTS, Law, Economics, Business and Related Studies
  • Associate Professor Michael Cowling, CQ University, Physical Sciences and Related Studies
  • Associate Professor Matt Bower, Macquarie University Social and Behavioural Sciences

Details of all the winners of the 2020 Australian Awards for University Teaching will be available here.

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