Engineering lecturers learn to collaborate for teaching excellence

Staff at Challenger Institute of Technology in Beaconsfield WA recognised that funding changes for Australian education would require them to be better able to meet student expectations for high quality education.   I was invited to work with their engineering lecturers to help them deliver more creative, industry-relevant classes, and to enhance the way they communicate with their students.

Engineering teaching excellence Challenger TAFE

Education is more than teaching technical skills

I devised a half-day workshop to achieve these goals, based on my own experience as an engineer and educator.

The workshop called Education in engineering: making it relevant included:

  • An overview of creative teaching methods
  • Templates for designing industry-relevant lessons
  • Methods for offering constructive feedback to students
  • Practical experience of facilitative techniques, such as World Café and learning through play

We discussed positive impacts lecturers could have within a student’s career in the engineering industry, and how they could continue develop themselves as educators in a constantly changing environment.

The lecturers recognised that their teaching provides not just technical skills, but the capacity to work safely and confidently in the professional world.

Surprise learning about collaboration and their colleagues

While the workshop contained examples of creative teaching techniques, the real focus was on each lecturer coming up with their own ideas and sharing them. When asked about the most valuable learnings in lesson planning and student feedback they said:

“Hearing the opinions of colleagues about various aspects of delivery”


“Learning new tools for delivery and assessment”

And how this would change their work in the future:

“I will communicate with other team members (staff) regarding how my content relates to all units.”
“I will recognised that I understand what I’m talking about, but students may not.”

Engineering lecturers impress, with their dedicated approach to developing themselves as educators

My closeout report included recommendations of ways to continuously developing the teaching skills of those in the engineering team who were enthusiastic to learn, based on the interests and capacities I had seen in the group.

Checking in with the Challenger TAFE client three months later, they said said that there had been a turnaround in the team following the workshops. All the recommendations for collaborative learning had been implemented.

There has been a turnaround in the engineering team since your workshop. They have recognised that structured professional development is not the only way to learn and have implemented informal ways to share information about developing as educators. They have developed new communications channels and set up a mentor-buddy system. I think your session helped them see that they have the skills to do this themselves.

(Michelle Dodd, Manager Learning and Development, Challenger Institute of Technology)

Continuous innovation in education delivery

When educators understand the purpose of their work and feel empowered to build their own skills, they can continue to develop and meet the challenges of a changing environment sector.

While this course was devised specifically for engineers, the tools and techniques are applicable to range of educators and sectors. Contact me to discuss the options for your team.


Leading for good: business skills for social entrepreneurs

I was invited to work with Pollinators Inc, on their Catalyst training program for entrepreneurs for the second year in a row. This year, I designed the module Leading for good to help budding entrepreneurs in the midwest understand how to get things done in all areas of their business and life. Continue reading “Leading for good: business skills for social entrepreneurs”

Hydrogeologists do play!

Engineers and hydrologists improve communication skills through theatre

Speaking to non-technical people about complex topics is not always easy.  Thirteen hydrogeologists from the Department of Water set themselves the tough challenge of telling the rest of the organisation about their work at a two-day inhouse conference.

Their goal: to prepare presentations that were engaging and meaningful for the non-technical people in the department.

Rachael used movement and play to help these hydrogeologists deliver meaningful, memorable presentations. Continue reading “Hydrogeologists do play!”

How to use play to (really) improve your speaking game.

As a speaker coach, facilitator and former engineer, I am informed by an unlikely source: clown school. I trained circus full time in Sheffield, England, and nothing taught me more about connecting with people than the physicality of clown training.

Here is some of what I learned about how we can use games to improve the way we work, connect and share ideas.

The simplest of games offer layers of learning.

The games we played in clown school were similar to those you would have played in primary school: physical, playful – and the rules can change. (Think ‘cat and mouse’ or Marco Polo with a pink boa thrown in for good measure.)  Games are often relegated to team-building or ice-breakers but there is so much more to be learnt if we seek it. “Chasey” for example, can teach you whether you like to win or lose, who in your team needs to follow the rules, whether you go for the easy win or play the long game, and about group dynamics.

Repetition helps you notice the small things.

In “clown school” we played the same games, over and over.  As adults, particularly in our fast-paced world, we often seek the new and exciting. But if we always move on to the next thing, we don’t have time to really develop the connection between players. If you are a facilitator or speaker, repetitious play can help you notice the subtleties of how other people respond to you, and your own habits.

To benefit from play, you need to reflect.

I run a number of workshops to share the art of skilful play for workplaces. For example, in Clowning for Facilitators we test out Conscious Play. The objective is not only to become more skilled at playing the game, but at our ability to reflect on our own participation, even while we are playing.  Repetition allows us to move past playing the game “right” and into a space of meta-reflection.  Meta-reflection enhances our ability to be a continuous learner who is both participator in, and observer of, the play.

Regular reflection helps us become more sensitive and engaged facilitators.

We recognise our own biases, the impact we have on others simply by being in their presence, and deepen our awareness of group dynamics.  We enable our facilitator proprioception.

Facilitators sometimes choose to repeat the workshop.  They play the same games but they play them on a new day with new people. Group dynamics are different, the way they are within that group is different, and the reflective learning is only enhanced by their prior experience.  In conscious play the same game is never the same.

Sensitive facilitators arrived prepared – yet open for anything to happen.

If you are a facilitator, speaker or team leader, you’ll know that you can do the same thing with a new group – or even the same group on a different day – and it can all feel very different.  Rather than assuming that everything is the same each time we do our work, we arrive prepared, yet open and ready to test what is going on for the group, on that day, at that moment and work to that.   

Rachael West is a strategic speaker coach, MC and facilitator. Email for more.