Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

When resources are limited how can we introduce innovative teaching methods?

OR The life and times of country university lecturers: Teaching in a regional university

Chris King and Robyn Morris
Bunbury Campus
Edith Cowan University

University lecturers are being faced with an increase in workload at all Australian university campuses. This increase in workload has created the need to look at more efficient and effective methods of teaching, researching and consulting that is time and cost efficient and still retains or even increases educational quality. This is a major dilemma which is influencing all academics. The emphasis we will be looking at is when resources are limited how can we introduce innovative teaching methods? This question relates to all universities and campuses. We would like to directly relate this dilemma to the rural regional campus which has no funding for introducing teaching incentives and where staff may teach six or seven different units annually in a major consisting of eight units.

The Teaching Load

The teaching load for most academics is high and increasing but in urban campuses the larger number of students allows academics to specialise in one or two areas and to teach in these areas only. Pressures demanding a greater teaching load generally means increasing the number of tutorials but this teaching usually remains in their area/s of specialty. There are of course exceptions but this is the average situation for urban academics.

The rural regional campus can be quite different due to smaller numbers of students. Lecturers are expected to have expertise in one or two areas but be able to teach virtually every unit within a discipline. In the past it has been necessary for lecturers at campuses such as Edith Cowan University Bunbury to teach six different units a year (three units per semester) and supplement this with administrative duties. The teaching of six individual units equates to a heavy workload especially when the introduction of new units, changes to the units, the updating of material and trying to keep abreast of changes within the area are taken into account. There are some advantages as smaller classes and less marking but the work load involved with three units is demanding and challenging.

With the change in the current educational budget all campuses have been impacted and of course the rural campuses are also expected to increase their teaching hours. Lecturers are now expected to further increase their teaching load to as many as seven or eight different units annually. This is a large demand on staff who want to retain their professionalism in relation to teaching, research and consulting.

The Rural Regional Vanstone Effect

The combination of educational budget cuts and increased HECS fees is certain to adversely affect all universities throughout Australia. The influence on rural regional campuses will be more than proportionally devastating as they are already confronted with a very limited resource base. This funding reduction means that within allocated regional budgets there is no provision for the introduction of any new teaching incentives especially those involving the use of new technologies.

The Current Situation

Currently some lecturers and guest speakers are available to the rural regional campus using video conferencing but this service will not be available in 1997 due to budgeting decisions. There are also a limited number of business practitioners within the rural environment with university qualifications which we can use as role models and guest speakers. Many of the business people within the region are self taught and their procedures can involve short cuts which may not be encouraged in an educational setting.

There is a diversity of teaching used within the school which includes formats such as intensive graduate and undergraduate classes, video conferencing currently used primarily for lectures, a limited number of simulated games and funding has been applied for to cover international negotiating using video conferencing (rented) and computers, and there are some project units which relate to working with business. These formats/ methodologies increase cognitive processing but the majority do not introduce exposure to opinions and perspectives from different specialists. We need to address the question of whether we should continue using these formats, increase our work load by teaching greater numbers of units or reduce class contact thereby increasing the self directed learning component of the students' studies.

The Student Situation

The situation from the students point of view is that as the staff increase the number of units that they teach the students are beginning to gain one view point of a complete discipline, that is of a major with eight units the students will have one lecturer for six or seven of these units. This does not appear to concern the students but it is a major concern which should be considered under teaching and learning quality. Is an educationally sound or desirable practice for students majoring in a discipline to be exposed primarily to only one teacher?

In the past students did study some units by correspondence. This practice has been reduced considerably for a number of reasons. Firstly students expressed a strong preference for internal over external studies due to the improved learning experience gained from interaction with peers and the opportunities for educational debate and discussion. Secondly we were concerned that if the units were not available to the students on the campus then students would move to Perth to study their degrees thereby impeding the growth and viability of the academic programs on the regional campus.

The costs involved in sending country students to Perth to study are high and some schools have also been concerned that the students are not mature enough to live in Perth without supervision and support for at least the first year of their university course. Some students also do not want to move to Perth while others are geographically immobile thus unable to pursue studies in Perth due to family and/or work commitments. Therefore providing a rural regional university campus does meet a real need but we need to fulfil that need in a with a quality service.

The Challenge to Lecturers

The situation therefore appears to challenge lecturers in relation to looking at different teaching formats that will encourage students to be motivated, to search for material and opinions of specialists outside the school, that will not include too much additional time for lecturers and students and does not encompass any additional costs.

This also must be achieved in a way which is motivating for students, which does not mean an inequality in workload between students in urban and rural campuses and which is achievable within a set outline.

A further restriction is that in the Business Degree program the unit outlines are common with those at the Perth campuses. While the teaching format may change, the outline and requirements of the unit cannot for accreditation reasons, although there could be some flexibility in relation to assignments and other semester assessments.

Some Alternative Teaching Styles

The introduction of alternative teaching styles is a major consideration for rural campuses and some suggestions which may be worth while extending or considering are: There are just a few of the ideas which we hope will be discussed in the dilemma section of the conference.


Teaching on a rural regional campus with small classes also introduces many opportunities to use technology and new effective teaching styles which will extend our students' cognitive processes. The intended outcome is an educated group of students that are flexible, adaptable, creative and able to cope with a wide variety of new situations.

Please cite as: King, C. and Morris, R. (1997). When resources are limited how can we introduce innovative teaching methods? In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p166-168. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1997/king1.html

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