Community of Interest in Online Teaching, Learning and Research

NUPSA Online Teacher of the Year 2014

Mr Greg Preston, from the School of Education, has received the University of Newcastle Postgraduate Students Association (NUPSA) Online Teacher of the Year Award for 2014.

The Online Teacher of the Year Award is a very special award because candidates are nominated by their students, i.e., the people most engaged with folks’ teaching practices.  More info on NUPSA’s awards is at The majority of UON’s postgraduate coursework programs are offered online, and so we have a very large online postgraduate student cohort.

In being nominated, Greg was described as follows: ‘This lecturer is one of the best that I have had in my studies. He has always been approachable and flexible in his approach to students and has consistently prepared valuable and engaging learning experiences for the online environment. He is always prepared to do “that bit extra” for his students, and makes every effort to ensure that the various learning styles of his students are catered for.’

Congratulations Greg!

About the COI

Welcome to the Community of Interest! The COI was set up in 2012 as a way to bring focus to online teaching, learning and research here at the University of Newcastle. It’s voluntary – folks join in or not as they wish ;-). Below I’ve included our working ‘founding principles’, i.e., the purpose of the COI and how we intend it to function, as discussed at our very first catch up at Mamadukes (the café in the Shortland Building, here on the Callaghan campus).

Teaching and learning in the online (and blended or hybrid) mode offers up to us an opportunity disguised as a paradox.  On the one hand, good teaching is good teaching irrespective of the mode of learning. On the other, online education entails both constraints and opportunities that are particular to that learning mode. That’s the apparent paradox. Perhaps we have the chance to ‘resolve’ the paradox by treating online education as an opportunity to bring new focus to teaching practices and the way education systems are organised.

The COI is based on a community of practice model. We called it a community of interest because folks don’t even have to be practicing to join in – an interest is sufficient ;-). Communities of practice work three ways, providing those who choose to get involved the opportunity to:

  1. Share good practices
  2. Generate new knowledge and understanding together, and
  3. Simply spend some time together. 

The opportunity to share good practices is great for folks engaged in teaching, including online teaching. We take a strengths-based approach at the COI, recognising and building on the good things we’ve got going on already. Here at the University of Newcastle we have lots of folks across all five faculties, the Wollotuka Institute and the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre who are exceptional online teachers, and who are making all sorts of innovations in their teaching practices. The COI provides the opportunity to begin to connect with each other, across faculties, schools and disciplines, and share some of those practices. Importantly, and beyond disciplinary boundaries, it provides the opportunity for academic and professional staff to connect with each other.

The COI provides the opportunity for generating new knowledge and understanding about online teaching and learning too. It can be pretty common hearing people talk about want to ‘bust out’ of disciplinary silos; teaching and learning provides a tangible opportunity to begin to do just that.

The third point above is the one that’s most important for building new and productive working relationships, and in the short time the COI has been functioning, we’ve seen that happen, for example, in the form of new research collaborations.

That’s probably about enough by way of introduction. I’ll close below with the working principles for the COI and how it works.  If you’re interested to be in touch, please do, at



UoN's Community of Interest in Online Teaching, Learning & Research (or, the COI for short)
A draft set of working principles for the COI came out of the first COI catch up last year, as follows:

A. Things were interested in:
1. BIG PICTURE: Including open access to materials, open education resources (OER) and creative commons (CC).
2. ONLINE TEACHING PEDAGOGY & PRACTICES: Comparatively we've got some good things going on here at Newcastle. There is also (always!?) scope for improvement in online pedagogy.
3. INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT, POLICIES & PRACTICES: Digitised (and mobile) resources and online/ blended education may serve as an invitation and tangible/ practical opportunity for academics to work with colleagues across disciplines; there is work to do towards greater internal acceptance of the benefits (& joys?) of online teaching & learning.

B. The merits of putting energy into a community of interest:
1. There are benefits in sharing, i.e. rather than always making new wheels.
2. There are benefits in communications and networks across and outside disciplines, and amongst academic and professional staff, in relation to practices and interdisciplinary knowledge creation.
3. Getting together this way will likely create opportunities for engaging in collaborative online T&L research, and we anticipate exploring grant opportunities.

C. What this community of interest may look like:
1. We are interested in being inclusive and expansive in our approach, i.e. practically accessible to anyone in the UoN community with an interest in online T&L.
2. Our community of interest is an opportunity to bring focus to things that work well, to share practices, insights and ideas, and over time, draw in others who may be more tentative about online T&L.
3. There is interest in getting together face-to-face (at Callaghan and Ourimbah) and online, i.e. it's good to get together in person sometimes, it's also good to walk the talk and do it online too.
4. We’re experimenting with this as it evolves, and were interested to see a mix of informal catch ups, resource sharing, practice workshops, seminar-style presentations by leaders in this field from UoN and elsewhere, etc.
5. Well set up and use a standard Blackboard course site for learning as we go; well look at UoN's Yammer network too.
6. We anticipate getting together monthly or so, and mixing up meeting days and times given that there won’t (can't?) be a time that will always suit everybody.

Welcome to the COI Blog

Exciting times! Welcome to the brand-spanking new blog for the Community of Interest in Online Teaching, Learning and Research (COI). The COI has been going strong for a couple of years now here at the University of Newcastle, with folks catching up every month or so to join a conversation about something interesting related to online teaching, learning or research. (See ‘About the COI’ for more info.)

The COI is voluntary – it’s the folks involved in the COI that suggest the discussion and presentation topics we explore, and only come along if they’re interested and available at the time.

And that’s where this blog comes in: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had folks be in touch, say they’d love to get along to something but can’t, and ask if a session we’re running will be recorded and available afterwards.

We’ve spent some time experimenting with various ways of recording things, and with ways of sharing the good things we get up to at the COI. A session a few months back on ‘Blogging as part of academic practice’, presented by two experienced bloggers Dr Graeme Stuart (Family Action Centre, and see for a fabulous locally-focussed blog on communities, neighbourhoods and sustainability), and Professor Bill Mitchell (Centre of Full Employment and Equity, and see for one of the most influential economics blogs on the planet), sealed the deal, so to speak.

The post we’re launching with, ‘Hidden Potential or Hollow Promise’, is a case in point. This post includes recordings of the COI session presented jointly with the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education (CEHEE). The role of increasingly prevalent educational technologies in exacerbating and/or ameliorating educational disadvantage is a live issue, and one of broad significance. This session was well attended – a full house – and with others still who were keen to get along but had other commitments.

This blog will be our way to share more widely what we do at the COI. The COI meets monthly or so, and we’ll be making posts to this blog monthly or so too. For those who are already involved in the COI, the breadth of what we dip into will be no surprise ;-). For folks who are new to the COI, we hope you find some merit in what you see here.

Our first hope for this blog is that it serves as a way to better make sure what we do at the COI can be shared amongst the academic staff, professional staff and students right across the University of Newcastle. Our second hope for this blog is that makes what we do here available to others with interests in online teaching, learning and research, across Australia and beyond: we’re getting on and doing our thing here, and we’re happy to share.

Let’s see how we go ;-).

All good wishes,


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