Students, learning, teaching: the discovery of truth

A message from Canberra Campus Dean, Associate Professor Patrick McArdle.

As a person with a PhD, I know a great deal about some really focused areas of knowledge; fortunately, I also have broader undergraduate and postgraduate studies to give me a sense that I have learned both vertically and horizontally. I have experienced education move from very teacher intensive to very student intensive but the last decade has given me some new experiences of what it really means to be student focused and I believe that ACU is making great strides in weaving this into the very fabric of our existence.

Nearly a decade ago, in response to the Global Financial Crisis, the Federal Government poured large sums of money into Building the Education Revolution with the intent of re-developing primary schools (and keeping people employed). This was later derided as ‘billions for school halls’ but I have witnessed that in many primary schools educators were empowered to take up the student focused approaches to learning that they were leading, and with the extra money developed classrooms suited for the 21st century precisely to enhance that model of learning and to encourage the students to see themselves as the centre of learning too.

More recently in ACU’s building and re-development projects, this is also the case. My own experience has been centred on the construction of Veritas and the redevelopment of the historic Signadou and Blackfriars facilities.

In each of these projects the intention was to make students, their learning and their discovery of Truth the heart of the enterprise. In this way we sought to give substance to the University’s core mission and values – to transform lives through self-discovery, development of skills and creating knowledge, and to do so to improve our communities.

The last few months, as people have discovered the varied nature and the depths of our developments, we have all found that it is possible to create spaces within and around the buildings that provide for contemplation – intellectual and spiritual; it is possible for architecture to enhance learning in specific ways – whether tutorial spaces that facilitate dialogue or nursing labs that centre on patient care or a large lecture space to make transmission of knowledge efficient and pleasant. We have found that new constructions do not need to imply a criticism of the established or that the past was somehow a failure.

What we (students and staff) have learned is that when students are the centre of our planning and optimal, diverse, creative and innovative learning is what we are seeking to achieve, then the message can be communicated so effectively that it becomes part of the fabric of who we are and that the fabric itself becomes more lustrous in the process. In turn this is not only about discovery of learning and how to learn, it is also a discovery of Truth. The whole building works and now the experience of using new and enhanced spaces has been a reminder of the capacity of this University to ensure that human beings and the human project is at the heart of who we are and what we do.

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