In search of authenticity

Larry Neale

Professor Larry Neale received a bronze award in the prestigious global Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education competition in December 2016 for “nurturing employability” through the Google Online Marketing Challenge, and a 2016 national OLT Citation for “innovating authentic learning experiences.” He reflects on what drives his passion to deliver authentic learning.

In less than ideal circumstances, I was thrust into my first university teaching position long before commencing my PhD: teaching a class of 60 masters students at another university in what was the emerging field of internet marketing. I was thoroughly under-prepared. Even though I enjoyed the experience of teaching, my lack of preparation left a mark on my psyche that stays to this day – I want my students to be as prepared as possible for their jobs when they leave university.

As I moved through my PhD candidacy, I gained teaching experience by teaching. I also became engaged with the scholarship of learning and teaching around the notions of authentic learning and work integrated learning (WIL). The literature, and my early teaching experience, have shaped my overarching teaching goal: to innovate and design authentic learning experiences to facilitate job-ready graduates.

But what does it mean to design and provide authentic learning experiences? I’m sure that ‘authentic’ manifests itself in different ways across the myriad disciplines in the university. For my students, it means allowing them to apply their knowledge and skills in contexts that closely resemble future employment situations.

Three examples of authentic learning experiences I have been involved with include the Google Online Marketing Challenge, international case competitions and the Teaching Advantage program. These three examples are collaborative efforts with colleagues and friends, for which I feel privileged to have played a small part.

Google Online Marketing Challenge

The Google Online Marketing Challenge is an ongoing collaboration between Google and academics, providing students with cutting edge digital marketing technology and instructors with an authentic experiential learning activity. The Challenge gives student teams US$250 in AdWords, Google’s flagship advertising product, to develop online marketing campaigns for actual businesses. The Challenge is not a simulation or role-playing game – the student teams compete against real businesses that are spending real money to advertise a real business. The result is an engaging in-class exercise that provides students and professors with an exciting and pedagogically rigorous competition.

The Challenge was inspired by my teaching mentor Professor Jamie Murphy (then at the University of Western Australia) who collaborated with a small cabal of academics, including me, and an alumnus who went to work for Google. Now in its tenth year, the Challenge has provided an authentic search marketing experience for more than 135,000 students at over 80 universities around the world. Challenge participants laud the real-world skills they learn and apply, and credit the Challenge with improving their chances securing marketing jobs.

International case competitions

I work alongside colleagues and friends Ingrid Larkin, Bill Proud, Andrew Paltridge and Adelle Bish to coach and advise students in preparation for international case competitions. These competitions mimic business consulting environments and enhance analytical and problem solving skills.

To prepare for the competitions, we engage students in weekly extra-curricular developmental sessions to enhance their presentation and communication skills, challenge their current ideologies and broaden their business solution thinking to a global level. From here, the trained teams of business students visit universities overseas, where they are provided ‘live’ business cases that include real challenges and opportunities for real businesses. In a restricted time, the students must analyse the case information, make recommendations and present their findings to panels that include representatives from the respective company.

QUT can hold its own on the big stage. In our last 51 competitions, our student teams have finished first, second or third on 25 occasions, including 10 wins, making us one of the most successful teams in the world. Our very grateful and successful case competition graduates are now working for organisations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, L’Oreal, EY, Unilever, Telstra, Boston Consulting, Bain & Company, McKinsey, and J.P. Morgan.

Teaching Advantage

My own experience as an ill-prepared early career academic, and subsequent research revealed that most doctoral students in Australia receive no development for tertiary teaching, although many teach and want to become academics. To address this gap, Dominique Greer, Abby Cathcart and I co-designed and deliver the Teaching Advantage (TA) program. TA is a competency-based teaching development program that has significantly improved the teaching self-efficacy of over 300 doctoral candidates who originate from Australia and 26 other countries, and are representative of all disciplines at QUT.

Sponsored by four Deputy Vice-Chancellors at QUT, TA is now an embedded institution-wide program receiving applications and engaging learners (and future teachers) from all six QUT faculties. We have empirically measured the impact of TA on doctoral students and published the results, which show increased teaching self-efficacy, an enhanced capacity for reflexivity, greater academic employability, and external recognition of their commitment to learning and teaching. In 2017, we took TA on the road, and provided teaching development for early career academics in Beijing, China.

Designing success

After that first university teaching experience, my goal has been to innovate and design authentic learning experiences to facilitate job-ready graduates. I want my students to avoid going through a similar experience and ensure that they do feel prepared when they graduate and embark on their careers. These three programs, and my colleagues, are helping me to realise this goal.

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Professor at QUT Business School. Teaching interests and areas of expertise include marketing principles, consumer behaviour, services marketing and strategic marketing.

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