Dr James Arvanitakis was presented with the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year this week. The lecturer from the University of Western Sydney was recognised for his innovative teaching methods that captivate and engage his students.
And now, the Greek Australian lecturer has been invited to South Africa and Europe to expose other educators to his methods of teaching. Dr Arvanitakis says he recognised for three reasons.
One is his ability to bring theoretical concepts to life and adds “it doesn’t matter if they were written in the 1800’s or today what I do is bring them to life and show how they are relevant to people in their everyday experiences”.
The second thing is he makes learning fun. For example, he has made students participate in flash mobs to showcase chaos theory and globalisation. And thirdly, he has taken his teaching to the community and spends a lot of his time and school and community education places talking about the power of a university education and teaching.
As a lecturer, Dr Arvanitakis embraces new media and social media wholeheartedly and says that “strategically”, all universities need to do, as it has revolutionised the tertiary education industry. “The lecture is almost like the physical newspaper – we all love it, but we realise we have to change to survive. I think universities are also with that.”
And he doesn’t see new media as a competition, rather he uses it to his advantage. In his lectures, he allows Facebook to be active and text messaging to allow students who would otherwise be too shy to pose a question to do so using these mediums. This gives them a way to educate and learn using new media. However, he also says the way the content is delivered is dependant on the course itself but says a combination of new media and the face-to-face model of delivering a lecture are both needed and are almost expected by students.
“I teach a subject called ‘contemporary societies’, and you can’t teach that without engaging with that concept – new media, new ways of communicating,” he says. The child of Greek migrants, Dr Arvanitakis says his parents instilled in him the importance of an education. And this he has carried throughout his years to today where he says he is “blown away by the positive response of the students” as well as receiving this accolade.
With the $50,000, the lecturer plans on developing new ways to deliver content and educate students. One such way is to develop an online game where students can learn about sociology whilst engaging in something similar to Angry Birds.
He has also been invited to lead teaching symposiums in South Africa, Canada and Europe and also wants to invest the money in putting together different and innovative ways to teaching such as videos.