Dean Utian works in Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Support at UNSW Built Environment’s Associate Dean of Education Unit. Dean is also a sessional academic teaching electives under the Architecture program.

Dean was awarded a citation recently by the Australian Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) for his transformational teaching techniques and impact on student learning.

Here, UNSW BE talks to Dean about his award, what it means to him and why his teaching technique is transformational for students, getting them ready for a global and sustainable career.

Philip Ruddock, Special Envoy for Citizenship and Engagement, presents UNSW's Dean Utian with his citation.

UNSW BE: Could you explain to us what this award is?

DU: It’s called the 2015 Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. This national accolade is given to individuals and teams that have made a significant contribution to the quality of student learning in a specific area of responsibility. My contribution is described as “For empowering built environment students to develop digital communication, design and creative expression skills through innovative use of video and games in collaborative environments.”

UNSW BE: How do you get selected?

DU: Each university is limited to six nominations. At UNSW, the selection process is managed by the Learning and Teaching Unit. Staff with recognised success in teaching are invited to write a draft submission for consideration. The applicants are given feedback and advised to either proceed with the application or develop it further for the subsequent year. Those who continue beyond the first round rework their application for evaluation by a UNSW Committee. They decide who to put forward for the award. In 2015, 13 UNSW applicants were put forward for nomination and six were selected. OLT have their own committee that reviews applications and decides which to award, with a maximum of 160 awards given across Australia. Of the six UNSW nominations, four were successful in receiving the award from OLT.

UNSW BE: Phew! It sounds vigorous! So this award must mean a lot to you?

DU: I feel honoured to have been selected to receive this award. Most of all, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to teach and make an impact on students.

UNSW BE: Well, maybe you better explain how you make an impact on those students?

DU: Technology and the use of multimedia has transformed the practice of architecture, including the ways in which professionals communicate and interact with each other. Beyond capabilities in spatial design and construction, graduates in this field require exceptional skills in digital expression and communication in order to be effective professionals in this ever changing environment. Trained as an architect with specialisation in multimedia, I have brought energy to this area of the Faculty together with drive to innovate and excel.

My philosophy is that when students find their passion in learning, work on what they care about and collaborate as a community of learners, their engagement, satisfaction and quality of outcomes are higher. I married this ideology with my expertise in video and games to develop courses that empower students in digital communication, design and creative expression to operate in a media rich world.

I continuously innovate with technology, formulating teaching approaches that inspire, motivate and enhance learning. I developed inventive strategies for Cinematic Space and Multimedia in Design Presentation through collaborative video and games to extend students’ capacity for creative thinking, digital expression and spatial awareness.

My course design for Cinematic Space is innovative in that it employs a cinematic lens to architectural understanding and spatial design. Students uncover new insights and understanding into how cinematic approaches can be used for design within the built environment. Through game-based design activity and creation of their own videos with architectural stories, students engage with the built environment through lived experiences, creating and performing experiential scenes of life situations. The course provides a safe environment for creative practice through experimentation, risk taking and thinking outside the box, while also building skills in collaboration. Through authentic projects aligned to real world situations, students become prepared for professional practice and innovative digital expression skills are transferred into the students’ chosen careers. 

UNSW BE: Who knew making movies could teach you about architecture? What do the students say about your classes?

DU: I get very positive feedback from students. Engagement in class is significant and the quality of assessments is high. Students tell me that they find my courses engaging, inspiring and they have increased their motivation to learn.

I felt very lucky to take this course because not only have I improved academically; I have also improved my attitude towards studying” (Cinematic Space student reflection, summer 2015).

“I think that what I have learnt about spaces is largely due to experiencing them in the moments when I was filming. This was something that certainly exceeded my expectations of learning about architecture, because it was a kind of learning that I had not previously considered.” (Cinematic Space student reflection, summer 2011)

UNSW BE: Thanks for talking to us today Dean. I know the whole faculty is very proud of this achievement. And thank you for being so committed to our students and helping them expand their horizons and get in touch with their passions.

Check out Dean’s course including student films here

For the Office for Learning and Teaching click here