Innovative online assessments and a "liberating" personal approach to teaching have won Associate Professor Gary Velan one of the nation's top university teaching awards.

Associate Professor Velan, from the Department of Pathology, won the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Award for Teaching Excellence - a prize worth $25,000.

The ALTC cited A/Prof Velan's "inspirational teaching and assessment strategies ... which create environs that enhance deep learning".It was an extraordinary honour to be selected for the award, A/Prof Velan said.

"I didn't expect it. Applications for this award have a notoriously low success rate, so the application was more in hope than expectation," he said.

As a teacher of pathology with 20 years experience, A/Prof Velan believes good teaching is not necessarily about the teacher but more about identifying what the students need in order to learn.

"Realising this early in my career was very liberating for me. It took away a lot of the performance pressure, and shifted my focus to what really matters: students' learning," he said.

A/Prof Velan was instrumental in developing the biomedical sciences curriculum for senior students within UNSW Medicine's new undergraduate program, which commenced in 2004.

He also pioneered integrated online formative assessments in biomedical sciences, which feature graphically rich, interactive questions, and offer individualised feedback that allows students to monitor their performance before sitting final exams.

"These formative assessments have a significant learning impact. Just attempting them is beneficial to students' end-of -course results.

"They get specific feedback on the errors they've made and links to learning resources that can help them."

A/Prof Velan said the assessment method provides flexibility and equity, particularly for students from non-English speaking backgrounds who otherwise might be reluctant to speak up about their learning problems.

"Here they can do so anonymously and get feedback on their answers without any penalty or feeling of humiliation.

"Online formative assessments also help students who are working or who have families: they can do them anytime and anywhere and it fits in with their busy lives."

A/Prof Velan acknowledged current and former staff for their support, including: Prof Rakesh Kumar; successive Heads of School (Prof Athol Lykke, Prof Denis Wakefield and Prof Nick Hawkins); successive Associate Deans (Education) in Medicine (Prof Patrick McNeil and Prof Philip Jones); and Prof Adrian Lee, former Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education).

For more information about Learning and Teaching at UNSW, go to the L&T website.

Contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 02 9385 8107