Insights on the Use of Technology in Education - Dr. Nicolene Lottering, Assistant Professor at Bond University, Queensland
Michael Carrese: Hi everybody, I'm Michael Carrese. In this special episode, we'll be talking to one of the winners of the 2022 Osmosis Raise the Line Faculty Awards, who was chosen from over 1,000 nominations we received from 377 institutions around the world, with their students and colleagues submitting videos and testimonials telling us how they embody the six Osmosis core values.
Today I'm joined by Dr. Nicolene Lottering from Bond University, who's the overall winner for the Anatomy and Physiology category. Welcome to the program and congratulations.
Dr. Nicolene Lottering: Thank you so much for having me, Michael.
Michael: So, instead of me reading off your resume, why don't you tell us a bit about you and Bond University and what you do there.
Dr. Lottering: Of course. Before I begin, I'd also just like to open with acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which I'm conducting this podcast today, the Kombumerri people, and I'd like to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.
So, currently I'm appointed as an assistant professor or senior lecturer in anatomy within the School of Medicine, and I'm also a researcher specializing in pediatric forensic anthropology here in Australia. I've been at Bond University for two years now. Prior to this, I have jumped
around various institutions on the East Coast of Australia. I've taught in smaller college towns at the University of Adelaide and then I also then had the privilege of being in Melbourne at a big metropolitan university.
COVID hit, the pandemic was brutal for us in terms of remote teaching and then I ended up coming full circle back home to Queensland. For me, it all started here in Brisbane. I did my own undergraduate degree in forensic science here at Bond University. So, it's quite incredible coming back as a faculty member now and being on the other side. My postgraduate qualifications are in forensic anthropology and through my studies, as well as various internships around the world, I was able to, I guess, hone a really niche skill set in looking at human osteology and medical imaging, which is then how I'm able to apply that in the teaching setting where I am currently.
Michael Carrese: I understand you are interested in edtech and Gen Z engagement and curriculum development along those lines for digital learners. Tell us more about that.
Dr. Lottering: I suppose I've always been a bit of a technology nerd. I don't necessarily describe myself as being creative, but along the seven-year journey now in academia, I've actually found that I'm quite creative in terms of being able to pick up technology very quickly, but also appreciating the strengths that technology has, especially for the current generation and our current undergraduate learners. I noticed really early on in my academic career that the students seem to be changing. The methods of engagement and the traditional lecture was no longer working for millennials and Gen Z, and you know there's a whole series of factors that contribute to that. I think this is the first generation to completely grow up being immersed in technology. And so when you're thinking about the rich array of resources that are available to them, I think that then puts a lot of pressure on educators and institutions to have to compete or keep up with that. For me, it's about the responsible use of technology in the classroom to meet students halfway and harness that power of technology to engage them and grab their attention and make them excited about what they're learning.
Michael Carrese: You say responsible use of technology... that kind of begs the question about the concerns that you can go too far in that direction.
Dr. Lottering: Definitely. I think especially for millennials or older generations that haven't necessarily grown up with technology or aren't attuned to the wide magnitude of resources and tools that are out there, I think it's very easy to see what someone's presenting
at a conference or pick up a new tool on the Internet and go, “I'm going to try that in my classroom.” But very quickly, you can have a suite of twelve, fifteen, fifty different tools that you're using, and I think that lack of consistency and the lack of structure has a tendency to overwhelm students and very quickly they can become fatigued.
For me, it's always about going back to the learning outcomes and thinking about which specific tools or approaches can best meet those learning outcomes, and it doesn't always have to be technology. I create a lot of lightboard productions and lightboard videos, but it doesn't always have to be whiz bang studio production. It could simply be going back to an overhead projector and drawing on a piece of paper if you're going to achieve that same goal.
Michael Carrese: Well, speaking of those videos, you have over 8,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel. Talk about how you decided to wade into that, and are you surprised with the kind of audience you've got?
Dr. Lottering: I am completely blown away. I never had the intention, I guess, of having such a big reach on YouTube. I suppose stepping back to what influenced me to create the lightboard videos was I was noticing that we had routine two-hour lectures at the University of Adelaide, and I just found students were getting into a habit that if they fell behind, they would then tend to cram the week before exams by just rewatching all of the lectures. Truth be told, you don't have the time that close to an exam period to rewatch and actually learn and consolidate to the point that you're going to remember that content the next semester, let alone years down the track as a future medical doctor.
So, the whole purpose behind the lightboard videos was to concentrate on important concepts that I wanted the students to at least be able to walk away with. It wasn't about focusing on the minutiae, but really thinking about what is core to them being the best doctor that they can be based on the scientific foundations that I was presenting. Breaking it up into small chunks of ten-to-twenty-minute videos, I found, was a lot more effective to convey those major concepts.
I'm not too sure what happened, but my students then started sharing these videos with their peers and colleagues at other institutions -- both in Australia, but then also internationally -- and I suppose that's then how the audience grew. Quite frequently I'll have requests, especially coming in from the United States, of students requesting specific content videos.
I think that the power for me behind it is you can often look at a textbook and a two-dimensional image, for example, of the brachial plexus, and it's really difficult to appreciate the origin and the termination and the organization of something that is so complex. But to actually
be able to break it down on a blank slate and go, “this is where we start, this is how it courses, this is where it ends up, and then ultimately, this is what is going to supply,” I think it's a little bit more digestible, especially for an undergraduate learner.
Michael Carrese: So, with all of the thought that you put into your teaching that we're just listening to, it's not a surprise that you’ve won a lot of teaching awards. Can you speak to who or what inspired you to head down the path of being an educator?
Dr. Lottering: It was completely unintentional, to be perfectly honest. During high school, if you had asked anyone, my ambition was to become a surgeon. I then did my undergraduate in forensic science because I was fairly young when I finished high school, so I wanted a bit more of a concrete foundation before then applying for postgraduate medicine.
I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to study forensic science here at Bond and I had an incredible professor, Dr. Wally Wood, who just had this manner of being able to explain really complex concepts in fascinating ways. He used storytelling, he shared a lot of the real-world cases that he was involved in, and he just had such a manner of taking something that was so abstract and really complex and presenting it in a way that was actually fun and engaging and it captivated you to want to learn more.
That inspired me to pursue forensic anthropology from a research perspective. One of the first, I suppose, pivotal experiences for me was I had the opportunity to run a high school forensic science STEM camp for year ten and eleven students. We had an entire week where we got to mentor and facilitate the learning of these students from a forensic excavation all the way through to the laboratory component to come up with a biological profile and do fingerprint, hair, DNA analysis. It made me realize that I think sometimes the theoretical skills and knowledge that we obtain, we have an obligation to try and share that with other people and try and share that with the next generation coming through. It's not always about our own knowledge, but it's about how we can then take that knowledge and help other people and influence other people.
So, that led me into teaching and then after my PhD, it was a bit of a decision between do I go down the postdoctoral route or do I apply for an academic position? I thought, well, for stability purposes, I'll apply for an academic position. I'll see how I go. I was very fortunate to then receive the position in the medical school in Adelaide, and there's been no turning back for me.
Michael Carrese: That's a great story. So, in order to win this award, you received many nominations and testimonials from students and colleagues and I'm going to read just a snapshot of what they said:
“After being a part of her lessons in anatomy and neuroscience, I was able to realize my own potential and learn more about what works best for me when studying, and I unlocked a new love for learning about all things anatomy. If I hadn't met Nikki, and if she hadn't taught me, I have no doubt that I would have struggled to finish my degree. But thanks to her dedication to teaching and her students, I was able to grasp anatomy and neuroscience.”
What's your reaction to that?
Dr. Lottering: It's incredible. I think it makes me feel very proud. You know, not necessarily proud of the impact, but I suppose I'm proud of my students. I think there's two parts to it. The fact that students actually felt the need or took that initiative to nominate me for an award like this speaks a lot because especially in today's society, I think you find a lot of people that only do things to benefit themselves, personally. I think it was very selfless of them to nominate me. But I think, too, it talks to that particular statement. Just upon reflection, I think it comes out of Swinburne University in Melbourne, which is where I was the lead for neurosciences.
I feel incredibly touched because it was such a difficult period that the students went through while I was at Swinburne. The whole of 2020 we were in COVID lockdowns in Melbourne and we actually went from being the world's most livable city to the world's most locked down city. The toll that that took on our students from a pastoral care perspective was enormous. It really taught me or shaped my view of teaching to go, “It's not about the educator, it's not about the tools, it's not about the technology. It's actually about creating that sense of community in a classroom.”
I went back and looked at some of the student evaluations a little while ago, and there's testimonials that came through where students had reflected on the live drawing Zoom sessions I did every week during COVID. Students would log in and they'd draw along with me. They reflected that that was the one time within the course of that week that they might have spoken to someone else. It was an opportunity for them to come along and just be in the presence of myself, of their peers and just for that hour of the day, they could forget about what was going on in the world around them and just pay attention or be distracted by someone else.
I think for me, that was very powerful because we can learn as a community and we can, through learning, find coping strategies as well. It's not always about the content, but it's actually about the community.
Michael Carrese: Oh, yeah. Educators can really be emotional anchors for people of all ages, not just educational anchors. So, that speaks to that very strongly.
Dr. Lottering: What was also quite impressive during COVID is we had a lot of senior students step up and express interest in wanting to help with peer teaching of junior students. I was fortunate to have third-year students as peer mentors and peer leaders actually run sessions and provide some of that pastoral care help to the junior students with study strategies and running extra revision sessions. So, the sense of community across the entire student cohort was quite incredible to see too. I'm very proud of how those students stepped up.
Michael Carrese: Wonderful. So, as you may know, Osmosis has six core values, which are: Start With The Heart, Spread Joy, Have Each Other's Backs, Imagine More, Open Your Arms, And Reach Further. Is there one of those that you feel you embody the best, and tell us why?
Dr. Lottering: I struggled to decide on one, to be honest. I probably had two. I would say my first one was Imagine More. I am quite energized by trying new things -- experimenting with technology or trying new approaches -- and I suppose I like to challenge the status quo. That might be a reflection of me in terms of I quite easily get bored and I couldn't imagine a world where I'd be recycling the same lecture notes and PowerPoint notes year after year. I then make it a mission of mine to keep trying new things, to keep creating, to keep challenging myself and my students.
I guess the second one was the Start With The Heart. I genuinely believe that good education comes from a place of caring, actually genuinely caring about your students and loving the students and loving the content and loving what you do. For me, as cliche as it sounds, I love coming to work every day because I have no idea what the day is going to bring. I get to interact with amazing students. There are incredible opportunities in education, and it really is about how you actually craft your own career.
Michael Carrese: Well, along those lines, what is your go-to advice for your students about entering the medical field, the healthcare field, at what is still a very difficult time? The pandemic has not quite left us, as you know, and there's just been so much tumult in the last couple of years.
Dr. Lottering: Definitely. I think it's about being informed. I think before deciding to pursue a career in medicine or in healthcare, I think it's really important to know what you're getting into. Because sometimes there's a certain perception that we might see in modern media, on social media, or, you know, via TV shows, and the reality of medicine is very different and the reality of medical school and the challenges that come with that is very different to high school as well. So my advice would be, try and get as much experience as you can in high school, or if you're taking a gap year, get involved with volunteer work and community work and shadow other doctors that you might know, for instance, because it's important to actually know the reality of what medical school and medicine is about.
It's thinking about the “why.” Why is it that you want to become a doctor? Or why is it that you want to pursue education in this field? Because if it's purely about wanting to give back and wanting to make a difference, there are plenty of professions out there that you can make a difference. But it's about really thinking about your motivation, and what is it about you that is going to be able to add to this incredibly rich profession?
Michael Carrese: As an educational company, we love to fill knowledge gaps, and we love to get direction from our guests about a topic that they care about... particularly where they wish more people knew about it, or they could address some myth that maybe people have about something. Is there something that comes to mind?
Dr. Lottering: Firstly, I wanted to say that I think Osmosis has done an incredible job with just the comprehensive suite of topics that are out there. As an anatomist, I actually struggle to find new content to create on YouTube because Osmosis seems to cover it all really well, and it's not just about the basic sciences. You also have a wide suite of the applied sciences too, which our students absolutely love. But I think for me as an educator, especially in this post-pandemic setting, one of the observations that I'm seeing is students are really struggling with how to learn, and how to learn effectively.
I'm not too sure if that's necessarily because of that influence of digital technologies and that online dependence for a year or two years, depending on what state or country you are living in. But for me, I think we have a bit more of a role or responsibility to educate students on the neuroscience of learning and that association between learning and memory. Because if they can be quite confident and have those skills from the beginning of their studies, I think the benefits at the end of their studies and the start of their careers, is going to be enormous.
If you think of memory, there's three main components. There's encoding new information that you're receiving. In anatomy, quite often students are quite overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content that they are required to learn, and although it's not complex, there's a lot of new words, there's a lot of terminology, there's a lot of associations they need to draw. So, it's a matter of how do I then embed or encode this new information into my storage -- not for me to be able to just pass that final exam, but for me to actually then retain it in the MD phase of our program, or as interns, or as consultants down the track. To be able to do that, you then need to have strategies to retrieve that information at those various time points. So, that's where learning what are the powerful encoding strategies to be able to move this information and solidify this information in my long-term memory. You know, I think there's so much power in having those skills.
Michael Carrese: Yeah. I wish I'd acquired some of them a long time ago. But seriously, learning how to learn is very, very powerful. That's a great suggestion.
We're curious to know what's next for you. You've already indicated that you always like to be learning and changing, and you get bored if you do the same thing over and over again. So, what are your thoughts about how you may change as an educator in the coming years?
Dr. Lottering: For me, I think it's quite difficult to predict, because I think as technology advances and progresses, the effects that that is going to have on learners as they come through the university sector is quite difficult to anticipate.
For example, just this year, looking at the influence of ChatGPT and looking at both the positive and the negative reactions from institutions and schools... I think technology is always going to advance, and it's about how we embrace technology, but also how we educate our students and staff on the appropriate use of that technology. For me, it's about continuing to harness the opportunities that that emerging technology offers and really thinking about it from how can I use technology to continue engaging students as students change, as they come with unique skill sets, unique qualities, and it's all about understanding the student and applying tools that actually work for them.
The second thing is I'd love to keep growing the YouTube channel. I think it's an incredible privilege to be able to share content through my lightboard videos. I feel there's an obligation to make that learning more accessible and make that content more accessible. So, if students are sharing my content with each other, if they're able to walk away and understand a complex concept by looking at a ten-minute video, to me, that's an incredible privilege and I hope to be able to keep doing that for as long as I can.
Dr. Lottering: So, you already mentioned Dr. Wood, but are there other mentors, teachers, peers, students, family members that you'd like to do a shout out to?
Dr. Lottering: I feel like there are so many. First and foremost, I wanted just to shout out to my students... just the gratitude in terms of having the privilege to learn from them and with them every day and especially for the efforts they went to in nominating me for this award. I'd also like to give a shout out to my institution. I am so lucky to be working at Bond where it's all about challenging the status quo. We are incredibly fortunate to have access to some of the best technologies for teaching and there really is a culture of innovation and not being afraid to try something new, knowing that it may fail, but it's okay to give it a go, and it's okay to keep playing and experimenting.
It's also important for me to acknowledge that, yes, it's me talking to you today, but everything that I've learned has been shaped by the mentors and the supervisors and the colleagues that I've had the privilege of learning from over the last couple of years. I've had incredible advisors and mentors and colleagues that have taken me under their wing and taught me things that they know.
At the end of the day, I think it's just about having empathy. I've had colleagues extend incredible empathy towards me to want me to reach my potential, and I think that's the same approach that I have with my own colleagues here, but also my students. It's really about understanding who they are, what their strengths are, what their barriers are, and, you know, making sure that we think about that at the end of the day. It's about being curious and staying curious about new people, new perspectives, new tools. I think without curiosity, we can be quite limited.
Michael Carrese: Well, I would just say that I think your students are very lucky to have you,
and it's been a real pleasure to talk to you and get some sense for how you approach education. We want to congratulate you again on the Raise the Line Award and wish you the best in the coming year, and as always, we want all of our educators to know how much we appreciate what they're doing to prepare the next generation of healthcare professionals.
Dr. Lottering: Thank you so much, Michael, for having me.
Michael Carrese: I’m Michael Carrese. Thanks for checking out this episode of Raise the Line. If you'd like to learn more about the other faculty award winners from 2022, you can check out Osmosis.org forward slash faculty dash awards. And as always, remember to do your part to raise the line and strengthen the healthcare system. We're all in this together.