Time to Recharge, Think Safe – Be Safe – Home Safe, assessing assessment – 19 October 2022

19 Oct 2022
Professor Attila Brungs

Dear colleagues

I write in the middle of Recharge Week, hopefully on a day where the gentle ping of Inside UNSW arriving in your inbox was a pleasant sound and one of the fewer *new email* notifications you have been receiving over the past few days. (Yes, this is a subtle reminder to try to keep email traffic and meetings to a minimum this week, allowing you and your colleagues some valuable clear headspace to catch up and to plan.) For those who were able to observe Wellbeing Day on Monday, I hope you enjoyed some valuable down time. In the next day or two, perhaps consider visiting the newly reopened Village Green for a spell – it’s a superb place to recharge and recreate.

And speaking of things green, UNSW has just released our new Environmental Sustainability Plan 2022–2024, with the themes of Climate action, Living campuses and Resource efficiency. Our commitment to turn UNSW’s 39,000-hectare Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station in western NSW into a dedicated conservation site is a key initiative, alongside initiatives to electrify our campuses, improve sustainability in lab spaces and increase onsite solar PV capacity. My thanks to all who contributed to the preparation of this ambitious, important plan.

Think Safe – Be Safe – Home Safe

I hope all colleagues have made the time to consider our new motto for safety at UNSW: Think Safe – Be Safe – Home Safe. The motto emphasises the fact that the safety of our students, staff and visitors is of the upmost importance, and that it is our responsibility to look after each other – this is a core value of our University.

If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to watch my video message about what Think Safe – Be Safe – Home Safe means.

You’ll see I invite you to download the Stay Safe at UNSW app. In the app you’ll find the Speak Up for Safety Card and a range of resources to help us all to make sure UNSW is a safe and healthy place to work, study and collaborate. Find out more about these safety tools and initiatives in this edition of Inside UNSW.

As I’ve been visiting our Schools, I’ve seen and heard about some really practical, impressive ways that safety has been integrated into normal operations.

One example is the work done to make the lead lab in the Material Sciences & Engineering School a much safer place for students and staff. In response to feedback about the lab, the School engaged a hygienist to conduct testing. The testing found lead contamination, caused by some poor practices in handling lead and housekeeping. The lab was shut down and several corrective actions were implemented to help change the safety culture, including practical training, the development of a lead training session for any lead users at UNSW and a monthly lead swabbing regime to monitor contamination. Over time, the lead swabbing results have shown a significant, sustained improvement in the level of surface contamination – the result of positive changes in safety behaviour and work processes.

These are the sorts of positive safety behaviours that we want to instil in the UNSW culture.

You may have heard me speak about the solvent spill that I witnessed when I was on intern placement while studying at UNSW. A mate and I have physical scars from that incident (which happened more than 25 years ago), and it’s an experience that I certainly don’t want any of our students or colleagues to go through.

So please, take care of yourselves and each other at all times. Safety is our collective responsibility and it’s something we need to be actively practising every single day.

Please remember, too, that October is UNSW Health, Safety and Wellbeing Monthbrowse the program here. The ‘Practical Tools for Micro Pauses’ workshop looks interesting to me!

Taking a University-wide approach to optimising assessment practices

Assessment is a crucial part of the educational experience at UNSW. It provides an opportunity for students to be assured that they are gaining mastery. It also provides assurance for the quality of a UNSW education that sets our graduates apart. As Professors Cath Ellis and Maurice Pagnucco espoused in last week’s meeting of the Academic Board, “Assessment should be one of the defining positive characteristics of an UNSW graduate.”

As part of the ‘Improving Student Experience’ focus area of S25, we are planning to take a University-wide approach to improving assessment, focusing on quality, increasing integrity, and optimising the amount of assessment we conduct.

Several of the Improving Student Experience working groups have identified opportunities to improve our assessment practices. Our students tell us that we need to revisit the quantity of assessment (often described as too much or not relevant) and the constructive feedback we give afterwards to help our students improve (the sentiment is there’s not enough). The working groups also highlighted that overassessment is causing workload concerns for academic staff and reduces their capacity to provide timely and thoughtful feedback.

While colleagues have done much in the past to tackle assessment in different student cohorts, we need to take this opportunity to ensure all our students benefit from enhanced assessment practices and that the integrity and authenticity of assessment at UNSW is at its peak. To this end, we are planning to better support current assessment improvement activities in Schools and Faculties, better share best practice across the University and to establish a task force that will draw on input from all areas to provide options for improved assessment at UNSW, beginning by self-identifying courses that need or want to reduce the number of assessments or move to more authentic approaches. Expect to be consulted soon!

Support for those affected by events in Iran

Recent events in Iran are causing distress for many people around the world, including within the UNSW community.

The violence in Iran is distressing and our thoughts are with everyone impacted by these events. As a University, we stand by values of tolerance, respect and inclusion and seek to support each other.

On 6 October, more than 200 students and staff gathered on campus to show their support for those demonstrating about the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran and to support one another.

If you or your students have been affected by the events in Iran or other significant and disruptive global or national events, UNSW has services and supports available to assist.

For congratulations and calendars…

Inside UNSW continues to be a wonderful source of inspiration and interest. I invite you to browse this week’s edition here.

Best regards

Professor Attila Brungs
Vice-Chancellor and President