Informal Teaching Style at UOW

At the beginning of my stay the teaching style, classes in general and the way of interacting with classmates and professors at University of Wollongong were highly unfamiliar to me. It started in my first seminar in the first week of the semester when everyone had to introduce themselves and our professor showed us personal pictures of his family, his newborn daughter and unflattering ones of himself. I quickly realized that classes were held a lot less formally than in Switzerland.

Students randomly go to the toilet during classes, professors and students call each other by their first names, some students just speak out in class even though they did not lift their hand, one professor has blue hair and plays his techno study music playlist during group tasks, another professor was snacking raw carrots while we were discussing something with our desk neighbor and in one tutorial some students do not even bring their laptops, they just listen without taking any notes and if we have to read or look something up, they do that on their phones – I was extremely surprised when I first saw that. Furthermore, attendance is compulsory so that at the end of the classes the students’ names are read out loud to check who is there and there are participation grades, just like in high school. Also, the teaching approach focuses more on practical skills. For instance, we had to develop a peace plan for the Guyana/Venezuela border conflict, create a website and video for a minimal viable product and play around with different ChatGPT possibilities. Additionally, in my subjects there are no exams, instead we have to write essays or do group presentations. This approach gives the students the possibility to choose a certain course topic in which they invest their research and time. As a downside, I can say for myself that I am more lazy concerning topics that are not related to my essays since I know I will not be tested in an exam.

In contrast, in Switzerland law professors mumble in front of a class with 200 students, no one cares if students attend or if they do not, there is little or no interaction during classes and at the end of each course, there is an exam. The interaction with professors is highly formal and most professors wear a suit and sometimes even a tie. Theoretically, a student could never show up in class in years and still pass all the exams by reading the books.

At the beginning I struggled with the high amount of interaction, discussions and group tasks during classes. I was shy and insecure about my English speaking skills, thus interactive discussions made me feel highly uncomfortable. However, even though I did not like the UOW teaching style at first, I realized over time that I am actually benefiting from it. I am forced to speak and to interact with my classmates. I have to be prepared and mentally present during classes. Also, contested topics lead to long and interesting discussions between teachers and students alike. I think experiencing and adapting to a different education system is contributing to my personal growth. The image in my head how education is taught in university shifted completely and challenged my previous assumptions. Although I have gotten used and adapted to my classes, sometimes I am still puzzled about the differences in communication styles, classroom dynamics and pedagogical methods between Australia and Switzerland. It is surprising how law education in university can vary in such a high degree.

Personally, I definitely learnt to appreciate the teaching style here at UOW and I enjoy my classes a lot now, which I assume can be seen as a process of adaptation. The intercultural experience described here taught me to open my mind to different teaching methods and environments. Moreover, I realized that the strict and formal law education at University of Bern is not the only way to successfully educate law students.

Gina Baumgartner

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