Teaching methods in Australia

The tutorial system

Many types of degree--such as in the social sciences and humanities--will be based around a tutorial system. This means that as well as a lecture that you attend once or a few times a week with everybody else in the class, you will attend a smaller tutorial class. Here, you will be expected to discuss the ideas raised in the lecture that week, or make a presentation, or something similar. These classes are usually compulsory, and are a good opportunity to work through any ideas that you may be finding challenging. 

The professor is the expert, but they welcome being challenged

While your professor and tutors have spent many years studying to get in the position they are now, in Australia it is not usually accepted that they are the final and only authority on a subject. Australians in general have a relaxed, egalitarian attitude, and this transfers to learning environments, too. Tutorials in particular provide a perfect opportunity to ask questions. In many disciplines where there is not necessarily one ‘right’ answer to a problem (such as in the social sciences or humanities) you are welcome to challenge the teacher’s ideas about something you disagree with, as long as this is done politely.

‘Contact hours’ don’t translate into total study hours

There is a large difference between ‘contact hours’--the time spent in lectures and tutorials--and the number of hours you are expected to put into your studies. Many courses will let you know how many hours of work are required of you outside of class time. This may include time spent reading, attending film screenings, writing assignments, and any other activities that are part of the discipline. Only having lectures six hours per week (for example) does not mean that you only have six hours of study time per week. Failure to complete assigned readings or assignments will be noted, and reflected in your grade.

Punctuality is important 

This means being on time to class, as well as handing in assignments by the due date. Because the Australian higher education system puts a strong emphasis on self-directed study, you will probably not be locked out of class if you arrive late, and you may not receive a reminder email if you fail to hand in an assignment. You will just be expected to do these things for yourself. 

Group work tests how well you can work with others

Group work is a common component of tutorial classes. You will be expected to work with other students to discuss or present on a topic. Sometimes group assignments are set, where you will need to meet with your fellow students outside of class and equally contribute towards completing a task. Such group work is usually intended to test how well you can communicate and collaborate with others, just like you would need to in most real-world employment settings. 

Plagiarism and copying is a serious offence

In some cultures, repeating what the experts have written on a topic is considered an acceptable way of presenting your ideas. Not so in Australia. Plagiarism--which is “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own”--is considered a very serious offence. If you do this later in your studies, or more than once, you can even be expelled and your student visa revoked. It’s important that you understand the difference between reading and quoting the works of others, and simply copying them. Most courses will provide you with guidelines on how to reference properly and avoid plagiarism, and many universities and colleges have student centres or seminars that you can attend for extra help. Plagiarism is not worth the risk, as many teachers use plagiarism-detection software, and are also highly attuned to spotting plagiarised work.

While there may be many new rules and expectations to get used to when you first arrive in Australia, remember that you’re not alone. Most universities and colleges have student services to help new students--especially international students--settle in and become accustomed to the Australian system. Make sure to seek these services out early on, so you are not caught out later.