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VIC Lecturer Wins Teaching Excellence Award

VIC Lecturer Wins Teaching Excellence Award

The director of Victoria University's Wai-te-ata Press, Dr Sydney Shep, has won a $20,000 award in this year's prestigious Tertiary Teaching Awards.

Dr Shep received her award for Excellence in Innovation from the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Helen Clark, and Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister, Hon Steve Maharey at the 2003 Tertiary Teaching Awards at Parliament tonight.

Up for grabs in the awards were nine $20,000 awards across three categories as well as the $30,000 supreme Prime Ministers' Award. Thirty-three nominations were received from universities, polytechnics, wananga, colleges of education and private training establishments.

Dr Shep's award marks the second year in a row that Victoria has been represented, following Dr Nicholas Ashill, a senior lecturer in the School of Marketing and International Business, winning a Sustained Excellence Award in 2002.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon praised Dr Shep's teaching and reputation for excellence.

"When Dr Shep, a Victoria alumna, returned to the University as a postdoctoral fellow in 1995, she took the Wai-te-ata Press, which had been mothballed for a decade and revived it as a historic teaching printing press. From just a relatively small number of students, enrolments have grown as word of her interesting and varied courses has spread.

"Her commitment to excellence has been recognised within Victoria by the consistently high evaluations and praise she receives from her students and colleagues both within the University and internationally. It was without hesitation that the University chose to nominate her for the award.

"While Dr Shep has a deep love of the printed word as created by the printing press, she has been quick to adopt new technologies to expand her teaching. She was an early adopter of the University's web-based learning tool, BlackBoard, as she could see its potential as a way to more effectively communicate with our distance students. She has imaginatively harnessed the power of this internet-based tool to enhance both traditional teaching and her hands-on approach to the use of the letterpress."

The Wai-te-ata Press operates using 14 manually operated printing presses. The oldest, on loan from the University of Cambridge in Britain, is an 1813 Stanhope Press of which only 16 remain in the world. The Stanhope was the world's first cast iron press.

Dr Shep, who is also a senior lecturer in the School of Information Management, said she was "flabbergasted" on learning of the award and thanked the Government for establishing the awards to recognise excellence in tertiary teaching.

"Using historic communication technologies like a letterpress as a vehicle for teaching and learning is at the heart of my teaching philosophy. Hands-on experience with type and printing allows the 'head' to better understand through engaging with another sense while the hands are given the opportunity to be creative with something completely different.

"For students immersed in the digital environment, Wai-te-ata Press is a visible connection with the pre-computer past. By the end of their time in the printery, after designing and printing their own postcard for example, they have a better understanding of the eye and mind's physical relationship to the printed word and deeper insights into this technology's relationship to oral, manuscript and electronic culture."

For example in a class about ephemeral type that litters the human world, Dr Shep hands out biscuits at the break and asks students to look carefully at them before they eat them.

"We then break into groups and discuss fonts, layout styles, what it means to eat a corporate logo and how products are marketed. The students' enthusiasm is infectious as they start listing all the foodstuffs with type on them. Consuming knowledge about type as we consume biscuits is my 'party-trick' but it still catches students off-guard and makes them think about the world around them in different ways."

Dr Shep said her love of printing grew out of her study of etching and engraving and developed further when she did her PhD on Renaissance culture.

"Printing has an organic quality to it that allows you to make exceptionally beautiful objects that have lasting value and are not ephemeral. You feel that your mind is creating something external to yourself through using your hands."

Dr Shep has an Honours degree and Master of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, an MA from John Hopkins' University in Baltimore and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Victoria. She teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

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