Inclusive and entertaining educator wins excellence award

A lecturer who goes above and beyond to engage students and promote connectedness in his classes has won a University of Queensland Award for Teaching Excellence.

Dr Michael Thai from UQ’s School of Psychology has been recognised as part of this year’s Teaching and Learning Week.

"I strive to make every student feel like they belong and can engage in the course, no matter their background," Dr Thai said.

"As the child of Vietnamese immigrants, I’ve always been conscious of diversity, identity and inclusion.

"I’m particularly interested in how racial minority Australians navigate their way through society.

"My research looks at the costs of being marginalised, the benefits of being included and how we can promote inclusiveness."

These themes are reflected in his teaching.

"I try to establish a warm, welcoming atmosphere and a solid rapport with students from the get-go," he said.

Dr Thai has a unique approach to student consultations with online catchups for those who can’t make it to campus, and hosting group picnics in the Great Court.

"With 350 students in a lecture it can be daunting if you don’t know anyone, and this way they can engage, connect, and find friends and support," he said.

Dr Thai said he works hard to captivate his students.

"My teaching style is to present the material in an entertaining way, using jokes or personal stories, but only if it facilitates student understanding," he said.

"I think it’s important for educators to put on a ’student cap’ and consider things from their perspective and what might make a subject more interesting."

Dr Thai’s course materials for Social & Organisational Psychology include an ever-expanding suite of educational musical parodies that have gained him recognition from international peers and students.

"An educational parody of a song my students are familiar with is just a fun and exciting way to explain a concept or experiment in social psychology," he said.

Dr Thai said it can be challenging to make the statistics course he teaches interesting to students who believe they’re not good at mathematics.

"But it’s so rewarding to see students who were sure they’d do poorly in statistics not only get through it but do really well - and enjoy it," he said.

"Recognition with this award and feedback from students that they’ve enjoyed learning only inspires me to make the courses I teach even better."