Dr Kirstie Close-Barry is a lecturer, tutor and research fellow at Deakin University, lecturing on Indigenous Australian histories, a historical methodology unit and sex and gender history.
This year I have had the pleasure of teaching once more for the Pacific Adventist University (PAU), which is a Seventh Day Adventist tertiary institution based just outside of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. This teaching has been done via Skype, with a great deal of assistance from PAU’s IT staff, Reeves Papaol and Tony Manson, along with PAU-based historian Ruth Crocombe. Unfortunately, with existing teaching and administrative commitments at Deakin during semester 2, I was unable to get up there to deliver the whole course.
I taught for PAU in 2015, delivering a course on PNG history. Last year’s class had only 4 students: one from PNG, one from Samoa, and two from Bougainville. It was a wonderful experience, and I was able to fly up to spend time with them and take field trips. One of these was to the start of the Kokoda Track, where we all walked down the steep descent to the Goldie River, and then scrambled back up again. It was hard work for me – less so for the students and my boss Jeff Crocombe who were a bit fitter! We also stopped at Bomana War Cemetary, which is not too far from the PAU campus at Koiari Park, and were given a tour of the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery by curator Greg Bablis.
I signed up to deliver the course this year in Pacific history thinking I’d have similarly small numbers, but I realized just before we commenced that I in fact had 27 students enrolled. I had to rethink the strategy I’d used for online teaching last year, which was to run focused discussions and activities that were ideal for such a small cohort. This year I have designed group activities. Things were a little quiet to start with, so I was thrilled when Reeves stepped in during one of the early weeks and encouraged students to get together and contribute – he was sitting in and taking care of the technological side of things but became a teaching buddy and a source of moral support for the students. Asking the students to complete oral presentations as part of their assessments also helped to break the ice. This was a great way for me to get to know everyone even though I’m so far away.
I had received memorable feedback from Max Quanchi at the recent Pacific History Association conference in Guam on the course outline for the PNG history unit, which he described as a bit ‘1960s’. I assumed that was due to the chronological nature in which I’d tried to structure the unit. I decided to take a different approach with this one and be more thematic with each week’s focus. We have covered histories of work, migration, missions, gender, and most excitingly (in my opinion, anyway) food. This has been great fun although I feel that we skimmed the surface on so many issues, but that is the nature of a survey course.
In addition to the oral presentations that the students delivered, they have had considerable scope to design their own research projects this semester. They were able to select their own topic for their research essays, and therefore build skills researching and writing in a field that may potentially inform their future research, teaching or other form of work. And judging from the quality of these essays, the level of enthusiasm for this work, and the brilliant, shining characters of the students at PAU, those futures are bright.