A look back at UNSW's inaugural Education Festival


Published 7 December 2021


Education communities ending the year on a high note with the week-long series of events

With the majority of teaching for 2021 (slowly) wrapping up, the education communities were treated to an entire week of coming together, celebrating outstanding teaching achievements and sharing learnings with peers to reflect on our education at UNSW.  

Kick-started with the hybrid and immersive 2021 Education Focussed Retreat held on Monday, the rest of the week invited our broad and diverse education communities to celebrate all things Education with a jam-packed schedule of sessions delivered across all our faculties and several divisions. 

The inaugural Festival saw more than 670 people register for the events, exceeding all previous education-related event records and demonstrating the wide-spread interest that such a cross-disciplinary initiative engenders among UNSW staff involved in Learning and Teaching. 

Teams from each Faculty, UNSW Canberra and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Education & Student Experience Portfolio joined forces to take collaboration to another level, resulting in eight themed events and an outstanding 135 sessions and 22 posters involving around 200 presenters across the entire festival.  

“The festival was a first for Science and we chose to host a half-day event focused on hybrid learning for the future”, says Dr Rebecca LeBard, Associate Dean of Education, Science.
“We invested in technology for hybrid delivery in 2021 (example here) and supported staff in how best to use it, and the festival allowed us to share this practice. Our educators shared experiences ranging from virtual field trips to remote drone navigation, and we enjoyed also hearing from others across the university."

The power of cross-faculty sharing exposed the Education community to different perspectives and out-of-the-box pedagogies to inform their own teaching.

“It was so fantastic to see colleagues from different faculties in sessions together, sharing their ideas and practices around teaching and learning. It was a great opportunity to get to know the many dedicated teachers from across the university and see just how much we all have in common”, says Dr Alex Bannigan, Head, Academic & Education Focussed Development.

Using Gather.Town to simulate in-person catch-ups in an online environment

Despite the event being delivered predominantly online, the social element of the festival was not forgotten. Gather.Town, a proximity-based video chatting platform delivered in the form of a 2D virtual world was used to simulate a face-to-face catch-up experience.

A fruitful collaboration was formed between the PVCESE Educational Engagement team (and particularly Bonnie Xin), as the conceptualiser, and Josu Abrego, Educational Developer, UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture, as the creator of the virtual town, specially customised for the festival. A strong appetite to innovate and implement this unique social interactivity element was brought by the overall excitement for the new festival, but also by a swift realisation that the platform can very effectively facilitate synchronous poster presentations and roundtable discussions in the online environment.

“The minute I laid my hands on Gather.Town, I saw the educational potential instantly”, says Josu.

“Developing the space with user experience in mind from the very outset was crucial, given the lack of familiarity with the platform among most of the festival audience”, adds Bonnie.

The initiative was met with an overall positivity, with one attendee commenting that “Gather.Town was one of the highlights of the festival. Great to catch up with random colleagues I never thought I would ever meet”. Feedback from another participant read:

“The use of GatherTown was a fantastic idea. I am glad the organisers were not afraid to introduce a sense of play and experimentation - that is exactly what all of us need right now, and it worked! It was so refreshing to participate in an online event that had some variation to what we've experienced over the past two years”.

Many attendees also remarked that they would like to consider using this platform for their own teaching – adding another useful discovery and teaching resource to the week!

Celebrations, presentations and debate

The final theme of the festival ‘Celebrations, presentations and debate‘, while being live-streamed, it was also delivered in person on the UNSW Sydney campus - and reminiscent of the times where face-to-face attendance was the norm. In addition to celebrating teaching achievements across the institution, participants were treated to an insightful keynote ‘Rethinking feedback for learning: a challenge for course design’’ delivered by highly cited researcher in this area,  Prof. David Boud. 

And hailed as the festival’s highlight by many, a lively, fun debate was chaired by Prof. Merlin Crossley on the controversial topic of whether ‘Students need exams’. It was delivered in style by our brilliant professors: Prof. Alex Steel, Prof. Adi Torda, Prof. Richard Buckland, Prof. Lyria Bennett Moses and outstanding students, Aman Mohamed and Aleisha Lawrence. For those who are curious, the decision was that the case for the affirmative carried the day. 

“The first-ever Education Festival was a huge success. It was great to see faculties showcase aspects of their teaching and inspire, challenge and celebrate education at UNSW. I already can’t wait for next year’s event!”, said Professor Rorden Wilkinson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Education & Student Experience.


  • Registered participants can now access session recordings within the "Presentation Recordings" channel of the Education Festival Teams Hub. If you had registered for the Festival, head to the hub now or look out for an email shortly.
  • For more information on the festival, visit the official webpage here
  • Any questions about the festival can be directed to: engage.pvcese@unsw.edu.au

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