Expert thinking wins Chancellor’s Medal

How do experts think and how does a novice get to think like an expert?

These are the questions Griffith University technology education lecturer Dr Ivan Chester examined in his award-winning PhD thesis.

Dr Chester received a Chancellor’s Medal and two university Excellence in Teaching Awards for his research into the development of new teaching strategies for three-dimensional computer aided design (3D-CAD).

He studied 3D-CAD experts to discover what was different about their modelling thinking processes compared to non-experts.

Nearly every modern consumer product is produced from 3D-CAD modelling — whether it be motor cars, cochlear implants or furniture.

“I found experts use mental imagery to think ahead and create models which can be easily modified without having to start again from scratch,” Dr Chester said.

“My resulting teaching strategies include showing students how to develop mental imagery, specific teacher modelling of the thinking strategies used by 3D-CAD experts and group 3D-CAD problem solving.”

All graduating technology education students now learn the 3D-CAD teaching strategies developed by Dr Chester and Australian teachers of technology are implementing his strategies in the classroom.

Dr Chester’s research also has international links, with the British Design and Technology Association using it in their 2006 review of 3D-CAD teaching in the United Kingdom.

Working full-time while completing his thesis, Dr Chester also led the ‘Technology in Schools’ project.

A collaboration between the Queensland Industrial Technology and Design Teachers’ Association (INTAD) and multi-national CAD software developer Parametric Technology Corp, the program provides Australian teachers with CAD training and free software.

More than 1500 teachers have been trained through the scheme resulting in over 30,000 Australian students getting access to advanced 3D-CAD software. In 2006 Dr Chester was awarded life membership of INTAD.

“The biggest challenge while undertaking my PhD was to continue to be a good role model for my students.

“I believe the best teachers teach very well, have a high service ethic to their school and their profession, demand high academic standards of themselves and their students and have a real commitment to life-long learning.

“The Chancellor’s medal, the teaching awards and the life membership of INTAD represent for me the achievement of my goal to be the best possible role model for the next generation of teachers.”

Griffith’s technology education program is nationally recognised as a leader in its field with a 100 per cent graduate employment rate.

The Chancellor’s Medals are awarded annually for exceptional performance in the PhD thesis examination.