Singing a karaoke version of Teenage Dirtbag, the 2000 hit by American band Wheatus, is not the most conventional way to launch one’s tertiary education.
However, Dr Sarah Baker has no qualms about challenging her first-year students in this manner. In fact, the Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Griffith University’s School of Humanities believes the song is an ideal ice-breaker for nervous newcomers.
It’s also clear that Dr Baker’s students and peers agree with this and other aspects of her approach to teaching. She is one of six Griffith academics to receive an Office for Learning and Teaching 2013 Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning,
Dr Baker was honoured for her “innovative collaborative approaches to independent knowledge production to inspire student engagement and attainment in undergraduate Sociology courses”.
And it all starts with Teenage Dirtbag.
“It’s quite something to hear 150 Sociology students meeting each other for the first time and then belting out that famous chorus – I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby – at their first lecture,” Dr Baker said.
“It creates an immediate bubble of activity and engagement, a way of sharing and networking from the very start of their university education.
“More seriously, the song also speaks to a number of course themes around young people and intimacy, mobility, belonging, youth violence and consumption.”
With a focus on youth culture and subculture, Gold Coast-based Dr Baker said it was important to provide students with a feeling of autonomy within a firm course structure, as well as to recognise and nurture the knowledge transitions that occur throughout the three years of the Bachelor of Arts degree.
“For our first-year students, it is important to acknowledge they are becoming adults, to engage them in the sociological theories and other components of the course and provide them with the skills, technology and experience to move forward,” Dr Baker said.
“Second year is about helping them evolve their thinking and be fully prepared for a final year during which they do their own sociological work.
“This involves selecting a youth culture or subculture – be it hippies, music, skateboarding, surfing, sport or something else that interests them – and then observing and interacting, collecting data and creating their own research projects.
“Once you’ve done your own empirical research, you are the expert. I love helping students towards that achievement and realisation.”
A research sociologist, Dr Baker started at Griffith University in 2008. In 2012 she received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Griffith University Teacher of the Year and also the Arts, Education and Law Group Excellence in Teaching Award.