For Katie Sutherland, the opportunity to work and study at a university at the same time brings a strong sense of collegiality. Sutherland, a casual tutor within the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University is also a student (doctoral candidate) in the final stages of a Doctorate of Creative Arts at the Writing & Society Research Centre at WSU.
“I really do feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and I genuinely enjoy the sharing of knowledge,” Sutherland says.
Sutherland’s doctoral project is titled “Painting the spectrum: Everyday stories of families living with high functioning autism”, which involves researching and writing a book and an exegesis (thesis).
At the same time she is teaching a unit called Visual Storytelling. The students have a lot of freedom to be inspired by texts they find interesting and inspiring, whether those texts are newspaper articles, novels or films. Sutherland says learning becomes a lot more relevant and fun when you can choose your own adventure.
“It’s inspiring to read the stories that students create and then see how they visually interpret these,” she says. “I’m teaching design and communication students so they’re a super creative bunch. Some students are visual learners and others are more comfortable with writing. We all learn differently.”
Visual Storytelling students have recently created the opening title sequence to a film, and their next project is to create a graphic novel scene.
“Lots of drawing, which is fun, and plenty of room for imagination,” Sutherland says.
“I get a lot back from the students: it’s great being around young minds,” she says. “Being a naturally curious person, I find it fascinating to see how they view the world.”
Sutherland says she didn’t set out to become an educator – her background is in journalism – though she does feel that her work and academic experience form a good springboard. She plans to pursue an academic career after completing her DCA.
“Also, being a parent has definitely informed my teaching,” she says. “One of my sons has some learning challenges and through him I’ve come to understand more about education styles, and how important it is to find a point of connection with students.”