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August 2009 Issue
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Researcher wins 7th teaching award

 Teaching and Learning

Civil engineer and lecturer Professor Holger Maier has won his seventh award for teaching excellence in as many years.

Professor Maier, from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, has won the ECMS Faculty Award for Excellence for Higher Degree by Research Supervision.

This latest award adds to his long list of teaching accolades in recent years, including the Carrick Award for Australian University Teaching in 2006 and the Stephen Cole the Elder Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2002.

In 2006 Professor Maier also won a national award for teaching excellence from the Australasian Association for Engineering Education.

Professor Maier is renowned for his research and teaching in water resources and environmental engineering and has pioneered a number of innovative teaching approaches, including online role-play simulations.

Since 2006 he has been awarded more than $1 million from industry and the Australian Research Council to improve the management of South Australia's water resources.

He is in the final stages of a $600,000 project to develop an integrated approach to water resources in the South East of the State, focusing on flood protection, combating soil salinisation and increasing environmental flows to the region's 200 wetlands.

"This project is helping us to understand the interactions between surface water and groundwater, the ecological requirements of wetlands, and the impact of saline groundwater on soils and pasture," Professor Maier said.

He has co-authored more than 20 teaching publications and supervised 19 PhD students in the past seven years, as well as receiving teaching grants worth almost $110,000 since 2006.

Professor Maier said he was focused on producing versatile graduates with skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication and teamwork.

"Online role-play simulations and face-to-face role-plays, as well as case studies, demonstrations, exercises and assessment activities that reflect real world situations, should be used in teaching.

"It is also vital to impart to students your enthusiasm, ideas and passion for your field of expertise because it motivates them and inspires them to learn."

One of Professor Maier's most successful and award-winning online learning tools is the Mekong e-Simulation, a role-play that typically involves between 60-140 engineering students who adopt the roles of stakeholders and respond to proposed development issues in the Mekong River basin of South-East Asia.

"This region provides an authentic, international setting for student interaction and gives them a better understanding of the complex decision-making processes involved in engineering projects," Professor Maier said.

"These online role-play simulations also meet the needs of our students who belong to the so-called Net Generation."

Creative classroom exercises have also helped students grasp difficult engineering concepts.

"By using fun activities that students can relate to in real life, you can explain some complex technical concepts in a very clear way."

Professor Maier said the learning environment must be challenging and supportive, demanding yet fair, for students to succeed.

"Students' chances of success and the depth of their learning are likely to be compromised if they are not interested in, or challenged, by the materials they are studying. On the other hand, lack of support and empathy during critical stages of the learning process will also weaken their will to succeed."

The Executive Director of the Environment Institute, Professor Mike Young, said Professor Maier's approach to research and teaching was critical to solving the complex problems in water resources and environmental engineering.

"To understand these issues and make headway, we need sophisticated tools to assist us, like those being developed by Professor Maier and his students," he said.

Story by Candy Gibson

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Associate Professor Holger Maier (right) with some of his students, Liam Harnett, Meredith Gee, and Brittany Coff (at front) on the banks of the Torrens River
Photo by Greg Adams, courtesy of <i>The Advertiser</i>

Associate Professor Holger Maier (right) with some of his students, Liam Harnett, Meredith Gee, and Brittany Coff (at front) on the banks of the Torrens River
Photo by Greg Adams, courtesy of The Advertiser

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