Dr Matthew Harrison | Senior Lecturer | Learning Intervention

Senior Lecturer, Learning Intervention

Dr Matthew Harrison is a senior lecturer in learning intervention. His research specialises in using cooperative digital games as tools for developing social skills and social understanding for both neurotypical and neurodiverse students.

Dr Matthew Harrison
Dr Matthew Harrison

Q. What do you like most about teaching?

I love working with children. I think that’s an essential element of being a teacher. I love that enthusiasm that kids have and that thirst for knowledge. I'm motivated by the idea of shaping the next generation of learners to make sure they’re academically but also socially successful and happy young people.

Q. What do you like most about teaching the age group you specialise in?

So I began working as a primary school teacher, and I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and the idea that these little people were just happy to come to my classroom every day! I think that energy and enthusiasm fed through to me and my colleagues, in the sense that it was an exciting place to be, and I loved the creativity and the adventure as we went together on our learning journeys.

Q. Why did you become a teacher?

The reason I became a teacher was really because I was inspired by the teachers who had taught me. When I was younger, I did have some areas of challenge in learning, and I think the teachers who helped me inspired me to better understand how I could support all the students in my classroom. I think it was that care and that relationship building that really helped me to become the person that I am today, so I really wanted to pass it forward. I really wanted to serve the next generation and help them to become academically and socially successful.

Q. How do you teach teaching?

I typically work with really experienced teachers, so it’s a two-way conversation, because there’s such a wealth of knowledge and expertise out there. Some of the students I work with in the Master of Learning Intervention have been teaching for twenty or thirty years, so it’s really about the idea of how I can help them to understand the research and how I can help them to apply the research in their everyday classrooms.

Q. Do you have a funny story from teaching?

My background is as a digital technologies teacher and we used to look at the evolution of technology. And I’m a massive gaming nerd, so one day I brought in my Super Nintendo -- one of the ones  with the cartridge in the top -- and we covered up the word Nintendo.

I asked my year 1 and 2 students what they thought it was, and a lot of the students thought it was a toaster! The only thing they had ever seen with that slot in the top was a toaster, so that kind of made sense to me.

Q. Is there any one moment or experience that stands out to you as really meaningful on your teaching journey?

I think when I started working with students with disability and neurological differences, that really reinvigorated my teaching. I worked in Australia, South Korea and the UK, and coming home and working with students with more complex needs, that was something that really made me remember why I love teaching.

So, it’s not any one particular moment, but just the idea that teaching can be powerful and transformative for people from early years right through to young adulthood.

Q. Was there anything that surprised you about teaching?

I think the biggest surprise about teaching was – both my parents are teachers, and I remember them saying how tired they were – and I remember coming home first year as a graduate teacher and being exhausted, but also knowing that I had chosen the right profession. I had a really high job satisfaction, but that combination of exhaustion and also feeling like you’re doing something really meaningful, I think it’s quite rare for people to feel that way.

Q. Do you have any top tips for new teachers?

I think my top tip for new teachers is to find a mentor, and that’s really important. And it doesn’t have to be someone who’s been teaching for thirty years, but it’s finding someone who you can be that sponge and learn from. Think about something that this person does really well or a situation they handle really effectively, and try to figure out what it is they do that you can model off. So it’s the idea of borrowing from the people who have come before us.

Q. Are there any particular qualities that you would say make the best teacher?

I don’t think there is a single quality that makes an effective teacher. I think there can be lots of different types of teachers and that’s really a positive thing, because we’ve got lots of different types of students. I think something that every teacher needs is a connection or a desire to work with young people or young adults, and really wanting to make sure that they can be the best and happiest they can be.

Q. Do you have a favourite activity to do with the students?

So I don’t think it’s a big secret that I’m a massive nerd and I love gaming, so I really love the idea of social gaming groups at lunchtime -- this idea of finding activities that are really strength-based, interest-based, and using particularly cooperative gaming as a space to get kids working together, building friendships, and hopefully using it as a space for inclusion.

Q. Do you have a favourite field trip?

My favourite excursion has been to VSSEC, which is Victorian Space Science Education Centre, and we took a group of students from the special development school I was working with, as well as a group of students from their neighbouring mainstream school, and we went together. It was a really nice experience, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of inclusive education, and we had these students working together on space and science experiments. For example, we did a challenge around the Mars Rover and how they could program that to navigate the surface of Mars, which is really cool.

Q. Tell us about your research.

Next Level Collaboration

Next Level Collaboration is the first research-informed social enterprise to come out of the University of Melbourne. It’s co-founded by myself and Jess Rowlings, who is the university’s first openly autistic female CEO.

The two of us have started running gaming groups based on my doctoral research, where we have groups of neurodivergent children playing cooperative games together and using this as a space for inclusion and social capacity building, but also as a space for us to develop leadership skills within the neurodivergent communities.

We actually hired adults who have lived experience of neurodivergence to run our programs, and that’s something that’s a real social driver for what we’re doing, and the idea of using gaming as a space -- it’s something that’s strength-based, something that’s of interest, and it’s something that I love doing as well.

So I get to run the programs, particularly our team program myself, and it’s just a really exciting emerging space for us, thinking about how we can make these social-capacity-building groups more meaningful for the young people we work with.

Neurodiversity Project

A really exciting project that we’re working on at the moment is going into schools and looking at how we can use technologies to remove barriers for neurodivergent students, and this is really exciting because we know there’s a lot of technologies being used in classrooms but we don’t really understand how it’s being used and whether or not it’s being effective for the young people who it’s intended to help. So it’s actually going in and asking students who are using these technologies, do you think it’s effective, do you not think it’s effective, what would you change? It’s getting that student voice, because I think that’s missing from the research – if you look at all the research, you’ll see we often ask the adults in the room, but we don’t ask the students -- so I think it’s a really nice complementary piece of research.

One of the greatest things about working at the University of Melbourne is that we have so many opportunities to shape and influence and hopefully help a lot of people, and the neurodiversity project is a really exciting project that’s across the university: it’s a piece of research translation, it’s how we can remove barriers for neurodivergent staff and students, and it’s a big piece of work. It’s looking at how we can make teaching and learning more inclusive for people who are neurodivergent, it’s how we can make our systems and processes more effective for people who have a lived experience of neurodivergence, and it’s really about how we can promote voice of our neurodivergent community right across the university, so it’s a whole lot of different research projects that really focus on that translation, making real changes for every person within our university.

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