The Barbara Falk Award is an annual, University-wide teaching award that recognises overall teaching excellence in any of the following, or related, fields: Arts; Education; Law; and Music.
Recipients are acknowledged for their outstanding achievements across the various elements that constitute excellence in teaching in higher education: the inspiration and motivation they provide students; their contribution to the development of curricula and teaching and learning resources; the high quality practice in assessment of student learning; their respect for students as individuals; and the various ways in which their scholarly activities have influenced and enhanced learning and teaching.
The University confers up to three Excellence in Teaching Awards annually, normally one per named award.
About Barbara Falk
Dr Barbara Falk was a pioneer in university teaching development in Australia at a time when there was a widely-held view that academic staff did not need any professional preparation for their role as educators. It was soon after her appointment as senior lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s School
of Education in 1960 that Barbara developed and organised what was to eventually become known as the University Teaching Project (UTP) — a consultancy service designed to facilitate the improvement of teaching and learning at the University. Some years later the UTP was amalgamated with the University’s
Educational Research Office and the Visual Aids Department to form the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE), with Barbara as its foundation chairman (later director) – a position she held until her retirement in 1975.
Barbara Falk’s death on 21 October 2008 ended an association with the University of Melbourne that had begun some 80 years earlier when, in 1929, the 18 year-old Barbara Cohen (daughter of the Hon Harold Edward Cohen and Freda nee Pirani), having won a non-resident scholarship to Janet Clarke Hall,
began her undergraduate studies in the Arts Faculty. She graduated BA (hons) in 1933, and was awarded the Dwight Prize in history and political science.
Soon after completing her arts degree, Barbara travelled to the UK where she undertook postgraduate studies in sociology at the London School of Economics, completed a Diploma of Education at Oxford, and then worked as a psychotherapist while a student in the Department of Psychology at Oxford University.
After briefly studying child development at the Gesell Clinic of Child Development at Yale, Barbara returned to Oxford where she taught and carried out experimental work at the Oxford Child Guidance Clinic.
While in England Barbara met her future husband, Werner (David) Falk, whom she married in 1936. It was his acceptance of a position as Reader in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne that resulted in their return to Australia in 1950 (the couple separated in 1957 and David subsequently
lived in the USA).
After working as a remedial teacher at the Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School for two years, Barbara was principal of Mercer House, the Associated Teachers’ Training Institute, and during this time, represented the Victorian independent schools at the University of Melbourne’s Academic
Board. Then in 1960 she received an appointment as senior lecturer in education at the University, and soon afterwards began her innovative work in academic development. While head of the UTP Barbara involved staff and students in collaborative efforts to improve teaching and learning, at a time when
there was almost no systematic application of accepted theories of learning in institutions of higher education. Her work fulfilled a need identified in the Martin Report on Tertiary Education in Australia (1964) that the effective teaching of undergraduates was an ‘essential responsibility of a university’.
The model developed by Barbara, as well as leading to an increased understanding of the teaching process at the University of Melbourne, was adapted elsewhere in Australia and overseas.
Barbara was foundation chairman of the CSHE when it was established in March 1968, and continued as director, when in the year prior to her retirement, the Centre was established as a single department in the Faculty of Education. Under her leadership the CSHE continued the work of the UTP, as well
as undertaking educational research.
Barbara Falk retired in 1975 but her intellectual pursuits and achievements by no means came to a halt, nor did her association with the University of Melbourne, where she continued as a Principal Fellow in the Department of Historical Studies. She remained a familiar figure on campus, for as she acknowledged,
it was impossible for her to ‘spend a happy day without the expiation of work’. Attending her office almost daily, she continued with her own research, and contributed to departmental activities, including an orientation program for tutors.
In 1980 Barbara received the first doctorate of education (honoris causa) awarded by the University.
Barbara Falk had three children: her daughter Dr Anne Lloyd Thomas lives in England; elder son John Falk, a civil engineer, died in 2007; and younger son Professor James (Jim) Falk, is Director of the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Melbourne.
The research and development work undertaken by CSHE today continues that begun by Barbara Falk over four decades ago, and perhaps represents an appropriate memorial to her pioneering activities in the field of academic development.
Those who worked closely with Barbara remember her as a determined, strong-willed, politically alert, and feisty woman: characteristics that enabled her to survive, and succeed, in a male-dominated university environment. She was also someone whose numerous (usually unobtrusive) acts of kindness were
of much help to her colleagues, especially the younger members of staff. Many have benefited from her wisdom and advice.
Prepared by Dr Carole Hooper, Centre for the Study of Higher Education