National teaching award winner believes in “being there” for her students

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A Melbourne-based Monash University academic has been presented the prestigious 2023 Australian University Teacher of the Year award for her outstanding contributions to teaching excellence.

Associate Professor Zala Volcic runs the Bachelor of Media and Communication degree (BMC) at the university’s School of Media, Film, and Journalism (MFJ) and has been recognised nationally for an exceptional record of advancing student learning, educational leadership and scholarly contribution to learning and teaching.

The awards were presented at the Universities Australia Solutions Summit in Canberra on Monday 26 February.

Deep connections and limitless potential

As the Director of Teaching Innovation within the Faculty of Arts, Associate Professor Volcic brings a wealth of expertise to her role, particularly in media studies.

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At a time when it has become crucially important to understand and respond to dramatic changes in the media environment, her significant and distinctive contributions to teaching media theory and practice have been highly regarded by her students and colleagues.

Associate Professor Volcic says her teaching philosophy is rooted in a commitment to democratic media institutions and practices, largely informed by her own experience living through and studying media propaganda during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

“My teaching is devoted to building the deep sense of connection to the richness of human cultural achievements: for one another, for the range of human achievements and their limitless potential, for a better society and world,” Associate Professor Volcic says.

Associate Professor Zala Volcic, Monash University

“Teaching for me has always been about strengthening a sense of community and inquiry in the classroom. In the field of media studies, I provide our students with a rigorous combination of theory, history, and hands-on practice while expanding their intellectual horizons through interactions with each other, educators, and media industry partners.”

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It’s a teaching approach that, she says, helps foster a sense of “being there for the students”, as well as “recognising education as a relational endeavour where students develop and thrive within learning communities, shaped by in-class experiences and assessment practices that nurture their thinking and reflection”.

University celebrates multiple award-winners

Three other Monash academics were also honoured with teaching awards as a recognition for their outstanding contributions at the Summit in Canberra, including Dr Lisa Powell and Dr Jess Co (Monash Business School, and Dr Filippe Oliveira (Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences).

Monash University Vice-Chancellor and President Sharon Pickering congratulated Associate Professor Volcic on her award and what she describes as “well-deserved recognition” for her commitment to teaching, and her ability to build a sense of community in the classroom and beyond.

“Associate Professor Volcic has been an international leader in bringing together the fields of media studies and intercultural education, pioneering a model that balances flexible, empathic teaching with rigorous academic expectations,” Vice-Chancellor Professor Pickering says.

“She goes above and beyond to ensure her students receive the best possible educational experience – from nurturing a sense of belonging to cultivating strong relationships with industry partners.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]