Professor Ken Purnell, PhD

Learning and teaching 

Do you wish to help people learn?

    What makes someone a 'good' teacher? 

    Education students commencing their studies often give quite fascinating responses to this question. Often a recipe list of characteristics is provided. A story then unfolds that if someone has, or develops, most of these ingredients, in the right mix, then they can be a 'good' teacher.  Is that true? 

    As a parent teaching your child, as a young person teaching another young person, as a teacher teaching grade 4, as a coach coaching their netball team, as a business person stimulating the thinking of staff, or as a university professor teaching postgraduate students, what makes you a 'good' teacher?  Sometimes you may be very successful at teaching (leading the learning of other people and/or yourself), sometimes you may not. So while humans are natural born teachers, to be a professional teacher with significant expertise requires considerable knowledge and skill in key areas such as teaching (especially pedagogy), assessment and curriculum (see Figure 1).

    Figure 1: Learning through purposeful design

    Learning experiences to assist the brain to learn (form new neurological pathways) as well as unlearn (prune some pathways). Learning experiences that involve cognitions, behaviour and emotions are most brain-compatible. Key elements of learning design are pedagogy (the science and art of teaching), assessment and curriculum (and other inputs such as resources).

    Professional teachers usually have substantive professional knowledge and practice that draws upon quality contemporary evidence-based research as well as relevant policy and learning priorities. Teacher behaviours in learning environments are critical. 

    What teachers KNOW and DO is the biggest single variable in learning (Bantick, 2010; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; DEST, 2005). For example, DEST  (2005, p. 21) stated that “highly effective teachers and their professional learning do make a difference in the classroom. It is not so much what students bring with them from their backgrounds, but what they experience on a day-to-day basis in interaction with teachers and other students that matters”. In a nutshell: Quality learning is directly related to quality teaching - where quality teachers focus on the priority of achieving learning gains with students using their informed professional knowledge, skills and dispositions (Purnell & Muldoon, 2012). A  website with contemporary information on evidenced-based education is The Wing Institute.

    Student interest can be as important as their capabilities (Athanasou, 2008). Having hard goals has the greatest impact on learning as they focus attention, and increase persistence at a task. Research has also shown that do-your-best goals are little better than having no goals at all (Sadler, 2014).

    • Important things that teachers do to lead learning is get learners to PAY ATTENTION to what matters and ignore what doesn't, and to get learners to LOOK FOR DIFFERENCE (compare and contrast).

      Ken's background in education

      Dip.Teach, B.Ed. (Distinction) (Sydney), M.A. (Hons) (Western Michigan), Ph.D. (UNSW)

      CQUniversity Australia 1991 to present.  Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching)  2003 - 2007, Head of School of Education & Innovation  2000 -  2006

      St. Andrew's Cathedral School, Sydney until end of 1990


          • 2014 Outstanding Alumni Western Michigan University - see story at CQU and The Bulletin

          President of WMU, John Dunn with Ken    President of WMU, John Dunn with Ken with Award on 19 October 2014

          • Geographical Society of NSW Prize for Highest GPA
          • Graduated with Distinction in BEd with high GPA
          • Graduate with Honours in MA with straight A's - highest GPA possible

          Professional associations and professional appointments

            For the State of Queensland K-12
            • Queensland Studies Authority P-12 Curriculum Committee representing Queensland universities 2005 – 2014
            • Queensland Studies Authority combined meetings of P-12 Curriculum Committee with the Assessment and Moderation Committee 2005 – 2014
            • Queensland Studies Authority State Review Panel for Economics from 1997 - present - including A/Chair 2017
            • Expert consultant for Queensland Studies Authority Senior assessment 1995 - present
            • Member of QCAA Learning Area Reference Group (LARG) for new Senior Assessment System 2016 - 2018
            • Member of the Governing Authority, Queensland Board of Senior Secondary School Studies (QBSSSS) - now QCAA. Appointed by the Minister of Education to represent Queensland universities 1992-1995
            • Member of the Queensland Moderation Committee 1992 - 1995
            • Evaluator for the delegation from VETEC to the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies for vocational education and training 1997-1998 
            • Chief Evaluator for the State to Queensland of the Studies of Society and Environment, Geography, History, and Civics and Citizenship syllabuses, Sourcebook modules, Sourcebook guidelines and Initial inservice materials. 1998 - 2000
            For the Australian Government
            Chief evaluator of School to work in rural and remote areas involving Queensland, of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory 1998 – 2000
            ACARA expert panel for the Australian Curriculum: Geography Foundation to Year 10   2010 to 2012
            Journal appointments
            • Geographical Education editor 2001 - 2014
            • Chief Editor, Commission for Geographical Education June 2006 Conference Proceedings (approximately 100 refereed papers from around the world were published in the Proceedings)
            • International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education (IRGEE) reviewer 2005 to  present 
            • Australian Journal of Environmental Education (AJE) reviewer 2005 to present
            • International Journal of Instruction (IJI 2010 to present
            • Journal of Global Education and Research (JGER) 2016 to present
            • Neurotransmitters and Brain Studies 2017 to present
            Other professional appointments
            • Chair of the Taranganba State School Council (approximately 800 students) 2000 - 2007
            • Member North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre Council representing CQUniversity 1998 - 2012
            • Priority Country Area Program (PCAPPreservice Teacher Education Forum member 2002 - 2012
            • Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) Panel for Program Approval 2006 -2008
            • Male Teacher Strategy Reference Group of Education Queensland for the Minister of Education (subsequently State Premier), Brisbane 2002-2005
            • Member of the Organising Committee for the Commission for Geographical Education June 2006 Conference 
            • Education and Training Reforms for the Future (ETRFManagement Group, Rockhampton, representing CQUniversity  2003 - 2005
            • CQ A New Millennium Steering Committee representing CQUniversity on this  industry and government body 2003 - 2006
            • Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE representing CQUniversity 2004 - 2005

              Central Queensland University

                  • Associate Dean Learning & Teaching (2003 to 2007)
                  • Head of School of Education (2000 to 2006)
                  • Chair, CQU HREC (Human Research Ethics Committee – Chair 2001 to 2007 and a member since 1997 - Deputy-chair 1997 - 2000)
                  • Chair, Learning and Teaching Research Grants Committee (2004 to 2006)
                  • Chair, Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Awards Selection Committee (2004 to 2006)
                  • Academic Board (elected member) (2003 to 2007)
                  • Chair Faculty Education Committee (FEC) for the Faulty of Arts, Humanities and Education (2003 to 2007)
                  • Chair, Faculty Assessment Committee (2003 to 2007)
                  • Program Review Group (PRG) (2003 to 2008)
                  • Education Committee of Academic Board (ECAB) (2003 to 2007)
                  • Associate Deans Learning & Teaching committee (2003 to 2007)
                  • Heads of Schools committee (2000 to 2006)
                  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education Executive Group (2000 to 2007)
                  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education Research Committee (2006 to 2007)
                  • Bachelor of Learning Management Governance Committee (2000 to 2007)
                  • Bachelor of Learning Management Management Committee (2000 to 2007)
                  • Chair, Criteria for Supporting Students Working Party (2005)
                  • Member Student Learning Journey Committee (2005 to 2006)
                  • Member Assessment Working Party (2006)
                  • Member Program and Course Approval Policy Working Party (2006)
                  • Chair, School of Education Working Party (2011 to 2012)
                  • Acting Dean of Education and Creative Arts at various times 2000 to 2007 and Acting Dean of Education and the Arts during December 2013 and January 2014 

                Business background involved seven family companies including Purnell Motors in Sydney.  Ken's father, Norm (b.1905 d.1984), founded that company in 1951.

                Page updated May 2018