ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 2, Spring 2011

Research bites

The inaugural Competitive Research Symposium was recently held to showcase the quality and variety of research being conducted at ACU. From more than 70 applications, 11 academics competed in the finals with three winners declared. Here is a sample of the research on show...

Professor Sandy Middleton
2011 Winner ACU Competitive Research Symposium

Professor Sandy Middleton's study into acute stroke care has made discoveries which could vastly advance stroke patient care, and reduce death, disability and dependency.

In the first nurse-led, large stroke cluster, randomised control trial undertaken in Australia, Professor Middleton's research involved 19 acute stroke units and more than 2,000 patients.

Her challenge was to determine whether outcomes in the 90 days following a stroke would improve with evidence-based clinical treatment for fever, hyperglycaemia and swallowing dysfunction. These results were combined with team-building workshops and a standardised interactive staff education program.

Professor Elizabeth Warren
Second runner-up

Professor Elizabeth Warren's study into representations, oral language and engagement in mathematics (RoleM) in the Indigenous community has led to the development of new techniques for teaching mathematics. These incorporate Indigenous perspectives and culturally appropriate learning activities and resources.

The project, conducted with Eva de Vries, is returning positive results in developing understanding by Indigenous students of mathematical representations and the language of mathematics.

"The overall aim of this longitudinal project is to develop new knowledge about teaching strategies and learning resources that effectively increase the number of young Indigenous students with Western mathematics skills at an early age," Professor Warren said.

Dr Noah Riseman

Dr Noah Riseman is examining the experiences of Australian Indigenous service personnel and veterans from 1946 to 2003 within the context of changing notions of race, civil rights and Australian national identity.

Studying both archival documents and oral history interviews, Dr Riseman is working to create a picture of the involvement and experiences of Indigenous service personnel.

"The project examines not just their time in service but also their entire life stories," Dr Riseman said. "We're looking for the wider ramifications for those who served, the impact on their families, on their Indigenous community, on the wider Australian community and national identity."

Dr Jack Frawley

What impact does bilingual teaching have on mathematical learning? This is the question being posed by Dr Jack Frawley in his research project Riel Maths.

The students being observed are in their early school years (in 2009 they were in Year 1), and attend several schools in the Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia. The four-year study seeks to show that ethnic minority students attending schools where both the mother tongue and national language are the languages of instruction are at an advantage in terms of mathematical growth compared with ethnic minority students attending Khmer (national language) schools.

Riel Maths is one of three projects conducted by CARE Cambodia to evaluate its bilingual education program, which works to promote access to appropriate and relevant education for marginalised children.

Dr Douglas Whyte

Fatigue is a common feature of everyday life, but what is it actually good for? In collaboration with Victoria University and Charles Sturt University, Dr Douglas Whyte is seeking to discover what role the brain plays in fatigue.

Dr Whyte suggests fatigue is an integral part of exercise regulation – used by our bodies to modulate exercise intensity in order to maintain homeostasis. It is also a common symptom of many physical and psychological conditions.

"Understanding how different stressors impact various organ systems within the body and how this in turn alters the interaction between these systems is crucial to understanding how the disease process affects the body as a whole," Dr Whyte said.

Understanding the role of the brain in fatigue may not only assist athletes improve performance, but also provide a clearer idea of the disease process, and enable the development and improvement of specifically targeted therapies as well as coping.

Professor Kim Walker

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is the single largest preventable cause of death in hospitalised patients. However, an internal audit at St Vincent's Private Hospital has found that only 50 per cent of at-risk patients receive appropriate care.

Professor Kim Walker and Clinical Research Fellow Jed Duff are working with multidisciplinary teams at the hospital to implement evidence-based guidelines for VTE, or blood clot, prevention.

To tackle the problem, several projects aiming to change clinician behaviour have been conducted over the past four years. The ongoing projects have resulted in a significant improvement in patient care.

"VTE is an international priority area in healthcare as it is not as well managed as it should be," Professor Walker said. "This reality led us to develop a series of projects over time as a clear strategy to address the problem at St Vincent's Private Hospital."

Associate Professor Karen Page
First runner-up

The rate of depression in heart attack patients is around 45 per cent, and at least 10 per cent of those patients exhibit major depression.

Research shows these patients are less likely to engage in secondary prevention.

Associate Professor Karen Page is working with a number of experts to improve depression and anxiety screening in hospitals.

"Depression is a significant risk factor for the development of heart disease," she said. "But in addition to this, if there is ongoing depression, you are more likely to return to hospital with another heart attack within six to 12 months of your first event."

The project significantly improved depression and anxiety screening in the test group, and led to improved documentation and inpatient care.

Professor Maureen Walsh

The development of Web 2.0 technology (which allows anyone to create and share information online) and digital-based texts has created a new communication context for students and the need for variety in education. Professor Maureen Walsh along with the Catholic Education Office (CEO) Sydney examined the need for effective literacy learning to combine traditional teaching methods with current digital techniques.

"Digital and multimedia technology have changed the way we communicate so that reading and writing can often combine the simultaneous processing of text, images, sound and movement," Professor Walsh said.

The results of the study are already having positive effects on the research and teaching communities, and have been published internationally. CEO Sydney, and other schools and teachers involved in the trial, have used the results to form their literacy strategy. ACU Faculty of Education staff and students have also been kept informed of the research.

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