Ilma Brewer (deceased)

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Dr. Ilma Brewer was elected an Honorary Life Membership in recognition of her research and development activities in the teaching of science. Ilma has had a distinguished career as researcher, academic and teacher. Born in Sydney, she entered Sydney University at 16. For her work on the ecology of the central coastal area of N.S.W. she was awarded a D.Sc. at the age of 27, being only the third Australian woman to achieve this distinction. (She also achieved the distinction of having her doctoral thesis, completed in 1942, impounded by the Army for security reasons!). In 1943 she became a lecturer in Ecology. 

 Dr. Brewer married a member of General MacArthur's staff during the war and moved to the U.S.A., but returned with her husband to Sydney in 1948 where her two sons were subsequently born. 

 Dr, Brewer re-entered the academic world in 1957 as a demonstrator in Botany at Sydney University and by 1968 had been Lecturer in Charge variously of first year Botany and Biology and had thus experienced the teaching and learning problems inherent in large classes. In 1968 she was lecturing in Plant Anatomy, a second year subject, when she met Professor Samuel N. Postlethwait and immediately became fired by the possibilities of his audio-tutorial approach as an alternative to traditional learning methods. She visited him at Purdue University shortly after this, and in 1969 she persuaded the Vice Chancellor to give her a special grant for the setting up of an audio visual individualised Learning Centre in the Botany School for teaching and learning in Plant Anatomy . 

 In a short 8 weeks of very hard work, Dr. Brewer bought equipment, set it up and wrote instructional modules for the subject . This system of independent study in carrels using taped programs and a variety of visual material allowed the lecturer time for contact with students in the laboratory on their individual problems. 

 In 1972 Dr. Brewer refined this instructional system by introducing regular interactive group meetings as part of the planned learning strategy, in order to encourage students to use the material as well as acquiring knowledge. By 1974 her investigations into the teaching of the subject had extended to an evaluation of the match between the levels of cognitive abilities overtly specified in the subject and the actual requirements of the examination. This led to changes in the exams to eliminate recall, which had previously accounted for 80% of available marks, and its replacement with questions designed to test the ability of students to think critically. The result of these changes was both to increase the level of achievement of students (the failure rate fell to less than 5%) and to develop their problem solving skills. 

 Dr. Brewer retired in 1978 from her senior lecture ship in the School of Biological Sciences at Sydney University. She is currently an Honorary Research Affiliate in the Department of Anatomy and is involved in collating various aspects of the research on self-directed indepen dent study and small group teaching which has been carried out in the Audio Visual Learning Centre of the Botany Department since 1969. Her publications encompass her interests in botany, educational processes and the use of AV media. · 

 Dr. Brewer is a significant pioneer in the systematic development of individualised self directed learning at the tertiary level in this country. Her enthusiasm for what she so competently achieved in those years and her accessibility and unfailing graciousness towards the many curious and interested people who came to investigate it remain an inspiration for those of us who see themselves as stimulating educational change and for all members of HERDSA.