What we’ve got here …

As the Chilean ash cloud wafts through Australian airspace for a second time, we’re all thrown back into the science of prediction. What will it do next? Nightly news footage of passengers sitting in grumpy heaps in airports has drawn an unusual degree of national attention to Darwin. It turns out that we have one of the world’s nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers right here in Australia, and they’ve been putting on their good shirts for the TV cameras night…

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WTF

I’m still brooding on Ben Wildavsky’s review of his trip to Australia for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Whenever a visitor says “Aussie” like he does, there’s a risk of a Bill Bryson moment. But this time the issue isn’t our wacky fauna, our laid-back attitude, or the many ways that Australian nature can kill you—it’s our acronyms. In a post-AUQA world, how will TEQSA make sensible use of the AQF, the ERA, the CEQ, the AUSSE, and perhaps the…

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Vertical thinking

The “education vertical” sounds a bit more thrilling than it is.  The first time you hear it, it seems to share the weird poetic syntax of “the body electric” and “the life everlasting”. It’s education, on an updraft. A bit of googling fishes up a turn of phrase that has more concrete aspirations. This vertical is both market and solution  (“Callista cracks open education vertical“) and it continues intermittently to appear in the promotional talk of software vendors and government procurement….

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Blank slate thinking

It seems we’ve made the decision to standardise our first year teaching mode to two hours of content delivery, with one hour weekly for class discussion.  At the moment, more than half teach in this way, but some disciplines offer shorter lectures and longer discussion.  It’s a classic bit of historical untidiness, like an uneven streetscape in an area destined for gentrification. Straightening this out will make our individual workloads easier to calibrate, and in turn this will make everything…

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Whatever

Musing on the news today that the Australian government has decided to scrap its distracting journal ranking scheme and look for other ways to tally up research quality outcomes across the sector, I found a colleague wandering the corridor and asked her what she thought. She works in a highly specialised research field, and has a strong commitment to research training right across the disciplines. This was her reaction: “Whatever.” And I think despite understandable levels of anger and frustration at…

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Tablets, tablets everywhere

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, VC at Robert Gordon University, is asking why universities have been relatively slow to mainstream the innovative teaching practices that will match the speedy uptake of mobile and tablet devices by their students.  As he puts it, technology-enabled learning shouldn’t be “the preserve of nerds”. The need to break out of the nerd enclave is critical for any institution hovering on the brink of committing to an enterprise-wide LMS contract. This is going to cost so much that…

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Open all hours

Ben Wildavsky has a message for Australian universities.  He’s the author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World, just out from Princeton U. Press. He’s keen to promote the benefits of free trade in higher education, not least of which is that “knowledge is not a zero sum game”, and that if we create more of it in one country, we don’t lose it in another. Somehow this is calling to mind the joke about…

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Houston, we need to talk about content

One of the features of Australian life that surprises visiting American students is that we’re watching the same movies and TV shows they just left back home, only with the neat variation that ours are seasons out of date. So they arrive at the airport having been told to expect novelties of all sorts (usually, some variation on kangaroos in the suburbs, laid-back anti-authoritarianism, a funny accent, and sharks), to find that they’ve stepped back in time to their own…

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Way, way down in the weeds

A colleague sent me a link to the coverage of a “senior US intelligence official” describing Osama bin Laden as a micromanager, a news story that’s probably clogging up inboxes all around global higher ed at the moment. This was the bit that caught my eye: “He was down in the weeds as far as best operatives, best targets, best timing.” “Down in the weeds” is a phrase we don’t hear much in Australia. Language Log has put together a lovely inventory…

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Online charlatans?

Today the Sydney Morning Herald has lent its editorial elbow to the effort to figure out whether online learning represents the end of traditional university teaching, in much the same way that the Buggles taught us back in the 70s that video killed the radio star. They way they tell it, defeat is inevitable: In cyberspace, the ivory towers of academia are undoubtedly crumbling. Thrilling stuff.  It’s like that middle section of The Lord of the Rings where everything has gone…

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