Blue skies, nothing but blue skies

Last week we were all invited to a meeting to engage in “blue sky thinking” in relation to the future positioning of the university, and our Faculty in particular. While this made some colleagues testy, for all sorts of reasons, I thought it was potentially worth a try—although also ambitious to imagine that a largish group of people who don’t get many opportunities to meet and talk would be able to come up with big ideas that are both achieveable…

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Letting ourselves go?

A Canadian study of health issues affecting early career academics suggests that they may be sacrificing physical exercise in order to try to secure an inside lane position on the cinder track that leads to tenure. The study hints that if they’re doing this, they’re “letting themselves go”, and the point is touchingly made with an illustration of a bulging (male) waistline. Remedies include taking part in a charity fun run or “park[ing] your car far away to get a little…

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Online learning in the iron triangle

We’re hearing from every direction that online learning is going to be the solution to the coming bricks and mortar shortage. This week, Swinburne DVC(A) Shirley Leitch writes that: If we are to meet the target of 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds holding a bachelor degree by 2025, we need to move beyond bricks and mortar to learner-centred solutions. I’m not so sure that these two things are simple opposites.  My daughter is at the stage…

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Bursting point

There’s a conversation building about whether we’re wise to look at higher education through the lens of the economy, given that nothing much looks good through the bottom of that dirty glass. Markets achieve extraordinary results using the levers and pulleys of scarcity, rivalry and desire, but this volatility doesn’t always help the big public institutions that deliver other kinds of social and cultural benefits, like education. So we half-protect these familiar institutions of public life from the market in…

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Waiting to engage

‘Student engagement’ is a feel-good term.  We don’t really know what it is, but we want more of it. Like anything we want more of, we need to think of ways of measuring it, so that we can check that we’re tracking in the right direction. In Australia and New Zealand, we measure it with the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE), which matches closely and deliberately to the US National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), so that we can…

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Who’s we, white man?

There’s an old joke that comes to mind a bit too frequently in current circumstances. After riding together through many adventures, having taken it in turns to rescue one another from certain death, The Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick Tonto are finally surrounded by hundreds of Indians, whooping and hollering (it’s an old joke).  The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto with an arrow through his hat and says, “What do we do now, old friend?” To which Tonto sensibly…

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Tryin’ to keep the customer satisfied

Listening to a presentation on student satisfaction survey results recently, I felt a sort of ambivalent sympathy with the administrative colleague whose job it is to assure students that we’re committed to ‘closing the feedback loop’, so that they can feel that their efforts in filling out our surveys result in meaningful action. ‘Closing the feedback loop’ is considered the acme of good practice, but it’s also the Everest of communication challenges. It relies on persuading everyone involved that ‘we’…

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Universities are not very agile

I’ve been in conversation with a number of colleagues about whether or not academics are “resistant to change”.  This claim was included quite casually in a document written to explain to external stakeholders the kinds of characteristics they would expect to see in a university community. Students are experimental, technical staff are skilled, and academics are … resistant to change. Obviously, at one level this is just annoying.

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