Exploring drama, education and technology.
By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
The argument that the government has muddied its education message by cutting university funding as part of its package to boost schools spending has been reinforced by polling today from Essential Research.
Asked about the Gonski recommendations in general, 62% approve and only 18% oppose. This is just marginally weaker support than Essential found in July last year (65%).
But people are much more split when asked whether they approve of the government plan to “implement the Gonski recommendations by providing substantially increased funding for public schools, some increased funding for private schools and some reduction in funding for universities”.
Only 40% approved while 43% disapproved. Six in ten Labor voters approved while almost six in ten Coalition voters disapproved.
Those on higher incomes were more likely than average to disapprove of the trade-off package. Of those earning $600-$1600 a week, 47% approved, and 37% disapproved, while of people earning more than $1600, 36% approved and 50% disapprove.
This is the background against which Julia Gillard is trying to sign up a critical mass of states and territories before June 30.
At a community forum of swinging voters tonight in the Melbourne marginal Labor seat of Deakin, Gillard was asked four questions about education – and two of them focused on the university cuts.
Recalling that she first raised her voice as an activist in protest against Malcolm Fraser’s tertiary education cuts, she said if she were a vice-chancellor she would be complaining too. But all universities would still be getting more funds.
While the government is taking stick over the tertiary cuts, Tony Abbott has made it clear they would not be reversed by him.
On the schools package generally, the opposition’s strategy is to create as much trouble and uncertainty as possible between now and the deadline. After that, if Gillard succeeds in getting several government on side, the Coalition is likely to roll itself into a small target. It does not want school funding to be a big issue in the run up to the September 14 election.
At this stage of the debate, the Coalition is constantly sending out mixed signals. Tony Abbott dodged questions at the weekend of how the Coalition would react if Gillard got the states on board.
But Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said today that if a new funding model was overwhelmingly across the states “we won’t seek to unpick that”.
It remains unclear where the key premiers of NSW, Victoria and Queensland will finally come down. With all the current talk about long term budget deficit problems one would imagine the temptation must be great for them to take the federal money, even though they have to stump up some themselves. They are not going to get as good a deal from Tony Abbott, and they don’t have anything obvious to lose.
The federal Liberals would not be surprised if these premiers adopted this attitude.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
By Stewart Riddle, University of Southern Queensland
But if these advocates were talking about rejecting advances over the past sixty years in medicine, no one would take them seriously. So why then is it acceptable to champion simplistic and archaic methods when it comes to education?
We should never, and in fact we cannot, return to the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic for a couple of very simple reasons.
First, the world is not the same as it was in the 1950s, and the kinds of employment and life opportunities that young people will be facing when they leave our schools are immeasurably different to those of their grandparents and parents.
Second, the enormous impacts of technologies on our lives must be taken into account. The wringing of hands, lamenting the poor grammar and spelling of young people, and calling for a return to the basics simply does not reflect the fact that the world has moved on.
A large body of research into how changing times and new technologies require new literacies has been informing a much broader approach to literacy teaching and learning in our schools.
This does not mean that reading and writing are abandoned. On the contrary, it means that reading and writing are expanded far beyond the limited literacy of printed books and paper to a much more diverse range of texts and information on computers, smart phones, e-books, and the like.
The 3 Rs will not help young people to use computers efficiently, search the internet and access electronic texts for information and then have effective tools to analyse, critique and synthesise that information. Nor will a “back-to-basics” approach prepare our young people for an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, where adaptability to change, resilience and innovation are going to be more important than whether they can use cursive handwriting or remember their times tables.
There is no doubt that Australia has slipped in its comparative performance on some international standardised tests, including the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). These results have been discussed extensively in the education community.
However, making reductionist calls for a return to some fabled “good old days” ignores the dangers of relying on simple standardised performance measurements to assess complex social issues.
Definitions of literacy have undergone radical transformations over the last century. In 1913, literacy would have been defined as the reading (decoding) and writing (encoding) of written/printed text, and judgements of literacy levels would be made according to this simple definition.
In 2013, this definition no longer has relevance for the complex and hybrid forms of expression and meaning making that new technologies make possible.
Interestingly, while literacy has seemed to be in perpetual crisis, over that same time, our capacities for communicating with other people have not diminished. Indeed, more than ever before, literacy is seen as an inherently social practice rather than a discrete set of skills.
Measuring the complexities of literacy through blunt standardised instruments such as those used in the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an impossible task, given the pencil and paper nature of the tests being at odds with technologies-infused experiences of young people.
Given the likelihood that we will have a coalition government come September, it seems timely to consider a couple of the main arguments presented by Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne.
Under a coalition government, the focus would be shifted towards bringing back traditional teacher-centred approaches and values, with an emphasis on didactic methods, knowledge valued over skills, and traditional curriculum returning to the classroom.
The very notion of values in education is troubling as it conjures up questions of whose values? Furthermore, the rejection of decades of rigorous education research in order to embrace outmoded methods seems ridiculous.
On the question of prizing knowledge over skills, one only has to consider the information processing power of the humble smart phone sitting in our pockets or bags, which contains the capacity to access more information than we could ever hope to store in our memory by rote learning, to see the pointlessness in such a cause.
This debate in fact brings to mind the allegory of the Sabre-tooth Curriculum – a story which is often brought up during teacher training.
Just as it was ridiculous for the wise old men to insist on sabre-tooth tiger-scaring after all the tigers died out, it is absurd for us to consider returning to a mythical golden era of education.
Stewart Riddle is affiliated with the English Teachers’ Association of Queensland and the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association.
“There are many lessons here, some of which apply directly to you as a learning leader.
1. Educational institutions need and want closer relationships with business to drive their own transformation. You, as an employer, should meet with local universities and schools, and help them understand your workforce needs.
2. Massive open online courses will transform education. You, as a corporate learning leader, can access these courses at little to no cost.
3. We can’t wait for schools and universities to build the skills we need. Learning investments are more important than ever, and this means a strong focus on talent-driven learning programs, talent management, assessment and developing a total corporate learning culture.
4. Skill development expertise is the new arsenal for business success. If you don’t take the time, spend the money or learn how to build world-class development programs, you will not be able to compete. There is no real war for talent; there is a war for skills, and there’s no better way to win the war than to build your arsenal internally.” from http://clomedia.com/articles/view/the-educational-mismatch
The combative language is awful and highlights that educational transformation is being quite rapidly co-opted by the short-term and short-sighted economic rationalism of corporations. What happens when their needs change? What happens to the expertise in subjects that lose short-term favour – when an archaeology or philsophy program is closed somewhere how will it ever be re-established?
This is dangerous rhetoric indeed and everyone with children and a vision of the future needs to look at what conditions will map to a positive future.
Tie this with the push from big publishing to start dictating and controlling educational delivery and you start to see the potential for a very uncritical, politically amoral and market driven edcuation systems… starting with changes in higher ed and slowly infiltrating K-12…
Revisit this documentary (The Corporation) if you need reminding of just how indifferent those entitities are to ther needs of the world and its people:
By John Crossley, Monash University
When it comes to PhD graduates, it’s clear that supply now far outstrips demand. It used to be that doing a PhD almost guaranteed you an academic position but now, any guarantees are long gone.
My own experience suggests that only around half of PhD graduates are employed in some kind of academic work, even if it is part-time or casual.
But should this mean it’s time for prospective PhD students to make their expectations more reasonable? And if so, who decides what’s reasonable?
These questions seem to have been sadly neglected. In The Conversation recently, current PhD student Jenni Metcalfe wrote about the many students who finish their PhD only to discover positions and opportunities are limited: “Why did no-one tell them about the real employment situation before they started?”
But surely the problem is different. One senior academic recently wrote to me: “The problem that I am left with is that I still don’t know what PhD students should expect. We don’t really know where they go.”
The German experience could represent one useful example. Most German PhDs go out into the workforce, and many of the scientific ones going into sophisticated manufacturing industries.
Very few become professors – and the norm to become a full professor is to write another, grander thesis, the Habilitation, for another, higher degree.
So in Australia, why do PhD graduates expect to go straight into an academic job?
It seems to have a lot to do with a legacy left over from the days when few people did a PhD.
In those days, about fifty years ago, only about 10% of the population did a university degree at all. To put this in perspective, the government is now striving for 40%.
So, in those days, the fit between PhDs and academic positions was much closer.
In the intervening years more and more people took first degrees, more and more took Masters, and more and more took PhDs. At the same time the student to academic staff ratio steadily – and sometimes not so steadily – increased.
In 1970, it was about ten or twelve students to one academic. Nowadays that number is around 20.
The nature of the population did not change – evolution is a slow process – and the top 1% of the population are just as academically bright as they ever were. Admittedly there are something like twice as many people in Australia now, but the student population has been multiplied eight times, not just twice, and that is not counting overseas students.
The nature of the education process has also, inevitably, changed.
First, consider the undergraduate situation. It may be élitist to talk about the “top” students, but whatever measure one may use, taking the top 40% rather than the top 10% inevitably means that the standards over the whole cohort must be lower.
So it is not unreasonable that there are many who claim, and bemoan, a decline in standards.
In my view, there has been a shift from education to training in our universities. I have no problem with sending well-trained people out into the workforce – it benefits the country. What I do have a problem with is the assumption that all 40% should be capable of the same level as the top 10%.
Now consider the PhD cohort. The number of such students has also risen, both as a proportion of first-degree numbers and also because of overseas student numbers. In particular, a far greater proportion of the Australian population takes a PhD than in the 1970s.
Academic positions have not increased at the same rate. So now the Australian PhD graduate faces more competition, from fellow Australians as well as overseas graduates.
The universities, despite the efforts of their careers officers, have failed to provide appropriate direction to their PhD graduates and they cannot provide employment opportunities for all the present PhD graduates. Business and industry, not forgetting government, which is a large employer, must also take responsibility for not taking on those with PhDs.
The complaint that someone is “over qualified” does not wash. If someone wants a job, and is prepared to work at a certain level, then there is certainly a question of appropriate remuneration, but that should be for the work done, not just the qualifications held.
Finally, universities haven’t been clear about what a qualification stands for. The PhD is differentiated only by the supervisor(s), the reports of the examiners and the standard of the institution where it was obtained.
It is not simply a question of having a PhD that makes one a leader but the education that was received in the process of getting that PhD.
So what are the solutions? One need is for greater awareness, on the parts of both universities and government, business and industry, of the merits of having a PhD.
And that the skills inculcated are transferable: the study of one particular species, or one kind of material, or one style of theory should make the PhD graduate able to apply the skills learned to other areas.
Secondly, there is a need for a differentiation of PhD quality. This is already under way, even though many academics do not like it.
At the moment, this is being done by rankings but of course most rankings, when examined closely, are unreliable – the main temptation is to look only at items for which one can give a number. However, they evolve over time and few would disagree with the relative rankings of institutions they know, provided they are not ranked close together.
Throughout my career (guiding over twenty PhD students to graduate) I have always recommended that people only do a PhD if there is nothing they would rather do.
Economic imperatives intrude on this nowadays, but if students knew what to expect after their PhD, surely that would help. We cannot stand by like Miss Havisham and put the responsibility on others.
It is our responsibility as academics – though government, business and industry also have an important role – to help PhD graduates understand find their path.
John Crossley is an Emeritus Professor at Monash University.
This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.
Universities drive a knowledge economy, generate new ideas and teach people how to think critically. Anything other than strong investment in them will likely harm Australia.
But as Australian politicians are preparing to reform the university sector, there is an opportunity to take a closer look at the large and powerful university bureaucracy.
Adam Smith argued it would be preferable for students to directly pay academics for their tuition, rather than involve university bureaucrats. In earlier times, Oxford dons received all tuition revenue from their students and it’s been suggested that they paid between 15% and 20% for their rooms and administration. Subsequent central collection of tuition fees removed incentives for teachers to teach and led to the rise of the university bureaucracy.
Today, the bureaucracy is very large in Australian universities and only one third of university spending is allocated to academic salaries.
Across all the universities in Australia, the average proportion of full-time non-academic staff is 55%. This figure is relatively consistent over time and by university grouping (see graph below).
Australia is not alone as data for the United Kingdom shows a similar staffing profile with 48% classed as academics. A recent analysis of US universities’ spending argues:
Boards of trustees and presidents need to put their collective foot down on the growth of support and administrative costs. Those costs have grown faster than the cost of instruction across most campuses. In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate – executives would lose their jobs.
We know universities employ more non-academics than academics. But, of course, “non-academic” is a heterogeneous grouping. Many of those classified as “non-academic” directly produce academic outputs, but this rubs both ways with academics often required to produce bureaucratic outputs.
An explanation for this strange spending allocation is that academics desire a large bureaucracy to support their research efforts and for coping with external regulatory requirements such as the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).
Another explanation is that university bureaucracies enjoy being big and engage in many non-academic transactions to perpetuate their large budget and influence.
The theory to support the latter view came from Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a naval historian who studied the workings of the British civil service. While not an economist, he had great insight into bureaucracy and suggested:
There need be little or no relationship between the work to be done and the size of the staff to which it may be assigned.
Parkinson’s Law rests on two ideas: an official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and, officials make work for each other. Inefficient bureaucracy is likely not restricted to universities but pervades government and non-government organisations who escape traditional market forces.
Using Admiralty Statistics for the period between 1934 and 1955, Parkinson calculated a mean annual growth rate of spending on bureaucrats to be 5.9%. The top ten Australian research universities between 2003 and 2010 report mean annual growth in spending on non-academic salary costs of 8.8%. After adjusting for inflation the annual growth rate is 5.9%.
The American economist William A. Niskanen considered the organisation of bureaucracies and proposed a budget maximising model now influential in public choice theory. It stated that rational bureaucrats will “always and everywhere seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their own power.”
An unfettered bureaucracy was predicted to grow to twice the size of a comparable firm that faces market discipline, incurring twice the cost. Some insight and anecdotal evidence to support this comes from a recent analysis of the paperwork required for doctoral students to progress from admission to graduation at an Australian university.
In that analysis, the two authors of this article (Clarke and Graves) found that 270 unique data items were requested on average 2.27 times for 13 different forms. This implies the bureaucracy was operating at more than twice the size it needs to. The university we studied has since slimmed down the process.
Further costs from a large bureaucracy arise because academics are expected to participate in activities initiated by the bureaucracy. These tend to generate low or zero academic output. Some academics also adopt the behaviour of bureaucrats and stop or dramatically scale back their academic work.
The irony is that those in leadership positions, such as heads of departments, are most vulnerable, yet they must have been academically successful to achieve their position.
Evidence of this can be seen from the publication statistics of the professors who are heads of schools among nine of the top ten Australian research universities. Between 2006 and 2011, these senior academics published an average of 1.22 papers per year per person as first author.
This level of output would not be acceptable for an active health researcher at a professor, associate professor or even lecturer level.
The nine heads of school are likely tied up with administrative tasks, and hence their potential academic outputs are lost to signing forms, attending meetings and pushing bits of paper round their university.
If spending on the costs of employing non-academics could be reduced by 50% in line with a Niskanen level of over-supply, universities could employ additional academic staff. A further boost to productivity could be expected as old and new staff benefit from a decrease in the amount of time they must dedicate to bureaucratic transactions.
If all Australian universities adopted the staffing profile of the “Group of 8” institutions, which have the highest percentage of academics (at 51.6%), there would have been up to nearly 6,500 extra academics in 2010.
While no economist would question the need for some administration, there needs to be a focus on incentives to ensure efficient operation. It’s possible to run a tight ship in academic research as shown by Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
In 2009, Trounson pledged to spend less than 6% of revenues on administration costs, a figure that is better than most firms competing in markets. So far, this commitment has been met.
It’s clear then that finding solutions to problems in modern Australian universities calls for a better understanding of economics and a reduction in bureaucracy.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
I’m currently working in a university as an eLearning Advisor – charged with bringing a shift towards more effective application of quality pedgagogy and the unbiquitous tools for learning that exist in our digital landscape.
Here as more of a lurker than a doer, looking at the structures and models that the #ETMOOC is employing.
In reality, I’m still a drama teacher at heart… with the emphasis on drama as a process of learning rather than as vehicle for producing theatre.
I’m married to an outrageously clever librarian who’s working in what might be called the “disability sector” – probably one of the few totally digital librarians in the country. I’m dad to two amazingly challenging daughters aged 1 and 3.
A tragic sci-fi and fantasy fan… Dr Who is one of my current obsessions.
Self-taught tech skills… and despite knowing just how limited my tech capabilities are I still find many educators can’t track what I can do (r give th eappearanc eof doing after a 2 minute YouTube tutorial)
What do I want from this undertaking? Insight, experience, networking, opportunities to invade your mind… and the capacity to just walk away if I lose interest or need to apply myself elsewhere.
Reposted from 100 Days with an iPad
Price: $1.19 (AUD)
App size = 9.1 MB
One of the key strengths of the iPad is the ability to take a large collection of documents with you in one small device. I’ve installed a range of readers on the iPad and the one that’s surfacing as most useful is Goodreader.
Given that the majority of documents that come my way at work are either .pdf or .doc the issue I have is making sure I have the right documents with me in class, in meetings, in training sessions and generally when not at my desk. This is where Goodreader comes into its own.
Beyond simply displaying a document, Goodreader has the following functions:
You can load files in and out of GoodReader in a variety of ways. GoodReader can be launched from a document preview in Safari or Mail but also allows:
From the website:
GoodReader supports massive PDF and TXT files, but it can also handle all of the most popular file types. Have a look for yourself:
- MS Office – .doc, .ppt, .xls and more
- HTML and Safari webarchives
- High resolution images
- It even does audio and video! [http://www.goodreader.net/goodreader.html]
Ease of Use:
GoodReader has quite a few features that take a little time to discover. The more files you start accessing with GoodReader the more obvious the features become. It’s ready to use as a simple reader from the moment its installed, but GoodReader really does become something of a Swiss Army knife as you push it further. (At this point you also need to keep in mind the price point we’re talking about – GoodReader is $1.19 and does far more than the free readers that are often limited to proprietary site access and have poor file management features.)
Pros and Cons:
The only Con I’ve experienced is the text flow option seemed to lose its controls – but I suspect that was more related to the fact that my iPad hadn’t been restarted in more than a week. After a restart GoodReader has been working perfectly.
Potential uses in Higher Education:
GoodReader is proving very useful in a range of contexts. I’m teaching in a dance studio and I can have all my readings and course documents with me in the one device without worrying about losing or disrupting papers. I can search for the exact items I want to use at the instant I need them. Yesterday I was able to have my lesson plan open on the reader and refer to it as the class progressed. In a WiFi environment I can quickly distribute digital copies of documents to my students via email (or WiFi if they have iPod/iPad/iPhone).
I can quickly access documents shared by colleagues via local (or remote) servers. The ability to have all my minutes and action lists for meetings in one location is a boon. I’m often more than a kilometre from my desk and shifting from one colleague’s office to the next – so the portability of the iPad and reliability of this app is really appreciated.
I thought this blog post developed a nice, albeit partial, set of technology competencies that would certainly set our staff well ahead in the drive to flexible and online learning. The list is also the result of a particular pedagogical view that has collaboration, active student participation and a
And its a given that the list will change regularly as new technologies and expectations arise. Change must be seen as a constant.
Some of it relates directly to our own university-branded initiatives – but the skill set needs to be transferable and generic. Those in Education may also see a need to propogate these ideas to their students.
The main challenge, as I see it, is that many academic teaching staff do not see these as basic competencies for educators. The question still arises “Who will do it for me?” – it isn’t a workload issue – once you know how to do these things effectively your time is more readily deployed elsewhere.
As the author suggest – the list isn’t exhaustive…comments on the blog site extend the list…
How do we get academic teaching staff to demonstrate greater personal agency when it comes to technology use? Do we start pushing lists like this as self-auditing tools? I honestly don’t believe that more traditional PD is going to have much impact…. Do we need to find ways to ENGAGE the staff in the same ways that we’re asking staff to think about engaging students…make the engagement relevant to their daily lives, meaningful engagement, embedded learning… What if the academics workplace also became their personal learning space?
Why do we have a dichotomous Teaching and Learning approach – as distinct from a teaching is learning is teaching process?
As usual the Horizon report is fairly well grounded in the state of play.
The Horizon Report: 2009 Australia-New Zealand Edition (1.3 MB, 32 pp) is available now. The report is free, and has been released with a Creative Commons license to facilitate its use, easy duplication, and broad distribution.
A few of the elements that stand out for me (especially in the light of Mantz Yorke’s presentation earlier today)
It also addresses some implications if these changes do occur:
Technology barometer (Time-to-adoption)
While we are making some inroads in to these areas, could it be argued that the timeframes for mainstream adoption are also running in advance of our staff development and resource provision?
The report contains links to really engaging examples of sites where changes are already occurring, as well as some useful links to more detailed information about the issues and technologies raised.