Aussie Educator

Technology will not replace great teachers but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational. George Couros

The academic year has now begun and there is already a range of changes being mooted, opposed, discussed and more. This is in addition to extensions to matters forming part of the agenda at the end of 2017. These apply across all levels of education from Early Education through schools to tertiary levels.

Now, if only a number of other matters would give up some of the media attention, perhaps a number of these genuinely important things might gain some traction. Surely they don’t have to be ‘spiced up’ for people in the wider community to take notice ?

Indeed, there are enough options to discuss. We simply aren’t in a position to cover them all. Some we have included may have struck a chord if you had a particular interest in that area, some aspects of some of them may also have attracted your attention, though most probably will not. Some will also link with articles which have been recommended.

How many do you believe you will recognise ? See how well you succeed. You will possibly also have a list from those we didn’t manage to include.

To start, there are always the ...

Money, money, money - in this case funding restrictions linked with the demand driven system and changes to the research grants process still rate among the most important factors in the world of universities. And it is unlikely to go away any time soon.

The same might be said of ‘identity politics’, political correctness and even the influence of foreign bodies suggested as affecting courses, freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Add to this, the ongoing saga of whether universities actually prepare students for future employment, the suggested degree completion times and drop out rates and you would think there was virtually nothing they were doing right. This is patently false.

This is not, however, to say there are not tough times ahead, nor even a probable ‘review’ with potentially considerable impact. One by the Higher Education Standards Panel is already set to produce a report in the first half of the year. Ian Jacobs, the new Chair of the Go8 has ‘called for a detailed review of the cost and benefits of post-school education as the basis for a new tertiary funding plan’ [The Australian, 31/1].

One of the potential offshoots of the above could be a change in the composition of university types. Presently all are research and teaching institutions. There seem to be multiple suggestions that the option to be one or the other may be possible. Stephen Matchett [Campus Morning Mail] reported this possibility on several occasions recently as well as the possibility that TAFEs and other VET entities may also use such a review to seek benefits. Pascale Quester also looked at the role of a teaching university in some detail in an article for the Go8 News [February edition] as well as in The Australian.

Glyn Davis also suggests a review of the whole tertiary sector in his book - ‘The Australian Idea of a University’ - as well as providing an overview of their development. There are similarities to what Ian Jacobs is saying, but as Dean Ashenden in his review of the book notes, ‘Davis is not the first and will not be the last to put proposals along these lines. He is well aware that their boldness means that they have a very hard row to hoe’ [Inside Story, 24/1]. The four proposals put up by Davis are well worth reading, especially the last which suggests that new institutions should be teaching only. Indeed, the whole book is worth reading.

One other option comes under the heading Uberversity. A recent article by Tim Dodd [The Australian, 14/2] looks at this possibility. He begins his commentary this way - Imagine this. A university with no lecture halls, no seminar rooms, no library, no food outlets, no coffee shops. It doesn’t have any academics on its campus - in fact it doesn’t even have a physical campus to call its own. He then goes on to provide an American example and an explanation of what is actually involved [including co-working spaces]. Perhaps his concluding comment that ‘There’s a wealth of good ideas and universities need to try out radical new models like these in order to provide good education more cheaply. Because if they don’t, others will’.

What he is suggesting is perhaps more radical than any existing process. However, the increasing percentage of students at all levels using online studies allied to the increasing sophistication and use of technology suggests it should not be considered as too radical or unlikely as a future option. Not only can you do whole degrees online you can also cherrypick selected options to do online while maintaining the majority as on-campus studies.

For those who are not sure about Colleges of Advanced Education [CAEs], which are mentioned at various times in this conversation you might consider this short piece by Paul Rodan which provides information about them.

Then out of left field comes a different view altogether. Described as the ‘campus experience has become a key selling point’ [The Australian, 14/2], Carey Lyon looks at ways in which a number of universities have developed on-campus facilities of all kinds in order to not only provide a special experience for students but also, in a number of cases, to draw in other groups. A really interesting read.

Something to think about ... You will notice a number of buzz words coming up in these conversations. The most common appears to be innovative/innovation. One wonders if the final product will be innovative, new, and conforming to what is possible both financially and in terms of technology usage. Or will we, as with many other things, still be having this conversation continuously in the future and never really finding the best, workable option and implementing it effectively to the benefit of student and country ?

Finally, in breaking news, Labor pledges an inquiry into universities and TAFE sector if they win government at the federal level. A second article is found here on Campus Morning Mail. Stephen Matchett raises a number of points others may not yet have thought about. More on this in the future for sure.

Money, money, money ... . Now where have I seen that raise its head in education before ? Yes, Gonski funding is still raising hackles across the sector. Well one large bit of it at least. The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, in a report suggested Independent school were receiving millions even though they did not need it [ABC, 8/2]. Regrettably, they did not seem to garner much sympathy, with some even enjoying the spat between the two non-government sectors. Similarly, Trevor Cobbold has also been taken to task for his claim that ACT private schools were being over-funded [SMH, 30/1], which brought an immediate response from the head of Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn. Will this never end ?

While all this is happening, there are indicators of at least a small movement away from private to public schools. Perhaps this is allied to the view that states cut non-government school funding for the first time in 10 years [SMH, 1/2]. If it is really happening, does this mean the commonwealth will have to cut further to follow the protocols which have been established ? Wait for the ructions if this occurs, though it would be hard to argue a case against it if the numbers do not back you up.

The Commonwealth government’s role in school education has been the topic of conversation in both a Grattan Report, The Commonwealth’s role in improving schools and The Conversation’s article, Why the Commonwealth should resist meddling in schools. The first suggests that even though interventions may be well-intentioned they often have unforeseen consequences. The second provides a summary presentation linked to the first. One can understand the intent behind the concept, but sometimes you have to wonder whether in fact a national approach might be even better than the one we have at the moment.

We currently have a number of national approaches. NAPLAN, the Australian Curriculum, MySchool to name a few. Others include frameworks such as the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, Higher Education Standards Framework and the Early Years Learning Framework. However, in numerous instances one could probably raise questions as to how effectively they were implemented in each and every jurisdiction or simply whether there was some commonality and then other jurisdictional factors superseded the ‘national’ emphasis.

Having said this, another review that has national implications is about to begin. This looks at teacher registration. According to the release notes, it has been endorsed by the states and territories Ministers. What is indicated is that they are seeking ‘an opportunity to ensure Australia’s teacher registration systems are working as effectively as possible’ [Ministerial Media Release, 10/2]. The concepts are detailed in this release and also include early childhood teacher registration and how ‘vocational education and training teachers fit into the picture’. A pretty broad coverage.

While the Ministers may be in initial agreement to the review, others do not seem as welcoming. Principals respond to teacher registration shake-up is one report. Review of teacher registration met with caution and criticism another. What odds would there be on an end product that is both workable and desirable and for all to accept and support it ?

Gifted and Talented education, especially selective schools continues to draw comment. Several links were provided previously. Those of Jae Yup Jared Yung and Chris Bonnor and Christina Ho continue to be worthwhile reads, while one by Rachel Jacobs is also worth consideration. This will be an interesting process before any practical conclusion is reached.

One consideration worth some thought might be to expand the use of Aurora College, described as a Virtual Selective High School and operating since 2015. The track record is very positive and with technology available it should not be an impossible, or even an improbable, task to increasingly expand its scope and reach. Just a thought, but let’s think outside the box for a change. If one Aurora College works well but whole state coverage is too difficult, set up several and cover all areas of the state. This way no child with the capacity and/or talent should miss out on the opportunity to have this experience and extension.

Early Childhood
A commentary with the title The smartest way to spend taxpayer dollars written by an economist doesn’t really suggest an educational discussion does it ? Well this commentary by Ross Gittins well and truly does. ‘There are no magic bullets in government spending, but putting money into early education – whether by lifting the quality of childcare, or beefing up preschool – comes a lot closer than most of the other things governments spend on’ seems to sum up the core of what he is actually on about. Worth spending a few moments reading and considering what is said.

Meanwhile, the Lifting our Game final report was issued last week. Those asked to complete it did so based on being ‘asked to consider, and make recommendations on, the most effective interventions to be deployed in early childhood, with a focus on school readiness, improving achievement in schools and future success in employment or further education’. Their recommendations are based on six main themes. If this is an area of interest, the document may well be an essential read.

On the negative side, workers now to have to start again with a wage case after the Fair Work Commission rejected the claim for a significant salary increase. The comments from Lisa Bryant in The Age provides good coverage on the case, the report noted above, and some potential repercussions based on the claim being rejected.

Vocational Education
Sadly, VET still remains in no-man’s land having some occasional wins but plenty of disappointments. Figures suggest a continuing exodus [The Australian, 14/2] even though there had been an earlier spike in numbers. At least TAFEs have increased their percentage of government funded students from 47% to 58%, even though the number of institutions has declined. At the same time, we see Completion rates on the rise under VET Student Loans, a positive step following the Fee-Help disaster of previous years.

As mentioned above, TAFEs, and VET more generally, may possibly benefit from an overall review of all aspects of tertiary education should one proceed. Only time will tell with this one. Meanwhile there are concerns over the number of apprentices and the reasons for it. This example, Apprenticeships in QLD : Drop in numbers due to ‘softies’, may initially sound really bad but has several viewpoints expressed and in fact the graphs paint a better picture than the title.

Other Items
Congratulations to Eddie Woo who ‘has been named as one of the world’s top 10 educators and stands to win $1.27 million if he takes out the top prize’ [Daily Telegraph, 14/2] in the Global Teacher Prize. Well deserved.

In one of the first steps toward the next election, Labor [is] to establish $280m schools research institute. This article provides a number of details about the aim and reasons behind this.

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There are recently produced items that warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. All items are Australian in origin. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

Three major concerns with teacher education reforms in Australia
‘We are deeply concerned about advice the Australian Government has been given on teacher education. We believe it is seriously flawed. The advice has led, and is leading, to major reforms to teacher education throughout Australia. Our misgivings arise from a report by the Australian Commonwealth government appointed Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group [TEMAG] called Action Now : Classroom ready teachers. The report was commissioned by the Australian Government to recommend reforms to teacher education in Australia. We want to put some of those thoughts in this blog’.

The Commonwealth’s role in improving schools
Grattan Education. ‘The Commonwealth should not use the extra money it is spending on schools as an excuse to intervene more broadly in school education. Experience shows that well-meaning Commonwealth interventions into systems primarily run by the states and territories can end up just increasing red tape and destroying policy coherence’. See what Julie Sonnemann and Pete Goss have to say, particularly in relation to their recommendations for appropriate but limited areas where the government may in fact be effective.

Australian Education Technology
An interesting, but different, document which looks at Australia’s role in developing and implementing educational technology in multiple areas. As they say, ‘Education technology – or edtech – is the provision of technology solutions for education purposes’. Some illuminating information across a wide range of aspects.

Inside Australia’s first Virtual School
Tom Greenwell poses the question, ‘Could a new model of online learning break down the growing divide between Australian schools ?’. He then goes on to look at Aurora College, a pioneering virtual school started in 2015 in NSW. In doing so he talks not only to those at the college but also people at a school involved in the program. Fascinating possibilities that could benefit many and which are already being used fairly extensively in other countries such as the US.

Early Career Teacher Attrition
‘Early career teacher attrition is seen as an issue of concern around the world. Here, scholarly articles and media reports regularly state that between 30 and 50 per cent of Australian teachers leave the profession within the first five years. But, where do those figures come from and how accurate are they ? A study published in the Australian Journal of Education, suggests there is no robust Australian evidence and data. Author Dr Paul Weldon joins The Research Files to discuss his findings’. Podcast. Download or read the transcript online.

Diversity... for the others
Dean Ashenden reviews a book by Glyn Davis titled The Australian Idea of a University. Ashenden goes on to say ‘Davis brings a new argument to this long-running conflict. If Australia’s public universities are to survive the looming threats of digitally delivered education, globalisation and big capital, we need a new policy framework and new kinds of public institutions’. Seems I have heard rumblings in this direction of late. While he goes on to detail various components and suggestions, he is also at pains to indicate ‘Davis is not the first and will not be the last to put proposals along these lines’. The review is good. The book is surely also worth reading for what it contains.

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