Higher education

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Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 6:40pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 28/05/2015 - 6:40pm in

A thought on student retention in "thin markets of less academically prepared students": If you live in regional Australia—well, Coffs Harbour at least—you can expect at least one serious extra-curricular catastrophe per year that will seriously undermine your ability to cope with a full-time undergraduate workload. Your options then are to either drop out of all your units and rack up additional fees when you come to redo them (which I did last year), or plead for unreasonable deadline extensions (which I'm doing right now). So why can't you pick up your studies later at the point where you left off? By which I mean the university loses the ability to double dip on fees, but potentially gains students who might otherwise drop out altogether.

Any assignments you've completed in one session would not have to be re-done the following session, which gives the students additional study/life wiggle room early in the session when they're likely to still be recovering from whatever misfortune stuffed them around. Some universities might have to worry about class sizes inflating, but certainly not at SCU's end of the market, where it's a challenge to get more than a few people to the end of each unit. Another objection might be that assignments could change from session to session, but I think it's reasonable to just proportionally adjust marks for completed work if, say, assignment one is worth 20% in one session and 25% in the next. It's not like you can game the system, given that at SCU nobody can be certain what's happening in advance, or even if a unit is running at all, until about a week before the start of a session. If anything, you can be pretty confident that each curriculum revision dumbs down the content, so earlier work should count for more anyway.

Educated Hope and the Promise of Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2015 - 2:52am in

UnknownThe following is a commencement speech given by Professor Henry A. Giroux to the class of 2015 at Chapman University on May 24th, 2015. I am very moved and humbled to accept an honorary degree on this important occasion today, … Continue reading →

Friday, 22 May 2015 - 8:54pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 22/05/2015 - 8:54pm in

The next time somebody asks you to believe that the best way to allocate educational resources is through the well-informed consumer choices of (mostly) 18 year old kids, or that the best way to assess the performance of academic staff is through the considered judgement of those same kids, I ask that you make an earnest effort to remember what you were like when you were 18 years old.

When I was 18, I borrowed from the library a book on metaphysics, expecting it to be a popular science book. Which is how I came to be sitting on a train thinking "Windowless monads? Carl Sagan never said anything about windowless monads! Who is this Leibniz crank?"

The University of the Spectacle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2015 - 12:16am in

westerncomptonby James Compton The whole life of those universities in which modern conditions of managerialism prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All scholarship that was once directly lived has become mere representation. I am reminded of this … Continue reading →

Bootleg education

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 22/05/2015 - 12:06am in

Once or twice now (I'm being evasive to protect my sources), when venting frustration at neoliberal higher education, I've been told by a member of the academic precariat (paraphrasing heavily):

"I completely understand where you're coming from, and I sympathise, but I don't personally work like that. I go through the motions of administrative accountability, but what I do is principally guided by my own academic integrity, and is as near as possible to what I would do under ideal circumstances."

This is all very laudable, but unfortunately the university administration could choose not to hire that person next term, stick another disposable academic work unit into the same slot, with the same textbook, study guide, and PowerPoint slides, but fewer scruples, and the university (defined as the sum of its administrative staff) would not skip a beat.

It's occurred to me on several occasions to likewise say to those assessing my work, such as it is:

"I've read the predetermined learning outcomes and marking criteria, but I'm choosing to ignore them and try to find something about the given topic to write about which might be interesting and original instead. Give me the mark you have to give me, and I won't be offended. If you can give additional feedback based on the pretence that we're at a real university that would be appreciated, but I understand that you probably do not have the luxury of the time required to do so."

I think that such a compact could work, although it would render explicit the fact that we inhabit a higher education system where academic education is prohibited. I suggest that we not only recognise, but also embrace this prohibition. We academic bootleggers need a secret password; as a traditionalist, I think it should be "swordfish".

Selling Students Short

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 21/05/2015 - 9:38pm in

This evening I attended what I think must be my first book launch since leaving Sydney over a decade ago. I feel almost civilised. Here's a comment I left on The Conversation's review of Richard Hil's new book:

Students don't only have "no choice but to study online because of work or family commitments", or indeed anything to do with their own circumstances. Often we have no choice but to study online because we have no choice but to study online.

Last year, as an undergraduate at Southern Cross University, I first encountered the phrase "converged delivery". This is where nominally "internal" units of study are delivered entirely without face-to-face tuition. You can "attend" lectures on-campus if you like, but you'll just be looking at a slightly larger screen than you have at home, hanging from the wall of a classroom. Students thus have the "flexibility" of choosing distance education at home, or (in the case of Coffs Harbour) distance education in a campus conveniently located in the middle of a swamp, adjoining an airport and one of Australia's most impressive sewage ocean outlet pipes.

Initially I thought that this was a reaction to the Grattan Institute's - sorry, I mean the government's - proposed higher education reforms. But no, the move to converged delivery is an SCU program that was set in motion in 2007. University administrators are not reluctantly responding to a neoliberal agenda imposed on them by government; they are among the agenda-setters, leading the way to cheap, dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator faux-education.

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