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The attractiveness of the Australian academic Profession

From Yoni Ryan

A new report just released by the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne considers ‘The attractiveness of the Australian academic profession: A comparative analysis’. It doesn’t make happy reading.

Salaries are comparable with those for university teaching in other comparable countries, but are relatively poor compared with those in the private sector. (The same holds for school teachers.) It has generally been argued that academics have high job satisfaction that makes up for the relatively poorer salary position. However, this study reports that Australian academics score as low as those from Portugal and China in terms of satisfaction. A large part of their dissatisfaction stems from workload. This study reports that senior staff hours average over 50 per week, while the average worker in Australia works 39.4 hours per week. Yet it would appear the amount of time spent on teaching itself has declined over the past 15 years, with an increase in administrative work time.

The authors argue that funding pressures have increased the level of casual employment to undertake teaching, and this too increases the level of dissatisfaction.

Would better pay compensate for the workload pressures on academics? Or would we rather have the same pay, but fewer chores to accomplish? Or are we just better at whingeing than other work groups?

Coates, H., Dobson, I., Edwards, D., Friedman, T., Goedegebuure, L. & Meek, L. 2009. The attractiveness of the Australian academic profession: A  comparative analysis’. Melbourne: LH Martin Institute. http://www.mihelm.unimelb.edu.au/conference_events/2009/research_briefing.pdf Accessed6 Oct 2009

It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his [sic] memory.

Check out this extraordinary prediction from 1945, imagining a device enlarging human memory. Cited in Pea 2004

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library.
It needs a name…“memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores
all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted
with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
…Wholly newforms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails
running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has
at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience
of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents,
with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by a patient’s
reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly
through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy
and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the
chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds,
and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior.

“As We May Think”(Bush, 1945) cited in Pea 2004, p.440

Talking, not just reading

In a recent study on what undergraduate students think historical thinking is, one surprising finding was that they thought it was about talking. Talking to one another, talking to tutors…discussion, which teachers thoughts was the mechanism for learning about history as the fundamentally individual reading and analysis of primary sources, was actually what historical thinking consisted of, according to students.

Yet another quote from Brown et al 1989 might suggest why they could be right:

It is a mistake to think that important discourse in learning is always direct and declarative. This peripheral participation is particularly important for people entering the culture. They need to observe how practitioners at various levels behave and talk to get a sense of how expertise is manifest in conversation and other activities. p40

Scaffolding

This is another quote from the article below, Brown et al 1989:

By beginning with a task embedded in a familiar activity, it shows the students the legitimacy of their implicit knowledge and its availability as scaffolding in apparently unfamiliar tasks.

By allowing students to generate their own solution paths, it helps to make them conscious, creative members of the culture of [the discipline]. p.38

[posted by Hannah]

Enculturation

I have been re-reading Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989) “Situated cognition and the Culture of Learning”, in Educational Researcher 18.

I’d like to post a quote:

Unfortunately, students are too often asked to use the tools of a discipline without being able to adopt its culture. To learn to use tools as practitioners use them, a student, like an apprentice, must enter that community and its culture. Thus, in a significant way, learning is, we believe, a process of enculturation. (p.33)

(posted by Hannah Forsyth)

Blogs for student-controlled pedagogies

Jo Ann Oravec considers blogs from a different perspective again – as a “middle space” between face to face study and structured online delivery. That is, Oravec claims that when educators design “blended” or “web-enhanced” units, the web-enhancement is often instructor-focused. That is, it is online components are either (a) information transfer (eg. lecture notes on the web) or (b) instructor-controlled online learning. Blogs are more inherently learner controlled (depending on how you use them) and allow for the possibility of blended learning that is more student-centred.

The message from this, as it was in the O’Donnell and Diffy & Bruns papers, is that blogs in education allow for individual reflection and learner-centred knowledge formation, but they do so publicly and in a networked environment.

What does it mean? As we think about using blogs in university teaching, let’s think about:

  • How can I make learning somewhat student-controlled?
  • How can a blog support student reflection, incremental learning and creativity?
  • How can blogs support networking by student to connect their own thoughts to others?
  • Can blogs be used across units to connect ideas and practices?

Jo Ann Oravec (2003) Blending by Blogging: weblogs in blended learning initiatives. Journal of Educational Media, Vol. 28, Nos. 2–3, October 2003

Blogs enable emergence and networked knowledge

Marcus O’Donnell from the University of Wollongong in “Blogging as pedagogic practice”, considers the potential of blogs to go far beyond (though not in a utopian kind of way) what educators normally consider. He claims that this is because we normally ask new technologies, like blogs, to do what we already do, just more efficiently, or better. He calls for a re-think of what we do based on thinking about what blogs are and what they afford that is different, which he believes is related to the idea of a “linked” or “networked” approach to learning. In this idea, he says “the sense of agency and individuality is powerful but it is not isolating or egocentric”.

This, he says, helps to focus on the emergence and evolution of knowledge over time, which can be useful in an individual unit but is probably most useful across many of them. According to O’Donnell then, a blog is probably best used in education as a tool to connect disparate ideas together and to allow the parts of new ideas to evolve.

O’Donnell, Marcus (2006) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology. [An earlier version of this paper was presented at Blog Talk Downunder (2005: Sydney). Paper in: 5Ws+H. Loo, Eric (ed.).] [online]. Asia Pacific Media Educator, no.17, Dec 2006: 5-19. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=200705394;res=APAFT> ISSN: 1326-365X. [cited 13 Nov 08].

Blogs are for Individuals, Discussions are for Groups

“First and foremost, blogs provide a platform for individual expression and also support reader commentary, critique, and interlinkage as subsequent steps. In other words, blogs foreground the individual, while discussions foreground the group.” (Duffy and Bruns, 2006)

In their article, Duffy and Bruns give lists of ways that blogs can be used in teaching. Some of these are:
  • Reflection
  • Creativity
  • Thoughts-in-progress
  • Making individual thinking shared so all can benefit and contribute
Duffy and Bruns ask “Is the blog a new genre of learning journal?”

Duffy, Peter and Bruns, Axel (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, pages pp. 31-38, Brisbane. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/archive/00005398/01/5398.pdf