The Haps With The Fap

21 March 2016

Large undergraduate classes are particularly prevalent in the Science and Commerce faculties. Last year, nine first year undergraduate classes had over 1,000 students enrolled.

Academics from both faculties will come together and test various methods to combat the difficulties that come with high enrolment numbers. This will be achieved through the testing of a pilot program that students can opt-into.

Member of the working group and Senior Lecturer of Psychology, Dr Simon Cropper, brings to the study ten years of experience in large group teaching. He says the working group will focus on one of the main barriers to effective teaching – the large lecture format.

“We want to know what helps students engage in this format and what causes them to disengage so we can guard against it.

“It is about improving the whole course so that students feel as inspired as they might on a course of 50 or fewer,” he says.

The Harnessing Virtual Infrastructure workstream is looking at the ways the University uses technology.

“It is basically reviewing what technology-based systems and tools we have at the moment, determining the needs of staff and students, working out where there are gaps and where we could do something different or new to meet staff and students’ pedagogical needs,” says Professor Gregor Kennedy, the chairperson of the workstream, who is also coordinating the whole FAP project.

“Then we are aiming to provide advice back to the University about what might be done in the short and longer term to meet these needs.”

Kennedy says it is too soon to say anything about the workstream’s recommendations at this stage. Some options they will provide advice on are: flipped classrooms, more online assessment, online feedback, video recording of lectures and signature online undergraduate subjects.

The Curriculum Structure and Approach workstream is primarily tasked with investigating the role of lectures in the University’s curriculum. Lectures are specifically coming under review due to the recognition that students are increasingly not attending lectures. This is expected to lead to a reduction in the overall number of lectures delivered and an increased use of blended learning.

Headed by Sue Elliot, Deputy Provost, the workstream has a total of five members that, in the next 12 months, will be auditing lectures throughout university faculties, both in graduate and undergraduate courses. This will involve an investigation into how lectures are conducted, including frequency, lecture streams and class sizes and a comparison between lectures and other forms of learning including tutes, labs, seminars, placements etc. The workstream will also investigate how technology can be used to improve lectures. Changes in lecture and curriculum structure recommended by the workstream are likely to be implemented by the FAP in the next 24 months.

The Academic Workforce workstream will review and make recommendations on “categorisations of teaching staff” and “the role of session and seasonal staff”. Pro Vice Chancellor Richard James, one of three members of the workstream, defined their responsibilities as “thoroughly examining, among many considerations, the implications for staffing arrangements”. These include the nature of teaching roles and the ways in which teaching staff could be appropriately recognised and rewarded for their roles in delivering educational programs. Graham Willett, Vice President of the University of Melbourne branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, is disappointed at how the FAP is being developed.

“At an absolute minimum you would think they would put union reps on all of those workstreams. The broader picture is that there’s no consultation of any kind. There are 7,000 people employed by the University and instead of asking them what works and what doesn’t, these new strategies are being developed by a tiny handful of people.”

Dr Graham Willett’s biggest concern is that the workstream might recommend restructures involving increased casualisation, in which more staff are employed on a non-ongoing basis.

Of all the streams in the FAP, it’s perhaps the Semester Structure workstream that’s attracting the most attention.

It’s for a good reason. The FAP briefing paper released by head honcho Gregor Kennedy last year doesn’t hold back in this stream’s section.“This workstream will consider the benefits and risks associated with the University adopting alternative semester structures (trimesters, quarters),” it says.

That sparked immediate debate and some concerns amongst students. But at this stage, it appears unlikely the University will move to a trimester or quarter model – instead focusing on an expansion of summer and winter school.

That seems to have generally received a positive response amongst student representatives and students.

UMSU Education (Academic Affairs) Officer Tom Crowley generally welcomes such a move, as long as it isn’t compulsory or comes at the expense of regular semester offerings.

“It’s one thing to talk about having more flexibility and more summer and winter subjects – that’s great. But if those are compulsory, that’s not flexible academic programming at all,” says Crowley.

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