Monday, June 08, 2009

Not all teaching should be web-based

I think there still is something to the idea of a community of scholars so I have some sympathy with the ideas below

A LEADING Brisbane academic is refusing to post lecture material on the web, as part of his campaign for colleagues to halt the "dumbing down" of universities. Professor Tor Hundloe, an emeritus professor at the the University of Queensland, professor at Griffith and Bond universities and a lecturer for 34 years, is leading what he hopes will become a staff backlash against the rising trend of university students learning via the internet.

The Sunday Mail last week revealed many university students were skipping face-to-face lectures in favour of later downloading them online. In one case, a near-full lecture theatre at the start of the semester was more than half empty by the middle of the semester.

Griffith University and UQ are among the tertiary institutions pushing ahead with systems to allow staff more easily to post recordings of lectures on the web. Proi Hundloe last week rejected denials by some academics that lectures on the web had led to a decline in student attendance at lectures. He said he and other teaching staff had seen a drop-off.

He said university management was pushing staff to post more material online as a result of student demand, but some staff did not feel it was doing students any favours. "There are so many academics I know that are seeing this trend," Prof Hundloe said. "It is quite dramatic in some classes. It has correlated undoubtedly with people putting material online. I would like to see teaching staff react before it becomes too late. I would like to rescue the universities from what ultimately they will find ... (has been) a major mistake.

"As professional educators, our first and foremost task is to entice students to think for themselves. "All the brilliant breakthroughs in modern medicine and in communication technologies have developed via this process. You only get this type of education in class. "I am not anti-computers. I just don't think it is the way we should be teaching students". There is no policy at Queensland's universities requiring lectures to be recorded and posted online. But universities, such as Griffith, which has paid to install recording equipment in many of its lecture theatres, will strongly encourage staff to take advantage of the technology.

Griffith's flexible learning and access services acting director, Kevin Ashford-Rowe, said students were increasingly expecting to have access to content online. "I cannot foresee a situation where it won't be up to the individual teacher as to how they want to deliver lessons," he said. "When (students) are in the lecture itself, they don't have to worry about something they might miss. (But) it is fair to acknowledge that providing students with opportunities to gain additional access to that teaching content ... I am not entirely sure that can be seen as a bad thing." Prof Hundloe wants other educators to contact him if they want to help "rebuild the universities as a place of scholarship".

The above story by Kelmeny Fraser appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 7, 2009

University of Sydney offers degrees in Leftist disruption

As a graduate of USyd, I find this very disappointing, though not unexpected. But, as usual, the light of publicity has caused a retreat

Anti-military activists have been offered training on how to disrupt Australia's top-level wargames with the US military in an official course run by Sydney University. The University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies offered students a six-week "Peace and Activism Training Course" culminating in a trip to Queensland next month to disrupt Exercise Talisman Sabre.

The $500 course fee even included travel expenses for the six-day trip to Rockhampton to take part in the "Peace Convergence" for the first week of the three-week exercise. An online discussion group by organisers investigated by The Daily Telegraph reveals the group plans to blockade Rockhampton airport on Sunday, July 12 and other direct action. It also anticipates possible arrests. In previous years protesters have tried to blockade the Shoalwater Bay military training base and several have been arrested.

The course's instructors included Dr Hannah Middleton, who is also a protest organiser. [Hannah is also the leader of Australia's Communist Party so she is not opposed to the military as such, just democratic militaries. The Red army did a lot more than bake cookies and distribute knitting patterns]

However, after being contacted by The Daily Telegraph, Dr Middleton said late yesterday that the course had been cancelled. She also said students in the course would not have been asked to take part in actions that could get them arrested. "They are studying non-violent responses to conflict," she said.

The group is also preparing an "activist's handbook" for those taking part. However, it has not yet been distributed. The 2007 handbook has been pulled from the organisers' website. An existing manual circulated among members promotes the use of techniques such as tunnelling, occupying buildings and throwing pies.


More stupid bureaucracy

'Hero' bus driver sacked for coming to woman's aid

A Maddington bus driver described as a hero by his union has been sacked for coming to the defence of a female colleague. Ken McMahon, 39, intervened on Wednesday morning when a drunken passenger he had kicked off his bus started harassing an off-duty bus driver on the footpath. The 35-year-old woman, who was waiting to say hello to Mr McMahon, was a few feet away from the bus when the drunken passenger was told to leave. The incident occurred in Victoria Park and the woman was in uniform.

``He was attacking her and I went to protect her,'' Mr McMahon told The Sunday Times. ``He took one swing and I hit him one time and stopped him in his tracks. He was a large, intoxicated and aggressive -- an abusive male who was right in her face, fists clenched, chasing her down the footpath screaming all sorts of obscenities at her.''

Mr McMahon, who has been a bus driver for Swan Transit for 18 months and has martial-arts training, said company policy forbids him to leave his bus to aid anyone in trouble. ``So, I lost my job over the incident,'' he said. ``They called me in on Thursday afternoon and I was sacked. ``The lady is a close friend, so I clearly would not stand by and let the situation escalate to the point where she was physically battered.''

The Transport Workers Union described Mr McMahon as a hero. Witness statements, including from the woman, support Mr McMahon's version of events. ``Ken was the only one who came to protect me,'' the woman said in a written statement to Swan Transit. ``No one walking on the street did anything.''

However, Swan Transit director Neil Smith said the woman was threatened verbally, but not physically, so Mr McMahon's actions were an over-reaction. ``We dismiss very few people and we are extremely careful about the procedures we use to do so,'' Mr Smith said. Mr Smith said CCTV footage showed the woman under threat was walking away from the drunken male and speaking on her mobile phone.

He said Mr McMahon did not have to hit the drunken man. ``There would have been easier ways to restrain the person other than the way that went on,'' he said. ``The violence used was completely disproportionate, even if there was a genuine problem.''

The matter is expected to go to arbitration in the next six weeks. TWU spokesman Paul Aslan said he was disgusted by the decision to sack Mr McMahon for helping a colleague.

In April bus drivers threatened to walk off the job unless demands for greater protection were met. Mr Aslan said Mr McMahon's dismissal could be the final straw, provoking widespread union action, including stopwork meetings and industrial action. He said Mr McMahon should be commended, not fired, for his actions.


Can government be TOO open?

The article below says so but I can't find much sympathy for the argument concerned

PREMIER Anna Bligh promised a new right to information law would make her government the most open and accountable in Australia. But there are promises and there are promises ... as we saw last week with Bligh announcing the sell-off of state assets and the scrapping of the 8.3c-a-litre fuel subsidy. Many people have already lost their faith and trust in the nation's first woman premier voted into office in her own right. That was only 78 days ago.

Lost in the uproar in Parliament and in the public arena last week was new legislation on Freedom of Information. It was passed rather too quietly late Tuesday night and will come into force on July 1. There is a particularly nasty sting in the tail of the new Right to Information Act, section 54, which Bligh refused to take out. It allows the Government to publish details from a successful FOI application on the internet 24 hours after they have been released to a person or media organisation.

This will effectively kill off media or Opposition attempts to expose government bumbling or cover-ups - after paying sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars and waiting months for the information. The Government will put the documents on a website with the obligatory spin and not have to wait to respond to a media report or a question in Parliament.

LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek hit the nail on the head when he told the House the information would be widely available 24 hours after access had been given despite the fact that it would have otherwise been unavailable to the public. "While the Premier will dress this clause up as proof of the Government's openness and accountability, it is in fact a sneaky way of deterring journalists from seeking official information," he said. "This is a cynical move by the Bligh Government that will effectively stop media organisations from making access applications."

Langbroek also quite rightly pointed out that it would give media organisations little time to analyse the information before being widely published. His amendment to make it 30 days, not 24 hours, was knocked back by the Government.

Bligh's response was that the 24-hour clause was recommended in the review of FOI laws. But that did not mean the Government had to accept the recommendation. If the Premier was sincere about being an open and accountable regime, she would not have persisted with this measure.

And the Government has employed other tactics to dull the impact of an FOI disclosure. Ministers are given detailed briefings on every media and Opposition FOI request. It takes a month at least for the process of retrieving the information to begin, giving the minister and his or her department plenty of time to deliver a "positive" message to the public before the "negative" appears in print or at Question Time. They make a speech in Parliament in advance of the release of information or issue a public statement talking up the subject. How open and accountable can you get?

There was another disturbing sign from the new Bligh Government recently when two ministers, by putting out early media releases, tried to water down what they perceived as potentially damaging reports which were about to appear in The Sunday Mail.

The other strategy the Government uses with FOI requests from the media or Opposition is to drag them out for an eternity or make the cost excessive. A prime example was an application I made to the Premier in December for information relating to the Government's decision to add recycled water to southeast Queensland dams, and the background on the 40 per cent trigger point.

Six months later, the request had been transferred to four different government departments - with additional application costs - and little or no relevant information retrieved. Treasury, SEQWater and the Office of the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning had the same, somewhat staggering response: "No documents have been found within the scope of your application." The Queensland Water Commission took another approach, claiming the information sought would cost The Sunday Mail $4657.40. The Premier's office found 25 folios, some of which were simply emails from spin doctors discussing earlier Sunday Mail requests for information on the subject. It was a case of bashing our head up against the proverbial brick dam wall.

Langbroek attempted another amendment to the Right to Information Bill last week, capping the cost of an access application at $1000. Not surprisingly, that was also rejected. He said the review recommendation for a fee regime based on folio numbers would actually increase the cost of making an application. "Capping the cost of charges will allow Queenslanders to have access to government information at a much lower price and prevent the Government from hiding behind excessive bills and charges to receive information," the LNP leader said.

Not going to happen. Not in the Bligh Government's lifetime. Say one thing, do another.


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