After the first staff student consultative committee some great questions, observations, and points were raised. Here are some answers or discussion to provide some of the context that was sought.
It was pointed out that research strategies appeared geared more toward project based research. Fair point I reckon. Historically and pedagogically this has been because a) over 70% do honours by project + exegesis, b) those writing theses come from disciplines where writing essays has been the norm and so largely know how to do this, and c) most doing it by project have not had to write critically to doing before. However, I think this is a very strong point so I am hoping to re-boot the research strategies class into thematic groups. This should be started this week and will probably take a couple of weeks to sort out.
There was a question about the work in the courses getting in the way of ‘meaty’ research. Not much to say or do about this. Honours is not only research, largely because historically this leads to poor outcomes (low retention rate, and feelings of isolation) as students end up only working on individual research topics (this is currently a major issue with our PhD students because all they do is their individual research). We also want our honours program to provide students with knowledge relevant to media and communications, hence the communication futures subject. We want themed labs to a) address the social/collegiate qualities of research practice and culture (which they have historically done extremely well and other honours programs regularly ask how we do it), b) to have the experience of being taught and learning about a reasonably narrow specialist topic from an active researcher in that area. In the past honours had additional coursework in semester 2. The current honours has moved all major coursework to semester one to provide time for ‘meaty’ research, as in semester 2 all you do is your research (and through the mid year break as well). With 12 hours per week available in semester one (we more or less treat a credit point as an hour of time), and 48 hours available in semester two, there is plenty of time to do meaty research – historically the issue is not that the time is not available, but that students choose not to spend it in this way.
A good point about honours research topics, where students are told they don’t need one to apply but then in the honours orientation workshop we wanted you to write one to help with the shuffling you to research groups and supervisors. It was pointed out that if you were asked to bring ideas about possible research topics to the orientation workshop this could be avoided. That’s a great point and if we do the same process in 2016 that is what we’ll do. (This year was the first year we allocated supervisors in this way, and obviously there are kinks that need to be ironed out. However, I think finding supervisors for everyone has been the simplest and most effective for everyone we’ve had. Particularly for new students to the school and also finding supervisors who may be outside of your undergraduate course – there is a lot of expertise in the school and so your supervisor might not be someone who has taught you before, so the issue then is how as a student can you know who might supervise. This is one of the problems we are trying to address in how we did it this year.)
Lockers. We have not allocated lockers yet because we don’t know about moving to a new room, as if we are moved then we will not be using these lockers. I appreciate that it is frustrating having lockers there and them not being used. (The lockers were only installed in 2014 so they are a recent addition to honours.) One hold up here is that the staff member who manages our buildings and would know what is actually going on here has been on leave so information has been scarce. I am asking if there is a timeline for our move, and once I have an answer there what we do next will become clear. If we do move you will still have access to the current kitchen and printer in the PhD area. We won’t have lockers but the room will have swipe card access and be only honours and not a mixed room of PhD’s and honours and researchers.
Over crowding at beginning of semester. Yes. Always is. Not a good answer perhaps but all the research shows that resourcing (eg quality of equipment and how crowded we are) runs a distant second to what gets described variously as a ‘community of practice’, ‘studio learning’, ‘academic collegiality’ and so on. this means I prefer to have a crowded room if that means the room is ours and we can do what we like in it, when we like, rather than teach in normal classrooms and have the timetable dictated to us, and we can’t rearrange the room, or leave things in there for use by classes. We usually begin honours with nearly 40, and by about now we are usually down to around 30. 30 is crowded but manageable, and that is pretty much where we are at.
There was a question about assessment in media and communication futures, and I’ve asked Linda to make sure the assessment that I understand you’ve discussed is documented. I’ve also had meetings with Lisa from the critical play lab about the precursor. The precursor is a) something you define that combines the theme of the lab with your individual research, b) with feedback from the lab leader and the lab participants, c) they generally take the form of an artefact that lets you think differently about your work (and it is an artefact because having to make physical or concrete something forces us to think through what we are doing much more than just talking about it), d) they can be experimental, d) they can let you ‘test’ in a small way your research problem and method (so it might be a ‘slice’ of your research, some interviews if you think you’re doing interviews).
Was a very good meeting, so thanks for the input, questions, and suggestions.