Hey La Trobe! Steph here!
On Monday July 13, as part of the National Union of Students' (NUS) 2020 EdCon, I presented a workshop with Tom Balakas (one of your LTSU General Members)! A quick shout out to those from La Trobe who attended (I saw you!!), it was wonderful to see some familiar faces.
The title of our workshop was 'Online Learning in the Era of COVID: Why Students are Suffering'. For accessibility, I've published a transcript below of what I spoke on. Prior to taking the floor, Tom opened our workshop with an Acknowledgement of Country. Feel free to email the EdPub department with any questions you may have relating to the transcript!
As Tom said, I’m Steph. I use she/her pronouns. Thanks for coming to this workshop. It’s been a long day so it’s nice to see so many here for the last session.
Essentially, I’d like you to be able to walk away from this workshop with two things.
1. An understanding of why it’s important for student activists to be critical of online learning. Many of us have likely ran campaigns around this already, but not every campus has, and I think it’s crucial we’re all standing up for the students we represent.
2. And secondly, I’d like to provide a better understanding of how online education can negatively impact students, so that we can begin to plan how to actively campaign against those negative impacts.
I do want this session to feel practical. So, as we go through I’m going to try continuously link it back to potential campaigns we could be running and allow time for you all to say what campaigns you think we should be running as well.
With that being said, I want to kick this off by contextualising for everyone why it’s so important that we have this discussion. So I’d like to ask all of you: why is it important that student activists, like ourselves, discuss potential pitfalls of online learning at this point in time, in Australia? If one or two people would like to speak, or write their thoughts in the chat, Tom’s going to moderate that.
Speech: here’s my thoughts on why it’s crucial that we’re having this conversation right now. I’ve broken them down into four topics.
COVID-19 forced us all online.
Most, if not all, of us on this Zoom right now have just spent out past semester or trimester online. I’m also going to hazard a guess that you’ve most likely realised that there are overwhelming issues that occur with online education when it is ill-thought out, or rushed. Online learning in general has been found to have a 10-20% higher drop-out rate than its face to face counterparts, and for those who remain enrolled, studies have shown they’re more likely to do poorly or fail. Therefore, we need to be able to critique the impact of online learning on the students we represent or fight for. And I’m going to go more into this later.
Our quality of education has declined
A range of student associations across the country conducted student experience surveys after transitioning to online study in March. I’ve included results from a few and here’s what they found:
- From RMIT’s RUSU: at least half of surveyed students had clear issues with the online transition.
- From La Trobe’s LTSU: 77.5% of students were unsatisfied with their quality of education online
- From UniMelb’s UMSU: by the way, this is a brilliant report and I recommend anyone preparing a report for their Union to read it. 98% of students called for partial fee reductions, with one of the biggest reasons for this being because they felt a decline in their education quality.
- From Swinburne’s SSU, over a quarter of surveyed students reported not being able to undertake online learning.
Dozens of student associations or activist groups around the country have also organised petitions calling for changes to grading schemes, fee reductions, extended census dates, extended fee due dates for international students, revised remission of debt schemes and more. All of these were based around the belief that the quality or delivery of education due to COVID-19 altered student experience so significantly that it required compensation from the University. And so, it’s crucial going forward that we have an understanding of why students may be reporting in such large numbers that they’re dissatisfied with - or unable to even attempt – online education.
Online learning is here to stay
Most of us – especially Vic – will be at least mostly online for the rest of the year, or are at risk of returning to online study if your state experiences a second wave. However, outside of that, we’re going to see an additional increased transition towards online study into the future.
Firstly, because our federal Government deliberately altered the requirements for Job Keeper to exclude Universities from applying. I cannot stress enough that this was a crucial lifeline in the face of revenue downturn because of COVID, and as a result we’ve seen thousands of University staff stood down around the country.
Staff conditions are student conditions, and so the flow on effect is that online classes can be a cheaper alternative for Universities going forward. You can put 50 students into a Zoom with one tutor, or 250 students into an online chat forum for an hour a week, instead of paying five tutors to teach the cohort face to face.
Further to that, if Dan Tehan’s frankly disgusting attacks on higher ed are passed, then we’re going to see most courses receiving less federal government funding for teaching increasingly growing numbers of students. Once again, online learning is a far cheaper alternative, and a way to save money on staffing costs which is where a bulk of a University’s costs come from. It would simply be naïve to assume that – for better or worse – we won’t see an increase in online education well into the future in Australia.
Research, research, research
Now, many student associations or student-led activist groups have been organising against all of this for months, myself and Tom included. And although I bloody love a good catchy slogan, or meme campaign in a campus Stalkerspace to achieve demands, it is simply harder for Universities to ignore you when you are providing them with straight up facts and research. And if they do, they look way more cooked and it’s easier for you to grow campaigns to a point where you can apply enough pressure for them to pay attention to you.
Therefore, it is crucial that we – as activists – possess the tools and research to meaningfully critique our University’s models for online learning, both during the COVID era and (hopefully) in a COVID-free future.
Online learning: the good
So I’ve just spent five minutes essentially rinsing online learning and that’s not my overall intention for today, because it has its place. And I do want to keep bringing our workshop back to the fact that online learning is not holistically good or bad, but that – crucially – it is entirely dependent on the training, the funding and the resources that an institution puts into it. And when adequate training, funding and resources are not a priority, then we need to organise as student activists and pull up our Universities for wronging their students.
But online learning has been an exceedingly useful tool for providing education to people who otherwise would not receive it.
- It means those in rural areas can feel like they’re in a classroom, even when it’s 500km away.
- It means those with chronic or other illnesses who can’t attend class every day are still able to watch that lecture back online.
- It allows greater flexibility for those with other commitments, who eliminate travel time between home and campus.
What I’d like to continuously indicate, is that all of those benefits can only be reaped if a University is actively investing in its online delivery. And as we’ve largely seen so far this year, this hasn’t been able to happen, largely due to the suddenness of COVID-19. But it’s also unlikely to happen into the future if the higher ed sector is simply trying to save money by delivering increased amounts of content online.
Online learning: the bad
This is the area I’m going to spend pretty much the rest of the workshop discussing, before opening it up for a wider discussion. I think it’s important to break the potential negative impacts of online learning down into two sections.
Firstly, the negative impacts right now during this pandemic, whilst it remains necessary for us to continue studying from home. And then, secondly, looking into hopefully a COVID-free future, where we’ll start to see those long-lasting effects of attacks on the higher ed sector come to fruition.
Online learning and COVID-19
There’s been some fantastic mobilising of students across the political spectrum in the face of an exceedingly rapid transition to online learning last semester/trimester. And a lot of campuses did manage to win changes for their students in areas like grading scheme changes, extensions of census dates, changes to remission of debt practices, putting off fee due dates for international students to later in the Semester. Before anyone goes me in the chat, no I don’t think that’s enough. I think the fact that we all paid full price for last semester - particularly international students - is a complete joke. I think it’s crucial we keep momentum and mobilisation for these campaigns going for the rest of the year, but anyways here’s the issues we’ve faced with online education due to COVID:
COVID came out of nowhere - Universities were not prepared.
For most Universities it was about the week 3 part of semester where we were transitioned online. There were some campuses that took a week off classes to ‘prepare’ for that transition, and others that launched straight into it. The nature of this pandemic coming out of nowhere, however, meant that our education was 110% compromised. This obviously wasn’t our tutors or lecturers fault, but it’s a weakness that we need to address. If you’ve been running the same face to face program for a year, five years or ten years with your students, and then you just simply pick that up and place it into an online format in the space of a week, a lot of the time it’s going to straight up suck. The logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of students online was also a nightmare, and this ties back into that decline in education quality I spoke about earlier.
Personally, I’ve fielded dozens of complaints from students within my role of crashing zooms, zoom hackers, cancelled seminars already due to budget cuts, lectures over five years old being recycled, three hour prac classes being reduced to a 10 minute instructional video. Does anyone want to jump in here and share the ways that they – or students they represent – have experienced a decline in quality of education since COVID?
Online teaching requires training
And to hit you with some theory bro stuff from an education student, you do need to alter your teaching styles to be effective in an online setting. That requires training. Online content often needs to be altered in order to be equally relevant and applicable, and not every subject has the ability to do this. For example, transforming a weekly 2hr bio-chem lab session into a 2hr online tutorial removes the ability for a student to learn through doing.
We all have tutors or lecturers we bloody love, but 99% of them have not undertaken an education degree, not received proficient and on-going training in the difference in methodology, framework and pedagogy required to be an effective educator in an online setting.
Because this pandemic came out of nowhere, we know this training was not received, and we’ve suffered because of it. If you’re organising any type of campaign this semester, I think a good way to engage with your academic board or Uni councils etc. when you’re appealing to academics is to go to that sort of theory because it becomes harder to ignore.
Pandemics present unique stressors
Once again, likely not a shock to anyone here, but if you are your campus welfare or disabilities officer, or if you want to lobby them to take up action in the coming months, this is good, simple stuff to know.
Today, June 3rd, the NUS held their #SaveOurStudents online rally. If you couldn’t make it along, that’s totally ok! I took notes throughout the 2-hour event, and felt it crucial to share stuff that I felt related to students at La Trobe.
‘$60 billion is a lot of money to right some wrongs’, said panellist Tony Sheldon. I felt this best summed up this discussion. He, of course, is referring to the sum of money slated for distribution in the Federal Government’s Job Keeper scheme, that has now been left unused.
We’ve seen New Zealand commit government funds to aid international students and migrant workers, just as they aid their domestic counterpart. The NUS believe that Australia needs to do the same. International students pay tenfold what the domestic student does. They study alongside us, work alongside us, research alongside us, pay taxes alongside us… but are not eligible for the government funding that we are. We have nearly 600,000 international students still in the country… that’s a lot of people to leave out in the cold.
COVID-19 has seen the hospo sector take a massive hit. And many international students and migrant workers work in that sector. Panellist Jordan Gilmour talked about those ‘slipping through the cracks’. Indeed, migrant workers are often exploited in their casual hospo jobs, paid as little as $5 an hour and capped at 20 hours of work a week under their visa regulations – something they often have to break just to put food on the table.
University Staff Cuts
‘Universities need to be an institution for public good’ – Mehreen Faruqi.
30,000 jobs on the line, and a government that actively changed the Job Keeper rules to ensure no public University in Australia would be eligible. This is the dire situation that panellist Mehreen Faruqi outlaid to us today.
Universities are businesses. And they’ve continuously moved towards a casual work force, which impacts on the quality of research and learning that they’re able to achieve, whilst slashing job security for those we expect to teach our future leaders. Tony Sheldon said we need to prioritise the students – not the pay point. This is how we strengthen higher education.
In a bloody good history lesson, NUS President Molly Wilmott outlined how we’ve reached the state of higher education today. From changing HECS regulations, to attempting to charge us $100k for degrees in 2014, cutting funding, capping places and swinging the axe on course after course, the past few decades have led to the situation we find ourselves in today.
Structural changes are needed. The inefficiencies have existed for decades, it’s just COVID that pulled back the curtain on them. Mehreen Faruqi suggested reading ‘The Good University’, for anyone interested.
How COVID has impacted students
Hana Arai, Curtain Guild President, named two broad issues that have emerged during this crisis. Firstly, the impacted quality of education and, secondly, the issue of welfare more broadly and how young people have been unfairly disadvantaged by the Government’s response.
I don’t need to go into the first one too much with you all – you should all know by now I believe our quality of education has been significantly lowered because of COVID. As always, this is not the teachers’ fault, but it is the outcome. And we will suffer for it. Staff are completely overworked, and will continue to be as more of their fellow workers are stood down. We’re now starting to see the threat of course cuts, as a result of staff being stood down. Many of us may have our course altered in the coming years, which may affect our progression.
Importantly, Hana highlighted the impact of loneliness and isolation on student / learning outcomes. It is crucial to introduce academic support policies that help students through this pandemic.
On the issue of welfare, we saw a lot of the issues raised above re-iterated. Young casual workers, international students and migrant workers have been impacted significantly by this virus, with the lowest amount of government aid.
Varun Kale, ethnocultural officer at the Swinburne Student Union, echoed these welfare sentiments. He spoke to us about the true dire realities of this crisis. International students going hungry. Losing their jobs. Being separated from family, who have lost their jobs and in countries where the virus is not as under control as it is here. In serious debt and not knowing what the future holds.
It is not ok for our government to say ‘go home’, ‘get money off of your parents’, or ‘we need to protect our own’. These are real human beings. And they deserve support.
Campaigning at University
Mehreen Faruqi discussed how to get campaigns and movements going on a student level. ‘Work with your student unions’, she said. And I agree (surprise). We need to do more. We need to commit to doing more than posting about the #SaveOurStudents campaign. It is not enough to simply silently post. We must organise campaigns, offer support, be loud and make the University uncomfortable. That is how change will occur. That is how we will save our education.
The panellists encouraged everyone to work with their NTEU branch on campus. Reach out. What do they need? What problems are they facing? What impact will that have on students? Work with them, or support their campaigns in whatever way you can, or feel comfortable with.
Panellists encouraged everyone to contact their MP’s, tell them the issues and how they need to act! If you need help doing so, you can always inbox the EdPub page and I’ll help you out. Tony Sheldon highlighted the power of the collective voice, and how we’re stronger together. You can also tweet using the hashtag #SaveOurStudents to let your local MP, or any Federal MP, know about the state of higher education.
Any questions about these notes, please message me! As I was multi-tasking during some of the event, I may not have the answer to all of your questions – but I will endeavour to find out the answer when I don’t know it.
Hey La Trobe!
Steph again. In our last blog post, I told you about a report I wrote to the University asking for our grading and WAM policies to be updated for Semester 1 2020, due to the COVID-19 Crisis. I wrote a short statement about that here: https://www.latrobesu.org.au/News/SaveOurStudents
However, I've also posted the report itself below, so that you know exactly what we're demanding. As always, I'm open to any suggestions, comments, queries etc. that you may have, so feel free to contact us anytime.
P.S. I have no updates so far on whether the University intends to take up our proposal. However, if they decline, we will be immediately launching a petition - and calling for your support to get these changes implemented!
Hey La Trobe!
Steph here with an EdPub update for April. Read on to see what the Department has achieved so far this year, and what we still hope to do. I also promise to keep this blog more active from here on out, and truly encourage any student with ideas to contact us! Truly, we want to hear from you!
They say the best laid plans go awry, and I think we can all agree that that's the understatement of the year for 2020. Because of this, we've spent the last month in isolation, running our department 100% online and trying our hardest to be the best reps we can be... from the safety of our homes.
Before going into lockdown, we were lucky enough to run one Chill Out Trolley service with our new and improved Chill Out Trolley's. 100% credit to Robert here, who has a true knack for making the ordinary look extra-ordinary! Head over to our Facebook page to see the pimped up Trolley's.
We also held preliminary meetings to discuss our plans for Education Day Semester 1. For those of you who hadn't attended an Education Day before, it's basically a day or multi-day event focused on highlighting a specific issue relating to our education. Successful Education Days in the past have highlighted the unfair costs of text books, the #FixCentrelinkNow campaign, and protests against Liberal government cuts to higher education funding. We planned to do a collaboration with the LTSU Environment Department, to highlight the need for sustainability within education. The University has already made great strides in this area, with the Vice-Chancellor working with local Member of Parliament Ged Kearney to launch initiatives to make La Trobe the first zero-emissions University in Victoria. However, we want to do more!
We were looking to:
1. Promote the transition to e-books over physical text books, to save paper and cost
2. Abolish assessments that need to be handed in, in person
3. Reduce printing by both academics and students, by promoting the use of online resources
Thanks to COVID-19, La Trobe has had to tackle all three of these issues head on. Importantly, it shows that we can have a more sustainable education. Therefore, I'll be pushing for resources to be kept online, and assessments to be turned in purely through the LMS and Turn It In, once we return to face-to-face learning.
In lock down, we've continued to promote key issues effecting students on our Facebook page. In particular, we've highlighted key wins and campaigns from the NUS, to keep students informed. Last week, the NUS launched their #SaveOurStudents Campaign, looking to fix the inequalities faced by students as a result of University and Government response to the COVID-19 Crisis. So far, we've been tackling demand six of this campaign: fight for fair assessment and grading this Semester. In mid-April, I wrote a report to be submitted to the University, detailing changes that need to be made to our grading system for the duration of this pandemic. I advocated that our WAM should not lower this semester, regardless of whether we pass or fail our classes. I'll be speaking more to this in another blog post!
We'll also be releasing a series of videos detailing changes to academic policy that will effect students. You can view these on our Facebook page, and they'll be beginning shortly with our explanation of Last Day WIthout Fail.
We're looking to hold a virtual exam stall this semester, providing you with study resources and daily motivators to keep you going through what will be an unprecedented exam period.
I'd also like to continue working with the NUS, in order to promote the #SaveOurStudents campaign - I'll update you all as we make new plans!
Like I said above, please contact us with any concerns or ideas. We're here to help, always.
Ed Pub 2k17 has started with a bang!
Hey everyone! We are Dave and Sayna and we are your 2017 Education and Public Affairs Officers for the La Trobe Student Union. At the beginning of the year, we sat down and decided what we wanted to achieve for students and La Trobe University at large. We want to help students feel empowered with their Education, as well as advocating for student rights at La Trobe and beyond. Above everything, we want to have conversations: we want to chat to you, the students, and let you know what is going on with your education and find out any ways that we can help you out!
So, let’s give a brief recap of everything that we have done this year, and what we plan to do into the future:
Chill Out Trolley
We. Are. Back. One of the fantastic services that the LTSU Ed Pub Team started up last year. Essentially, we walk around the Library every Monday night on Level 1 & 2, and give away heaps of free stuff! We have coffee, tea, milo, juice, milk (we even have ~soy~) and coke to keep you hydrated and awake. We stock heaps of biscuits, fruits, chocolates and snacks to give you the energy boost to get you through the semester. Our newest addition this year is Mi Goreng Noodles and Peanut Butter Biscuits.
Best of all: FREE to all students. You don’t have to be a LTSU member to get this free stuff.
Cuts are a Beach Education Day
Our biggest day of the year was held on 14th of March. Picture it: Beach Volley Ball in the Agora, Slushies, BBQ, Free Stuff, Umbrellas and Deck Chairs. Our goal was to educate students on the 20% Cuts to Higher Education, the #FixCentrelinkNow Campaign and the Prices of Textbooks; and how these affect everyone! It was awesome. Head over to our Facebook page very soon to find a video from the LTSU !
Why did you choose La Trobe? Survey
We asked ourselves: Why do students come to La Trobe? Was it the awesome parties, the ducks, the HSP's from Charlies, or the vibrant Club Culture on campus? Did they have the course you wanted? So we decided to find out. We created a super quick 3 minute survey that lets you tell us those reasons. Best of all we can use the data we collect to imporve the stuff that you get on campus. If you havent already, head over to http://freeonlinesurveys.com/s/FtSu7tIf and fill it in! We are giving away a huge prize pack to a lucky winner at the end of Week 12.
Keep an eye out for our new campaign coming up in the next few weeks: Make Your Grades ReMarkable! This campaign will focus on letting students know the ways that they can get their assignments remarked! (A lot of students dont realise that this is an option)
If you have any questions or ideas, HIT US UP! Email us at email@example.com or contact us on our Facebook Page!