Education Public Affairs Officer

Education Public Affairs Officer

#SaveOurStudents - Proposed Amendment to Grading / WAM Scheme

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. 

Thanks, 
Steph! 

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! 
 

Proposed Amendment to La Trobe Grading Procedures Due to COVID-19
Prepared by Stephanie Briese, 20199340

COVID-19 has seen La Trobe University (LTU) transition to online delivery of subjects for the remainder of Semester 1 2020. Faculties have tried their best to modify Face to Face (F2F) subjects so that they are fit for online delivery. Arguably – but understandably – this has been done to varying levels of success, dependant on just how applicable a particular subject is for online delivery. For example, it is undeniable that a history subject is more likely to lend itself to online delivery than a practical chemistry subject, or an advanced statistics class. LTU must work to create equitable outcomes for all students during this unprecedented time.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, LTU has opted for a modified grading system for Semester 1 2020, in an attempt to protect students negatively impacted by the transition to online studies. This modified system means:
  • ‘Fail’ grades will not be recorded on a student’s academic transcript
  • ‘Fail’ grades will have no negative impact on a student’s Weighted Average Mark (WAM)
  • Students failing a subject/s will still pay for it, and need to repeat it at a later date.

This modified system is a good starting block. However, it does not go far enough in accounting for the challenging position students currently find themselves in. Drop-out rates for students enrolled in online courses are an estimated 10-20% higher than their F2F counterparts (Boton & Gregory, 2015; Christensen & Spackman, 2017). And for those who do stay enrolled, they’re more likely to under-perform or fail (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). The reasons for this are numerous.

Firstly, studies have indicated that purely transferring delivery of traditionally F2F content onto an online forum does not mean it will be equally applicable or engaging to students (Holley and Oliver, 2010). Online content often needs to be altered in order to be equally relevant, 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. Furthermore, the act of teaching must be altered to be effective in an online setting (Ituma, 2011). Arguably, most LTU academics and tutors have not undertaken an education degree, nor have they received proficient and on-going training in the difference in methodology, framework and pedagogy required to be an effective educator in an online setting. This is not the University’s fault; however, it does demonstrate that level of instruction received by students is likely to be lowered this semester, which may negatively impact overall academic performance.

Secondly, online learning removes the ability for student to engage and communicate with each other F2F. Studies have shown that students feel less engaged with their peers and content when they are not sharing the same room with them (Otter et al., 2013). Online chat forums and Zoom tutorials are a fantastic placeholder during this pandemic, however many students have reported that their peers do not attend the Zoom classes, do not put their cameras on, and do not participate. Further studies have indicated that students may feel daunted by the technological expectations of online study (Holley and Oliver, 2010) which may prove another barrier to academic success in an online setting.

Thirdly, an increase in extrinsic motivation is required to complete online content. Whereas in a F2F setting, the lecturer/tutor takes on the role of the ‘motivator’, this must be taken on purely by the student themselves in online learning spaces (Upton, 2006). Bluntly, this does not favour every student, nor is it a surprise to anyone. The repeated act of physically sitting in a lecture hall or classroom when studying, conditions the brain to associate these spaces with one of ‘study’ or ‘concentration’. Meanwhile, our bedrooms, dining room tables, etc. are more likely to be associated with ‘leisure’. It is a reason why the La Trobe library remains open 24/7 (outside of a pandemic): many of us are able to concentrate and muster up increased amounts of extrinsic motivation in a place of study. Thus, having to study purely from our homes – which by no means are guaranteed to be appropriate study spaces – can have a significant negative impact on academic success.

Fourthly, studies have found that low-income, lower performing, and international students are at increased risk of dropping-out or under-performing in an online setting (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019). Language barriers are increased when learning is purely online. Poor internet quality, or too many users on Zoom at once, can lead to decreased ability to understand an educator, and not every student will be comfortable asking an educator to repeat themselves. Studies suggest that subjects with increasingly diverse cohorts are more likely to require specialist designers that are able to create inclusive, accessible and flexible learning environments (Gay, 2010). Once again, it is not the University’s fault, but it is unlikely that moving the entire student population online in one week allowed for the in-depth consideration required to make all subjects equally accessible for those with varying cultural and language backgrounds. 

Whilst the above research indicates the standard differences between online and F2F learning, even this does not take into account the additional stressors associated with undertaking study during a pandemic. A prominent feature of Australia’s response to COVID-19 is the forcing of all members of society to socially and physically isolate themselves. Social isolation and associated loneliness have been found to impact a person’s physical, mental and cognitive health (Hawkley & Capitanio, 2015); depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, cognitive decline and impaired immunity are just some of the associated outcomes. The negative impact this will have on student performance in Semester 1 cannot be understated.

Furthermore, it is an understatement to say that our current climate will increase stress and anxiety amongst students. Chronic stress, and prolonged increase in cortisol production, can impact the brain’s ability to properly function. The stress of an invisible virus amongst society, paired with being forced to stay isolated from friends and family, the threat of job loss or crippling finances, as well as transitioning swiftly to a mode of study that students did not sign up for, will impact academic performance for much of the La Trobe community. It is crucial that we accommodate this and display the utmost empathy for our students.

Under LTU’s current modified grading system, students receiving a ‘fail’ grade will not have their WAM impacted, but students who just pass will risk having their WAM entirely decimated. Low mark/s will also be recorded on official transcripts. This can have a tremendously negative impact on students hoping to apply for scholarships, to transfer courses, to apply for post-graduate study, or to find a job after completion of their degree. Even if LTU itself adopts an empathetic view towards grades received this semester, it is not guaranteed that other universities or the wider job market will hold this same empathy. Furthermore, this modified system – as it currently stands – can be seen as an incentive for students to deliberately fail a subject, if they feel they are at risk of just passing, and want to protect their WAM. For those requiring a high WAM in a competitive job market, it would be better at present to fail and repeat a subject - which won’t appear on their transcript.

It is blatantly clear that academic performance will be impacted this semester. Whilst LTU has done all it can to ensure students can continue studying, there are factors that cannot be controlled at play, and for which we need to demonstrate empathy for. Taking all of the above points into account, we propose the following amendments to the modified grading procedure:
  • Fail grades will not appear on official transcripts, nor will they negatively impact WAM
  • Students receiving lower-than-average marks this semester may opt to have them only recorded as a ‘pass’ on their transcript, as opposed to a numbered grade, with their WAM remaining the same.
  • Students receiving their usual/higher than usual marks this semester may function through the traditional system, with their WAM increasing.

We believe that these amendments would allow for more equitable student outcomes. It accounts for those who will not fail, but will severely underperform due to the current climate and associated stressors of being isolated and studying online. Importantly, it protects WAM and a student’s transcript, so that their future study and job prospects are not destroyed by a pandemic they had no control over.


Resources
Boton, E., & Gregory, S. (2015). Minimizing Attrition in Online Degree Courses. Journal Of Educators Online12(1), 62-90.
Christensen, S., & Spackman, J. (2017). Dropout rates, student momentum, and course walls: a new tool for distance education designers. Journal Of Educators Online14(2).
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Hawkley, L., & Capitanio, J. (2015). Perceived social isolation, evolutionary fitness and health outcomes: a lifespan approach. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society B370(1669). doi: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2014.0114
Holley, D., & Oliver, M. (2010). Student engagement and blended learning: portraits of risk. Computer & Education54, 693-700.
Ituma, A. (2020). An evaluation of students' perceptions and engagement with e-learning components in a campus based university. Active Learning In Higher Education12, 57-68.
Otter, R., Seipel, S., Graeff, T., Alexander, B., Boraiko, C., Gray, J., & Sadler, K. (2013). Comparing student and faculty perceptions of online and traditional courses. The Internet And Higher Education19, 27-35.
Protopsaltis, S., & Baum, S. (2020). Does online education live up to its promise? A look at the evidence and implications for federal policy. Retrieved from http://mason.gmu.edu/~sprotops/OnlineEd.pdf
Upton, D. (2006). Online learning in speech and language therapy: student performance and attitudes. Education For Health19, 22-31.
 


COVID-19 and #SaveOurStudents - April 2020 Update

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. 

Stay well! 
Steph. 


Whoa! Ed Pub has done a lot so far!

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. 

What now?

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 ltsu.edpub@latrobe.edu.au or contact us on our Facebook Page!