LIH: Look, I'm Here!

(maybe include subtitle here)

- Sarita Perston

A small inner department of UNE has undertaken what can only be interpreted as a publicity stunt through the release of a controversial document, successfully resulting in a whole lot of talk about the previously obscure department.

The ‘Learning Innovations Hub’, or LIH, came into the spotlight when the document, titled Impact of Workplace Change on Schools - Consultation Document, authored and authorised by Executive Director of the Learning Innovations Hub, Professor Eddie Blass, was emailed to unit coordinators on 15th November. It notifies of the closure of the Despatch unit, previously responsible for printing out assignments and returning marked assignments to students. It then goes on to canvass a movement away from exams as a form of assessment, citing ‘administrative costs and difficulties’ as one reason.

A bevy of confused academics have queried what the two announcements had to do with one another, as well as reacting furiously to moves that are seen as compromising academic quality.

Eddie Blass has also come under fire for the tone used, which has been described as patronising and abhorrent. Her motives have been questioned, as has her authority to make such decisions in the first place.

LIH-quoteWhen asked what the role of the LIH department actually was, one lecturer responded, “Well that’s the question, isn’t it?”

The document has also obviously missed a proofread, being scattered with grammatical errors, logical fallacies, and unsupported arguments.

“If I ask academics why they opt for exams, the number one reason given is that it is the best way to avoid plagiarism,” Prof. Blass notes. “Can we, as a university, say that we are 100% sure that every student in every exam centre around the world is exactly the person they say they are?”

Prof. Blass grasps at straws so often in the document that she could very nearly go about building a straw house; though not one that couldn’t be blown over by a riled academic. “It is the view of this School that video presentations are not a feasible tool to assess students’ technical competence,” the School of Science and Technology included in its response, referring to the document’s suggestion that video presentations provide one alternative to exams. “The ability to produce a video is a useful skill, but a minor one compared with the need for scientists, mathematicians and engineers to get the ‘right’ answer.”

Other suggested alternatives to examinations are student peer reviewed assessment tasks, time-constrained assessment, and the rather peculiar ‘assessment rubrics’.

Whether students are expected to undertake rubric-writing as a form of assessment has not been verified.

The ‘time-constrained assessment’ suggestion stated that “…If the students spend the hour or 2 hours… phoning a friend, looking things up on the internet, etc then so be it. That is what would normally occur in real life so it is a real life assessment task,” and went so far as to suggest students could be awarded marks for their ‘resourcefulness’.

But that’s alright because clearly what’s needed for graduates to compete in a ‘global market’ is for them to be the nimblest to jump on Facebook, message as many Friends as possible and come up with the happiest, healthiest reference list a professional academic could be hoping for. And god forbid a student include a citation of the traditional and far too credible Wikipedia.

In its response the School of Science and Technology tacitly noted the effect on graduates. “If we give everyone the idea that no one needs to achieve at least the basic level of competency... because they can rely on someone else to tell them, then the only people left in the world, on whom the rest of us rely, will be people who got their degrees before 2013.”

It appears the current trend amongst customers – sorry, students – of wanting a slip of paper that says ‘I have a university degree’ is unfortunately founded on a historical reputation that universities provide good, higher-level educations and actually increase employment opportunities.

The NTEU is taking no chances that the farcical document was intended as a joke, probably because four people in Despatch have already lost their present positions. An NTEU branch meeting in early December passed motions strongly objecting to the document and its implications, including insufficient consultation.

True to form, many academics have also responded to the November 15th document by returning it to Professor Eddie Blass with comments and corrections.

Prof. Blass responded to the criticism on December 6th. Her response included the following paragraph (copied verbatim):

 “…The document states (maybe paste direct line here) that it asking people to consider the use of exams …”

At least Eddie Blass is making a name for herself and for the enigmatic Learning Innovations Hub – and all publicity is good publicity, right?

Review: Dalloway (Woolf)