Fresh thoughts

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March 12, 2018 by Kate Bowles

Welcome to week 3. It’s so exciting to see your ideas for new projects developing!

And it’s natural that this is a time of uncertainty. Do you have the right project? Do you have the right question? What resources will you need?

Gardeners know that we usually sow more seeds than we need, then weed out the ones that aren’t very strong. Researchers have to do the same. When we’re brainstorming ideas, we’re often juggling two or three proposals, trying to see which is the most achievable.

So the aim of sharing draft ideas is that you can get feedback to help you decide which idea to nurture, and which to let go.

This week among the many good ideas, I found these:

Tayla Makin is one of quite a few researching online lectures, and I love the wide approach she’s taking. Do students really want to do their degrees in bed? This is close to home for BCM212 and I’m keen to learn what you all find out. I hope all of you researching in this topic area can share resources with each other, as there’s a ton of good stuff out there.

(One quick caution for everyone looking at students and technology topics: we’ve been teaching “online” one way and another since the 1990s, and the internet is at its heart 1960s US military infrastructure. So be careful with generalisations about how recent this change is. What might be a more useful question: why does this change seem to be accelerating now?)

Abby has a short post up on the trials of being a commuter student and I like this topic because there a lots of ways to make it smaller, including by focusing on one commuter system. Who carpools? Who uses the free bus? Who relies on infrequent trains? Is anyone cycling? Who walks? Focusing on just one of these groups is big enough for this project.

Transport research topics are also relevant to Tayla’s question, funnily enough. BCM212 has online content this year because the alternative was a late evening lecture timeslot that would have made it pretty much impossible for Sydney students to attend. As I wrestled with this issue over the summer, it occurred to me that universities aren’t good at seeing how different aspects of the problem work together. Commuting, timetabling, lecture recording, moodle: they’re all systems within systems that affect the student experience.

(And while you’re thinking about transport, here’s a link to help Mikayla out with a quick Twitter poll on train delays; Yibeltal’s polling on lecture capture; and Scott’s polling on students and sport. You can help!)

Meanwhile Montana’s making good use of brainstorming time by putting up a choice of three projects and asking for input. Although the online lecture aspect of course appeals to me, actually I’m also drawn to the accommodation question. This is a smart move: get some feedback from other students (and us) before you settle on your topic. (Meggen also has three choices, and I’m a fan of the great student swindle topic she’s thinking about.)

And Fadilla has a really challenging topic: the experience of international students. The post is full of ideas, and the questions aren’t just addressed to international students. I really love the way she ends her thoughts.

Stereotypes! Just because they can’t understand you, doesn’t mean they’re dumb or lacking, right? How much intelligence do international students have to offer Australian education?

I want to give them a voice.

That’s what all good research does: it gives voice to the people involved in the area that you’re researching.
But who needs to hear this voice? Who needs to know what you’ll find out?
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The way to communicate with powerful institutions like universities and to make a case for change is to gather good evidence, and to present it carefully. This is also the way to approach topics that might affect the way other students are thought or talked about.

Working carefully is how you’ll get student voices heard, and how you’ll make your contribution to universities living up to the promise of their role as critical institutions.

And PS: a last minute cheer to Susie who’s thinking about students and food waste. I’m really keen to know more about this.

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