(Written 2011)

# A nervous start to my studentship at University

I have never been to university before, and so this semester that I have just spent at La Trobe was my first ever first-hand experience of a university setting, both in a social and educational senses. For two years after graduating from high school, 2007 and 2008, I was at Box Hill TAFE, doing a course in Professional Writing and English – and so I have had experience before of tertiary education. For the next two years after that, 2009 and 2010, I was unemployed, not having any responsibilities outside of job-searching and appeasing Centerlink bureaucrats, meaning that there were no structural or designated programs for where my education was included; in other words, for the first time ever, my learning was not the key focus in any aspect of my professional life, as I had no school of any sorts to go to. Once I came to La Trobe Uni, I was therefore making the leap from no-education life into a tertiary setting of hard work, intense learning and important assignments; my ability to cope could be used as evidence to my ability to act properly as a student, and to react and respond to a change in lifestyle that I was clearly undertaking.

As I arrived for the first time at La Trobe, and actually walked onto the campus grounds, I was filled with nerves. It had been two whole months since I was formally offered a place in the Bachelor of Education course, from when I received the letter from VTAC until the classes actually started, which naturally meant that the long wait created a decent level of anxiety in my mind. I struggled to prepare myself for what was coming up ahead, because there was so much time on my hands with such little information to prepare myself in expectation.

As said before, I had never been at a university before, and the only information on non-TAFE tertiary education that I had was from friends of mine who had attended uni, and the American movies and sit-coms which were based on college education (Gilmore Girls, for example). As such, there were millions of things about university that I didn’t know about, or understand, and I had no clue as to how I would end up dealing with it all.

The official year of classes and education for La Trobe was the last days of February, first days of March; at the time of writing this summary, we’re at the last days of May, first days of June. I would like to take a bit of time now to discuss my experiences of being at La Trobe Uni, including the classes that I have taken, and give my personal assessment as to their ability to serve my schooling needs.

Do note, I have already written up a couple of separate articles that are dedicated towards my EDU1PAL subject, including mentioning Julie White’s lectures and my attitude towards my tutor Betina’s amazing social skills. (See Aspies and Social Situations, Trust, Me as a Teacher, Betina; and Julie White’s lectures and Betina’s Tough Questions.) As such, there is less need to focus on this side of the course, as it’s discussed in detail elsewhere – more emphasis, then, will be placed on the other aspects of my semester of schooling, including the other subjects, including my minoring elective, and the university’s bureaucracy.

# University bureaucracy, in particular the LMS/ Moodle website

The Moodle/ LMS site, as a part of the La Trobe Uni website, is a shocking piece of technology. The reason for this is because it’s decentralised, and categorised in inappropriate categories, leaving the user less able to create fluid work, but much more restricted and slowed down thanks to the jaded realities and logic that the site goes by.

On one part of the LMS site, there are the emails, so that people can check their inboxes and send emails; on another part, we have the subject guide listings, so that students can hand in assignments and look up important subject information; and in another part, we have the calendar, timetables, scheduling, etc, which allow for explanations to class organisation, as well as students booking in their tutorials at the times they want.

There is no intelligible explanation to why the LMS website should be separated into different parts like it is. This means that I need to go into one part to look at something, for example see when my subject’s exam is, and then I have to get out of it, go back to the LMS/Moodle hub, and then get into my subject guide so that I can collection the information given to me on the exam. And then, if I want to read my emails that have been sent around by my tutor in discussing the exam, I have to do the same thing, going back to the hub, and then going into my email account, in order to read those emails in my inbox.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a far more centralised form of organisation? Instead of the separation being on parts of the site, the separation should be for each subject, and each part of the site should be united together to form a collective bureaucratic entity for that subject. In other words, I log onto my EDU1PAL site, and there I have all aspects of that subject available to me immediately: the information about the subject; the blog forums; the Lectopia links; the subject-related emails that I’ve received, and sent; the calendar, including all key dates for the subject; etc, etc, etc.

Students are far more interested in solving issues that are related to their subjects, and will organise their work accordingly to each subject they’re taking – their concerns don’t lie in the separation of each aspect of the subject, when in fact that decentralisation can become a great nuisance for them while they’re trying to do their work, and so I would advice that the website should be changed, redesigned, etc, so that it no longer fits such a model.

In summary, a subject-by-subject design for the LMS/ Moddle site is far more sensible and efficient than its incumbent part-by-part design.

# EDU1LLL – Literacy and Language

There was a serious problem with the LLL lectures, presented by Joan Stewart – too much stuff to cover in such little time.

There were always massive amounts of information, details and advice that needed to get covered and discussed, and yet it needed to be done in only a short hour of her speaking; often, in order to cover everything, Stewart would rush and barge through each thing that she wanted to say, showing slides extremely quickly, showing books up and down in a flash, allowing no time for any potential discussion or elaboration, and then the lecture would end without anyone having been able to get any decent notes down, because there was too much rushing. To make matters worse, because of where the lecture was held, they couldn’t be recorded or videoed, and so was not placed on Lectopia – meaning that what Stewart discussed never got archived in any way, so that all of the useful and worth-remembering things that she talked about within the hour was lost, unless I happened to have been lucky and wrote it down fast enough.

Because this is how the lectures always went, I found it extremely difficult go get myself motivated for LLL, to get myself excited about teaching students English, and struggled to care about attending the LLL tutorial classes.

It’s obvious then that changes need to be made for next year’s first-year students of this subject, and for us second-year students next year when we return to LLL. Changes need to be made so that attending the lectures is worthwhile, the information is always deep and effective, and there is an archiving system available so that all information can be stored and retrieved when necessary.

Similar but different problems existed in the tutorials, with my tutor Pippa Ross. Throughout the semester, in the hour after hour we had in the classroom with her, she would roll off countless pieces of advice to us – about how best to organise and manage the classroom so to ensure the students learn literacy and language in the most effective and colourful and entertaining manner; these were often tiny little morsels of advice, but were golden in their effectiveness, and could thus make revolutionary changes to how well the literacy activity goes. The problem was that most of these pieces of advice, unless they were written down somewhere, will have been lost to the winds: Pippa talks about them, we all agree in how useful they’d be, but then they disappear from our memories into nothing. Anyone can remember one piece of golden advice, but no one can remember hundreds of pieces of golden advice, which is exactly what Pippa’s tutorials each contained.

There ought to be some sort of archive system in where all of these wonderful ideas, hints and tricks-of-the-trade, etc, can get recorded and listed in an easy-to-use way. That way, when we teachers-in-training actually get out there into the classrooms and start teaching literacy lessons with primary school students, we’ll have these pieces of golden advice, tricks, ideas, lessons, etc, to call upon at a moment’s notice.

No teacher can possibly remember everything about teaching, and so there needs to be some sort of system or program out there that can act as a index module, giving teacher’s easy ability to locate a trick or idea that they most desperately need for the class they are preparing for teaching.

# LST1LAS – Law and Legal Consciousness

Sue Davies’s lectures were very entertaining, were very much worth attending, and tended to be rich with information and details. The lecture should be a single two-hour session, not two one-hour sessions – efficiency and fluency of conversation and information begs this to be so.

There were obvious problems with the way that the tutorials, run by Tarryn Phillips, were operated. It meant that their value was heavily reduced.

The classes only went for one hour, which is an extremely short time, and yet there was always so much that needed to get covered; and when I say that a lot needed to get covered, I don’t mean from a syllabus point of view, educationalists forcing the issues onto us, but instead I mean that often the topics of discussion are so broad, complex and multifaceted that it should take long periods of time for the full beast of the topic to be fleshed out into the open. Tarryn would often have a list of question that she would ask us, obviously with the intention of designating portions of time accordingly to each topic. This was positive whenever discussions didn’t pick up, when silence was more common in the classroom than debate, and so she had back-up plans available to shift the situation on to something more debateable or worthy of people’s opinions. But it was extremely negative whenever good debates were on the immediate horizon, and some real good dialogue was being had, but then the next question on the list was employed to shift class focus. There were occasions during the semester, when the topic was picking up some real spirit, when a few people had made some comments, and there was real potential for a debate to start between them, which would’ve allowed the topic to go into some richer and more quality details… but instead of allowing the debate to go on, Tarryn would interrupt, give some sort of summary of what had been discussed, and then would move on by asking the class the next question on her list.

By Tarryn doing things this way – either out of choice or necessity, you’d have to ask her – this meant that the ability for an enriching tutorial to occur was severely limited. Often then, classmates of mine would struggle to see purpose in putting up their hands and giving their opinions, given that no matter what they’d say, Tarryn would immediately push things away and towards something else. For someone who has opinions about the law that are not that common and not represented in the mainstream, I felt particularly annoyed in how the tutorial ended up going, seeing as how I couldn’t truly get my views out there into the discourse, because the conversation was pushed away too quickly.

# EDU1PAL and La Trobe’s BEd course as a whole

Obviously, with this being La Trobe University’s first ever year of running a Bachelor of Education course, there were always going to be teething problems, mistakes made, and accidents occur. This was obvious during the organisation of the student observations, where countless bugs were located within the system, which caused hiccups, stalled observations, got schools cancelled, made student activities strenuous, and were downright unproductive. It’s likely, then, that after having gotten through the first semester in tact, the education faculty has been able to come to grips with the successes and failures of the observation program: they are fully aware of all that went well and all that went wrong, and have large volumes of data on such. I then presume that, give that they have all this data, they are in extremely good stead to smoothing over the cracks and producing a high quality and less-flaws-occurring observations program for the first-year students next year.

I myself had an observation program, which involved me being assigned a school that was on the other side of the city, meaning that it would’ve taken me a good couple of hours of train travelling in order to get to each day of observations: thankfully, with assistance from my tutor Betina, I was able to get a change to occur, and the faculty rearranged the school I was assigned to, giving me instead a high school that only took an hour of travel to get to.

# La Trobe University

The schooling semester should be longer. For my first semester of university, it only went for 13 weeks, and that is just far too short. It should definitely be closer to something like 16 or 15 or 17.

By being so short, it’s getting close to being just 10, which feels a lot more like a term than a semester. The academic weeks just fly by too fast, the entire rhythm of the classes end just when the momentum was being built up into a healthy system, and then the students are out of classes for nearly two months while the next semester is organised.

School culture and community is built around the systems of predictability, accountability, routines, etc, so that students can enter into a campus or class or lecture, they already know what’s going on and what will happen next, and this means that they can focus less on the official procedures related to schooling, and instead focus more on their actual class work, studying hard, participating, doing projects, and actually conduct their educational syllabus in a way where they have genuine energy into the programs.

Without genuine community or culture within the university, because the semester just goes far too quickly and is too short, then there’s no real point then of having social or welfare programs available! Why bother having counselling or job support programs at La Trobe if the students are only going to be at the school for 13 weeks, and only on campus for such limited amounts of time in gross total.

But if the semester was extended, for example increased to 15 or 16 weeks, then campus and school community and culture would much more be relevant and substantial qualities that existed in student’s minds and on the grounds, and would completely positively alter the university experience for the majority of the students going here, especially those studying full-time. In conclusion, I would thoroughly encourage and recommend that the semester be extended with an extra two or three weeks.

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