DVCA Prof John Simons

Your Questions Answered from the DVC/A Town Hall

The DVC/A portfolio hosted a Town Hall event on Thursday 3 November to update the university community on achievements to date and strategic projects underway. Professors Simons and Young shared the Macquarie Theatre stage with Directors and Managers with priority given to the Indigenous White Paper, the Widening Participation Green Paper and the Library’s vision for leading nexus and ‘epic’ projects across campus.

The broader Learning and Teaching agenda was opened up to the floor of DVC/A staff for questions from attendees using live polling software. In addition to compliments on Professor Young’s tie: ‘great tie Sherman!’ and ‘vote 1 Sherman’s tie’, there were too many questions to get through in the one session, so we have compiled responses here.

How are we going about supporting students from refugee backgrounds?
The LEAP-Macquarie Mentoring program has been running very successfully for six years now, with 67 former mentees studying at university.  This year the Widening Participation Unit has been successful in attracting two external national grants, from the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) and National Priorities Pool (NPP), to research and develop a transition program for students from refugee backgrounds entering higher education. Our first Syrian refugee recruited through our link with CARA has just completed his MRes and is about to start his PhD.

Any update of culturally competency training for staff?
We are in the process of recruiting a Cultural Awareness Trainer who will roll out a program in 2017. The training will have an online component, as well as a face-to-face. We are planning for the training to be embedded within the on-boarding process for all new staff.

Will students have an opportunity to get involved with the cultural awareness training? Cause that would be awesome!
The short-term and immediate priority is to roll-out a staff program for cultural awareness training; longer term, there are plans for student cultural awareness training. In addition to cultural training, in 2017 an Aboriginal cultural app for Macquarie University will be developed and released. The app will give staff, students and visitors with a cultural tour of the University and provide users with cultural information about Darug Country and significant sites across campus.

What is an e-portfolio?
An electronic portfolio (also known as an e-portfolio, e-portfolio, digital portfolio, or online portfolio) is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web. Such electronic evidence may include input text, electronic files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks. They serve a range of purposes, from assessment to professional development and are used by students, instructors, and professionals across this scope of capacities. There are currently several L&T Strategic Priority grants investigating different aspects of e-portfolios to inform options for the university.

What is the future of the learning and teaching development grants (previously ISP, enhancement etc.)?
Grants types have been re-aligned to the objectives of the L&T Strategic Framework. A larger fund is now available under L&T Strategic Priority Grants via the Office of the PVC L&T.

MQ will ask job applicants whether they have done Duke of Ed? Why?
The DoE organisation approached us as they wanted to have a named partner university and they had noted that many of the things we are doing (around PACE especially) cohered with many of the things they do. They asked us if we would like to be the first university to join the growing number of ‘DoE Employers’. The question is not in any way designed as a criterion for employment and never will be. The end game of this is that DoE want to set up and fund a research institute to look at the impact of their schemes and they want us to host it.

Duke of Ed & GLP? One family?
Arguably. I’d (JS) prefer to think about it in terms of a range of ways that we assess the overall capacity of a student to succeed.

(CR) The GLP allows Duke of Ed (DoE) students to claim relevant DoE activities (such as community service) for credit towards their experiential credit requirement.

Duke of Ed bonus points for entry?
We already do this and have done for a few years.

In the L&T strategy, there are a number of elements that are intended to be designed into programs – cultural, sustainable, Indigenous, employability aspects etc. How do you intend to support this process? More generally, what support (workload, resources) might be planned for program teams as they review and design programs?
There are several initiatives in place, both at the centre (in the LIH) and in the faculties. On a general level, the curriculum standards framework is in its final stages of completion to serve as a general guiding frame for the development of curriculum and programs, addressing the integration of elements such as embedded Literacies and graduate capabilities. More specifically, some faculties have already developed resources for their program teams that provide guidance through the formation and/or review of programs. Further, there is currently work being done to develop and disseminate templates and processes meant to facilitate program development. There are also a number of initiatives, spanning the range of impacting elements from changes units to program review, in progress across the university.

How will learning skills support the changes to the way programs are being offered?
Learning Advisers are able to consult with Faculty program teams to establish program-specific threshold standards for communication skills and to identify specific strategies for the development of oral and written communication skills throughout a program.

Why not more online academic programs?
I (JS) think there should be many more but there is significant cultural resistance. In the future the global competitive environment will, I believe, pitch large developed world campus universities with very high infrastructure costs and high fees against largely online, globally dispersed providers with low costs and low fees but still able to provide a qualification which has integrity and value for employment. Assuming that prediction is correct (and it may not be) we must move a great deal more quickly that we are doing if we are to maintain market share in that environment. We have to understand the difference between “international’ and ‘global’ and we have to understand that the future will happen whether we like it or not and that futures are about change. (SY) In the short term, OUA provides good online opportunities for Faculties and the new alignment of session dates makes this a more straightforward process. Our Coursera MOOC offerings (around Big History) are also about to be significantly increased. We are also actively exploring other potential platforms, and working with Faculties to see what we can offer.

Will we be offering PACE for postgraduate units? If so, when?
Between 2012-16 the key priority has been the staged implementation of PACE across the entire undergraduate program – a collaborative project of significant scale and complexity. As of next year, there will be a PACE unit available to students in the first year of the M Res – MRES701: PACE for Research – providing a great opportunity for HDR students to engage in collaborative research projects with partners in industry and the community. Beyond 2016, we’re committed to assessing the scope to broaden engagement opportunities available to postgraduates, partners, staff, alumni and future students. So watch this space!

Should PACE be rebranded to make the name more meaningful to employer?
This is a tricky one with pros and cons both ways. There’s no doubt that the PACE brand is on a growth trajectory. PACE partners now number over 2,400 and among these brand awareness of PACE is strong. Many satisfied partners have led to new partner referrals, which in turn helps to spread the word. Recent market research also shows increasing brand recognition among future students. That said, it’s certainly fair to say that PACE (as an acronym) is not immediately meaningful to employers (or others for that matter). That’s why we are working with the Web Transformation and Group Marketing teams to ensure that those searching for information on “placements”, “internships” etc. are able to quickly find and connect with us through PACE.

Any evidence of PACE students finding their preferred potential employment post graduation?
The evidence is strong. We are seeing from our initial analysis that students who have completed a PACE Unit are more likely to be in full or part-time employment than those who have graduated without completing a PACE Unit. This is backed up by what we know anecdotally, that many students reassess their career and life trajectory based on their experience in PACE – often aligning their decisions with their social values and ethics. We also hear a significant number of stories from students who have gained meaningful employment as a direct result of their PACE experience. We are currently building the tools and frameworks that will help us better evaluate the outcomes of PACE. This will help us to better understand the contribution of PACE to MQ graduate’s employability and their broader contribution to society.

Can you tell us more about the Research Minor?
The purpose of the Major is to provide opportunities for students who are particularly interested in research, to develop in a systematic way, the practical skills and knowledge required to carry out sustained programs of research in their chosen discipline area. The idea is that this would be a university-wide minor and/or major that incorporates a small number of new units and existing units that have substantial practical hands-on engagement in research, and/or research communication and/or research skills and/or methods training;
Learning about research through a predominantly lecture-based course does not warrant inclusion unless the practical component is more than a specified percent of the assessment for the unit. Units with independent study elements are included. Units that include research internships – working alongside academics are included. Capstone units that are Research-based. Again, students must be engaged in research in such units. The list does not include capstone units where students are merely an audience for other people’s research. The Minor is still in development. Further details will be available in due course. Please contact angela.brew@mq.edu.au if you want to suggest units for inclusion.

Are there specific plans to address at risk first year students and to assist in their adjustment to university life?
There are several student experience initiatives underway, with many focused on the UG transition from high school. The Orientation Program Manager drives collaborative planning across Future Students, MUIC, MI, DVC S&R and the Faculties to improve the experience of students adjusting to university life. The Converged Services Working Group are also aligning effort to ensure quality and timely service provision – they have adopted a triaging process to reduce response times and ‘close the loop’ for students seeking support.

What changes have been brought about in orientation to enhance student journey ?
Orientation is now aligned with other core business at the start of the student journey including recruitment, enrolment and commencement (defined as up to HECS Census date). This means the programming, communications and engagement (staff and student) is streamlined, targeted and relevant to enhance the starting student experience. Messaging incorporates all aspects of the student journey during orientation – academic, social, transition, careers – and drives students to explore the support services and opportunities available each session. By including key business areas within our portfolio, and across the university, orientation now provides a more holistic insight for students into their life at Macquarie.

Is MQ city campus still a thing?
Yes, we are just furnishing a space in Angel Place which will house elements of MGSM, AFC and FBE.

Any update from MUIC on broadening alternative pathway programs ?
The College has only taught its full set of programs once so we need to implement improvements that have been identified in this first year. We will consider tweaks to the current programs that allow students to articulate into a fuller range of UG degrees; and we are excited to be liaising with the Indigenous Strategy and Widening Participation areas to explore offerings to support their strategies.

What’s the passing rate of MUIC students during their study period at MUIC?
Like other courses at Macquarie the pass rates vary from unit to unit. The Diploma units we offer, which are equivalent to the level 100 UG units taught by the faculties, generally have pass rates similar to the UG unit. Sometimes they are higher, usually when the unit only has a small number of students in it. The benchmarking we have done suggest that completion rates are in line with those in pathway colleges in other universities.

How will this [intended changes to the program in 2017] effect students currently in the GLP program?
A concept for the program re-design has been developed, and will move into the research and planning phase in 2017. There are no current implications for enrolled students.

What’s in store for the future of our Gallery and Museums?
The University Art Gallery has an established reputation for producing high quality interdisciplinary exhibitions that link with research, learning and teaching. This mandate will continue to thrive under a small but dedicated team fully committed to engaging audiences with the importance of art to education. We service an important program that engages people living with dementia on a regular basis which is growing, PACE students under ethics approval are currently documenting observations which is significant research we are undertaking in cohort with the Australian History Museum. An ongoing program with Sociology and the Arts is a fruitful development providing students with a different way of learning and ways to tackle applied research with tangible outcomes. And we are looking to expand those L&T programs. The Museums and Collections on campus will eventually join as co-partners under a governance structure that will support the Framing of the Futures in all areas of engagement – such as transformative and connected learning possibilities; meaningful engagement to the communities in which we serve; continue to produce museum quality exhibitions that are unique to the University.

What about the sculpture park?
A unique and integral feature of the campus, internationally recognised, the Park is currently being maintained on an annual basis to conserve the existing works. We are hoping to revitalise aspects with fresh commissioned works that will update the collection and complement the new architectural features of the campus. The Park is also used for L& T that offers connected learning opportunities from a range of disciplines including statistics, language and international studies, sociology and science. It is worth remembering that our sculpture park is the largest in southern hemisphere and as the local population grows it should be an important elements of our move to become a ‘destination’ for cultural and recreational activities to the community.

In the L&T space, what genuinely sets us apart among our competitors?
The truth is that many of our initiatives are the baseline requirement for staying competitive This includes our focus on student experience (both on campus and digital) – and outcomes (especially around employability). What is distinctive is the scope and scale of our approach. For employability, PACE, as a whole of institution project in experiential learning, combined with our expanding careers focus is distinctive. The Business Park and the opportunities for corporate and community engagement and entrepreneurial activities around the MPID have the potential to further enhance that solid foundation. And similarly our emphasis on university-wide digital/on-campus experiences is still unusual in its comprehensiveness. Although, there is clearly room to further dovekie that experience.

What would John say he has been most proud of in his tenure?  What is The Simons Legacy?
I simply want the things we have set up, especially in widening participation, refugee support and Indigenous access and development to survive my leaving and become part of the DNA of the university. I’d like the university to continue to value the art gallery and museums which are an integral part of any university of global stature and if our own mission to serve a growing local community. These are tricky things: universities are, by and large, not particularly interested in social justice and not particularly cultured and Macquarie is no exception. I’m speaking as someone who has been a member of staff, a visiting Fellow, an examiner, a consultant, a reviewer or an auditor in nearly 50 universities on five continents so this rather bleak conclusion comes from deep experience. These are the hard things.  They are much harder than getting learning and teaching or research right because they don’t really impinge on most people’s priorities. Someone has to champion them at a senior level or they won’t happen and the figures show (whatever people think) that they didn’t happen at Macquarie for many years and even now, with good evidence, there is still resistance to doing them. About 20 years ago I set up what was then the first teaching qualification in Urdu in a UK university because I was concerned about the increasing hurdles to participation in education for immigrant families from Pakistan and Bangla Desh in the East Lancashire valleys and my then university’s failure to address them. That programme is still going strong and about six other UK universities now have a similar one. I’d be amazed if anyone remembered my part in all this and it is not important whether they do or don’t. The thing is the course has survived and, I hope, played a modest part in promoting better outcomes. I’d like the same to happen at Macquarie and for evidence-based equity to be our norm with no thought that any individual plays or played a more important part than any other member of the team.

What will John miss the most about the university?
I am retiring from Macquarie but also from 41 years in universities all over the world. I will miss teaching and the opportunity to talk to students and see them graduate – which is why we are here. I’ll miss interesting conversations with colleagues. Specifically, at Macquarie I will miss the great pleasure I get every day from the beautiful campus environment. I also have the gift of seeing or hearing something that amuses me pretty much every day. Working in universities is especially good for someone like that!

llongyfarchiadau John.
diolch yn fawr iawn (translation: ‘congratulations John’, response: thank you).

Thank you for the positive feedback and engagement during the session. We’ll be hosting more of these events in 2017, and will make additional time for Q&As. In the interim, we always welcome feedback and opportunities for collaboration via pvclt@mq.edu.au.