HERDSA / STARS conference highlights

The 2018 Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) conference held in Adelaide titled (Re)Valuing higher education provided opportunities to reflect on our roles as educators in further education contexts. The first keynote speaker, Professor Tim Flannery (media personality, acclaimed scientist and conservationist), passionately professed the importance of ensuring we develop an environmental understanding as a way forward. He discussed a number of climate change disasters before arguing the only way to ensure a sustainable planet is through adequate education, which supports the development of critical and creative thinking, problem solving skills and the capacity to question.

The second keynote speaker, Associate Professor Barbara Grant (academic at the University of Auckland and former Executive Editor of the Higher Education Research & Development journal), provided an eloquent critique on how our roles are valued (and not valued) within our institutions, across the sector and more generally. She provided personal insights and views regarding how she works to make sense of decisions made by government and university hierarchy. She did so by providing an autobiographical framing, and scrutinised decisions made by senior staff and ones she had made when in positions of authority.

The student panel included the President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), the National Welfare Officer from the National Union of Students (NUS), a PhD candidate from Murdoch University, and a UniSA graduate who had been a prison inmate. The panel provided an enlightening discussion on what they saw as the purpose of university, what its value is, and how governments might measure the value of higher education for individuals and society. Their articulate and well-reasoned insights modelled the high standards many of our students and graduates reach.

The final keynote paper was presented by Emeritus Professor Ronald Barnett (University College London Institute of Education and author of over 30 books and many more papers and articles) who discussed what the potential visons for a university were, and could be, as well unpacking the conference title. He brought the three days to an end by rounding it out and eloquently offering his view of a potential university ecology including what he saw as the seven ecosystems of a university.

Peppered within the various keynotes, a variety of papers, workshops and posters were presented on a vast range of topics related to the conference theme, (Re)Valuing higher education, and its subthemes: valuing education; academic work and identities; teaching, learning and the student experience; pathways, partnerships and communities; governance and policy; and innovation. Overall, my impression of the conference based on what I attended was that it was well put together, the keynotes were thought provoking, and most papers were informative and/or inspiring. For more information visit the conference website. HERDSA will be held in Auckland, New Zealand in 2019.

The 2018 Students Transitions Achievement Retention & Success (STARS) conference was held a few days after HERDSA in Auckland (New Zealand). The location provided the opportunity to engage in a different cultural experience with much singing, and both Maori and Pasifika spoken at all opportunities. A few things I learned include a third of the NZ population is Maori and Pasifika, a third is Asian, and the rest have European roots. The significance of this national profile was explained by a number of speakers who said the demographic requires a widening participation agenda to ensure higher education opportunities for Indigenous and other non-Western people in New Zealand is imperative for the country’s continued prosperity and survival.

Although STARS is a shorter conference, as with HERDSA, it offered a blend of sessions. These included a keynote speaker, a number of panels, both refereed and emerging initiative papers, posters, special interest groups and network meetings. STARS complemented HERDSA as topics tended to focus more on transition, retention and employability. The opening keynote, Martin Carroll (Executive General Manager Academic, and Provost Manukau Institute of Technology), used characters from science fiction film to frame an entertaining talk titled ‘The ethics of AI in tertiary education’.

The highlights of STARS included hearing more about Victoria University’s shift to a block rather than parallel delivery model, revisiting ideas in relation student belongingness, drawing on student experiences as part of the teaching approach and valuing co-curricular activities. In addition, I gained new insights into intercultural and academic competencies such as having students deconstruct their own recorded conversations in relation to a topic, so they can hear and see the various potential interpretations of their own language usage and interactions with other students. I also heard about a strategic steering guide (SSG) as an approach to learning and teaching projects. The SSG brings together three theoretical perspectives – the Cynefin framework, Johari window and IMPEL ladder – as a way of creating collaborative teams who all take responsibility for identifying creative approaches to ensuring a project’s success.

Further details on all presentations from the 2018 STARS conference (and downloads of most) are available from the conference website. The conference proceedings (PDF) is also available. In 2019, STARS will be held in Melbourne.

Contributed by Dr Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

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