Who to select for teaching degrees? How about people who want to teach 

plus this year’s Sax Institute award winners

Innovation heresy: basic research delivers high social returns

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”

UNSW is running a two-week summer school in social robotics, which focuses on ways robots will interact with people. “Robots will work with humans, they won’t replace them,” Belinda Dunstan from the university’s creative robotics lab says. At least not until they work out how.


Long to leave LaTrobe

La Trobe senior DVC Jane Long has resigned and will leave the university on February 28. “ My decision to leave at an early juncture has by no means been an easy one to reach, and I have had to weigh up many different, and sometimes competing, professional factors in the process,” she told colleagues yesterday. Professor Long joined LTU in 2013 as DVC A, becoming senior DVC last year. She has not disclosed what she will do next saying she is departing “to take the next step in my career in higher education.”

She will be missed, as Vice Chancellor John Dewar made clear in a long message to staff detailing her enormous output and achievements. “I shall miss her insight and advice,” he said. Professor Dewar added he “respect(s) the professional reasons for her decision.”

This is the second big loss for La Trobe in recent months. In September Graham Schaffer resigned just two years after being appointed to be PVC of the College of Health, Science and Engineering – one of the two foundations of Professor Dewar’s restructure. (CMM September 1).

iMove on command

CRC bidders are making their cases to the selection committee this week –including the 18-university partner iMove intelligent transport bid. Word is that the team did very well in practice presentations explaining how it will work. “If anyone can herd cats, it’s a logistics CRC,” a learned readers observes.

And those who are keen can teach

State ministers demanding minimum academic entry for teacher education courses are missing the core criteria for entry – people wanting to teach and believing they can do it well. And the way to encourage school students who are keen on becoming teachers is not to hammer away at how existing education students are academically under-skilled.

According to Jennifer Gore from the University of Newcastle and colleagues from there and Western Sydney University, concerns about who should teach should be met “by asking who wants to teach.”

Writing in the new issue of The Australian Educational Researcher they demolish the idea of the ATAR as a talisman for terrific teaching and point to survey results showing that school students who want to teach come from all achievement quartiles (31 per cent from the top one!) and are generally motivated by “altruistic concerns to help children learn and intrinsic motivations based on the attractiveness of teaching as a rewarding job. … These findings indicate that despite negative representations of teachers, school students who were interested in teaching expressed overwhelmingly positive views of the job and confidence in their own suitability.”

While the paper does not deal with the necessity of subject knowledge, it’s hard to argue with the idea that teacher education needs less ATAR anguish and more enthusiasm for people who believe in teaching.

“Rather than investing so heavily in the regulation of who can teach, Australian education policy makers might consider ways to capitalise on the widespread interest in and enthusiasm for teaching that appears to exist among school students, including high achieving students and including in the later years of high school.”

This will cheer up education faculties who hate all the attention and want to be left alone – it shouldn’t. “Universities have been accused, with some basis in fact, of setting poor academic standards for entry into teaching degrees and using teaching to make up shortfalls in enrolments, regardless of the academic achievement levels of applicants, Professor Gore and her colleagues suggest.

Missed musician

Alan Zavod (DMus, University of Melbourne 2009) is dead. This is a great loss to music everywhere. CMM remembers being stunned by his brilliant concerto for trumpet, jazz trio and symphony orchestra performed with James Morrison at the Sydney Opera House in 2001.


Where the evidence takes them

The Sax Institute (research evidence in health policy) awards are out. Kees van Gool (UTS) wins for work on the Medicare Safety Net. His work identified how the 20 per cent of Australians living in the wealthiest areas receive 55 per cent of safety net benefits. It “was key” in 2010 to the Commonwealth capping payments for varicose veins, hair transplants and IVF. He now has an Australian Research Council grant to investigate the safety net overall. Angela Dawson (also UTS) is the author of sexual and reproductive health guidelines for use in humanitarian crises in the Asia-Pacific. Kristine Macartney (National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance) is leader on a project overseeing the safety of government-funded vaccinations, via real time SMS and email reports.

What’s old Norse for “heresy”?

There is a forest of facts in yesterday’s innovation report from the Office of the Chief Economist. It’s written in the cheery style of an Icelandic chronicler who really is across the detail of what went down last winter and knows his audience can’t go outside for six months. But one fact stands out among the blizzard of detail which will have advocates of the applied research agenda reaching for their broadswords and horned helmets. “For public R&D, the social returns appear to be highest in basic research, ” the OCE argues. “Himinn forfend!”

Empty in-tray

Stephen Brammer, incoming executive dean of business and economics at Macquarie University, isn’t going to face a bunch of hard decisions when he arrives in January. In September interim dean Kevin Jameson announced a review of the Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance (CMM September 16). University management has just decided to merge the Graduate School of Management into the faculty (CMM November 7). And recommendations of a review of accounting, the faculty’s biggest product, will be implemented in next year’s courses – Macquarie business academics are already talking-up the changes in the industry.

On-line course of the day

In the new-year Torrens University will launch a graduate certificate to support children with autism in the classroom. Details are here.

New leader at NLA

Marie-Louise Ayres will be the next director general of the National Library of Australia. Dr Ayres, an NLA staffer will take over in March, replacing Anne-Marie Schwirtlich who leaves after six years. Dr Ayres inherits a library lighter on for cash than it was 12 months back. This time last year it copped a $1.5m cut over four years, (CMM February 18).