The 30 STEM scientists set to show girls how study creates super career powers

 Birmingham uses Pollard’s Law on his opponents (“yes, but, no, but” never works)

Do we learn like computers? Marnie Hughes Warrington explains why we need to know

The ARC announces not so open access


The people have chirped

CQU’s new mascot (a bloke wearing a cartoon bird head) is named Birdy McBird Face, chosen by popular acclaim. VC Scott Bowman ruled it out last week (CMM June 27) but accepts the voice of the people.

Birmingham applies Pollard’s Law

Simon Birmingham is making it clear that he is not for moving on his proposal for performance funding metrics  

Universities enjoy “incredible autonomy … they are able to enrol as many students as they want, essentially free of government limits or caps, the education and training minister told Sky News yesterday.

“There should also be some accountability mechanisms in place to make sure that their enrolment practices and admissions practices are of a high standard and transparent and give students the best information possible, that the teaching and learning is of the highest quality possible within a university, and that ultimately the decisions made about which courses to enrol people in align with good job outcomes, and that graduates see a real employment benefit.

They are the types of things we think that having a small portion of university funding contingent upon is actually a good thing to maximise performance across the board,” he added.

And as for warnings that there are no details on the metrics universities will have to meet to keep 7.5 per cent of their Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding, Senator Birmingham said;

“this performance indicator is not about a reduction in funding at all. Every dollar of that performance indicator is guaranteed to go into the sector, it is just about making sure that we are encouraging the best performance in the university sector, rewarding the outcomes everybody should want, such as employment and quality teaching and learning. And I would hope that our best and brightest minds in our universities could really help us to achieve that, and implement that effectively.”

He did not quite address the issue but he renewed his commitment that any money a university loses will go to others and he again gave everybody a fair idea on the attributes and outcomes he wants measured, if not how.

It is a classic application of Vicky Pollard’s “yes but, no but” law of political communication which holds arguments are won by those who state a direct and unqualified case not those who have to acknowledge the other side’s argument and then explain why it is not the whole story.

Sparkie no more

“I am taking off my hat as Australia’s chief electrician, and resuming my hat as Australia’s Chief Scientist,” Alan FInkel at a maths conference (more below) going off the grid.

 Open day of the day

It’s time for everybody in education to strut their stuff, the louder the better

For such a high-tech, whizbang university – partnering with MIT, no less, on innovation bootcamps – QUT’s open-day plans (City and Kelvin Grove) look low tech. There are masses of tours and talks across all course areas and at multiple times but the OD guide is much too modest about what’s on. Consider The Cube, QUT quietly calls it “one of the world’s largest and most advanced digital interactive learning and display spaces,” CMM calls it an utterly engrossing, digital delight. The day he was there it was showing a multi-story interactive screen of sub surface life on the Barrier Reef. The university with the technology and sense of fun to create digital stories of plasma, dinosaurs, and physics (and that is just today), has got to be worth a look.

Access stays not all that open

The Australian Research Council has updated its open access policy, don’t brace for any shocks

The ARC has advised the research community that it’s open access policy is improved by “making the overall wording more direct, making terminology internally consistent, and by separating out the policy’s elements and requirements into clearly labelled sections.” However, it does not make access any more immediate; publicly funded research need only be made available to the public 12 months after publication, as per the old policy. “This remains aligned with the National Health and Medical Council’s requirements,” the ARC explains. So that is alright then.

New ideas applauded

A House of Representatives report upset the policy club and pals but experts are impressed

A couple of weeks back a House of Representatives committee report recommended STEM, and lots of it, in schools and VET/universities, plus business engaging with education and continuing the demand driven system. There was much more, in a document that was impressively innovative (/ CMM June 20). Inevitably it attracted the ire of the establishment, with media comments about “overreach” and ”grandstanding”.

But commentators who can see merit in ideas other than their own are emerging. VET analyst Francesca Beddie writing in The Australian calls the report, “a breath of fresh air. It shows a preparedness to look at the education system from outside and not blindly to accept the status quo.”

And yesterday Rod Camm from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training weighed in; “the report goes to the heart of many of the issues confronting the national education and training sector. … The findings are wide ranging and highlight the need for greater collaboration across sectors and greater alignment to the national innovation agenda. There is also a sense of optimism about what can be achieved if we think collaboratively about how the education and training system can support our workforce in changing times.” Quite right.

Big day in WA

It looks like good news at UWA but at Murdoch U, who knows?

Murdoch University and the National Tertiary Education Union are scheduled to appear against each other in the Fair Work Commission this morning, although what there will be to report this afternoon is unclear. Things are much more matey at the University of Western Australia where a new enterprise agreement is just about done with a pay rise close to agreed.

Truly, learnedly, (but maybe not) deeply

We think computers and people learn in different ways but maybe not. Marnie Hughes Warrington wonders about the way we learn

 Deep learning by computers is a process of iteration and refining outputs and for 40 years  accepted orthodoxy has held that the basis for humans learning deeply is much, much different. To learn deeply people must want to learn. “In distinction from computers, human deep learners are assumed to be intrinsically motivated—they enjoy learning for its own sake—and are not driven purely by ends such as grades and external validation,” the ANU DVC writes in the new edition of her continuing commentary on higher education life and learning.

A love of learning distinguishing deep from surface seekers of knowledge was established as fundamental in the middle ’70s and remains so strong in place that is used in surveys that focus on how students learn. Ironically, “those questionnaires see students studying computer science and engineering persistently placed at the bottom of comparative satisfaction ratings. The creators of deep learning are surface learners by this measure,” Professor Hughes Warrington suggests.

How can this be? Perhaps, students who grew up in the digital age could have a different attitude to learning to the people who teach them, which has alarming implications for the education assessment industry, (it’s a not a Hughes Warrington opinion piece unless experts and unsettled).

“I am not arguing for humans to be the same as computers, or to be like them, or to be replaced by them. I simply think we need to shake loose our understanding of learning a little, and to do so at more than glacial pace. That would begin with a moratorium on attitude, and the collection of data over the course of a student’s studies which show them as iterating and changing. I would then like students to see that data before we ask them to reflect on their learning experience.”

Whoever is working on Simon Birmingham’s proposed university metrics for student outcomes and experience needs to think about this, deeply.

Star Power

Alan Finkel  has a yet another project set to shine

The Chief Scientist is set to launch an on-line guide for STEM students at school interested in extracurricular programmes from third party providers. It’s an idea Dr Finkel first floated a year ago today, when he proposed  “a powerful online repository that is easy to access, easy to search – in fine-grain detail – and easy to post reviews,” (CMM July 4 2016)

And now it is about to happen, with backing from Telstra, BHP Billiton Foundation and the Commonwealth Bank plus the Department of Industry Science and Innovation, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and Engineers Australia.

It’s called the Star Portal and it is in test now with a launch date in a month – which is a deserved smack in the chops for CMM, who suggested last month that the project had gone so quiet that it might have fallen off the agenda.

Wonder women

Some 30 STEM researchers will explain how girls can acquire their own super science powers

Science Technology Australia has chosen 30 women whose work in science, technology, engineering and maths makes them excellent role models. Anybody who thinks they can’t use their super powers to smash stereotypes should look out.

The Superstars of STEM are:

Muireann Irish: cognitive neuroscience, University of Sydney

Amy Heffernan: analytic chemist, Florey Institute

Caroline Ford: cancer research, UNSW

Celine Frere: ecology and evolution science, University of the Sunshine Coast

Clare Fedele: cancer biology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Fiona Kerslake: wine production, University of Tasmania

Hannah Brown: women’s pregnancy health, University of Adelaide

Jess Melbourne-Thomas: math models of marine ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division

Jillian Kenny: maths and engineering advocate, Machinam Pty Ltd

Jodie Ward: forensic science, NSW Health Pathology

Karen Lamb: statistician, Deakin University

Kate Grarock: sanctuary ecologist, Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary

Kate Umbers: zoologist, Western Sydney University

Lilach Avitan: computational neuroscientist, University of Queensland

Linda McIver: digital learning, John Monash Science School

Lisa Mielke: immune cell biology, University of Melbourne

Nicky Ringland: computer education, National Computer Science School

Pallave Dasari: microbiology and breast cancer, University of Adelaide

Rebecca Johnson: wildlife forensics and conservation genomics, Australian Museum

Roisin McMahon: molecular bioscience, Griffith University

Ronika Power: bioarchaeology, Macquarie University

Sanam Mustafa: neuroimmunology, University of Adelaide

Siobhan Schabrun: neuroscience, Western Sydney University

Sue Barrell: chief scientist, Bureau of Meteorology

Sue Keay: robotics, Australian Research Council for Robotic Vision

Tamara Keeley: zoologist, University of Queensland

Tien Huynh: environmental sustainability and agricultural upcycling, RMIT

Francesca Maclean: engineering consultant, Arup

Justine Smith: ophthalmologist, Flinders University

Rachel Burton: plant science and molecular biology, University of Adelaide