Deputy Dean's Report

During the week I saw a television advertisement that suggested it only takes 66 days to create a habit- I haven’t fact checked this! The ad was in reference to drinking and other lifestyle habits and what struck me was not so much the unhealthy lifestyle (well, maybe a bit) but the fact that we had been in lockdown for more than 100 days and our way of working during this time has become a habit.

Thinking this way has helped me understand my feeling of unease in relation to the University’s Pandemic Reset program and return to campus plan. Some days during lockdown it felt like being in a cocoon of work. What has become clear to me over the past year is that we have had a singular focus on getting our job done as best we can. The amount of effort required to deliver the best classes to our students, continue to produce research and evaluations with rigour and to translate our knowledge to have an impact, as we have always done, has been immense.  During lockdown we have all chosen to work in a variety of ways, in many places, at all hours and through many modes. For me working in the early morning, late at night and on the weekends has become a habit. My estimation of what can be accomplished has become inflated. The thought of coming out of my bubble fills me with some dread and experiencing yet more change seems untenable.

Subsequently, the webinar this week to discuss the reset from an MGSE perspective made the idea of more change seem palpable. Emerging from the work cocoon means change. Resetting is going to take some effort, particularly in the face of staff leaving us as well as having to experience new systems.  It is reassuring that we have been planning for this reset and next year for a while. As you will note from the MGSE news we are putting the final touches on our staffing for teaching and research and we are keen to ensure we have some input from you as we determine potential gaps. There is still a little way to go.

While I acknowledge my own feeling of unease in the face of next year, my instinct tells me that we will of course do what we have also done, and what we are known for in the sector, which is delivering high quality programs, being mindful of our students’ experience, conducting rigorous and impactful research and speaking out when things need some attention.   Many of you would know that patience is not my virtue, but I suspect it is something I will need to work on as we reset next year.

In other news, there has been immense effort going into the MTeach re-accreditation process. I hope you have the opportunity to look at the Steering Committee’s summary of the work so far, it’s designed to provide an overview of these accomplishments. Getting to a point where we have a program structure that addresses issues of cost and our student experience, that also encompasses the key elements we all see as essential has been a challenge. Landing on something that is workable for everyone means we can now actually set to work on designing cohesive courses and content. While feedback has elicited different views about the structure and nature of the program it is clear that most of MGSE want our students to be independent thinkers who espouse creativity, evidence, who demonstrate evaluative thinking and are looking to have an impact. The continuing evolution of the MTeach program is designed  to do just that.

Also in relation to the MTeach, last Friday MGSE participated in the AfGT virtual symposium for our TPA Consortium led by the Centre for Program Evaluation team. The inaugural virtual AfGT Symposium was attended by 52 people, a community of initial teacher educators spanning Deans, Heads of School, program coordinators, assessors and active researchers. As in previous face-to-face workshops, we were once again joined by representatives from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the Commonwealth Department of Education. And for the first time, we were also privileged to have stakeholders from the field join us and share their perspectives, namely an Assistant Principal, Pre-Service Teachers and a Mentor Teacher.

The theme for the Symposium was ‘Connect, Energise, Engage’ and covered topics from macro policy landscape and international trends to more micro and practical areas such as approaches to moderation, research and publication and remote placements in the new COVID normal.

The event was a testament of our AfGT consortiums’ commitment and indomitable spirit to further the initial teacher education agenda. Just to also note an old colleague Glenn Savage joined us, he wowed everyone with his discussion on international trends in policy in relation to ITE.

As we all begin this reset I note that many articles and reports have grabbed my attention because of the headlines. It seems that there is a temptation to find fault with teachers (including at tertiary level) during COVID teaching, and a search for negative impacts on student learning.   The Age this morning suggested that students at university really didn’t like learning virtually, which of course is not true of all students. Many students have felt that it has enhanced their learning while acknowledging that they do miss the contact of colleagues. There were also press headlines about a 20% loss across a school year in learning based on the Engzell et al. (2020) Netherlands study -- but closer reading shows an effect-size drop of -.08 or 3 percentile points.  About the same as the summer effect and an effect most amenable to rebooting upon return to regular schooling.

The Victorian study noted the better connection with parents, the greater flexibility of online learning, increased effectiveness of how schools operate, that students liked having more time for non-school activities and spending time with their families, students enjoyed the freedoms of remote learning including working at their own pace, working from home, less distractions, and more regulation of their study times.

Also a report from the Northwest Evaluation Association just released in the US demonstrated that on the whole students in schools generally fared better than expected. However, those students who were deemed vulnerable for learning outcomes remained vulnerable.

Yes, there were negatives (teachers' increased workload, homes not always safe havens, lack of contact with friends etc.), but the key is seeking the evidence of what worked well so that we can bring that back to augment and improve the regular classroom experience.  The worst travesty of COVID for students is not learning and improving the experience of the learning.

My message is it is our job to beware of sensationalism, of advocates pushing their barrows, and of those who underappreciate the enormous expertise of our educator’s capacity in finding the optimal ways to continue and enhance learning during these times.  As education academics our role is to research the evidence, paint defensible stories about impact, not over generalise and detect if there are specific groups of students differentially affected (for good or bad), and to use these learnings to enhance our school system. Here are the links to these articles if you should choose to take a look:

In a sign of enforcing some stability and breaking some newly made habits of the work cocoon, this Friday John and I are getting on a plane and heading to Sydney to see our granddaughter and very much-loved grand pet (and of course our son and daughter-in-law), whom we haven’t seen since early Feb. While I will be loaded with masks, hand sanitiser and handy wipes (and yes toys and books) I will note that some things don’t really change – the joy of getting a hug from a 2 year old!