I decided to write this blog to reflect on my experiences as a sessional academic in an Australian University. I titled the blog, 'Hyperlink Academia' in reference to a conversation I had with a lecturer and good friend of mine who described the teaching in her theory unit as the 'hyperlinked' version of modern history and theory. I thought this a very astute observation on the contemporary university classroom, where the role of tutors is not to assist students to thoroughly examine ideologies and test their own thinking, but rather to give them the links to the content and focus on strategies for them to achieve their academic goals. The university class room has become an almost a content free zone. It's not all bad though - students, I am told, gather content outside of the classroom from their peers, the web, social media etc.. These are anonymous or un-knowledgeable sources of content, they are difficult for students to contextualise or place in a framework of knowledge for themselves. Technology undoubtedly plays an important role in the modern classroom, but how does a first, second or third year student know how to make value judgments on the quality of the data they collect? How can they evaluate these sources? Their tutor is the first port of call of course to assist students in this kind of evaluation - but there is so little time in the classroom - I am personally tutoring a subject where I see my class of 16 students for only seven hours in the entire semester. Obviously this is an inadequate amount of time to assist students with the content and their assessment, so they either miss out or we rely increasingly on technology.
It's a Sunday and I have an email from a student in my inbox that reads, 'I feel as If we didn't get a chance to discuss my ideas with you and I want to make a good start on the design for next Friday,' this is now the normal method for communication with my students, it's either email or Facebook because the classroom doesn't cater for learning. None of my time spent online emailing, Facebook-ing or Skype-ing is paid work, it's not even considered by the university as part of teaching. Teaching isn't aligned with the marketable aspects of the university, it's the 'University for the Real World', 'The University of U,' or the 'The World Standard University,' not the university where you learn and think - that's got nothing to do with it! I know I'm not saying anything new. Like most industries, the tertiary industry has been subject to cutbacks and I understand this is why I tutor subjects where I'm only paid for seven hours of contact or have classrooms with 30 - 40 students, however the tertiary business is booming with enrollments up by 24% in the 2007-2012 period (http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/university-enrolments-soar/story-e6frfku0-1226285766346). So why are there teaching cutbacks? Why are universities giving their students such a raw deal?
Each year my appointments for tutoring (sometimes teaching the same subject for the third or fourth time) are reduced, and as a result of this, this will be my last semester of tutoring. I am very sad about this because I am genuinely passionate about the content that I teach, I like working with the students but the university itself seems to the barrier between me and teaching. Senior staff are only interested in the numbers generated by student surveys and attrition trends and not the content being taught in the classroom. The purpose of this blog is to have a place to share some of these experiences and to hopefully ignite some activism amongst Australian universities both by students and sessional academics. Most of what I have written today has been anecdotal, I'll do a little more of that but also over the next few weeks I'll write some more articles based on existing research on the lack of support for sessional academics by institutions, a few interviews with long-standing tutors (those ones who've been involved with the university for 20 or so years), comments from students and the commercialization of university teaching spaces. I would really love to hear other people comments, I have a twitter account here: https://twitter.com/#!/SessionalAcadem and will get moving on a Facebook page in the next couple of weeks. I'll also share any news I hear from other organisations, a good place to start with is the uni casual survey here: http://www.unicasual.org.au/survey2012