3 Years Today.

Today is my three year anniversary with my blog.

Yes, that’s right. Exactly three years ago, I started this mish-mash of collected junk I like to lovingly refer to as a “blog”.

It’s not much, but it’s mine.

And, in celebration of three (sometimes) glorious years, I would like to write a post to highlight how far I have come and the current state of thing.

Enter, the sponsored post that has been driving me nuts for the past week or so:

Curtin University Facebook post

 

Yes, Curtin. I AM dreaming of a better career. I have been for a number of years now. In fact, I have been working toward said “better career” for more than three years now.

But, pray tell, dear learning institution, what good is all that learning if there are no jobs?

What if the money I earn isn’t enough to live on?

Or enough to pay back the exorbitant interest on my student loan?

Or what if I become homeless because I cannot find a home to rent or purchase, even if I could afford one?

You see, Curtin (and other unis spruiking their wares at the end of the financial year after an incredibly harsh and damaging budget has been announced), there is no amount of learning that is going to matter if what we are striving for does not exist.

As much as I admire and strive for lifelong learning, there are sometimes strong currents in the murky waters of life that seem intent on pulling us down.

A Simple Comment to a Video…

or Why You Don’t Ask An Internet Communications Student For A Comment On A Video Off YouTube, Because You Might Just Get What You Asked For (but that was too long for a title on my blog, so you get the simplified version).

So, it appears I cannot retire my “political hat” any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link from the Vice Chancellor of Curtin University, Professor Terry. All in all, it’s a good delivery of an update on the goings on around campus and what she is doing to keep up-to-date with the various campuses. I, however, have the following email which I am about to send to the Vice Chancellor, as per her invitation for comments.

And now for my extensively long comment. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dear Professor Terry,

Thank you so much firstly for posting your video on YouTube, and for inviting comments. It is rare to hear someone in an actual position of authority openly ask for, and encourage feedback in such an engaging medium as the Web.

I was happy to hear you speak of the restructuring of the academic teaching system within Curtin University. As a current student, completing my Honours thesis this year with a view to going forward to higher degrees by research in order to join academia and the teaching profession, it is a relief to hear that you will not be cutting numbers of teaching staff. I do, however, offer my story as a view from the other side of the fence that you may not have considered in the implementation of these changes.

I began my undergraduate degree as an Open University’s Australia student, not because I wasn’t as committed to my studies as on campus students but because, as a mature aged, single parent student without high school completion dependant on public transport who was working full time in order to make ends meet, it afforded me the best possible opportunity to fit me life and study together in the same 24 hours everyone else had.

When I made the realisation that this degree I had undertaken was giving me a more rounded sense of accomplishment and personal pride than almost anything else I had undertaken, I decided that I would be furthering my studies. The staff of the department with which I was studying afforded me every opportunity to obtain the necessary information, facilitated my education with a shared passion for the learning material and concepts of study that I thought were a myth amongst academics.

This department was that of Internet Studies, out of the school of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University – a group of academics whom I owe a great debt of gratitude and thank no end for the development of a lifelong love of learning.

This inspiration is, I’m afraid, in spite of almost being erased from the history books due to a proposed cancellation of on campus enrolments last year. This move would have seen the end of this department – the first and only dedicated Internet Studies department in Australia. The students of this department lead and won the fight to retain the opportunity to attend on campus classes, despite opposition from the chancellory of the university, through online and offline means of protest.

But my story does not stop here.

As a current Honours student in the Arts, I have seen more uncertainty regarding the offerings to students already this year than I feel is acceptable. This is absolutely through no fault of the teaching and support staff who have done the very best with what they have had available.

I am attending classes on campus, having made arrangements with my family and employer, as an off campus option has not been made available to students this year. I have been lead to understand that this is due to a revision and restructuring of the unit material and teaching method. This, in spite of having been offered as an off campus study stream in previous years.

Class timetables were finally made available to students, in order to select the  days and times of their classes, only a few days before the beginning of the semester. We then received automated confirmation that our chosen times and days would be made available, only to be told the following week that they were not, and that the classes would be combined and only available on a single day of the week. Thankfully for me, I have a moderately flexible employer who understood that these changes to my schedule were not under my control.

We were then told, just a few weeks later, that the previously possible day and time for class to be held was still available and that the consensus of the class would be the deciding factor as to whether or not the day and time of our compulsory-attendance class would be changed in the middle of the first term. While it only took a matter of an hour or so for the decision to be made by the students that keeping the current day and time would be best, the moments of panic were felt by more than just myself, I can assure you.

I was probably not the only student who felt that continuing studying would be jeopardised if the class were to change circumstances again.

I was probably not the only student who felt that their employer might not be so understanding if study circumstances were to change again.

I was probably not the only student panicking that the Honours we had invested ourselves in might be taken away from us before we had the opportunity to really get started.

What I do know for certain is, I am the only student from my department currently studying Honours with Curtin University. Why? An unofficial poll of my fellow online students puts this down to the inability of enrolling off campus.

With so many Internet Studies students currently enrolled in off campus or online only study of the Internet Communications degree, it makes no sense to not have this further education offered online if, as you say, numbers of teaching staff have not been reduced.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, especially with the fine online access to Curtin Library resources we now have available.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus with the degree of control and interaction possible through the Blackboard system, which served as my lecture, seminar and tutorial space for three years quite sufficiently.

It makes no sense to not offer Honours online or off campus, when the Internet Studies department of Curtin university have shown that this mode of study facilitation can create future scholars that will, one day, make Curtin University proud.

This, Professor Terry, is why I find it difficult to believe that the current restructuring at Curtin University has no negative impact on the numbers of teaching staff available to students of Curtin University. I have seen the ability of the teaching staff of Curtin University to traverse space and time to deliver a world-class degree second to none in the world. I have also seen the trials of trying to deal with university bureaucracy when staffing changes, restructuring, budget cuts, reforms and proposed denial of access take place.

Please, if you want to be sure that these staffing changes hold no negative impact for the students of Curtin University, both current and future, I suggest you ask the current students if they are seeing any ramifications from the initial changes today. You may be surprised to hear what they have to tell standing in direct opposition to what the numbers and figures suggest.

I may be just one student telling my story today, but this is not my story alone.

Many thanks for your time,

Melissa Nile.
- current Honours student of B.A. (Internet Communications)

 

TL;DR:

I didn’t write all that so you could cheat and look for the Brodie’s Notes (and if you don’t know what they are, you’re too young!) version of my email. Go read it! And get off my lawn!

Why Australia opposes Fair Use.

Having just finished this article I fear, once again, for the future. Why? Because it contains a very important message that will, ultimately, get drowned out by all the other important messages we are currently facing both here and globally… but that’s a post for another time.

Fair Use for EFF.orgAustralian copyright laws always have been considered antiquated. In fact, we are not terribly forward thinking as a nation, legislatively speaking. Copyright is, however, one of those topics that very few people understand and even fewer care about, unless they stand to profit from the proceeds of it.

Every study period throughout my undergraduate degree I was approached or pointed to a discussion regarding the unsanctioned use of unattributed copyrighted material for assignment purposes.

“But if my tutor says it’s okay to use this picture in my project, then isn’t it okay?”

“What do you mean using the writing of another person is illegal unless I have a specific agreement from the copyright holder to say I can?”

These questions, and so many others like them, resulted in me banging my head against a non-existent desk or wall, as the people I was attempting to educate gleefully told me that they didn’t care, the law was stupid, and they’d go and use copyrighted material anyway because no one was going to chase them for the royalties for their use of said material.

This.

This is why ideas like Fair Use won’t take hold here.

Fair Use is a legal idea allowing people to use copyrighted material so long as the copyright holder isn’t losing out on profits from said use. It’s that simple really. Of course, the real legal mumbo jumbo goes into exclusions and restrictions, but that’s pretty much what it amounts to.

Parliament’s a funny place. And by funny I mean disparaging to the human soul.

So, as long as the public don’t care that they’re breaking the law and could stand to lose a significant amount of money to an already filthy rich corporation (think of how many times you’ve share a meme based on someone else’s work, or a music video, or copied a line from some book onto a completely unrelated image), or face jail time and as long as politicians sit in the pockets of those corporations that believe they will miss out on all the profits if they allow people to do what they’re already “turning a blind eye” to, then legislation such as Fair Use will never take hold in Australia.

 

Still not sure what it’s all about? Check out the video below for more information.

Honours – The Calm Before the Storm.

Yesterday I managed to complete all my enrollment and admissions for Honours this year. It took me long enough to find out how. The instructions were like something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Buried under seventy bajillion clicks to get to the right website, I then had to jump through hoops aplenty to make sure that my submission for enrollment went to the right place. It’s all done now, so all I have to do is wait another month, attend the compulsory Orientation meeting (an hour and a half of what I expect will be unbridled excitement and uncontainable joy whilst sitting in the uni stadium) then classes every Thursday afternoon.

 

Honours RollHopefully, this time next year I will be the holder of a fancy piece of paper that says I know stuff… Fingers crossed it even has the words “First Class” on it. Even if it doesn’t, I will be proud of myself. I never thought I’d get a degree, let alone graduate with Honours.

 

Here’s to the calm before the Honours storm.

You will never go to university.

This is an open letter to the children who will be taking over from my generation when we are done. It is more a critique of where I see our country, and perhaps the world, heading in the not-too-distant future, than any kind of real apology, but I feel that the contents need to be said before too much more time passes. I decided to write this when I realised that I was quite possibly the last person in my immediate family who would be able to attend university. The thought of rising tuition costs and other actions which have inhibited the entry to higher education for all but the affluent or extremely intelligent, was almost paralysing when I wondered what would become of my child’s employment prospects should university not be an option.

I hope the world I foresaw during the writing of this piece does not come to be. I see it as a dystopian “modge-podge” of scientific advancement beaten down by religious extremism with an unhealthy dose of ecological disaster and a sprinkling of moralistic dishonesty. We are well on the road to this scary place, but I sincerely hope that more people take a step back from their everyday actions and choose to make real and affirmative action.

LearningTo the future children of Australia,

I am writing today to let you in on a secret.

Once upon a time, in a land not very unlike your own today, many people were able to go to university. I’m serious. Most people had the opportunity to enter university, or some other higher education institution. It was an attainable goal that most had the possibility of reaching without striving too far at all. Of course, some courses cost more than others, and some courses were more difficult to be accepted into, but if you had the brain power and the desire, it was possible.

It wasn’t always glamorous. A lot of the time, you had to work as many hours as you could possibly get from your employer around your hours of study, which left precious little time for homework and assignments, let alone relaxation or general socialisation.

Sometimes, you had to go days without eating meat, or fresh vegetables. Sometimes all you could afford to eat was week old bread or two minute noodles that had an expiry date you didn’t really want to think about. You lived below the poverty line, as did all of your uni friends. You would look at your tired friends with full time jobs and envy their bank balance, their new clothes not bought from the op shop, and their ability to pay for petrol AND food in the same week. All the while, you kept your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, and just hoped it wasn’t an oncoming train.

But you did what you could to afford all the books and stationery. You scraped and saved for your tuition fees. Sometimes, if you jumped through enough flaming hoops, you were able to get government assistance to help you through. Once upon a time, my dear children, you were even able to defer the costs of your tuition and pay the government back when you started earning above a certain amount. We truly believed, as did some of those in politics, that everyone should have the option of studying at higher level, regardless of their postcode.

I know that it must seem unfair to you now. Given how much it all costs, and how hard it is to even scrape together enough to do a simple short course at a college for a few weeks, it seems unfathomable to go to university for a few years. Even if you did manage to get into university, you may not be able to get a job in your chosen field.

That’s very scary. That’s not to mention the fact that everyone your age is trying for the same cheaper courses, all in the hopes of getting their foot in the door to a job interview at somewhere other than the local fast food outlet or menial labour position. The desire to escape the shackles of a workplace that displays complete disregard for the laws surrounding employment conditions, simply because their staff are too scared of losing their jobs to complain about any of the unsafe, or illegal practices, is one I understand all too well. I was there, once upon a time, but my case was a rare one for my time. For you, it is an every day occurrence.

The secret wasn’t all I wanted to say though. I also want to apologise.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that higher education is out of your reach. I’m sorry I couldn’t earn enough to put you through university. I’m sorry you have to apply to groups such as UNICEF for the chance to win your higher education. I’m sorry that the government my generation voted in for only three years, managed to destroy university opportunities so very badly for you all.

I’m sorry that you are now forced to work long hours at a job you hate for minimum wage, simply because you couldn’t get a degree that would have allowed you access to a better paying career with promotion opportunities. I’m sorry that you and your partner will have to both work two jobs to make sure you can afford to pay rent AND feed your kids, should you choose to have any. I’m sorry you can’t afford to put a deposit down on your own home because you don’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. I’m so very very sorry.

I’m sorry that even if you did manage to get accepted into university, that you have to pick your career path very carefully, because you won’t be able to afford a second lot of self-education because it’s not covered by your tax cap.


We thought we knew it all. We were the generation that had everything going for it, and nothing to lose. That was until we lost everything.

It started fairly innocently enough. There was a general sense of ennui. Our idea of taking a stand and having our voices heard amounted to thing more than adding our name and address to an online petition, or perhaps liking a Facebook page. Back in our day, Facebook was only just starting to become the multinational conglomerate it is now. You probably don’t believe me, but we all thought it was a great way of keeping up to date with our friends without really having to commit to a face-to-face conversation.

Nothing more than that. Just a “harmless” social networking site. Oh, how wrong were we to be proven. But that, my dear, is a story for another day.

Sure, we still protested, thinking it would make a difference. Somehow, though, the fire wasn’t there that it had been for previous generations. Maybe it was the fact that we would have all preferred to be at home in front of our computers, safe in our anonymity. Maybe it was the fact that the laws were changed so that any unauthorised groups of more than to people were suddenly illegal. Maybe it was the fact that if we boycotted anything there was the likelihood of someone being sued. Who knows? All we remember is one day turning around and realising just how screwed up things had become. By that point, of course, nothing short of revolution was going to be able to change things, and we as a nation were unlikely to form like that. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, in our self-absorbed mediated lives, we had become a society like something out of a book.

I am not the only one who should be apologising to you, for having made the world the nightmare that it is for you. I’m disappointed by my fellows and contemporaries. Not because of their inaction so much as their collective inability to join the few of us who have dared critique the world we have created. En masse, we could do something, but it would need to be all of us, and it would need to be now. Of course, having said that, it may already be too late. You have freedoms from the constraints and pressures of higher education, while we had the freedom of it. They’re two side of the coin. It’s a fine line of difference, but when you’ve seen where the line is and what it stands for, it can mean all the difference in the world.


Oh, my dear blinded an uneducated children, I am so very very sorry for all that we have done, but I am even more sorry for all we did not do.

Yours in sorrow,

Nephthys.

For those who are not aware, the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the story I refer to in the latter part of this piece. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it as a very good book to read. Regardless of your views on religion, it is a good treatment of the “what-ifs” of religious extremism managing to take over the political arena in troubled and turmoiled times, such as those we are currently experiencing. This book, combined with ideas from Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson is how I envision the world becoming within my own lifetime should we not stop and reflect on the consequences of our actions. If you have not read either of these books, please do yourself a favour and do so. They will change your thinking on how the world is and could be.

References:

ABC News, (2013). Two-thirds of university students living below the poverty line: report. Accessed via: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-15/majority-of-students-in-poverty2c-research-shows/4821230

Atwood, M., (2012). Haunted by The Handmaids’ Tale. The Guardian. Accessed via: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/20/handmaids-tale-margaret-atwood

Denholm, M., (2013). Companies to get protections from activists’ boycotts. National Affairs – The Australian. Accessed via: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/companies-to-get-protection-from-activists-boycotts/story-fn59niix-1226724817535

Evans, C., (2012). Keeping the doors open to all. Ministers’ Website for Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Accessed via: http://archive.innovation.gov.au/ministersarchive2013/chrisevans/articles/pages/keepingthedoorsopentoall.aspx.htm

Evans, C., (2012). Tony Abbot to slash support for university students. Ministers’ Website for Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Accessed via: http://archive.innovation.gov.au/ministersarchive2013/chrisevans/mediareleases/pages/tonyabbotttoslashsupportforuniversitystudents.aspx.htm

O’Connor, D., (2013). Making (self) education unaffordable. Gadens. Accessed via: http://www.gadens.com.au/publications/Pages/Making-self-education-unaffordable.aspx

Sricharatchanya, H., (n.d.). Education – for some still an unattainable dream. UNICEF EAPRO – Media Centre. Ccessed via: http://www.unicef.org/eapro/media_19255.html

Stephenson, N., (1992). Snowcrash. Random House Publishing.

Western Australian Consolidated Acts, (2013). Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 – Notes. Chapter IX – Unlawful assemblies: Breaches of the peace. Accessed via: (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/wa/consol_act/ccaca1913252/notes.html

If You Are Reading This Now…

It means I have hit upon a realisation that has rocked me.

In just a matter of six months, I will have completed my initial round of studies. I will be able to graduate, should I no longer want to go on and do Honours. I will be able to walk across that stage and take hold of that magical piece of paper I have worked so hard for for what seems so very long (even though, I know it’s really not).

It occurred to me tonight, as I submitted the last assignment of my last ever core (major) unit, that This was the beginning of the end of this phase of my life. In just six  months I will be able to claim that I have achieved something tangible that I consciously chose to begin, with a real world, attainable goal at the end of it.

When I began my university journey, I chose a unit that I assumed would prepare me to really be able to think about studying at university level. I had no intentions of signing up to a degree until I had completed that 13 week course… and then I read the unit outline that said the unit (SSK12- Introduction to University Learning) was best studied in conjunction with another. Well, I freaked out and started searching Open University Australia’s website for another unit I might be able to not fail. I still wasn’t convinces at this point that I was cut out for university. I found NED11 (Internet Design – Introduction). I had done some web site design previously. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult?

Flickr: XixiDu

Flickr: XixiDu

Well, that extra unit nearly broke me. I couldn’t understand the material. I felt like an idiot because I knew I could do what the unit was asking of me, I had done it before, but damned if I could understand what that book in front of me was saying. I had pretty much made the decision at that point to drop out of both units and give up the study thing as just another lost cause. Another thing I had wanted to do that I wasn’t smart enough to complete. It took my boyfriend telling me he wouldn’t accept that I was dropping my out, me throwing a full-blown temper tantrum like only the mother of a small child can, and some very serious sulking before I allowed him to sit down with me and explain an entire 13 week course of web design to me in a single day, allowing me to complete an assignment I was prepared to just not do. I ended up getting a Credit for it. There was also my first exam since high school, an experience I have worked hard to not replicate since. My mark for the exam is irrelevant to the story.

From there,  I entered the world of the Internet Studies department at Curtin University. Once I had started Web Communications and Internet and Everyday Life, I knew that I did have the capacity to learn. Beyond that, I had the desire to succeed again. It didn’t stop me from sulking at my boyfriend every time there was a concept I had difficulty understanding… oh, and a gentle reminder to him that I still hated him (but he knew what that really meant). There was a steep learning curve. How to write a decent essay. How to reference correctly. How to use more than one referencing style without going completely insane (a lesson I am still learning). How to juggle family life, a blossoming relationship, working, not working, and various other challenges, and still manage to keep handing those assignments in on time.

I decided to register my interest for completing the Internet Communications degree after that study period. It had been difficult to send in that form, but once I had dropped it into the postbox, it was done. I have only looked back and wondered if it was the right choice a couple of times. Each time, I have had a moment that made me remember the “why?” of it all.

Then, in the last study period of my first year, I hit my first Very Big Speed Bump. I failed a unit. Well, to be precise, I failed a high percentage assignment so badly that it didn’t matter how well I did in the following assignment, there was no way I would pass the unit. There was a strategic “Did not complete” registered against my name. The record states “N”. I see “F”. I wondered if it was still worth it. I thought I had a decent grasp on the topic, but clearly I had not. I picked myself up, brushed off the dirt and wiped away my tears (trust me, there were some of those once I got over the shock of seeing the mark), and soldiered on forward.

I then powered through and systematically cleared unit after unit. It seemed each study period brought with it a new challenge and a new opportunity. One time, it was live blogging and tweeting a digital futures event here in Perth. The next it was holding a face-to-face side event to a university conference. The one after that, flying to Melbourne to cover a community manager’s conference after making contact with someone who had seen me work at the digital event in Perth. Then it was my paper for the uni conference popping up around the internet, people talking about my personal blog, meeting staff (which is still a little daunting considering I’m technically an off-campus student).

Now I am finishing up my journey and the opportunities are still heading my way. My little ole paper on the Browncoats for that uni conference has been nominated for a little award. I have found great opportunities to work with fantastic community groups here in WA through connections made at Curtin. I am flying to Sydney in September to cover this year’s conference for that community manager’s group. I give advice regarding social media to friends with small businesses, and they let me know when my advice works for them. I have larger corporations calling me, interested in what I can do. I have science-aligned events asking for my opinions on things and asking me to talk and “discuss” with other wonderful people.

So, I guess this isn’t just a reminiscing of my journey. This is a rather long-winded way of getting to my main piece of advice for anyone thinking they will just dip their toe in the water to see if they can take it.

You know what? Dipping your toe in isn’t going to tell you if you can take it. It isn’t going to tell you anything about the temperature of the water, the feeling of the waves, or how to react when the tides pull you out to sea. Dipping your toe in at the shore will only tell you that your toe is capable of getting wet. If you are dipping your toe in the water, it means you are probably wearing your bathing suit. You just may not realise it yet. Pull down those goggles, to keep the water out of your eyes. Look out to the horizon and dive under that first wave. Sure, you won’t get out t the horizon in your first attempt. You may not even get very far from the shore, but if you try a little bit every day, and if you keep your eye fixed on that horizon, you will get to where the horizon was from on the shore and realise you moved it further while you were swimming. Yes, there are sharks out there. There are boats that will want to get in your way. You can pause for the boats as they go past. You can kick those sharks and fight them. Don’t you dare give up without a fight, and whatever you do, don’t just stay on the shore dipping your god damned toe in.

Online Students: What Do We Want?

I’m finally going to write a little a bit about my studies. It seems that not only do a lot of people still feel that online learning and, by default, external learning, is a bit of a cop out, but they really don’t understand what it is that I am studying and how it can lead to anything in the future. Also, I would like to start documenting my intentions for this magical piece of paper I’ve been working towards, and noticing when or if those aspirations change.

First things first: What is it I am studying?

Head of Internet Studies Dept. Prof. Matthew Allen at the Curtin Uni Open Day. For license and info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tamaleaver/6064211772/

I am currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in Internet Communication through Curtin University (and I’m not supplying these details for kudos or cash FYI). As it stands, Curtin University is the only Uni in Australia that has a dedicated Internet Studies department, which I find particularly strange considering the ubiquitous nature the Internet has these days. I started my line of study through Open University Australia, because it offered a delivery system that I could work around the rest of life. Also, I have to admit, the university system, to one who hasn’t wrangled it is daunting and more than a little intimidating. Given that OUA offered a HECS-style payment system, it also worked in with my available cash flow (ergo: nil), meaning I could study towards getting an awesome job (as yet to be decided upon) and then pay it all back, which I am cool with. Other students find that the more flexible study times, due to the delivery system, are the key to their choice. It allows them to work their study in and around parenting and work commitments.

I am learning about interactions online, why people have flocked to it (and continue to), the issues surrounding online practices and privacy concerns, how writing for an online audience is a little different to writing for an offline one, and how society can find balance between the two “worlds”. It may not sound like much, or its relevance may not be immediately apparent to you, but it is these kinds of studies that will allow people such as myself to develop better practices for the future world in which we all become cybermen, symbiotically attached to our tech… wait a minute! :)

I still have just over a year to go of my BA at which point, depending on my grades, I will think about Honours. And, just because I’m crazy and have obviously taken leave of my senses, a PhD application may be thrown in for good measure. Because I can… Or might be able to… Hopefully…

What do I hope to achieve with all of this?

I want to keep researching what is making people tick. Ever since I was a young’un, I’ve been interested in why people like what they like, why they do what they do and what can be done to make people happier. Some days, this comes from a kind of altruistic intention to make the world a better place… If only for myself. I want people to stop their whining (myself included) by aiding them in finding what it is they want or need out of life. Also, realistically a virtual world is only going to become more integrated with “reality” (whatever that is these days) and, as such, if I want to have a place in that multi-world, I need to carve a place out now. I’m not super smart, or a massive tech head. I’m not an engineer and I don’t have a really good head for creative coding (plain and simple stuff I could probably deal with, if I could be bothered updating my language skills, which I can’t), so it’s not likely that I will be heading a development team bringing you the latest installment of what Google Glass aims to be in the future.

What I will be able to give you (at least once I’ve finished all this study) is an in-depth analysis of why your ideas (or their ideas, or that platform for interaction, or … whatever!)failed and what you can do next time to get people to flock to them. I will be able to tell the world why they need to assess what it is they aim to gain from electronically-delivered engagement systems (because the phrase “online worlds’ be become obsolete – stay tuned for my book on that in a few years’ time), in order to spend their precious time, effort and cash in the right places. I will be able to authoritatively show people why employing current slow thinking (as in it takes more than a few months to get an idea out there and have it accepted – look at pressure start-up groups and their success if you don’t believe me) for a world that is changing so fast is a dumb idea (this may also involve revolutionising the way we peer-review stuff, but we have to aim high, right?).

So, online learning vs on-campus learning. Is there even a contest?

Firstly, let me dispel the myth of online learning being easy. It is NOT. Plain and simple. You have to be self-motivated. You have to search out your own community groups if you want to really engage with the material and ideas presented. You have to maintain that level of stamina, all without the scheduled-out-for-you, spoon-feeding that on-campus learning can give you and you have to do so all by yourself. If you don’t have that drive, you’ve got no hope. If you can’t find it in yourself to keep going when you have to do a unit with a university that hasn’t fully understood what it means to provide an online unit, then the chances of you completing your studies are very slim. More on this later. If you can’t handle being interrupted by people who don’t see your head in a book or you typing on a computer as “real study” (I’m talking parents, children, partners, friends who drop in, everyone!), and you can’t tell them to please respect your study time, then you’re going to fail. No sugar coating it. You will.

Using online tools are only useful if they actually offer students something that they need or want from their study. Online tools are only as good as the education they offer. If tutors are not engaging with their students or if the unit materials are not accessible, then what good is the delivery system?

Just waiting for the Quickening. For license and info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurelfan/46008993/

Too many times I have heard from students studying units with various universities. That the tutors don’t answer questions sent to them either by the internal mail system or through discussion boards which serve for many as online tutorials. That some units relying on web-based materials, meaning digital copies of papers or articles, have broken links or resources that just cannot be found at all! Simply copying a paper-bound university unit to a digital format does not making an online learning environment. An online student is, unfortunately, at a disadvantage when it comes to finding resources that are not published in a digital format. If your unit still relies on bound text books that an on-campus student would be able to check out of a library, you are doing your online students a dis-service. If you don’t have reliable checks and balances to make sure that your students are receiving the education they have paid for, then you are failing your students. I’m not talking about providing customer service for students. I think this opinion that universities are no longer the bastions of education and research they once were, is a little misguided and black-and-white. So what if students are expecting some kind of a ROI (Return on Investment) in regards to their education? This doesn’t mean that the primary role of a university can’t still be research and attainment of knowledge. It just means that those who help invest in that gathering expect a little something for their investment. The world isn’t as Highlander (“There can be only one!”) as some people would like to make out.

Soooooo… what do students employing online methods of study want?

Candy? Medals? A shiny pony? Not really. Although, having said that, I’d never look a gift horse in the mouth (sorry, I had to).

We expect a system that values us as students. As GENUINE students. We want tutors and lecturers who actually care that we can get and understand the material they are using to facilitate our knowledge. We aren’t expecting our degrees or diplomas to be handed to us on a silver platter. We expect to have to work for them, but no more than on-campus students. By undertaking externals studies we accept that we need to think and act differently to on-campus students, but we still want to be awarded the same level of engagement that on-campus students expect. Though, in saying that, I have heard a LOT of complaints from on-campus students saying there’s a decline in the amount of teachers giving a crap about classes… That may be a rant for another time.

We expect that when we are told that there is no text book required for the unit (as in my experience often happens) that we will be able to access all of the required readings for that unit online.  It’s no fun to play if we can’t get our hands on books or chapters because they don’t exist online. And, as a tutor, please don’t try to tell us it isn’t your responsibility to make sure your students have the resources. If a complaint is made that students cannot access the resources from anywhere online (the university’s library, Google, Amazon and the network of resource pirates out there), then it’s not that they don’t have the resources, your resource list needs revision. You need to make sure your students can actually find the resources so they can understand your lectures and complete assignments.

Which brings me to another point. When studying contemporary issues, such as politics or even Internet Studies, we expect that the topics being covered are from the past four or five years, and even then, it’s a stretch. Ultimately, we’d like within the past two to three. History is history and contemporary is now. Now, I understand the peer-review process is what universities and researchers live and die by, but it is long in the tooth and takes oh so long. I don’t have the answer. I wish I did, really, but the current peer-review process takes far too long to get actual contemporary resources into the hands of students. Think about it this way. It takes up anywhere in the realm of five years to research a PhD. Then it gets submitted for review… Now, I’m no mathematician, but that sure does add up to a lot of time in my mind. Not to mention that a lot may have changed in the world in that time. Now, if you’re doing a science (excluding computer sciences) or mathematics line of study, it’s fairly certain that you’ll be fine. Not much changes quickly there. 1+1 will always equal 2 … unless it doesn’t, in which case it’s already been proven and you can read up on it. If you’re in the Arts, some fields stay moderately constant while others change incredibly fast. My particular field of study looks to be changing and growing at a pace that the peer-review system can’t stay in step with. This causes problems for those of us looking to only use peer-reviewed articles and publications for our work. I am sure you can understand the frustration built up by trying to find something relevant written in the past two or three years when everything written in that time frame is still under review, or not widely accepted yet.

We ask that universities don’t try to charge us for services we cannot use. Yes, we are glad that should be able to we can use the physical library, or the student services centre or any of the wonderful services your on-campus students have access to. Personally, I am in something of a rare position amongst my external study peers, in that I am able to get to my university’s campus. Most of the other students I know who have been studying through external studies live too far away from their university to make use of the facilities. Some don’t even live in the same state! I think there needs to be more work done into as to what services a university might actually provide their external students that will benefit them, rather than assuming they require the same services as on-campus students.

A silly cap, a smile and a piece of paper. License and info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/willfolsom/5702452656/

We really really really (as in “cannot stress this enough”) need a checks and balances system outside of individual institutions, making sure that the level of education, educators and materials is sufficient to facilitate learning. We aren’t asking for our learning to be spoon-fed to us. We want to have to seek our own understanding, but we need to know that the help will be there if we simply don’t understand a concept or ideology. Universities and providers like OUA do their best with regular surveys asking how we felt the particular unit was delivered. Sadly, these do not seem to make a lick of difference when the same units receive the same complaints, or the same tutors receive the same complaints made against them, study period after study period. It’s not that we want studying to be easy, but we need to know there is some degree of accountability for our educators. I suspect this is a universal issue, rather than an online-specific one.

If you are in education, please understand that the world you may have learned in is changing. This means that older methods of thinking also need to change, in order to keep the pace. If you are a student or are considering undertaking online study, be patient with your institution. They may not understand the “game now. They may never understand it properly but unless you give them the chance and  provide them with appropriate feedback, they will never understand how to provide properly for the brave new world.

Promo Flier.

Promo Flier.

Just a little bit of background to this image.

I am currently studying through Open Universities Australia at Curtin University in the Internet Studies Department (curiously enough, Western Australia is the only state to have a dedicated Internet Studies department!). I am working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Internet Communications, which is to say I will have a degree which a lot of techies will laugh at because it’s not a science degree and a lot of artsies will laugh at because it’s not a “real” arts degree. But you know what? This has been one of the biggest rollercoasters of my life. I am now in my second year of three full-time. I have never been so challenged or felt so accomplished when I see a good grade on my assignments. There have been failings, sure, but on the whole they have been minor (except for that one eeeeeeevil time with the Unit-that-shall-not-be-named but that will be fixed next study period).

Yes, my work load averages out to be rather minor. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a law degree. However, in order to be at the top of my game, I need to know what is going on in the world of social media and the like. As it’s an ever evolving field of study, there’s a fair amount of online reading that needs to be done. Up until now, all the “creative” work for any of my units has been done through a program called Comic Life (they can be seen here and here), so it was time for something different.

I have been involved in a couple of conferences this year already. The first was Swancon 2012, where I got “included” (read: held at gun-point by someone I once though of as a dear friend) on a panel about Firefly ten years later, with absolutely no preparation time whatsoever! I swam rather than sinking. The second was the Media140 event, which I was self-appointed Tweet-Queen. Again, swam rather than sinking. The third has been the Net204/504 CommUnity online conference about communities and networks online (strangely enough) which, granted, has been for university. However, when my tutor posted in the study group that we had been approached by the co-working, collaborative group setting up in Perth, SpaceCubed,  to hold a physical addition to our online conference, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. There was a bit of a delay, as we needed minimum numbers and there was a general buzz as logistics were set up. I may have gotten a teeny tiny bit worked up about it, given that this is exactly the sort of collaboration I hope to make professional relationships with in the coming years. I guess I caught the eye of the tutor, because she has asked me to organise the event. Well, I may have been the only person putting their hand up.

So, I have had to face a fear: Photoshop. By face, I mean find ways around dealing with. You see, Photoshop and I do not have the chummiest of relationships. We love to hate one another. So, instead I use Seashore. By use, I mean go through each menu option until I find something that works, employing the old “Command+Z” if it doesn’t (yes, I’m on a Mac. So what?). Now, I am not the most artistic of people. Not by a long shot, so when I stepped away from my trials of the flier and was okay with what I had at that point, I was actually pretty happy, especially given that I had managed it with minimum hair pulling, teeth gnashing and general furniture destruction of frustration. Needless to say, the final edition which you see above is the culmination of years of trial and error (mostly error) and a day and a half of near-enough-to-say-it-happened keyboard/head/banging action.

Yes, there are some out there who could have achieved this in a matter of minutes. You know what? Power to them. I couldn’t have. Yes, I used some fairly rudimentary editing “skills” (what? a mallet is a skill, right?) to make it work. But I came out of it unscathed. My computer is all in one piece, and not a single piece of furniture was harmed in the making of this flier.

“Tick of Approval” Now More Credible.

Those who are aware of the PAFC’s real, non-superhero identity will know that she is NOT a fan of fast food. She thinks it is a waste of ingredients, not to mention incredibly poor for your health.

So when I stumbled across this article, I simply HAD to share it and my thoughts about it.

So, previously a company could approach the Heart Foundation and pay a sum of money in order to have their “Tick of Approval” placed on their food. This had been going on for five years, the first being a McDonald’s meal that was given approval for the Tick.

The main argument against the scheme is that it shields fast food outlets from actual.y making their food more healthy across the board. I completely agree with this argument, personally. Unfortunately, people are far too easily led into the false thinking that just because it has a picture saying it’s healthy, that must mean it is. Rather than checking the actual content statistics, a picture replaces real thought.

The Heart Foundation comes back at this notion by saying that they do actually check content and then have them independently checked in such fields as “…saturated fat, salt and kilojoules and making sure there is … healthier nutrients like calcium and fibre.” They also claim in the past 5 years, there have been big changes in awareness of healthier ingredients available to the fast food industry.

So what does this all mean to the average person looking for a healthier option?

For starters, it means you’ll have to be more aware of what it is you’re ordering. You will have to actually think about where it is you’re heading for food, their reputation for healthiness (I mean, let’s face it, NO ONE can say that fast food in general has the reputation of being truly healthy), and what your nutrition requirements (PDF)  actually are. In short, you’re going to have to think about your food. What a novel concept!

This means that fast food outlets are going to have to check their menu options and adjust them drastically if they still want the “health conscious” punters out there to buy their food. Mind you, I do think that people who go to fast food outlets looking for a healthy option are just kidding themselves in the first place.

In the end, we are all going to have to stop relying on little pictures to help us make educated food choices and start doing the real thinking for ourselves.

(Image Courtesy of The Heart Foundation : http://www.heartfoundation.org.au)

***UPDATE***

I was looking for further information I could post on here, as per the suggestions of one of my university tutor’s. I came upon the McDonald’s website  where you can plainly see that they are still advertising meals that are STILL marked with the Heart Foundation’s “Tick of Approval”. I have emailed the Foundation, asking how this can be if they have retracted the offer, but have not, as yet, heard anything back. Stay tuned dear reader. I shall find out what is going on with this.

Why You Should Read This Blog!

Do you eat food?

Do you sometimes venture out of your home to eat food?

Do you live in Perth, travel to Perth or want to travel to Perth?

Do you have general distrust for those critics that publish their critiques in newspapers, employing fancy language that doesn’t actually tell you about the food?

Do you want to see what food the most isolated city in the most isolated state of the most isolated country in the world has to offer?

THEN WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

This is the blog for you!

I don’t go out to “fancy restaurants” very often, but I do like to experience the food of Perth. I live here, so I am always on the look out for those hidden gems tucked away somewhere. What’s more, I like to share my findings with other people, in the hopes that I will turn them away from the fast food chains that encourage obesity and heart disease. It seems silly to me that you would choose deep fried, tasteless cardboard over something that actually resembles food sometimes in less time than the supposed “fast food” outlets!

You need to eat and if you live in Perth, it may seem that you are extremely limited for choice. We don’t have the cultural reputation of Sydney or Melbourne. This doesn’t mean we don’t have culinary treasures awaiting us. Even if it is known for one dish, wouldn’t you rather go to an eatery that you knew someone else had been to, you had seen a picture of the food on offer there, and had read that person’s honest critique of it and understood it? I know I would.

Sure there are other bloggers out there who cover the food of Perth. But I am covering solely food you can get to. I don’t talk about my food at home or a friend’s house. I am telling you of all those little places you might not try for yourself, but have always looked at wondering if anyone you knew had eaten there.

Let’s face it. You have to eat. Why not eat with a companion who has already been there and done that, so that you might enjoy it more?