Category Archives: Travel

Australia Tour 2011 – Monday Feb. 14

Happy Valentine’s Day!

After a 3 hour plane ride on Friday and a quiet weekend in Melbourne mainly working on some history work I had brought with me, it was down to business again today, with a visit to the University of Melbourne. I’ve been joined over the weekend by Dr Sally Rigden from the Principal’s Office, who is an Australian herself (from Perth via Canberra). We took the tram down Swanston street the 15 minutes to the University. One of my favourite things in any new city is to try out the local transport and the trams are great.

Taking the tram in Melbourne out to the U of Melbourne

Prof Peter Jamieson explains to DW the logic of some of the teaching space decisions the university has taken.Melbourne is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Australia, regularly placing at or near the top of research rankings, including quite a spectacular recent climb up the Shangai Jiao Tong rankings. There are, apparently, very few week departments and 52 of them scored perfect ’5s’ on the national research assessment exercise (ERA). It is twice the size or more that of Queen’s, at about 47,000 studentsWe were met at the International Centre, right out on Swanston St by the tram stops, by a staff member who squired us to our first meeting, with the university’s provost (roughly equivalent to our provost), John Dewar. I was particularly keen to find out about the famous ‘Melbourne model’ which over the past few years has quite considerably changed the curriculum structure, making formerly undergraduate professional programs into graduate or 2nd entry programs. We have done some of these things ourselves at Queen’s, for instance the conversion of the LLB into a JD, but the process has been much more extensive at Melbourne and much more of a radical departure from the ‘direct entry’ approach (borrowed from Britain) whereby students can get into medicine, law etc direct from high school.

Melbourne has taken an interestingly interdisciplinary approach to research, with much of it clustered around Institutes with a problem-focus, such as ‘Sustainable Communities’ or ‘Broadband Enabled Society’. Its annual consolidated budget is about 1.5 million $AU.

The campus is an interesting mix of old and new.


In the older section of the U of Melbourne campus

The 'Spot'--the U of Melbourne Business school building on the newer side of campus

On one side, the buildings are very old, but have in many cases been redeveloped or repurposed. On the other side, it is almost all new or recent, including a very interesting Business school building known as ‘The Spot’.

Our second meeting was a rapid tour through some of the university’s innovative teaching spots. With a new teaching building being planned at Queen’s, I was particularly curious to see what they had done here. Our guide, Prof Peter Jamieson, is an Education specialist who was hired here specifically to reform the teaching spaces. He is an ‘Energizer Bunny’ of an enthusiast who whipped us around campus in less than an hour to some of the most interesting teaching spaces I have seen for a long while.

We saw the social spaces in the library, including restaurant-like circular booths where students gather, often working individually on different projects but much more likely to sit together than at conventional long tables. At least a couple of the classrooms had school-like tables for 4 or 5 students, with space for the instructor in the centre of the room rather than at the front. Instead of blackboards or whiteboards, many of the rooms have glassboards, often brightly coloured.

classroom at Melbourne U with coloured glassboards

In the library, where much of the book stock has been out-housed to make room for student learning commons, we were quite struck by a set of old wooden tables. These appeared NOT to be wired for computers. This as Peter explained was quite deliberate—so many places ARE wired that he wanted a spot for students to sit for no longer than their batteries would allow, and to do other things than compute. There was only one lone laptop on the table we looked at.

Elsewhere, there was a quiet room, formerly a faculty lounge but now a student lounge. Soothing music at a low volume was piped in. The room was clearly a space for quiet contemplation. (We called it the Zen Lounge.)

the 'Zen lounge' (our term), a room for quiet contemplation, repurposed from a former faculty lounge.

After this rapid tour, which also included two brand new ‘pavilions’ or gathering spots, one indoors and one outdoors, it was time for lunch.

We went to the University House, a club or restaurant where we met Douglas Proctor, from the U’s International Relations office (Douglas, a French and linguistics grad, was in Kingston last November for a day, so knows our campus), our host,Susan Elliott, a Prof of Gastroenterology and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement), and Lesleyanne Hawthorne, Associate Dean in the Dentistry and Health Sciences Faculty. Lesleyanne also knows Queen’s and does work with Prof Keith Banting of our School of Policy Studies and Dept of Political Science. I had read a couple of articles by her last year on the Australian experience in internationalization as compared with Canada and other jurisdictions, so was very glad to be able to put a face to the email address!

the unwired table--designed to encourage greater circulation of students

During the lunch, in which we compared notes on internationalization initiatives, we were surprised by one statistic, which is that Canada is the single biggest supplier of international students to Australian medical and dental schools–a function of the excess of highly qualified students over places at Canadian medical and dental schools.

Following lunch we had one last meeting, at the university’s advancement office. Here, we had a fascinating discussion with several central and faculty advancement team members. Philanthropy is relatively new to Australia, as like Britain it has moved rather sharply from a fully-state supported system to one in which private support and tuition are increasingly filling the gap. Melbourne is embarking on its first full campaign in 70 years (by comparison there have been 3 or 4 at Queen’s since I was a student, and we are in the run-up to another right now). We were able to swap some good experiences and lessons learned. My parting gift from our hosts at this meeting was a history of the University coauthored by one of its most distinguishd historians, Prof Stuart Macintyre. By coincidence, I am dining with Stuart this evening, whom I first met on my last trip when we were both deans of arts; since then he has been a major collaborator in the Oxford History of Historical Writing (OHHW) project of which I am general editor. (I mentioned above that I had spent lots of the weekend working on ‘history’ stuff–it was in fact mainly on his volume in the OHHW which is now moving through the press process.

DW with historians Bain Attwood (middle) and Stuart Macintyre (right) in Melbourne Feb 14 2011

We had a pleasant dinner with Stuart and another historian involved in the Oxford History, Bain Attwood, from Monash University, where I am headed for meetings tomorrow.

Some more pix of today’s meetings below:

flexible room space dividers at Melbourne in the experimental classroom

the interior work pavilion--there are few students only because it is still summer holidays here

display monitors around campus don't just report on University events--they impart information on the countries that Melbourne's diverse student body come from!

inside the main library--the central desk is not a circulation desk. It is in fact the advising areas for Science students on their programs, here located right in the middle of the central learning space.

Australia Tour 2011 – Thursday Feb. 10

As I write this, I have a few hours down time after the conclusion of the Matariki Network meetings and before our alumni event later this evening.

At this morning’s Matariki meetings we continued yesterday’s discussions and agreed on some initiatives to follow up on with respect to future research conferences (using the inaugural one in Kingston last November as the example). It is likely that the next conference, to be hosted in Tubingen, will be on Bioethics and Policy issues. More details to be worked out in the coming months. The main criteria for having a research workshop under the Matariki ‘brand’ are that they be very oriented to pressing social problems, be interdisciplinary, draw on strengths at most or a majority of the member universities, and generate some concrete outcomes in publications and research applications. All the conferences are also to involve graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty.

The rest of the morning was taken up with the annual business meeting.

MNU Board at 2011 meeting in Perth

With the Network now firmly established (though three of the current executive heads will be stepping down at their institutions within the next several months), the need for meetings of this kind every year is somewhat reduced, so the next one, to be held at Dartmouth College (the US member) will not occur till mid to late 2012. As one of the four executive heads whose term runs past that date, I was acclaimed as chair of the Network (the secretariat, ably run by Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor Sarah Todd, will remain at Otago, making my duties as chair not terribly onerous!). We bade goodbye to our colleagues after lunch. John Dixon and I will have a good deal to follow up on from these meetings when we return to Kingston.

Two final notes on the meeting. This morning we signed the MOU for the network, making it a legal entity among the institutions. At the same time, I also signed a separate bilateral MOU with Durham Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins,

Signing Durham bilateral MOU with Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins Feb 10 2011

dealing with particular programs between our institutions, especially on the graduate studies side.

I will update on the alumni reception a bit later on today.

Queen’s alumni in Perth

We had a good turnout at St George’s College, close to 30 alumni and their guests. Several were Australians who had done graduate work at Queen’s, before returning home (some as far back as the 70s), a few were Canadians who ended up here for ‘short periods’ and decided to prolong them. The youngest alum were two Science 04 grads, who brought along his parents, also alumni.

Queen's alumni in Perth area (and some guests) at our reception at St George's College Feb 10

We had some really good questions from the group, including curiosity about the academic planning process, about town-gown relations, and about alumni giving. This last gave me my opening to make the pitch for support. It was a good event and splendid to meet some of our most far flung alumni (it was pointed out that you cannot find a city in the world further away from Kingston than Perth–if you drilled a hole though Grant Hall you would emerge in the Indian Ocean not far from its UWA duplicate, Winthrop Hall!)

Friday is a travel day to Melbourne followed by the weekend, so I will next update the blog on Monday.

Australia Tour 2011 – Wednesday, Feb. 9

It’s 5:15 in Perth and we have just wrapped up the first day of meetings after last night’s introductory BBQ (of which a highlight for me was my first taste of kangaroo–this got a lot of attention on twitter). This was probably useful as today the agenda was very wide-ranging and had us hopping from one item to the next at a brisk pace. Our meetings occurred in the Senate Chamber,

Delegates prepare to get down to work in the Senate Chamber at UWA

a round-tabled room near the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We also got a look at the inside of Winthrop Hall, a larger version of our own Grant Hall, and built by the same architect. (The president of Engsoc, Victoria Pleavin, tweeted in response to my posting a picture of the hall, below, that it would make a great location for the Science Formal).

interior of Winthrop Hall, UWA

Last year, at the Matariki Network’s inaugural meeting, in Durham, England,

Last year's Matariki crew in Durham, Feb 2010

we worked out the basic terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between our seven universities. (Recap: the network is a group of seven mid-sized research-intensive universities, each with a commitment to a strong educational experience within the research environment, and with an outward, international perspective; there can be only one member per country. Queen’s is Canada’s member. The others are: University of Tubingen (Germany); Uppsala University (Sweden); Durham (UK); Otago (New Zealand); Dartmouth College (USA); and our host institution this year, the University of Western Australia. The universities vary in age, with Queen’s being one of the younger ones (Uppsala and Tubingen date from the late fifteenth century; UWA marks its centenary this coming Monday, making it a week younger than Ronald Reagan. There is some variety in size also, but none of us is either tiny or enormous.

Having launched the network this past year, we today reviewed some of the key issues, challenges and events at our institutions since we met in Durham. There was a considerable confluence of issues, in particular those of funding from our respective governments (Germany is the closest to Canada in the sense of having a strong provincial/state involvement; the US is quite different from others in having a private as well as public or state system for PSE).

Prof Bernd Engler, Rektor (=principal) of the University of Tubingen

The UK and Australia are experiencing some very significant changes, with those in the UK (moving from government support supplemented by tuition to a system of income-contingent loans, with tuition capped at 9000 pounds annually).

Highlights of the afternoon discussion included: the finalizing of the MOU (after a year of activities, leading to some refinement of the language) which we plan to sign tomorrow; a discussion of how best to share practices and information among the seven institutions. We had a productive discussion on the use of metrics in research assessment (the UK and both Australia and New Zealand have long-established regular ‘research-assessment exercises’, largely dreaded in all countries but which have nonetheless generated some reasonably solid data about research performance which are–and this is crucial–discipline specific (that is historians compared with historians; biologists with biologists, musicians with musicians, and so on). We have been spared this exercise in Canada, largely because of the divided jurisdiction over PSE, but we did have a spirited exchange on how we might share the data that we have to mutual benefit, and especially to match up research strengths and complementary activities among Network members.

The Network takes its commitment to other aspects of university life, in particular the student experience, seriously, and some thought was given to how we can work together on some key issues. One interesting initiative, of Uppsala University, is to invite a representative from each of our institutions to Uppsala in September to review Uppsala’s teaching and learning innovation activities, and learn both from these and from other attending members. I should have more to report on next year’s agenda tomorrow when we have concluded our meetings. Tomorrow we will also be considering how to improve both faculty and staff mobility among the members, and we will review outcomes from the first of the Matariki research workshops, on renewable energy and society, which we hosted at Queen’s in November.For a summary of this workshop see

www.matarikinetwork.com/pdfs/MNU%20Workshop%20on%20Renewable%20Energy%20summary.pdf

More tomorrow on Day 2 of the meeting.

Australia Tour 2011 – Tuesday, Feb. 8

Correction, it is Curtin University of Technology no more–since July they have dropped the ‘Of Technology’ bit from the university’s name. A very new university (established 1987 after a previous 20 year existence as a polytechnic), it has 47,000 students total, of which a staggering 1/3 are international students. The buildings on the main campus that we visited all seem very new. On a tour of the campus in the afternoon, we ducked inside a brand new engineering building which has not quite opened; another one is in the early stages of construction.

interior of a brand new engineering building at Curtin U

Our tour guide, Tania, a Curtin grad from 2003 in Business Law who now works in the international office at Curtin, mentioned that the university has increased enormously in scale and size even in the 8 years since she graduated. We actually arrived at Curtin on the day of a graduate ceremony (it is Australian summer, and a few weeks before term starts–here grad ceremonies occur a few months after the end of the academic year, rather like the US model). Everywhere students were around in regalia waiting for the ceremony, outdoors, to start this evening when it would be a bit cooler.

a student tries on his gown prior to Convocation at Curtin U Feb 8 2011

Curtin has several satellite campuses in other parts of Western Australia and elsewhere in the country, but it was principally their international campuses we were curious about. As Queen’s considers its own international initiatives, learning from those with much more experience will be helpful. Curtin has 20 years of history in engaging especially with Asia, and it has both branch campuses in Sarawak and Singapore, and ‘partner’ campuses with other Asian universities where Curtin degrees are offered using other institutions facilities.

John Dixon and I had a lengthy meeting with his counterpart, David Wood, an urban planner who is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor International. We noted that Queen’s has several existing relationships with Curtin, in the areas of applied sustainability and planning among others (SURP professor David Gordon was out here a year ago). We had a lot of questions about lessons learned during Curtin’s expansion internationally, and discussed possible further collaboration opportunities. Subsequently we met with my counterpart, Vice-Chancellor Jeanette Hacket, a very engaging and enthusiastic woman keen to embrace international partnerships in Canada as well as Asia. Her colleague, Deputy VC (Research and Development) Linda Kristjanson had a Canadian connection–a nurse by training she has spent time at Queen’s and knows the Canadian system well having lived for a while in my home town, Winnipeg. (There are a lot of Canadian ex-patriates in Australia. Could it be the weather?). Finally, Deputy VC (Teaching and Learning) Robyn Quin is responsible for all academic programming at the main campus and for quality control over all programs or ‘courses’ in the Curtin system. Quality control is very high, but has traditionally been done by retrospective means, as an audit of performance metrics such as retention, rather than as the ‘gatekeeping’ system (where new programs must be approved in advance) that prevails in most Canadian provinces, including Ontario (recently modified at Queen’s through the QCAPS process approved at Senate to meet provincial requirements).

on the campus of Curtin U outside a popular eatery

While the Australians are a decade or so ahead of us on the international front, we have progressed further in one key area that is of growing importance in both countries, namely fund-raising from philanthropic sources. While the US is way ahead of both Australia and Canada, we have a more developed (no pun intended) system, and a significantly greater portion of our operating budget comes from private fundraising. This is going to increase in urgency for Australian universities in the coming years.

So, a productive day of fact-finding and quite a few questions answered. But as my colleague John Dixon said as we left one of the meetings, we also have a very clear idea of how much we actually don’t know and need still to learn about in the area of internationalization.

Now, on to the two day meeting of the Matariki network, starting with the U of Western Australia Vice-Chancellor’s BBQ this evening.

Australia Tour 2011 – Monday, Feb. 7

It’s day 4 of the trip (well actually day 5 counting the travel, but Friday disappeared somewhere over the Pacific). After a long flight, a day’s stopover in Sydney and arrival on Sunday in Perth, I am nearly de-jetlagged. The weather here is very very hot as it is the height of summer in the southern hemisphere.

A bird's eye view of Sydney harbour about 1 minute before landing Feb 5

Yesterday, Monday, I met with Prof Denise Chalmers of Western Australia University. Prof Chalmers is a leading figure in Australian higher education pedagogical scholarship and is Director of UWA’s Centre for Advancement of Teaching and Learning. We had a good chat over a ‘flat white’ (Australian term for a coffee with milk, in a short cup) about some of UWA’s innovations in teaching, and Australian higher education policy generally.

A key difference between Australia and Canada is that here, PSE is a federal matter, governed from the national government in Canberra. The states (=our provinces) have a much smaller role than do their Canadian counterparts (one of these roles is to ‘audit’ the universities financial management notwithstanding that the money itself originates federally). This has led to a certain levelling of the playing field from one end of the country to another, and permitted a national PSE policy in a way that we cannot imagine in Canada, with 10 different provincial jurisdictions. The down side is that when cuts happen, they affect everyone–the national council on teaching and learning set up a few years ago has just been announced as dissolving by the end of the year. On the other hand, the government in bestowing grant funding has traditionally differentiated among its institutions and not simply spread all the money out evenly. For example, a recent block of funding for teaching innovation invited applications from institutions, and a few got a lot of the funding, and others got none, depending on the proposal. What is fascinating is that the research-intensive schools in the ‘Group of 8′ (=our ‘G15′) did very well out of the competition, suggesting that in Australia, as in Canadian universities such as Queen’s, it is possible to find a commitment to strong and innovative teaching within a research-intensive environment.

The other interesting fact I gleaned from my chat with Denise Chalmers: as they are in internationalization (for which see more later this week), the Australians are way ahead of the rest of the world on issues of distance learning and especially blended learning. They in fact patented some major software for lecture-capture, Lectopia, which has been bought out and commercialized by Echo360, a private firm which deals with educational software.

Winthrop Hall at the U of Western Australia

Denise was careful to point out a couple of things about UWA’s well advanced experiment in blended learning (the term ‘virtualization’ did not arise):

1. This was not a cost-saving measure, and indeed the up-front costs of it are not inconsiderable. The real cost-saving is in instructor time as once done a lecture doesn’t need to be repeated for a few years (apart from routine updating of material).

2. Lectures are best done in small chunks of time–not as one might think, filling a whole hour as if emulating the classroom timetable.

3. While powerpoint etc can be integrated into a streamed lecture, video is rarely used–no ‘talking heads’ of professors. Rather, students hear the prof’s voice and see the material being projected simultaneously. All of this can be downloaded on to ipods.

4. The students who use the streamed lectures tend to be the ones who go to class (it’s not clear whether the same pattern would apply in Canada as we are so new at this that we don’t have many data yet), and use it as a supplement to what they are reading and hearing in the classroom. It does allow the classroom to be much more about discussion, even in a large room and less about the ‘sage on the stage’.

Tomorrow I will write about my experiences at Curtin University of Technology, also here in Perth.