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The IT Help Desk is currently short-staffed and is receiving a high volume of calls. You are currently twenty-third in the queue.

Welcome back to a brand new academic year at the University of Western Sydney Technology Park, where we blend the learning and the accounts into a fine digestible paste.

The story so far… Twelve months ago the university announced a budget crisis and told the Schools – who do most of the work and earn most of the money – to make drastic budgets cuts. Courses were closed–Bachelor of Economics, majors in Arabic, Spanish and Italian – and staff were made redundant (with more to follow). But it turned out that there wasn’t a budget crisis after all. In fact the bottom line was 50% better than had been forecast at the end of 2011 and there really had been no need to cut courses.

So what happened to the money? It was earmarked for a grab bag of management projects called Our Future (with all the future-gazing in recent times you’d think the Looneyversity was being run by Isaac Asimov, Phillip K Dick and Nostradamus).  Principal amongst these was a ‘plan’ to give Ipads away to all new students for the next three years, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. The university claims that these will help with the development of ‘blended learning’. But this is actually a big lie. Despite all the gasbagging about ‘enhancing the learning environment’, the giveaway is just a very expensive marketing gimmick.

How do we know this? Because they didn’t prepare properly, never got the systems in place to guarantee the Ipads would be educationally useful to students 1) There was never a clear blended learning policy or plan 2) Like the rest of us, IT staff only found out about the Ipad hand-out late last year and have been chasing their tails ever since (many haven’t even been given Ipads!) 3) Lots of things just can’t be done on Ipads: you can’t fill out an E-Form; academics can’t conduct assessment tasks; you can’t run anything in Flash; there are no suitable UWS apps 4) vUWS can’t cope with the traffic caused by students using their ipads, and collapsed twice on the first day of semester  5) There isn’t enough bandwidth on campus to cope with all these new ipads and the wireless connections are patchy at best. 6) Only in the last few weeks have academics received their Ipads and been given basic training. This appears to consist of ‘Here’s a bunch of whizz-bang apps! Go forth and use them in your teaching’.

Now we at UWS Dissenter don’t want to sound wholly negative and we accept there are ways in which a tablet can be useful in teaching, but how are students going to use their Ipads in the classroom? Could somebody write in and explain? We’ve yet to hear a convincing answer. And why has UWS handed out Apple devices rather than other cheaper tablets (Samsung Galaxy), with their greater flexibility, USB ports etc? There are just too many unanswered questions.

But if you’re worried about an unseemly rush to on-line learning you should be consoled by the words of Kerri Lee Krause, who told the Sydney Morning Herald that students will still attend class “for high value-added interactive and collaborative face-to-face learning”. Which we think means that they will learn through talking and listening. So that’s good then.

But we also think there are other ways that all the millions could have been put to better use. Like cutting down class sizes; employing more full time academic and front-line professional staff; giving casual staff proper jobs instead of treating them like slaves; employing more people to teach academic writing skills. Instead we have a fresher feeding frenzy and a cohort of continuing students who are left on the sidelines, resentfully clutching their UWS Connect vouchers. Consolation prize? Maybe not

John D’oh

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