Naomi Barnes

Why Alan Tudge is now on the history warpath

Australian children will never defend the country if the draft history curriculum is adopted. That’s the takeaway from the Federal Education Minister Allan Tudge’s speech to the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) on Friday. 

The minister called for yet another curriculum reform to ensure “a positive, optimistic view of Australian history”. 

His reasoning? “Individual students learn to understand the origins of our liberal democracy so that they can defend it, they can protect it, they can understand it, and they can celebrate it”.  

The impact of such talk on the education system is cause for concern. Curriculum reform is expensive for the economy and disruptive for the sector. Tudge’s comments are unusual given the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACARA) just completed a public deliberation over the History curriculum earlier this year.

This begs the question:

What the hell is the Minister doing? 

It’s about the election but there is something more. The use of two political spaces, Sky News and the libertarian think tank Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), rather than the more bipartisan National Press Club, supports the campaigning thesis.  My previous research has shown CIS and the Institute for Public Affairs have a specific focus on causing education issues to go viral. When an issue goes viral, it becomes something talked about in more households and more online accounts, whether challenged or accepted. As the lobbyist theory goes, more viral = more likely to have popular influence. Add to this Tudge’s online blocking of multiple historians and teachers of history over the past weeks, as they question his weird focus on optimism, a clearer picture emerges. This commentary is not about policy. It is about the election and getting that little word “optimism” associated with the Coalition. 

It’s probably electioneering

There is a federal election on the horizon, and even if the Government is re-elected, there will be a cabinet reshuffle. So why is Tudge making so much noise about History education when he only has five months left in the job? I believe the imminent election is the key to unlocking Friday’s weird flex.

It is tempting to look at the transcripts from Tudge’s comments and dismiss them as far-fetched. But it is more important to draw back the lens to view a government with an election in five months, after a pandemic year filled with bad press. 

When taking a broad view of the Federal government, it is interesting to note that the word “optimism” is popping up in many Federal press releases and media interviews. Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, has been using the word consistently since COVID19 vaccines were developed, but the word has also crept into other portfolios. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is the “man for optimistic narratives”, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is optimistic of an economic recovery, Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan is optimistic about resolving the French submarine diplomatic disaster, “government sources” from Attorney General Michaelia Cash’s office say they are cautiously optimistic about resolving the industrial relations bill, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne even has “optimism” in her Twitter profile, even if it is about breeding racehorses. 

Optimism has popped up enough times to warrant attention. The word taps into a public desire for something good to happen after the heartbreak and restrictions of the COVID 19 pandemic. We also know that the current federal government is very keen to ensure popular optics. “Optimism” is a useful word for dismissing the Opposition’s criticism of the Government at the same time giving hope to the population. It’s a powerful word that escapes a lot of generalised attention, and does a lot of political heavy lifting.

How “optimism” works in History education

The tactics of this current government’s History education rhetoric is different to the Howard government. The History Wars have a few skirmishes every time there are announcements about education’s role in the development of the nation. While Ministers and their lobbyists clutch pearls over declining scores in literacy and numeracy, and students are squeezed into STEM for the economy, History has always been about what type of nation Australia’s children should be actively informed about. In the past, this battle for the soul of the nation has at least had some semblance of debate, with academics, historians and politicians getting into the nitty gritty of what it means to raise active and informed citizens. They have engaged with alternative readings of events, even if only to dismiss them. 

Tudge’s History War is different. 

Tudge’s reasoning is riddled with misinformation and weird predictions but he keeps coming back to this word “optimism”. While he drags out the History Wars’ bread and butter about balancing the positive things Australia has done alongside the violence of the colonial past, his desire to squeeze in the use of “optimism” in other ways looks more forced.  

For example, as mentioned previously, the review of the Australian Curriculum was just completed in July. It was not until after the Australian public were invited to make submissions on the proposed changes to school offerings that Tudge began to get quite vocal about changing it. Which leads me to wonder, if he really wanted to make the curriculum more optimistic, why didn’t he begin this campaign before the review ended. A closer look at his reasoning shows that some of the items in the History curriculum he thought were pessimistic have already been removed in the latest draft. So why did he think they were worth talking about? 

He uses old news to argue that if the draft curriculum goes forward, students “won’t necessarily defend our democracy as previous generations have done” using data from the Lowry Institute to support his claim. Apart from being completely impossible to make that prediction, what Tudge doesn’t say is that the Lowry Institute poll on democracy shows young people’s faith in democracy is on the rise, trending up from 31% of the population believing in democracy in 2012, to 60% in 2021. So using Tudge’s logic, the current History curriculum is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. 

But by flipping a 60% win to a 40% deficit, Tudge can politik about the need for optimism. 

These are tactics, not ANOTHER education reform strategy

This points to education tactically being used to further the Federal Government’s re-election campaign, rather than a strategic move to save the soul of the nation. Tactics are localised responses to circumstances, whereas strategies are more stabilised and long term. So in other words, the federal cabinet ministers are finding issues to associate with the word “optimism” and putting it in front of as many voters as possible. For education, the History Wars have a history of going viral, even before the internet. And if you look at Tudge’s comments on Friday, the History curriculum is nestled in with the other two big viral topics – literacy and numeracy test scores. 

Ultimately, education cannot continue to be used by politicians this way. Education researchers and journalists need to work hard on holding these tactics up to the Australian public and pushing back on the use of words like “optimism”. While researching for this article, it became increasingly noticeable that the media has begun to use the word to describe the Government. And it’s not just the Murdoch press. Every time a journalist associates that word with the Federal Government, they are giving them free political advertising. 

This is just another electioneering policy announcement where Federal politicians have called for a review of the Australian Curriculum: History declaring the hearts and minds of Australia’s youth as under threat. This same rhetoric was used in the 1990s when Henry Reynolds and Keith Windschuttle faced off over the “black armband view of Australian history” in the proposed national curriculum. We need to start asking why this government sees the need to renew the History Wars while still pointing out the misinformation in their rhetoric. 

Education researchers need to look hard at their expert subjects and then pan out to see if they are simply being used as a pawn in a wider federal agenda. Education has been in a state of flux for many years now and this requires research that pre-empts, just as much as it reacts. That involves looking wider than the education portfolio. If we look outside of our silos, there’s some clues about where we are going.

Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology

Adults made the media mess

Social media platform Facebook pulled the plug on Australian news last week after a tussle between the government and the digital giant. What does that mean for Australian educators and students? What are the ways we can combat misinformation and disinformation? And how far along are we in the struggle to teach media literacy (answers from a professor and a PhD student)? How important is it for students to create their own content? PLUS read an excerpt from Kid Reporter, a handbook for young investigators (and their teachers) by Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn; and Peter Greste’s review of the book.

Read Michael Dezuanni on media literacy in Australian classrooms

•Read Stephanie Wescott on the struggle to detect bias

•Read Naomi Barnes on why content creation by students is critical

Read Peter Greste’s review of Kid Reporter

Extract from Kid Reporter

We need more than one in five

Why we must foster media literacy in Australian classrooms

By Michael Dezuanni, Queensland University of Technology

Media literacy has gained a great deal of attention in recent years due to ongoing controversies about the circulation of fake news on social media platforms.  Most recently, disinformation about the COVID 19 pandemic has been at the forefront of public discussion in Australia, as high profile media celebrities and a federal politician have shared misleading information about false COVID causes and cures. Donald Trump’s fabricated claims of election fraud in the United States, and circulation of disinformation about arson attacks during the 2019/2020 bushfire season in Australia are other high-profile examples. Meanwhile, the power that social media platforms wield in society has never been clearer than in the recent Facebook news ban in Australia. In each of these cases, there have been calls for media literacy to be ramped up as a public policy and education response. 

Although media literacy is often seen as a novel response to media controversies, there is a long history of media literacy education in Australia. Its roots date back to at least the 1950s when University of Tasmania educator W.H. Perkins worked to introduce film appreciation education into the classroom. In the 1960s, educators in Victoria and South Australia fostered film and media analysis in English and Art classes, and the Australian Teachers of Film Appreciation (later Australian Teachers of Media) was established.  During the 1980s, most State Departments of Education introduced media education curricula and policy documents. Currently, Australia is one of the few countries in the world to have a preschool to year ten scope and sequence for media literacy education in the form of Media Arts in the Australian Curriculum. In addition, English teachers are encouraged to include media texts in their curricula, and English in the Australian Curriculum specifically cites news production and analysis within content elaborations from year 5 and up.  

Despite the existence of the current curriculum opportunities, and a proud history of media literacy education in Australia, though, it is included in fewer Australian classrooms than one might expect.

Michael Dezzuani

Over the past five years, I have collaborated with Dr Tanya Notley from Western Sydney University to investigate news literacy, particularly with a focus on young people. 

Our surveys of Australian children and young people’s news media experiences conducted in 2017 and 2020 show that only one in five young people have experienced news analysis in the classroom, and only about one in three has created a news story at school.  Meanwhile, our study of Australian teachers shows that while they overwhelmingly say it is important to teach about bias and misinformation in the classroom, most also say there are many barriers to including media literacy lessons. 

Teachers cite lack of knowledge about media literacy, lack of professional development and timetable constraints as key barriers to the implementation of media literacy in the classroom.  There is no doubt that studying the media requires teachers to acquire at least some subject specific language and knowledge.  In addition, media literacy work often includes media production, involving the creation of still images and video, with a necessity to combine these with specialist software. Teachers often lack the technological knowledge to include media production in the classroom. 

On a more positive note, it is possible to make media with readily available technologies like tablet computers, and many teachers already involve their students in media literacy–like activities without realising it. Often, Digital Technologies curriculum tasks can be slightly altered to also meet Media Arts requirements. Professional development materials, and classroom resources are also increasingly available to schools; a recent example is the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Media Literacy Lab materials. 

An ongoing challenge, then, is to work out how we can support teachers to include media literacy education in their already busy classrooms.  The goal of our research is to support these efforts through the development of resources such as our Framework for Media Literacy Education, and through supporting the efforts of the recently formed Australian Media Literacy Alliance. We see these as essential initiatives given that our media environment is likely to become even more complex and ubiquitous in people’s lives in the years to come. 

Michael Dezzuani is a professor in the School of Creative Practice, Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology.

I began to see the words and ideas of far-right extremists being repeated back to me as truth

By Stephanie Wescott, Monash University

This week’s retaliatory action by Facebook to remove Australian news sources sparked conversations around the impact social media news-sharing has had on our ability to identify credible news.

In Victorian schools, arming students with the ability to analyse and identify tactics of persuasion in writing is a substantial component of the English curriculum. The VCE English Study Design (VCAA, 2014) stipulates the key knowledges required to meet the outcomes for Area of Study 2, Analysing and presenting argument, including an understanding of: 

  • the ways authors construct arguments to position audiences; and 
  • the features of written, spoken and multimodal texts used by authors to position audiences

However, the texts provided to students in the exam, and for practise in classrooms, are fictionalised pieces that often bear little resemblance to texts students encounter outside the classroom. Unless teachers expose students to a range of media texts throughout their junior school education, and unless schools offer subjects specifically addressing media literacy, assumptions made about digital natives’ inherent abilities to assess the trustworthiness of information they encounter online can leave them with dangerous knowledge gaps. 

During my career as an English teacher, I became increasingly concerned about my students’ lack of media literacy, which culminated in specific vulnerabilities around trusting misinformation, believing conspiracy theories, and, in some cases, following radical right-wing personalities on YouTube and being seduced by their rhetoric. I began to see the words and ideas of far-right extremists being repeated back to me as truth, and a disinterest in engaging with clarifications about why their sources weren’t trustworthy. Explanations offered to students around the unreliability of the information they were consuming often found us falling deeper into conspiracy rhetoric, with students repeating anti-mainstream media suspicions and beliefs around the alleged hegemony of left-wing and/or feminist media. 

I attempted, across all year levels, to equip them with the skills and knowledge to not only understand how persuasive language positions them as an audience, but also the deeper, more complex layers of bias and political leanings that underpin the media they consume.  

As an English teacher, I considered training my students to understand the cultural and political spectrum that sits alongside our media landscape as a crucial life skill.

Stephanie Wescott

In 2021, we are deep within the era of post-truth, and the COVID pandemic has offered rich opportunities for misinformation to flourish online. We must focus specifically on preparing young people to understand the Australian media landscape, not only as an essential component of their literacy education, but as a life skill. 

Stephanie Wescott is a PhD candidate at Monash University Faculty of Education, researching policy and practice in the post-truth era.

Adults made the mess and should clean it up

By Naomi Barnes, Queensland University of Technology

The challenge to become critical creators of content should not just extend to those who intend to join the media industry but to all users of social media who are all involved in the production and consumption of media every day. These are the grown-ups. 

The adults made the mess: Zuckerberg, Murdoch, Morrison, Trump and the rest. Adults created the content, including the algorithms, consumed the cat pictures and shared the misinformation. As Steven Watson and I recently demonstrated, adults also deliberately engage in populist tactics designed to pit one group against another. Adults need to be responsible for cleaning up the mess that led to last week’s moves by Facebook. That begins with critical media literacy. 

Critical consumption of content should also show that a lot of the noise about the evils of social media drowns out examples of the good that happens on the platforms. Many groups, like IndigenousX, already engage in the critical production of media content and we should be looking to them for models of how to interact and produce online content. Social media has also provided outlets for people to keep connected during the pandemic but has long been there for those who are housebound due to trauma or disability. Social media has also been instrumental in putting social issues on the map.

We should also note that children are already involved in the critical production of content so positioning media literacy as something for the kids to learn ignores a lot they already know. Young people are already breaking apart old structures of education. What else is the school strike for climate except young people declaring that school is too didactic and not critically active? As Greta Thunberg challenges adults to clean up the climate mess they made, so too should adults take the time to be informed and critical creators and focus on cleaning up their online act while they are critiquing Facebook’s.

Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology

Review of Kid Reporter

By Peter Greste, University of Queensland

One of the paradoxes of modern life – and one we were forced to confront last week – is that in a world where we suffocate under a firehose of information whenever we open our smart phones, it is becoming harder and harder to find trustworthy news.

Facebook’s decision to ban links to Australian news services, over its row with the Australian Government’s News Media Bargaining Code, created what one critic described as a ‘fact-free zone’. That might be a bit harsh on all the other well-meaning businesses, clubs and organisations who rely on the social media giant to communicate with their followers, but it did force us to confront some increasingly vexing questions: How do we distinguish quality news from the bad stuff? What would our world look like without reliable, trustworthy news services?

And what really is ‘news’ anyway?

Even a megasaurus the size of Facebook, with its banks of nerds and vast technical resources, struggled to define it. They not only blocked the usual suspects like ABC News, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald; they also took down the pages of the Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia’s fire and emergency services, and a host of seemingly random non-news organisations including my own School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland.

That is why the book, Kid Reporter, by Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn, feels so timely. (Subtitled, “the secret to breaking news” it ought to have instant appeal to any kid with a rebellious streak; coincidentally exactly the kind of trait that often makes a great journalist.)

As they point out in the introduction, the book isn’t just for budding reporters. It works for anyone who cares about what is going on in the world around them, and anyone who consumes the media. In this digized world, that means just about everyone.

The book provides a thorough, thoughtful and easily digestible toolkit for any young reporter, with plenty of takeaways and tips for identifying what a news story looks like, how to gather information, and put it all together into a finished product. None of that ought to be a surprise though, especially from a pair who both have admirable careers as journalists

themselves. But its real value is in the way it asks all its readers – the grown-ups included – to approach the far wider subject of ‘news’, both as producers and consumers.

“One of the best ways to learn about the media is to become a media creator yourself,” Howden and Quinn write. “If you know how to find accurate information for your own news story, you are far more likely to know if another person’s work is based on facts… There’s almost no chance you’ll be fooled by ‘fake news’ again.”

For me, the book really gains traction in Part III, “How to be a news detective”. It takes a deep dive into the kind of approach that experienced journalists would be expected to bring to their craft, and that seems to be missing in far too many newsrooms. The approach is rooted in the philosophy of critical thinking, asking its readers to not only question and confirm basic facts, but also to think about things like the motives of the people presenting information; its context and purpose; the difference between opinion, fact and analysis; and the authenticity of apparently conclusive photographic evidence.

(Coincidentally, creating a media literacy program with critical thinking at its heart, is also the approach that a group of colleagues and I have taken in designing a journalism course for high school students.. More news on that soon.)

As a journalist with more than 30 years of experience, I thought I knew my craft well. But I am humble enough to admit that even I learned a thing or two from the vivid examples that Howden and Quinn give their readers, and the approach they ask them to bring to the business of assessing and presenting information.

You don’t need to be a budding journalist to find Kid Reporter worthwhile though. It is illuminating for anyone who wants to understand what quality journalism should look like. Mark Zuckerberg would do well to grab a copy.

UNESCO Chair in Journalism and Communication, School of Communication and Arts,  Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Queensland

Extract from:

Kid Reporter: The Secret to Breaking News

by Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn


It’s time to get out the magnifying glass. Before you can call yourself a reporter, you need to understand where information comes from, how it’s created, how it’s understood and what’s done with it. Journalists are critical thinkers. That means turning over every bit of evidence, examining it, and then making an informed decision about its value.

We looked at sources [later in the book] but now we need to dive deeper. How do you tell the difference between a rumour, a lie and a fact? When does a statement become an opinion? Is it okay to have various perspectives, or points of view, on the same event?

People have different ideas about the world. These are formed by family and friends, school, culture, heritage, religion, community, even government. All these influences on your life affect the way you see information and how you pass it on. And that is the same for every person in the world.

Being aware of this helps us appreciate other people and respect their views, even when we disagree. It helps us understand our own perspectives and lets us sort through and share information in a fairer, truthful way.


To be media literate involves knowing the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, being able to fact-check claims and spot fake news and advertisements.

Developing these skills is an important part of being an engaged and informed citizen in the 21st century.

Who said what and why?

All forms of knowledge come from somewhere. Information includes any and all details about a situation, person, thing or event. But someone has to create that information, whether it’s written, spoken, in a report, part of a video or in a graphic.

As a news detective you have to find out who created it, try to understand why it was produced and identify the target – who the creator wants to reach with the information.

These are clues to help us understand all messages. And their meaning can change depending on their context.

Kid Reporter: The Secret to Breaking News by Saffron Howden and Dhana Quinn, published by NewSouthPress

What does ‘back to basics’ really mean? What ‘reforms’ are being signalled this time?

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been describing the NSW curriculum review as a signal to go “back to basics” despite Professor Geoff Masters, who headed up the review, insisting it is more about decluttering the curriculum.  To educators like me the phrase “back to basics” has signalled different education reforms over the years, which begs the question, what is Premier Berejiklian signalling?

Since the 1950s and earlier, at every level of government, politicians have touted their versions of “back to basics’” reforms in education as a way to show their political leadership and to assure us of the stability of their governments. The catch-cry taps into widespread, ever present, cultural fears about literacy and numeracy standards. It signals that a simple and easy solution to educational problems is available by just ‘reforming’ the sector responsible for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.

However, in 2020 when anxiety over education is particularly heightened, a “back to basics” move also appeals to nostalgia for a time before the pandemic, before a decade of constant reform, before precarity, before everything got so scary.

The trouble is we know from looking at our past experiences of politicians talking about going “back to basics”, the actual ‘reforms’ they have given us under the “back to basics” banner have been very different.

What does the phrase “back to basics” actually mean?

The phrase is what linguists call an empty signifier, or what the D-Generation might call a “hollow” phrase. This and similar phrases are the basis for policy writing jokes in Utopia and The Hollow Men and other comedies about political life. In other words, “back to basics” is clear enough to have passing meaning, but vague enough to mean nothing in particular or to have multiple meanings attached.

It can mean cuts to funding for public schools

The term emerged in the 1950s in the United States but has been used since the 1970s to signal Australian education reforms. In 1977, the Fraser government used “back to basics” to reform the vocational education sector. In 1988, Nick Greiner swept the Coalition to victory in NSW promising a “back to basics” approach to education, but this time the signal was for massive cuts to education including defunding the public system, raising class size and complexity by introducing composite classes, closing smaller schools and sacking 2400 teachers and 800 support staff.

It can mean flagpoles and teaching ‘values’

“Back to basics” was base line rhetoric for the Howard government’s approach to education and shifted its use from simple system and curriculum reform to ideological reform. The phrase signalled moves to neutralise the ‘left-wing’ his government claimed had infiltrated the teaching profession. The National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools and the flagpole program in 2005 linked federal funding to the display of “traditional” Australian values. Howard’s government opposed diversifying the curriculum from white colonial history texts.

It can mean “removing the black armband of history” and always involves phonics and grammar

Conservative commentators were surprised at the Gillard government’s appropriation of their spin when the Australian Curriculum was finally released after over two decades of negotiations and drafting. Following the Howard government’s definition of basics referring to traditional values and combining it with solid literacy and numeracy practices, the Australian Curriculum removed “the black armband view of history”, which taught students the nature of British colonialism in Australia, specified the teaching of sound-letter phonics, and re-introduced grammar.

In 2010, “back to basics” was used to signal a return to the “golden age” of grammar. The phrase worked to signal both nostalgia and reassurance about basic reading and writing in the emerging era of social media. Though Professor Peter Freebody, who led the drafting of the Australian English Curriculum, explained that the literacy levels in Australia had improved since grammar was removed. The hearkening back to days where children were remembered to be obedient and do their homework tapped into alluring, if false, white Australian cultural memories of the 1950s.

In 2008 it meant NAPLAN and in 2014 (another) curriculum review

“Back to basics” was also used by politicians to describe the introduction of NAPLAN in 2008 by Julia Gillard. This bipartisan agenda which started under Brendan Neilson’s Federal ministry, was a ‘transparency’ move to publish literacy and numeracy results and other government collected data about schools on the My School website. The review of the Australian Curriculum by Christopher Pyne in 2014 was also touted as “back to basics”.

It can mean a focus on PISA scores and the dismantling of education authorities

Current Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan insisted just last year in December, that Australian education needs to go “back to basics” because of our declining PISA scores. What Minister Tehan was really signalling was the introduction of learning progressions, the collapsing of two of Australia’s largest education authorities (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority) into one body, the development of an evidence institute, and the reform of teacher education.

I could go on much more about how each time we have been taken “back to basics” we have seen major political moves that mostly seem to use education as a political pawn in one way or another. What you should know is that each time there has been a push back from literacy, numeracy, and assessment experts who argue that “basics” is never the point. They argue that the needs of our widely disparate education systems in Australia are complex and any problems that arise need complex solutions.

 Which comes back to my question, what does Premier Berejiklian mean when she dubs the NSW curriculum review as “back to basics” reform?

If the history of the phrase is any indication, you can bet it is about more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a researcher in education communication at Queensland University of Technology

Are you an academic labouring for social media impact? Here’s a must-read

You don’t have to look far to find online blogs and essays encouraging educators to use social media. There are several on this EduResearch Matters blog. Advocating for the use of social media, particularly Twitter, is sound advice in this highly mediated world.

I am writing this essay to complicate the idea of academic use of social media by considering it in terms of digital labour.  I do not wish to discourage academics from using social media.  If academics stopped using it, I wouldn’t have anything to research. Please don’t! However, if use of social media is considered part of academic impact, then the labour involved must be given greater attention.

According to social media scholars Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd (intentional lower case), Twitter encourages digital intimacy where communication serves a social function by reinforcing social connections and maintaining social bonds. Generally scholars communicate on Twitter in a social capacity, which has been identified by digital humanities scholars Anabel Quan-Hasse, Kim Martin and Lori McCay-Peet as “invisible colleges”, or networks of people who engage in disciplinary conversations, collaborations and philosophizing.

The focus of this essay is when a scholar shifts to informational mode (providing information) by writing a blog post, publishing an academic paper, tweeting a thread of observations and findings, or presenting their work at a conference. This dissemination and translation is the focus of the impact and engagement agenda that has led to universities encouraging academics to use social media. However, unless an academic is already successful offline, for the informational to have traction, the social groundwork also needs to happen, making both activities digital labour.

The labour of translating academic research to social media publications

Research translation on social media might be informational but it is also a pedagogical act because it is an act of public education. Researchers engage in teaching practices by interpreting their deeply theorised, analysed, thoughtfully considered, and lengthily articulated research process and findings into a medium that encourages brevity and clarity. They also use carefully considering composition techniques intent on sparking engagement. I have watched education social media users bring all their deepest pedagogical powers to bear on social media. Just like pedagogy, different approaches work for different people.

In my current research I have noticed the following pedagogical (possibly also influencer) approaches: connecting with the audience using second person pronouns (you) or first person plural (we/us), claims to personal research and practical expertise, linking to the expertise of others, asking questions and engaging with answers. A significant amount of work also goes into gaining trust through “authenticity” labour. If positioned as an expert there is often an expectation from followers that what they post is well considered, logical and researched. So authenticity work helps humanise an academic beyond that narrow expectation.

A question I often ask myself: Is it possible for someone who identifies as an academic to tweet idly? What does that do to academic notions of expertise?

Developing effective research translation pedagogy is labour. These pedagogical techniques are developed through trial and error, responding to engagement by repeating approaches that spark responses through comments, retweets and likes.

A complication to this pedagogical act is that when “reading their room” an academic starting out on social media is reading someone they follow, not necessarily someone following them. So the practice of academic impact, until reaching a large enough followership, is aspirational and resembles those practices noted by researchers of microcelebrity.  The typical individual on social media who arguably has the highest impact is the microcelebrity, with generally between 10,000 and 30,000 followers.

In the rest of this essay I draw on a decade of literature into the evolution of online microcelebrity labour, to offer academics and those encouraging academics to use social media some points to consider.

The role of microcelebrities on social media

Microcelebrities are important elements of the platform ecology because they are perceived as more authentic than their influencer counterparts, according to assistant Professor of Communication and Media studies at Fordham University, Alice E. Marwick. Microcelebrity is not an identity. Microcelebrity is a practice that is concerned with presentation strategies, positioning of subjects, and labour. Academic use of social media for impact, like microcelebrity, is in the business of impression management. This approach means careful consideration of audience and aspiration to a potentially more influential audience.

What are the industrial practices of an education Influencer?

Social media labour is substantial if one wants to retain audience and become influential, which is the nuts and bolts of an engagement and impact agenda.

Swinburne University academic, Jonathan Mavroudis, explains how after noticing that microcelebrities tended to only respond to microcelebrities, he decided to pursue microcelebrity status so that they would respond to his requests for interviews. On achieving a following of over 10,000 followers, his requests began to receive responses. Mavroudis describes his and his participants extensive “fame labour” which on the surface might just look like communication:

  • He crafted a consumable image through critically considering which parts of himself he should put online;
  • Continuously updated his interests, monitored the activity of others, and paraded the success of other microcelebrities;
  • Coming up with content;
  • Creating content; and
  • Satisfying audience by constantly striving to maintain popularity.

What Professor of English at the University of Chicago, Lauren Berlant, labeled the cruel optimism, or the fantasy of a good life if success is achieved, is a key feature of platform capitalism, the economic model that underscores most social media. The aspirational labour of going from a regular user, to a microcelebrity then to influencer should also be considered in terms of academic use of social media. 

This practice involves working above and beyond the current level of influence in the hope of building followership. Building a social media following strong enough to be impactful takes time and energy beyond tweeting a few times per day.

An academic might also aspire to use social media “more critically” than a microcelebrity. However, this attitude dismisses the critical labour microcelebrities do every day as a part of content creation and attracting and maintaining audience. According to Marwick, microcelebrities consider the technology industry they are a part of, the affordances of the platforms which host their content, and ethical dilemmas related to social justice and capitalism. Have a look at the critical discussions around and the development of the influencer who identifies as a robot, Lil Miquela to consider this further.

Decisions to be made about ‘impact’

If an academic reaches microcelebrity status, and while they are on the road to it, they must consider whether their research is impacting their immediate circle or if it is reaching beyond. As Mavroudis indicated above, aspirational microcelebrities might only be looking towards established microcelebrities. This is not just about choices about audience a user makes, but also about how the algorithms broker audiences. Does your pedagogy of research translation rely on the endorsement of other influential online academics? Does your pedagogy need to be more “grassroots”? The less an academic relies on the trickle-down impact of being shared by an education microcelebrity or influencer, the more work is required for impact.

Dr Charlotte Barlow and Professor Imran Awan reported on how the hate speech directed at academics from minority groups disseminating their research on social media has led to the silencing of difficult and contentious research topics. Furthermore, Dr Mikaela Pitcan along with Marwick and boyd have also found that aspirational people from minority groups present themselves online as “vanilla” in order not to offend majority sensibilities. Power in digital environments may be flattened in many ways, but the same issues of equality that affect society offline, are well established online.

If newer and differently powerful academics are continuously looking towards social media success for clues on how to develop influence online and/or choosing safe topics for research to avoid vitriol, what implications does this have for the future of academic research?

If universities are serious about using social media to disseminate research for impact, then the hidden professional and emotional digital labour of building an academic social media profile must be given research attention – for what it might do to research and scholarship as well as academic workloads.

To those who are already on this journey, how do you already think through these ideas? Would you comfortably identify as an education influencer or microcelebrity? Is your social media pedagogy working? What type of labour goes into that impact?

Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy in the Faculty of Education in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. She teaches in Curriculum and Pedagogy and Specialist Studies in Education. Naomi’s research is in digital rhetoric. She focuses on qualitative critical network analysis and how multiple modes of communication are at play in online human networking. She is interested in the relationships humans have with each other online, particularly in social media, and the socio-cultural theories and philosophical traditions which help us better understand how technology has changed the way we communicate. Naomi is also interested in the policy and pedagogical implications of these changes in communication.

Naomi is chairing a session on Reasoning in Education: Bringing together four ways of thinking at the at the AARE 2019 Conference. #AARE2019

Hundreds of educational researchers are reporting on their latest educational research at the AARE 2019 Conference 2nd Dec to 5th Dec. #AARE2019 Check out the full program here

Doing my research work is like walking a city. How would you walk this city?

How do you feel about walking around a city? If you were in Sydney would you head down to the harbour? Join the throng of tourists and day-trippers taking in the sights? Or do you prefer to find the hidden gems? Perhaps you would insert yourself into a comfortable space that might have excellent coffee, interesting views, warmth: your place.

The well-known French scholar, Michel deDe Certeau, writes about walking in cities in his book The Practice of Everyday Life. Where we walk and how we walk determines the shape of the city. The places most people go receive the most planning attention. Some places are overcrowded so urban planners think about maximising the flow of humans and vehicles in those areas. Tourist attractions, like Sydney Harbour, are well attended to. The available infrastructure both shapes the nature of those who visit and those who visit shape the infrastructure. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Other places in the city are shaped by the waves of movement. Once grand old buildings become dilapidated and then gentrified. Inner city public housing areas and places of ill repute become trendy boutiques, markets and air bnbs.

De Certeau says “The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can take place only within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates shadows and ambiguities within them.”

When you are a local you know what you like, the places that make you feel at home. Tourist destinations are not your regular haunts. You know exactly where to park at the shopping centre and your favourite café is where the proprietor knows your order. You practise your everyday life. It might not make as great an impression on the footpath, but the route is well worn by you.

For researchers our research work is like our local space. We know it well. We have found, or are in search of, the secret nooks and crannies of our field. We wander the streets of our research life every day. We are the local. We are shaping the space and that space is shaping us.

But what happens when something unexpected happens? Or the expected turns out to be different?

My research journey

For me it was having children during my candidacy. I had planned my study, forged out a little nook, but then the design became untenable, so I had to move. Moving from a space you find comfortable is painful but often necessary. We can try to force our circumstances into the original cranny, but it’s now stressful and unproductive.

Both the French philosopher, Michel Foucault and American feminist scholar, Donna Haraway write about irruptions ( a ‘sudden, violent or forcible entry: a rushing or bursting in’). They talk about how circumstances come together in such a way that there is a shift. Foucault might encourage us to have a look at the irruption and try and work out why the irruption occurred at that point. Haraway might encourage us to test the conditions that allowed the irruption, to find the chemical makeup. The irruptions in my research life have been ones I cannot ignore: a young baby, bills to pay, and difficulty in recruiting participants into my research project. It meant my research went in directions I could not anticipate.

I had a choice to work hard to bring it back on track, subjecting my research to delays, or to take a more scenic route and find a new place to settle. These are the Foucauldian irruptions.

I have no regrets about the products of my research. In fact, I am proud of my motley crew of weird and wonderful creations ( including my research into blogging and a longitudinal study of first year university students as they record their social integration on Facebook.)

People telling me my work is not good enough have populated my whole research career. Those people no longer get my time. My outputs are the way they are because they were forged in adversity, chance, brutal failure, consideration of what I believed was important, and privilege I didn’t know I had. These creatures, brewed in the irruptions of Haraway, are part of the history that got me to where I now stand.

There is no right way to finish a research project

Everyone has different irruptions in their research journey and everyone works with them or bulldozes over them for different reasons or in different ways. There is no right way to finish a research project. To researchers out there: anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

It can be difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in our contemporary research landscape, for example cuts to research funding, the changing dimensions of altmetrics and measurement of ‘impact’, precarity, proposals for a national interest test, and increased pressures related to the balance between teaching, research and leadership. Researchers need to remember that the advice we are given was often developed in a different time under different circumstances. The key is to work out what you value and what your values are. Then the decisions you make will align with the path you find yourself walking.

It might take longer than you anticipate, but where you end up will feel satisfying. Research is about finding places no one has been. You become the expert in that space. Everyone else is a neighbour or tourist. But taking the time to get there also means you meet wonderful people along the way who support you and know you. That is much more valuable than the advice of people who do not take the time to find out who you are.

Returning to the metaphor of walking in the city. If you were to walk to the top of the tallest tower and look down on the network of roads and people, it might look planned, straight, considered. Plenty of people have taken that path and many know where to go. You can tell by the structures. But when you get down to ground level, the steps people are taking are not all in unison. They wander, stop, turn around, bump into things.

This is the practice of everyday life. As you choose where to walk, you shift the way things are done. Sure, there are certain structures in research work that cannot be ignored, but how you live within them or away from them is up to you. Endeavour to be considered and considerate and don’t let the tourists at your local tell you how to practice your research life.


I have the pleasure of delivering a pre-conference keynote for 2018 AARE Conference. The above is an abridged version of my presentation. The opportunity to share my own research journey (so far) is very exciting. I have blogged a lot about my experiences with learning the research trade. Trying to bring it all together for my presentation was trickier than I realised.


Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy in the Faculty of Education in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. She teaches in Curriculum and Pedagogy and Specialist Studies in Education. Naomi’s research is in digital rhetoric. She focuses on qualitative critical network analysis and how multiple modes of communication are at play in online human networking. She is interested in the relationships humans have with each other online, particularly in social media, and the socio-cultural theories and philosophical traditions which help us better understand how technology has changed the way we communicate. Naomi is also interested in the policy and pedagogical implications of these changes in communication.


Naomi is presenting her paper ‘Taking a road less travelled: Navigating irruptions in a research journey’ at the 2018 AARE Conference on Sunday 2nd December at 9:30 am

Understanding educational theory: vital or a waste of time for student teachers?

My student teachers often question the value of educational theory in their initial teacher education. Also often early career teachers tell me that the theory they were taught at university holds no value in their day-to-day practical lives.

I understand this point of view. The first years of teaching are largely about finding our feet and working out the system. The first years are also caught up in personal priorities such as finding permanent positions and railing against the casualisation of the workforce.

But this does not mean that theory does not underpin every decision a teacher makes. Theory even underpins the curriculum we are asked to teach. As I see it, understanding educational theory is a part of knowing why we teach what we teach and how. The theories that are taught in initial teacher education are aimed at helping beginning teachers understand who they are and why they want to teach. One of my motivations for wanting to teach History is so that I could work at helping students to be empathetic in their everyday lives. History is an excellent example of how this relationship works.

The Australian Curriculum Humanities and Social Sciences ( HASS) History strand is underpinned by what the curriculum writers have termed concepts (another word for theory). In the following, I am going to tease out some of these concepts to show how they are examples of theory in practice.


The location and interpretation of sources is the primary skill of an historian. There are many different types of sources, some more useful than others. Despite what you may think, there never is really a “bad” source. The decision to use a certain source or not is contextual. It may not be FACT but it can reveal a lot about a historical context depending on how the historian interprets the source within their study. So most sources are included or discarded according to the idea of usefulness, rather than whether they are good or bad. This is a subjective practice. The selection of a source is determined through the historian’s point of view of the world – theory. Furthermore, only a minuscule amount of human history has ever made it to the page or the gallery or the archive. Much has been destroyed. Much was never even recorded. So the job of an historian is to make connections between the sources available. This is a process of logical and rigorous imagination. The conclusions drawn are based on corroboration through continuity, change, cause and effect, but it is imagination none the less and subject to the historian’s theoretical point of view.

Cause and effect, and Continuity and Change

When historians use their imagination, they are using ideas of cause and effect, and continuity and change. For example, the reason we have the society we have at the moment is the result of cause and effect. It is very easy to trace the cause and effect through a lens of war and economy, but it is also through the concept of cause and effect that we can begin to show students that the deliberate forgetting of marginalized groups is in decision making and it is a reason that governments continue along the same homogenous pathways they have for centuries.

While society seems to be moving through a time of rapid change, the continuity of certain ways of knowing and understanding history have remained the same. The world seems to be speeding up but the way it has been governed has changed very little. White wealthy males, for example, are still the most powerful leaders, industrialisation and technological advancement are still seen by governments as the most important industries, and fear of other unknown people has been used as a method of mass control for centuries. Historians realise these theories of continuity and make their imaginative decisions about what happened in the past by through them.


There are too many events in the past to include them all and many history wars have been fought over which ones to include in the History strands of the HASS Curriculum. These history wars are most often about the inclusion and placement of histories of Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islander peoples, and non-European peoples, and the theoretical lens through which those histories are taught. The choosing of significant histories can influence the civic attitudes of generations of people so is often hard fought.


The choice of those histories is influenced by theories often called perspectives. One of the more famous media and political wars fought over which perspectives are allowed within the Australian Curriculum was a stoush between prime minister at the time, Paul Keating, and John Howard in the early 1990s when Keating was pushing for the inclusion of Australian History which showed how the nation had been built on the blood of the Indigenous and non-white immigrant/indentured labour population. This view was pitched against Howard’s view that wanted children to know and celebrate the achievements of the Australian nation. What both these perspectives denied was the voice of the people who lived the histories they were talking about including or excluding.


A key reason for teaching History is the theory that it teaches children to have empathy which means that they will be able to more than understand other peoples’ points of view, they will know what it might be like to be another person. The theory is that students will only begin to understand historical empathy (and in turn social empathy) if they have enough exposure to differing perspectives, can interpret their own partiality, understand that their ideas may be based in modern thought, understand that there are gaps and silences in the historical record.

There are many interpretations of what it means to teach empathy in the classroom and some believe that it cannot be taught at all. But the personal theories that a teacher takes into the classroom will also influence their ability to teach students to be empathetic. For example, if a teacher’s personal viewpoint is that students do not need differentiation, it will be harder to teach students empathy because inclusiveness is based on empathetic thinking.

I hope this post opens up some clarifying statements and discussion about the usefulness of theory in Initial Teacher Education, but also educational training, qualifications, and professional development. I believe theory is a vital component but probably needs more clarity as to why and how (as I have demonstrated in this blog post). What do you think?



Naomi Barnes is an adjunct postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.


How I blog for personal professional development: you can do it too

Why write blog posts? I write about whatever it is I want to yell to the rooftops at the time. I might think differently about it in five years, but that’s fine. It’s what I want to say to the world right now. I write about me, and what I am thinking and feeling right now. My blog writing is raw, semi-immediate, and passionate.

I enjoy writing. I see myself as a writer. I am a writer, was a writer and I want to be a writer.

My writing self is always changing. When I was a child I wrote little plays and I forced my siblings to act them out. Then I was a student and I wrote assignments. As a teacher I wrote lesson plans and resources. I was a curriculum leader and wrote unit plans and policies. I wrote a thesis and a blog as a PhD candidate. Now I am an early career researcher and I write academic papers, project briefs, and again I write a blog.

Blogging isn’t essential to writers, of course. It doesn’t put food on my table (yet) but I’ve come to appreciate it as an important part of my scholarship and professional development as an educator. By blogging I mean both the longhand and shorthand kind. Twitter is considered a micro-blog so when I refer to “blogging” I mean both micro-blogging and the type you are currently reading. Longer blogs can also be a mix of personal and professional (like EduResearch Matters) and media based (like The Conversation).

Twitter fits neatly into blogging

A growing group of educators are using social media, particularly Twitter, for “grassroots” professional learning.

Communities of learning, anchored by Twitter chats, are sharing professional practice in primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education (#edchat, #aussieEd, #highered, #phdchat #ozchat), engaging with the disciplines (#histedchat, #scichat, #engchat etc), promoting the use of technology in the classroom (#edtechchat) and more.

Inger Mewburn has made a career out of engaging with #phdchat, blogging about higher degree research. Some educators have even suggested that Twitter chats are superior professional learning to formalised workshops provided by institutions.

I write blogs to inquire

At its core blogging is a process of publication that inevitably includes self-promotion. But my favourite (and most motivating reason) to blog is for my own personal professional development. Blogging helps me work out what I think in the first place.

Writing as inquiry is not a new notion. People sit down in front of their computer or with their notebook and just begin to write their thoughts. The idea is that through the process of writing, concepts and beliefs crystalize.

By blogging I take this notion a step further. I do not use social media to quickly get my publications “out there”, but to help them develop slowly and publicly. I tweet, I use personal, institutional and curated weblogs, open access journals, and conference paper planning to develop my papers for journals and books.

How blogging fits into my writing process

Whenever an idea begins to emerge I write about it. I tweet about it and I write extended blogs. I write for special days. I use metaphors to see if I can make an idea more concrete. I riff (or openly and playfully plagiarise) a writer I respect with my own terms strategically dropped in. I write stories. I write to already published outlines and graphic organisers. I basically experiment with the idea in as many ways as I can until it begins to take shape.

What blogging can do that private writing as inquiry cannot is provide an audience for the development of an idea. When I publish a blog, it is automatically promoted on Twitter and I work to promote it further. By actively asking others to engage with my ideas I can begin to feel more confident in my thinking and I can see where the logic is still needed.

If an idea in my personal blog resonates enough with my readers, I submit versions of it to professional and media blogging outlets, increasing my audience and therefore my feedback. The idea is to eventually firm up those ideas enough to formulate academic publications like journal articles and book chapters.

The more I write (and blog) the more I know what I think

The point is, the more I write, the more I know what I really think. My brain is so full of ideas that the process of writing sorts it all out for me. A bit like Dumbledore’s Pensieve I draw them out and place them in front of me so I can think about my thoughts in a more concrete and observational way.

So while you are thinking of your own social media usage and whether you want to write and publish blogs about your education practice, consider blogging as inquiry as a strategy worth trying.




Naomi Barnes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.


It is not easy being a teacher: my story

I did not become a teacher the day I walked out of university. I was trained as a teacher but it took many years for me to feel like a teacher. I’m still not sure I’m there yet.

Often transition takes years. There is a lot written about how to act in the first year of a new education environment. There is a lot written about what we should know and what we should do. There are myriad competing ideas about what a good induction or orientation looks like.

What drops through the gaps is often the very challenging identity work that happens as you move from being a university student to becoming a teacher.

How do we shift into our new identities in our new environments? It takes a long time to feel like a teacher even though we might call ourselves teachers.

Negotiating the first year of teaching

A lot of the first year of teaching is learning what not to say and how not to act. Negotiating new personalities and politics within a school community can be difficult.

Soon you begin to tell yourself that permanent work comes with a certain type of behaviour or performance, and you begin to pick and choose what you talk about with colleagues and what you keep silent about.

You may hide that you don’t really know how to do something. You might be less than honest about how your Year 9 class is to teach. You might talk about the student centred activities you have facilitated and play down the amount of direct instruction you use. You might be buying things for your classes because it is easier than ordering them through the school budget.

You tell your official mentor that things are going well, but cry into your pillow at night.

We need to talk about the difficulties we continually encounter as teachers

Teaching has a massive attrition rate. The availability of secondary teaching staff is reaching a critical point. It is not that we don’t have enough teachers in Australia. We have plenty. But they are no longer in teaching. Being a teacher is not easy and it is not smooth sailing. It takes years of personal and professional struggle to decide on it as a vocation. We need to talk about it; break some silences.

I am not saying that early career teachers should break their silence. I am saying experienced teachers should. When dynamic and respected teachers say that they had a terrible second prac, it demonstrates something that cannot be taught in a pedagogy or curriculum class. It fills in some gaps.

Breaking the silence demonstrates that we learn by jumping hurdles; not by pretending they don’t exist. In fact, the more hurdles we jump the better we get at it. We need a conversation that balances how difficult teaching is as a profession and why people stay in it. Honest conversations about why we come to this profession and what decisions we make that keep us there.

For those reasons I have decided to share my story.

My story

I was brought up in a conservative family and alternative school where girls rarely became something other than teachers, nurses or stay at home mothers. I realise now that this mentality was archaic for the early 1990s. I think my mother did as well, because I was half-heartedly encouraged to look at engineering, but always told it was good for a girl to have a trade. Something she can fall back on for when she had her babies.

Teaching was a trade to my family. Teaching was considered to provide flexibility of hours that ensured I could still be the primary care giver and have a career.

I resisted teaching and instead worked towards international studies because it was a good profession that incorporated my love of the social sciences, especially history. My guidance counsellor told me that no one from my school ever got their first preference. I thought I was being clever and put History teaching first, international studies second.

I got my first preference. My first preference was in Brisbane and I had a reason to escape the small town.

So I trained as a secondary teacher.

Why I stayed in teaching

I’m not sure I ever really committed to teaching because I felt uncomfortable with the teaching bit all the way through my degree and for the first five years on the job (I loved the History and Social Science bit). But I was brought up to honour my commitments. It was embedded. “You always finish what you start, Naomi.” I can still hear my father’s Protestant Work Ethic in my ear. I also couldn’t think of anything else I could do that would allow me to be paid for working with History.

One day I remember having a Year 10 class brutally destroy my love for History. I walked away from work that day at a crossroad. I stick out the profession or find a new one. If I was to stay I needed another reason to be there.

The situation in the classroom was pretty bleak but as the weeks went on, evidence came to light that the key perpetrators of my disillusionment were in a pretty bad place. In fact, one of the most difficult students was being online bullied by the other culprits. It was pretty sophisticated bullying as well. Both the police and Microsoft got involved.

Suddenly, I realised that teaching could not be about the subject I was teaching but it had to be about the students. I gave myself an ultimatum. I needed to be there for the students or leave.

I stayed for eight more years.

I am at another crossroad for teaching

Now I am on maternity leave. I will be on leave until 2018 when I will again have to make a decision. I have to weigh up teaching but this time against new variables.

Will I go back to the classroom or will I pursue education research? Who knows, but I’m sure I’ll work it out. I just don’t want to be silent on it.

What’s your story?




Naomi Barnes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.