Naomi Barnes

The education minister’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea*

When will governments learn their lesson? Worksheets won’t fix workload crisis.

The teachers of NSW are at breaking point, and the government solution is to take away the part of their work they most expert in – lesson planning.  As Queensland’s experience shows, this ‘quick fix’ will not solve the workload issues which underpin NSW’s teacher shortage crisis.

The social media response to the SMH’s article, which featured the NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell (pictured in the image with department secretary Georgina Harrison) on lesson planning reform has been swift.

and more.

Teachers are decrying the government strategy. Of most concern,  the resources will be produced in under eight weeks, for a curriculum that is currently under review. The lack of transparency about how this feat will happen makes this approach look like this wasteful, impractical splurge on public funds during a time we are all being asked to tighten our belts.

The thing is, resources are already available and attached to the National Curriculum website via Scootle. Many of them arrived there because of a similar initiative by the Queensland Government. So our question is, why hasn’t the NSW government done its homework or listened to the teachers before addressing the core issues fuelling the teacher crisis?

Lesson planning is not the issue

While the Grattan Institute report, which forms the basis of the NSW government’s strategy, identifies the biggest demand on teacher time is planning, they have neglected that this lesson planning is the part of their work that teachers want to be doing – it is their core work. The top three activities teachers would choose to do if they had a  spare hour are working on student assessment, preparing effective classroom instruction, and adapting teaching.

 The Grattan report goes on to argue that providing teachers with centralised planning resources will alleviate pressure. But the report’s own findings show the issue not the planning per se, but the time needed to undertake it – teachers could develop common lesson plans and resources, tailored to and developed within their school context, with their colleagues, if the time that they identify as the biggest impediment is provided to them.

Increased administrative duties and expanding pastoral care pressures are chewing into time teachers once had to collaborate, plan and prepare their students for success. Time is the issue, but time could be made available by strategies that deal with the administrivia of teacher workloads, rather than removing the core work.

Queensland tried and failed

Queensland tried the centralised provision of “curriculum lesson plans, texts and learning materials” a decade ago in the Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) reforms, designed to support the initial implementation of the Australian Curriculum. This project, while well-intentioned, was not as simple as the Queensland Department of Education first imagined. It became plagued by multiple issues which both slowed down the roll out and reduced the quality of the resources in comparison to what a teacher could develop themselves, if given the time. For example, according to Naomi Barnes who was a Senior Writer on the program, copyright meant that only resources which were made freely available by those who owned the copyright, or were out of copyright, were approved for use in the C2C program. This means that in an era where teachers are trying to increase the diversity of texts in their classrooms (which they could do through purchasing class sets and designing their own lessons)  they were instead provided with worksheets that referred to dated works that were less prone to copyright issues.  To include diverse texts would mean adequately compensating authors, rather than financially cutting corners through inferior resourcing.

Even more concerning was the political interference in the development of the materials, with resources being vetoed by the Newman LNP government at the time. As such, lesson plans were held up to scrutiny via the “Courier Mail test” or whether they would hit the newspaper for content Newman’s government might determine was partisan. Issues of diversity and contestability were removed for “safer” options. In other words the government decided what was safe for children to know. This political interference in teacher’s work is still a feature of LNP curriculum governance

C2C also increased workload. Research from both C2C implementation and more recently shows that even with highly proscriptive, resourced lesson plans, teachers viewed and used the materials in a wide range of ways, negating the promise of consistency and workload reduction. For example, Mathematics teachers pointed out that the initial C2C materials did not actually address all elements of the curriculum they were meant to support and so required significant redevelopment. Barton et al’s exploration of the initial responses to C2C implementation found “prescription of curriculum materials only leads to mistrust and a devaluing of teachers’ expertise”. Hardy suggested rather than seeking to standardise teacher work, we instead recognise teachers’ professional skills as experts in lesson planning and curriculum implementation, valuing their professional collaborations and practices .

Workload correction

While having a set of resources can be a helpful starting point when planning, it is not going to fix the workload issues facing teachers because teachers will still have to spend time adapting them to their school context, which is what they already do with the myriad of resources already available to teachers in numerous resource banks, like Scootle.

A full-time teacher is currently allocated approximately 3.5- 4 hours a week as non-contact or preparation and correction time. A standard teaching load is 4-6 classes, so this is less 30 minutes per week during the school day to plan for learning and mark assessment. The Grattan report pointed out that 28% of teacher time is devoted to non-teaching activity (ie over one full day a week – more than their allocated non-contact time). As one example, the introduction of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) has significantly increased the administrative workload for teachers in maintaining detailed lesson plans and tracking individual resources to ensure funding is allocated to students with additional needs or disabilities (Union survey highlights data overload (informit.org)). Properly funding learning support staff who can assist classroom teachers both with the planning for and administration of differentiated materials would be one welcome change. A reduction in teacher’s cocurricular loads would also be another easy-to-implement solution, as would reviewing the extent of classroom teacher involvement in pastoral care work, which has only increased with the increased disruption and distress of COVID and bouts of lockdown and homeschooling. 

The issue is that the proportion of non-teaching activity is taking up their allocated time to prepare for their core work – lesson planning and differentiated delivery. Rather than spending money on creating (already available) resources the funds NSW has to spend on this project would be better spent investing in additional school staff to take up some of this administrative load.

The clear and obvious solution to relieving pressure on teachers is an ongoing investment in additional staff: learning support experts, sports and arts co-curricular supervisors, and professional pastoral staff.  Recognising teachers’ professional expertise as educators and giving them the time to do their core business well is the real answer to the teaching crisis, not handing out another worksheet.

*Headline with apologies to Alexander and to Judith Viorst

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

How the brilliant democracy sausage reveals the secrets of school funding

WATCH: There’s a snag in school funding.

New Education Minister Jason Clare is like any other student on their first day of school – there is a lot to learn about the problems facing the education system in Australia. But, in this case, Mr Clare can discover the answers by revisiting one of the highlights of the recent election campaign – the democracy sausage. 

Federal election day 2022 has arguably marked a new beginning for Australian federal politics and policy, and the road forward will be tough. Education is one of the portfolios that was policy-lite during the campaign, from all sides of politics. But it is through equitable education policy, that many of the key challenges facing Australians can be addressed. 

A key to understanding this is the humble democracy sausage.

The distribution and availability of a sausage on election day represents a country with the fourth most segregated schooling system and a major housing crisis connected to gentrification.

Approximately $8billion dollars in non-government or private funding flows through the school system each year. Those who receive the most are the very advantaged school and the very disadvantaged schools, probably due to targeted philanthropic donations to both. External income raising for a school is time intensive and in most public schools done by Parent and Citizen organisations. Basically, the quality of resources available to teachers is connected to parents’ inclination and willingness to donate funds, time and skills to a school. The least willing are middle income earners in gentrifying suburbs. 

The democracy sausage and volunteering

Volunteer organisations barbequing sausages on bread has become a familiar sight on election days in Australia. It has a hashtags and a hashflag (automatic emoji of a sausage on bread). Facebook community pages advertise where to find a sausage on election morning when choosing where to vote. There is even a dedicated website to tracking the availability of sausages and other stalls around the country. 

DemocracySausage.org 2022 Federal Election data suggested that 43.4% of Australian voters had access to a sausage on election day based on Australian Electoral Commission poll booth attendance statistics from the 2019 election. DemocracySausage.org’s data correlated with publicly available data about schools shows that only 46.9% of school-based polling booths provided access to a sausage.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, DemocracySausage.org and ACARA School Profile 2021

Information on other treats provided by school-based fundraising, like whether a polling booth had a cake stall, halal or vegetarian options, or coffee, mapped against a school’s socio-economic school ranking (Index of Community Socio-educational AdvantageICSEA), reveals something Mr Clare should pay attention to. 

The provision of options outside the sausage shows there is not much difference between different school communities. However, when the percentage of booths that provided variety is mapped against the ICSEA value of the school, things look different.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, DemocracySausage.org and ACARA School Profile 2021

Schools within the middle socio-economic range are less likely to have a P&C provide a variety of options for voters. So, what does this data mean for Education policy?

The ability to volunteer is related to demographics

That more than 50% of schools are unable able to field fundraising barbeques is a reflection of a nationwide trend in all community volunteering over the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a two-thirds drop in people willing to volunteer was reported, with work commitments and family care being the reason for less people being willing to volunteer. 

Variety in election barbeques is directly related to the number of volunteers an organization can field. The more options, the more people are needed. This reality explains why school P&Cs in the medium-to-high ICSEA ranked areas are less likely to provide variety in their election day stalls. 

Schools in middle income areas are most likely to be schools in areas which are gentrifying. This means that the homeowners in the area are most likely to be double-income earners juggling high mortgages or rents alongside expensive child-care. They are, therefore, less likely to donate time or money to public schools. The families in these areas who earn higher incomes, and therefore have less financial and family pressure, are also more likely to bypass the local public school and enroll their children in schools in the higher ICSEA ranked areas. Those are the P&Cs they will donate to. This means that it is harder for P&Cs in the medium-ranked 50% of schools to attract donations. They are also less likely to attract the large philanthropic donations of low and high ranked schools. 

Australia’s market-driven approach to school funding means that schools are more reliant on an active Parent and Citizens Association. Parents and teachers are exhausted in at least 50% of schools. Teachers are exhausted because they are under-resourced. Parents have volunteer fatigue. The downward spiral in school-based volunteering will severely affect schools going forward. School funding, and subsequently quality, is affected by housing affordability and participation in the community. 

The market-based approach to schooling is not working in Australia and it has to change. So next time you buy a democracy sausage, remember your access to this little symbol of Australian civic duty is determined by enormous inequity in Australian schooling policy.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

The map in our header comes from https://democracysausage.org/federal_election_2022

The truth: what our students really learn about Anzac Day

Students taught “hatred” of the nation (even the PM thinks so). Teachers are duds. That’s the backdrop for the recent announcement of the final version of the Australian Curriculum and it shows exactly how contested is  the teaching of our nation’s history.

But let’s look at what actually happens in our history classrooms. As we approach this ANZAC Day, what will students be learning in history classrooms? 

1.      The April 1 Ministerial press release, claimed that in Years 9 and 10 Australian history content had previously been optional

In the version of the Australian Curriculum (8.4) currently taught in Australian history classrooms, Australian involvement in World War I and World War II and the First Nations Civil Rights Movement are ‘compulsory’, in that there are no alternative topics for teachers to choose from.   The minister’s comments do suggest that the 1750-1918 Australia will become a requirement as well. This is reiterated in ACARA’s press release, which stated Version 9 would focus on “the impact on First Nations Australians on the arrival of British settlers as well as their contribution to the building of modern Australia [and] strengthening and making explicit teaching about the origins and heritage of Australia’s democracy and the diversity of Australian communities”. However, these changes have not been widely welcomed, with Victoria and NSW insisting on an exemption citing the provision that  states and territories to “adopt and adapt” the curriculum, “casting doubt on how compulsory the changes are”. Perhaps this presents an opportunity to teach the Frontier Wars to all students, as the Wars are currently only covered in the Year 11 and 12 Modern History curriculum in some states.

2.      It is already compulsory for Australian students to learn “the places where Australians fought and the nature of warfare during World War I, including the Gallipoli campaign”

 Version 8.4 suggests students should learn the events of conflicts Australian soldiers were involved in during World War I. They should also study why ANZAC Day is commemorated in the primary years, with the secondary years considering the “nature and significance of the Anzac legend”. This idea that seemed to so distress Minister Tudge and his colleagues, is core to teaching all national days of significance. When building a nation, deliberation over the term “significance” is a key part of being a citizen in a democracy.  ANZAC Day is the perfect example for teaching this skill because it is well documented as a fact that its popularity has waxed and waned over the last century. Students can engage with a century of historical records to investigate why ANZAC Day has come to signify much more than a failed assault on a Turkish beach. The contested nature of commemoration and its role in schools has been present since the first ANZAC Day in 1916. The debate over ANZAC Day’s significance can open up Australian history for students to learn about other significant chapters in the building of Australia before and after World War 1.

3.      ANZAC Day commemorations are well-entrenched in schools.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs and limitations on large gatherings, schools ‘pivoted’ to ensure that ANZAC Day commemorations were still able to go ahead. ANZAC day is a significant day in the school calendar where students and teachers gather with members of their school community and returned service people to commemorate the ongoing sacrifice Australian soldiers have made since 1915.  But appreciation is not un-critical – we can both appreciate the sacrifice of ANZAC service people, recognise how the ANZAC spirit has contributed to  national identity, and still critique how First Nations soldiers were treated or discuss the bid to include the Frontier Wars in the National War Memorial. Such debates are a part of Australian history just as much as the landing at dawn on April 25th. Australian students, by the end of Year 10, are taught to: “refer to key events, the actions of individuals and groups, and beliefs and values to explain patterns of change and continuity over time”. They also  “analyse the causes and effects of events and developments and explain their relative importance” Version 8.4 Year 10 History Achievement Standard .It is important here to be clear that the ‘interpretations’ that students both engage with and develop are historical – that is, based on the analysis and evaluation of sources of evidence, including the works of historians. They are not encouraged to engage in emotive, uncritical responses such as characterising history teachers as promoting hatred. This is the real benefit of learning a national, rather than nationalist, history.

4.  Learning to be critical in times of war is preparing students to defend their nation.

Not many people recognise the value history education has for present day issues of conflict. The skills of deep investigation, critical analysis of sources including placing the sources in their historical context, are the perfect skills for developing a radar for mis and disinformation. The ability to look at a social media post and determine whether it is a Russian deep fake or a legitimate image of war, is a skill taught in secondary history, just using past examples of propaganda. The current federal Government has dedicated $9 billion to cyber security in the recent budget. The skills taught in history that investigate how events are globally linked, are preparing students to have dispositions useful for cybersecurity, including tracking and analysing big data. Our first author uses the skills she developed as a student of history, a history teacher for 13 years, and a history and English teacher educator for 10 years, to investigate patterns in big data. Many of her faculty colleagues also use their humanities and social science skills as well as STEM skills to address information disorder.

So this ANZAC Day, as our young people lay wreaths and recite the ode, parents and governments can rest assured that “we will remember them”. Those same students will then return to (understaffed) classrooms where they will “ask relevant questions; critically analyse and interpret sources; consider context; respect and explain different perspectives; develop and substantiate interpretations, and communicate effectively” (History Rationale), the skills needed of any good citizen of our nation, so they can be an informed participant in our democracy. 

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

Will the curriculum really embrace the true spirit of Anzac?

Q and A with Anna Clark, author of Making Australian History

The “wokeness” of Australia’s National Curriculum has again made headlines and again it is more electioneering.

On Friday a Nine newspapers headline claimed the revised version of National Curriculum will elevate Western and Christian heritage. Crikey picked up on the Sydney Morning Herald headline to claim the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has “backed down” and “returned to Western Civilisation”.

Neither of these headlines is true. In fact, as the reporters wrote, the revisions needed to be discussed with the State education ministers at a meeting which occurred on Friday.

Furthermore, according to Stuart Robert, the revisions did not pass the States, with Western Australia holding out: “We have asked ACARA to go away and revise the curriculum, noting the concerns the Commonwealth and Western Australia have, and to come back to education ministers in April”. 

So there is a long way to go yet, the curriculum is not “revised”, and ACARA has not backed down.

Robert claimed the problem with the Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum was that it was too busy. Most HASS teachers agree.  He also said there was no mention of Gough Whitlam, of course, or Robert Menzies but that “students were encouraged to research Greta Thunberg”. On the easy resolution of this issue, Robert claimed a win by saying: “Western civilisation is something we should be proud of, and what it means to be Australian to be proud of is well and truly back in the curriculum.”

On the same day, Kevin Donnelly, who oversaw a previous review of the National Curriculum, published an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph (not available online). Most of the article pointed to funding, testing and sentiment data, but there was one unsubstantiated statement: “Too many students leave schools morally adrift, lacking resilience and unaware of what makes Australia and Western civilisation so beneficial and worthwhile defending.”

The Christian (a word not featured in any of the press briefings available to the public) and Western civilisation have been linked to the Cross Curriculum Priorities in the National Curriculum. This is the section of the document that suggests all disciplines should work to include Indigenous perspectives, Australia’s connections with Asia, and sustainability. 

A moral panic,  linked to these “woke” ideas, was sparked by a NewsCorp survey. The questionnaire asked Australians over the age of 18 the following leading question:

Which of the following is closer to your own view about the curriculum in Australian schools?

1.     The curriculum should continue to include topics such as Australia’s engagement with Asia, Indigenous Australians and the environment

2.     The curriculum has become too woke and we should have less emphasis on Australia’s engagement with Asia, Indigenous Australians and the environment than we have currently

3.     Don’t know

The results of the survey were reported by Channel 7’s Sunrise program as “A new poll has revealed that a majority of baby boomers want Aussie values nurtured in classrooms and think the current school curriculum is ‘too woke’.” The program proceeded to debate the claim with commentators removed from expertise in curriculum development and interpretation (just like those surveys) . The program concluded the curriculum was not too “woke” – but the headline remained.

If truth be told, all these statements are easily refuted through a cursory search of the Internet or a quick discussion with your friendly neighbourhood educator. For example, the proposed revisions also reported that the “contestability” of the Anzac legend had been removed, but Robert reported  that the contestability of Anzac day has been revised. Additionally, as Jonathan Dallimore, from the History Teachers Association of NSW explained in September (when Tehan announced the revision), “contestability” was framed  in the negative. 

Essentially, “contestability” in history scholarship refers to rigour in historical thinking and according to  Dallimore, is only linked to “very legitimate (even safe) historical debates” in the National Curriculum.

So why all this emphasis on wokeness?

As I wrote in October 2021, it’s because there is an election coming and this storm in a teacup is campaigning. This is clear in two ways.

Firstly, emphasis on wokeness appeals to some of the crossbench, like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the newly badged United Australia Party. The large number of high profile independents positioning themselves to contest the coming election are a great a danger to the Coalition. Many of the independents are economically conservative, but progressive in other policies like climate futures and human rights. If they were to win balance of power, the Coalition has a much less predictable chance of government. It is therefore, in the Coalition’s best interest to win seats where PHON and UAP might be competitive.

Secondly, the other big-ticket items in the review, phonics and maths, appeal to nostalgia, which I have also written about previously. The removal of “balanced literacy” from the document, increased emphasis on phonics, and reform of initial teacher education to include the explicit teaching of phonics are politically smart moves for the Coalition going into an election. The Coalition can now say they delivered on their 2019 promises:

“…we will invest $10.8 million to provide a voluntary phonics health check for every Year 1 student so parents and teachers can be confident their children are not falling behind. We will also ensure that trainee teachers learn how to teach phonics as part of their university degree to ensure they can teach phonics in the classroom.”

Deliverology® is an approach to public administration that is a key service of think tanks the Institute for Public Administration Australia and the Centre for Public Impact, who both advise the public sector. This top-down approach to public service governance, is the belief that a good government is an efficient one that delivers on its promises, particularly those that deliver long-lasting results for its citizens. Every time literacy and numeracy are revised, the political reason for doing so is linked to falling test scores in PISA and NAPLAN. To successfully implement a literacy reform, regardless of its contestation, is to be able to claim a party can deliver. And that’s powerful.

Michael Barber, who developed the “science of deliverology”, insists that politicians use good data, set targets and trajectories, is consistent, and have regular reporting and reassessment of the delivery chain. So while the Coalition might claim they have delivered, they have:

1.   Not  used good data because mass testing data is contested and non-representative;

2.    Not outlined a clear trajectory from announcement to implementation, but rather muddied the waters with false narratives;

3.   Not been consistent, but moved between politically popular ideas; or

4.   Not ensured the media reports progress in a clear and informative way.

So what can be done?

My answer is the same as it was in October. Politicians need to stop using education as a political pawn. Media outlets must be more responsible. Education policy research that is usually responsive to policy announcements, needs deeper analysis of the political trends that lead to policy development. This latter is where my own work sits.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

Q and A with Anna Clark, author of Making Australian History

Q. Why has history become so contested in Australia?

Anna Clark: It’s always been contested. There were debates the letters pages of newspapers in the 19th century newspapers about what was going on on the frontier and debates over the legacy of Australia’s convict origins. In the last 30 or 40 years, it’s become increasingly contested because history has wrestled with questions about how to include the perspectives of people who had largely been excluded from the national story.

Q. Why has history now become so politicised when it comes to the national curriculum?

Anna Clark: That’s a very, very interesting question: it’s not simply a question of political debates along lines of ‘left’ and ‘right’. It’s also a dispute about the role and function of history in our education system today. For example, China is a very left wing government, which has very strong views that the role of history is to provide a proud narrative of national progress. Likewise, there are politically conservative historians who would argue that the role of history is to promote a kind of critical citizenship. So it’s not just a simple left/right divide. Much of the heat of the school history wars comes down to that disagreement over what the role of history should be.

Q: What do you think the role of history should be in a liberal democracy?

Anna Clark: It should be to help people understand their place in time, that we are all historical subjects and that we all have a past and a future. Understanding that people who were living and thinking and making decisions in 1901 or 1847, or 1945, were just as much a product of their own historical context as we are today. Teaching students to understand those historical contexts, as well as some of the skills of a historical education (such as research, communication, and interrogating historical sources) helps us to be better citizens and more capable, critical thinkers.

Q: Thinking about place and time, Anzac Day seems to be the most extraordinarily contested part of modern Australian history. Why is it like that?

Anna Clark: The idea of the Anzac legacy and even Anzac Day itself has always been up for grabs. To pretend that it’s not contested is just a total total misinterpretation of the history of Anzac Day. In the 1920s, that day was contested by many veterans who weren’t sure how to commemorate Australia’s involvement in war. In the 1960s (around the Vietnam War), Anzac Day was nearly moribund. Meanwhile, there has been a great national revival of this commemoration in recent years. ‘Contested’ doesn’t mean it has to be totally politicised, or that it’s ‘unAustralian’, but an understanding that people bring different ideas and understandings about what that day means.

Q: You’ve got children yourself, what do you hope for their history education in school?

Anna Clark: I hope they learn enough of the facts to understand the nation and the world in which they live. You know, understanding the World Wars, the Holocaust, civil rights, colonisation and imperialism But just as important as the facts are the skills of doing history, being able to get their hands dirty in proper historical research and be able to come up with historical questions themselves to ask of the past. So I hope they also develop research skills of inquiry, learn to use a library, distinguish different historical opinions, and also develop skills of empathy and imagination.

Anna Clark is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Public History at UTS and the author of Making Australian History, published this month by Penguin. Teaching the Nation, was published by Melbourne University Press in 2006 followed by History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (New South, 2008).

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

SLEUTH AT WORK

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.

HOW TO BE A NEWS DETECTIVE

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.

Sources

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.

Significance

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.

Perspective

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.

Empathy

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.