The Big Issue : Edition 482
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THE BIG ISSUE 17 – 30 APRIL 2015 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH ONLINE EDUCATION HAS ITS BENEFITS. AND ITS FRUSTRATIONS. WEB OF DESPAIR through 30 assignments, and the median use of punctuation is on a par with what could be expected from a well-trained fox terrier, I want to wade into the sea and never look back. The one thing that made it kind of fun, in the good old days, was going to a favourite cafe and sitting in the sun with a pile of papers, a pencil and sharpener, and a good strong coffee. Now I have to sit glued to my screen for a day, a full day, loathing an interface. This is not good use of my time or my expertise. You know what I’m good at? Teaching. I am fantastic in the room, with my students, playing and talking and stimulating them to learn. I figure this is what every teacher is in it for, that connection, and the elation when your students do great work. But that precious relationship between teacher and students is being suffocated by an oozing slick of bureaucratic compliance, protocols, skills matrices, and the distancing impact of moving online. Teachers, even sessional teachers like myself who take only one class, have to be across the demands of the Australian Quality Training Framework (which is as sexy as it sounds) and have to know which competencies to apply. It’s an administrator’s wet dream, and halfway okay if your subject is something that lends itself to order and box-ticking, such as, say, computer science. In a creative discipline – I teach non-fiction writing – it’s a Kafkaesque dystopia that standardises oranges and apples by reducing them to dust. I spent three hours last week doing four online training modules, only one of which (There’s a fire! Which hat should I put on?) was even tangentially relevant. I’ve had to get a Working with Children clearance, even though I’m teaching at a uni and everyone’s over 18. Compliance was mandatory. Most teachers must obtain a Cert IV, which costs upwards of $800, and has nothing at all to do with actual teaching and a lot to do with a blur of acronyms. Ironically, it’s all meant to raise standards. But, just saying, what if all the quantification, and the rush online, destroys what makes a good teacher in the first place? I SUPPOSE THERE will be advantages to the inexorable creep of teaching online. The opportunity to learn from the world’s great universities springs to mind. You can do diplomas online at Harvard, at Cambridge, at Oxford. ‘Attend’ lectures given by brilliant minds. If you have the discipline and the broadband, the educational fruits of the planet lie open before you, quivering expectantly like an unsullied sherry trifle. There are many pro-online arguments. It’s the future and it’s inevitable. It’s an efficient use of resources because classes can be bigger. It makes record-keeping a snip. And, I will say, having just marked some assignments online, the function that automatically checks the students’ essays against every website on the internet is pretty damn genius. Good luck with cheating, yo. And yet, as a teacher, I’m finding the rush online hard to love. This may come as a shock, but I didn’t get into teaching for the opportunity to wrestle balls-deep in frustration with the impenetrable, utterly non-intuitive user interfaces favoured by every institution which hires me to shape young/ mature-age minds. I have to presume these systems were built by humans because, Stanley Kubrick films to one side, computers are yet to smash the independent thought barrier. But every single time a new online protocol is put into play at my institute of higher learning, it has all the user-friendliness of a condom made of sandpaper. The new system for students to upload their assignments online works perfectly, inasmuch as their essays do indeed upload. After that, however, it is a technological dog’s breakfast. I have to go through about five processes to access their assignments, which are currently mixed in with another teacher’s students so I have to winnow them out by cross- checking with my roll. Making notes on an essay requires lots of clicking and swearing, it is clunky and finicky to navigate, and the students have to watch a video tutorial in order to be able to access their marks and comments. It is balls. And, look, marking essays is balls anyway. It’s part of the gig, and what a teacher willingly does, because fingers crossed, by the end of semester, there will be improvement, achievement and growth. But sometimes, when I’m halfway » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.