Aussie news bites

Time for some higher education news from down under.

The biggest event the past week was definitely the launch of Melbourne University – New Style. The so-called Melbourne Model is based on six broad undergraduate programs followed by a professional graduate degree, research higher degree or entry directly into employment. In simple terms, what happened is that the old English model was exchanged for the American one. Of course this was accompanied by protests since according to some the university has decided on this move because of a lack of funding and others claim that this is just a measure that makes higher ed more elitist.

I think Glyn Davis, Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor, made an interesting move by adopting the new model. Considering Melbourne’s good reputation, national and international, it’s also a risky one. There’s already quite some speculation on whether other universities will follow the Melbourne Model in the future. The future will tell, but at least Julie Bishop, the federal Minister for Education has seen her wish come true: finally there’s some more diversity in the Australian higher education landscape.

Also this week, a study came out conducted by Gary Marks for the Australian Council for Educational Research. The study, released today, investigated attrition rates from university courses, background factors that may influence attrition and the labour market consequences of non-completion. Data were collected from a group of young Australians who commenced university study between 1998 and 2001. An analysis of the characteristics of students who fail to complete university courses has found that whether a student attended a government or independent school and their socioeconomic background made little difference to the odds of completing their course. The full report of the study can be downloaded here (pdf).

And then there was another study. Professor John Sweller of the University of New South Wales claims to have proved that powerpoint presentations have little power and even less point. According to his report, the brain cannot cope with having too much information thrown at it at once. Having someone speak and point to a screen full of facts and figures at the same time causes it to switch off. Sweller: “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.

Clearly there’s a difference between giving a ppt presentation and giving a good ppt presentation. I guess everyone by now knows that there should not be too much text on a slide and that you shouldn’t read the slide during a presentation. I know not everyone obeys these rules, but ditching powerpoint seems to me a premature conclusion. I wonder whether the guys over in Redmond are getting nervous already…

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