Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - problems with academic code-sharing

An odd thing happened to eldest recently. Five and a half weeks into semester she found that she was going to the wrong lectures! Sounds odd, doesn't it? How could it happen? Certainly eldest was upset.

When I dug down, I found a somewhat bizarre combination of circumstances that could perhaps only happen in one of Australia's mega universities.

We start with two courses. The first, a third year course, is called international economics. The second, a second year course, bears the title globalisation. Both are economics courses. Eldest is enrolled in globalisation.

Confusion starts on day one with lecture one. Both courses have their introductory lectures at the same time. Eldest ends in the wrong lecture theatre. Normally that would be the end of the story. Discover your mistake and leave.

Things didn't quite work out that way. To understand this, you have to understand what I call academic code-sharing after the practices of modern airlines. The same course may be taken in several streams, but with a different title to reflect the stream.

Course outlines are handed out. The words international economics do appear, while the outline is not quite what eldest expected. Time to leave? You might think so, but the set text is just the same, while there are some commonalities in content with what eldest expected. So eldest assumed code-sharing and just took things at face value.

The first globalisation tutorial arrives. Eldest is present. There is no-one in the tutorial that she saw at the lecture. Another clue that something was wrong? Not really.

In the big mega universities with their large numbers there are often multiple lectures to accommodate both the number of students and their varying needs. So it is fairly normal for a student to find that she has seen only a small number of fellow students at the lecture.

The week's proceed. Eldest is coping with the lectures, but is worried that she is not as much across the tutorial  content as she should be. The penny finally drops with the first assessment task.

In international economics they announce that at the next tutorial there will be a test. Eldest devotes a day to revision, preparing material. The globalisation tutorial arrives, but there is not test. Daylight dawns.

Eldest was very upset about missed work and also felt, I think, rather stupid. I took a different view once I learned the facts, although I did not help much by breaking into laughter!

You have to remember that this is modern Australia. Apart from the circumstances I have already mentioned, you have to bear in mind that eldest works (most students do), plays sport, coaches a netball team. As a student I was always on campus. She is generally there only for things like lectures. So there is none of the social interaction that formed the centre of my university world. This reduces the information flows and knowledge that might have discovered the mistake in the past.

But why was my view different to hers? Well, she was clearly coping with third year international economics. I felt that it would do her no harm at all to have received this grounding in one of the core elements of globalisation. She could easily catch up on the specific elements of the course proper.  

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