Information Gathering trip to Australia 2013

27 July - 23 August 2013

By Nick Pearce, SSI Fellow and Teaching Fellow, The Foundation Centre, Durham University


The highlight of the trip for me was getting to visit 6 varied universities in a very different HE context and hearing about the challenges being faced were similar.

Event report:

I headed off to Australia on July 27th and after a day to acclimatise I was visiting the University of Sydney to meet with sociologist (and twitter contact) Deborah Lupton. We discussed various issues to do with digital sociology, including my SSI fellowship, and hope to meet again when Deborah speaks at the next British Sociology Association conference next year.

The following day I went to Newcastle (in New South Wales) to meet with Professor Liz Burd, who was formerly at Durham University, but is now Newcastle’s PVC for learning and teaching. She generously spent an afternoon showing me around their campus and facilities and put me in touch with Belinda Munn, University of Newcastle’s manager for equity and diversity and Seamus Fagan, Director Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies, who I went onto Skype with two further times whilst in Australia. With Liz I discussed the various programmes that are in place to promote the development of teaching practice, including the uptake of digital tools for teaching.

The next day I visited the University of New South Wales to speak with Fiona Nicholson and Dominic Fitzsimmons to discuss their various student equity programmes and tour their campus. We discussed the various programmes that UNSW has for widening participation at their university and the similarities and differences with the projects I work on at Durham.

Two days later I was in Melbourne to visit the Advanced Technologies Centre at Swinburne University as part of my work for the SPIRES project (which paid for my air fares to Australia). This involved meeting with Dru Morrish and Ambarish Kulkarni on separate days to get tours of the building and hear about working in a specialised research environment.

During this period I also had lunch with Belinda Barnet, a sociologist at Swinburne who specialises in digital sociology. We discussed our various shared interests and possible future collaborations as well as my SSI fellowship.

Whilst in Melbourne I also met with Tseen Khoo of RMIT who helps to run a blog called Research Whisperer. We had a good chat about the some of the issues around researcher career development in Australia and the UK. Tseen has invited me to provide a guest blog about my SSI fellowship, and about the general issue of research software developers for her blog. Tseen also gave me a tour of some of the wonderful new buildings that RMIT have just completed. She also put me in touch with a colleague of hers, Meagan McPherson who I also met up with and discussed various issues relating to student equity issues at RMIT and at Monash University (through Monash College).

From Melbourne I went on to Canberra where I met a former colleague, and software developer, and had a tour of some of the new facilities at the University of Canberra. This is also where I saw a kangaroo (wild, on the campus!). Here I learned about the latest technologies used to train teachers in the region.

Overall whilst I found it difficult to arrange meetings directly aligned to my SSI fellowship I nevertheless met with a large number of people and visited many universities. I made new connections and strengthened existing ones, in particular in the area of digital sociology. This trip also ended up enabling me to find out about the kinds of widening participation programmes that are underway in Australia and this has already been a very promising area for following up and hopefully future cooperation and collaboration.

I will produce a guest blog for research whisperer which will hopefully start a discussion about the role of software development within Australian research.