, ,

By Claire Aitchison, Cally Guerin & Susan Carter

This will be our final post for 2015, and we are finishing with a celebration of the wider academic community that provides us with something like professional family. In the last month we have attended three conferences. It is seasonal to speak of three wise men at Christmas: our conferences are stand-in equivalents. We share the insights we drew from these recent gatherings.


At the end of November, Cally and Claire attended the 12th Biennial Conference of the Association for Academic Language and Learning (AALL) at the University of Wollongong, near Sydney, Australia. The conference brought together over 200 academic language developers from Australia and overseas consortium bodies in Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

Presentations covered a diverse set of interests including, for example:

  • the sharing of institutional practices and programs, such as online provision embedding academic literacies into curricula
  • assessment and alignment, program evaluation, data analytics
  • peer learning and critical pedagogies, rural students
  • academic writing theories and practices
  • entry and transition experiences including testing and support, VET student transitions
  • international students; prior experiences, western approaches
  • postgraduate student writing and supervisor development.

In addition, the three keynote speakers provided stimulating perspectives:

Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the Institute of Education, London, gave a counter-discourse to the ‘skills’ push advocating more holistic possibilities for universities through an ecological curriculum; Associate Professor Cath Ellis, Associate Dean (Education) for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, challenged us to consider the role of assessment analytics for educational design and delivery. The final day Keynote from Dr Kate Bowles from the University of Wollongong, was a fascinating presentation on a student’s journey using the metaphor of the university as maze.


Cally made it to the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity (APCEI), held in Albury-Wodonga on 16-18 November, and hosted by Charles Sturt University in association with La Trobe University. The location aptly fitted the theme of “Crossing the borders: new frontiers for academic integrity”, as the cities of Albury and Wodonga also sit opposite each other on either side of the New South Wales and Victorian state borders in Australia.

At first glance, one might assume that “crossing the borders” from educational integrity into unethical behaviours of academic misconduct, plagiarism and cheating have little relevance to doctoral writing. Disappointingly this is not so, and the conference keynotes included important reminders to PhD candidates and their supervisors about the necessity for maintaining high standards of ethical behaviour in undertaking research. Among others, we heard from Dr Robert Waldersee of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and from Anthony McClaran of TEQSA (the Australian Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency). Associate Professor Jay Phillips reminded us of the responsibilities of research related to indigenous areas and topics. Associate Professor Cath Ellis from the University of New South Wales presented her insights on “contract cheating”; this was an eye-opener, and detailed the extent (and affordability) of the buying of academic texts – including Masters and doctoral theses.

This conference revealed the careful work currently being undertaken in Australia to develop effective university policies and procedures that can respond fairly and consistently to the challenges of a digital world. As with any conference, Cally was able to attend only a tiny percentage of the presentations in parallel sessions. Highlights for her were hearing more about Ursula McGowan’s influential work on the importance of teaching the skills of appropriate referencing and citation; Judith Bannister’s explanation of copyright law in Australia and how it relates to authorship and ownership; and Ruth Walker’s invocation of queer theory to push us to reconsider how and why some writing is sanctioned by the academy while other forms of writing are not.

For those of us working in universities, the issues surrounding educational integrity are critical if we want to develop graduates who attend university not as “consumers” there to buy a product, but as global citizens seeking a transformative education that will prepare them to operate as ethical professionals in their chosen fields.


In New Zealand, Susan attended the Tertiary Education Research New Zealand (TERNZ) conference 25-27 November, hosted by Auckland University of Technology. at their central campus. The TERNZ conference is an unusual one in that papers are discursive: presenters deliver for 10 minutes with the other 40 minutes of the hour given to interactivity. It’s a place where people can bring ideas to show, share, and expect the benefit of practitioner community input. Additionally, attendees are put into groups of about 10 that meet a couple of times each day to share what individuals learned in different sessions, so that each comes away with a wider sense of the ideas exchanged. Consequently this is a friendly conference, a very safe one for novice presenters.

Conference themes in general covered the importance of networking, sharing models and examples, exploring pedagogy that incorporates technology and making the implicit codes of academia more explicit. The detail amongst these themes was rich.

Topics ranged from first year student through to doctoral support, the focus of this brief summary. Deborah Laurs and Susan Carter shared their findings from doctoral students and from supervisors as to their experiences of giving and receiving feedback on writing—they focused discussion on how a guide for supervisors on giving good feedback could allow for individual preference.

One theme was around technology: KwongNui Sim showed the research on how doctoral students use technology that sits behind her recent blog; Jennie Billot and Anaise Irvine considered whether lurkers on blog sites such as their own Thesislink were learning or whether learning required actually engaging in the discussion (the agreed conclusion was that, yes, lurkers do learn, including deep-level learning). E. Marcia Johnson considered best practice for the professional development of doctoral supervisors. Community of practice was another theme, although at this conference it was not central to explorations of doctoral study: it might have been.

Keynote speaker Professor Pare Keiha connected the practicalities and the wonderment of learning, capturing that sense of magic that happens with each learning breakthrough.


Frequently on this site we mull over the challenges of doctoral writing and the learning that is accomplished through that long laborious process—maybe the season might allow us to celebrate the pleasure we get from being part of a rich academic community, and the wonderment of those great times when learning occurs. We’re off for a few weeks now, and wish you the best of the season.


Photos courtesy of MorgueFile