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Interview:
MP_CRN digital futures


Participants:
J: Judy Halter
G: Graham Baker
C: Chris Johnson
P: Pat Buckley


J: Hello and welcome to Campus Connections, my names Judy Halter. Joining me in the study today I have Professor Graham Baker, our Deputy Vice Chancellor Scholarship. We have associate professor Pat Buckley, Dean of Research and Research and Research Education from the University of South Australia and Doctor Chris Johnson, interim Director of Digital Futures CRN, from The Australian National University. Welcome to you all and thank you for joining me today. Graham, one of the strategic directions of USQ is to move into what is being termed digital futures. Can you explain to me what is digital futures?

G: Sure. Well digital futures as you know is one of two overarching themes that the university has chosen for its distinctive future should I say. Digital futures is an interesting concept because none of us really know what the world would look like under the influence of new digital technologies as we move forward into the future, and it's important that our university – and we have chosen to be that university – really explores all facets of the digital future, and it's impact on society, on our student's, on our learning and educational technologies. The university therefore really has started to drive a lot of activities in this area. Principally given our long history and online education, we really want to know what the future can be in that environment but also other issues of great importance to society. Who would have known 10 years ago the impact of social media. We can look back and see what it's done, what will that be in the future? That's an important question for a university given our traditions in the digital world, we’re keen to take a leading role in that respect.

J: So Graham, could you tell us about the digital futures, the collaborative research network and what this program of work is all about?

G: Sure. The collaborative research networks as a scheme introduced by The Federal government … scheme for newer, and shall I say smaller universities, there's a list of 16 universities who are eligible to apply for a CRN. The scheme is deliberately designed, firstly to be a partnership scheme, in our case with the University of South Australia and the Australian National University, in a topic of interest to the applicant, university, USQ and it really is designed as much as anything to build research capacity. We build the CRN around a particular theme of research. It's a theme where we want to have prominence in the future, and the CRN is there to help us get to that place in the sun that we want to achieve. We've chosen digital futures, and we chose that for a number of good reasons. First as I've already said, it's an area that we think is pretty important to us. It also aligned very strongly to our structural adjustment fund application and the whole USQ connected frame of work – that you’ve no doubt, have talked to others about. So it's an important area for us, but we’re keen within the digital futures to look at, as I said earlier, impacts on education, on society and on participation in higher education. But primarily it curiously funds not to do research but to build capacity to do research, and that’s essentially what the CRN’s for.

J: Thank you. Chris, I believe that there's 5 projects. Can you give us a bit of an overview of these 5 supported projects?

C: Yeah in the CRN project overall, it was decided to work with a number of smaller research projects which would really be focused around a number of researchers and around some PhD student's and around some postdoctoral fellows. As a way of actually doing some research but using that as a vehicle to build on, to have as a way of training and developing the staff and of introducing some new researchers into USQ who would then become part of the productive research side of the university. So there are 8 PhD students, and 5 postdoctoral fellows which are currently being advertised and they go into these 5 projects which fit the themes that Graham mentioned. So there's one about mobile learning and evaluating what sort of things you can do with the devices, the laptops, the tablets, mobile phones, the smart phones and whatever comes after that. There's so many of them now that we really want to have ways of saying “Is there something in common and what are the differences?” rather than taking each device thrown at us and saying “Oh there's something new what do we do now?” we should be able to say “It fits in the frame of, it should be able to provide these facilities for this kind of learning” or “It won't do this well” and so tailoring education materials, or education approaches to the devices to come is something that will come out of that kind of research. It's asking the questions of “How do we evaluate, how do we frame that?” rather than actually solving them, and that’s the important thing about one of these research areas. There are also ones in social and digital future policy challenges, going into remote and rural and regional Australia, which is one of the interests that USQ has as well, and bringing that into how do we use modern technologies and digital technologies. Trying to bring the discussion of climate change and decision making to farmers in Australia in ways which rely on communicating through digital technologies, whether it's through Second Life or avatars or simulated conversations, or whether it's through direct ones which they have in peer groups. Finding the right way in which they can have these discussions and make their decisions for themselves, they're not forcing the information but trying to get this very complex set of information out there using modern technology and using modern communication. In higher education there's a movement of replacing actual physical laboratory equipment by remote access to that. So people can work remotely and trying to find ways in making that better, making it not just a camera on a gadget with a knob to turn, but making it enhanced, putting more instrumentation, augmenting the reality so it's better than the real thing is one of the challenging things that can be done. And again if we've got higher education being done through modern digital technologies, there's a cost. There are big benefits but they're a bit cost as well and finding out and trying to evaluate those in economic ways is an important way of understanding how digital technologies will be used in social ways and in educational ways effective, but also efficiently. Knowing more about how to do it, but not so much about what it costs.

J: Chris you mentioned the PhD Scholarships and the Doctoral positions – could you explain a little bit more about that to me please?

C: Okay the one part of the funding for the CRN project is able to provide scholarships and fellowships for a small number of researchers. These projects which I describe will take a lot more people than just 1 PhD student and 1 postdoc, but they form the core, they form a full time research effort and they will also be collaborating with each other, be working in a network across the university and with people from the other universities. So there's people from University of South Australia and from ANU who will join in these projects, help to supervise these PhD student's and will also help to develop the researchers.

J: Thank you. Graham, could you tell us a little bit more about the MOU between USQ, The Australian National University and the University of South Australia?

G: Sure. Well as I said at the beginning, CRN is explicitly designed to be a partnership program and we’re delighted with these 2 universities, my colleagues here today. Their roles, so rather than the MOU explicitly, the role in the hubs and spokes model that was developed by former minister, Kim … was really that more established research universities could work with a newer university in the research front, in order to help build capacity at that university – and that’s the model in its simplest sense. There are specific activities that our colleagues will be undertaking with us. In addition to Chris’ role as interim director, which is already I think evidence of a very strong connection, ANU is going to be doing a piece of work for us, so in addition to the research that Chris has described for you, ANU will be undertaking an activity really looking at our social infrastructure around research and research development. Looking for gaps, looking for things that we might do that other universities do to help stimulate research and assist our colleagues. Pat who will no doubt have an opportunity to talk to you in a minute, is bringing to us a research leadership program which really will help us in the sustainable phases of growing our research activities. I might just say and complement my colleagues, a number of universities who have CRN’s, many of them are working well, but they work well when their partners work well with them – as in our case – and those that aren't it's really because those relationships aren't strong. We were very fortunate to have an alliance with ANU before the CRN started and that ANU also has an alliance with Uni SA. So in a sense we had an existing relationship and that’s been very important I think to really build a strong connectivity between the 3 of us, and also down at the level of researcher to researcher. I hope it will get stronger still but it's essentially, the collaboration is the background to the MOU, as you’ve called it.

J: So Chris would you explain a little bit about what the Australian National University is bringing to the program?

C: Well initially there's – my job – I'm seconded from ANU for 25% of my time to direct the project here, to stimulate it and make things happen, with assistance of course, but some reaching out and setting direction has to be done by that. We’re also getting collaborators on the research front from quite a few people at ANU who are going to join in these research projects as I said. Very importantly Ann Goldwater from the research office at ANU has been coming to USQ to do a – not really a review – a survey, an audit, or how the research activities at USQ are supported by the research office here, and how they can be changed, can be improved to have more impact – as Graham said – on how academics do their work and how they're able to turn their short time into more effective research.

J: So Pat similarly with the University of South Australia what does that add to our program as well?

P: Well what Uni SA brings to the collaboration I think is something Chris has mentioned, and one other big thing and our researchers are similarly going to be involved with USQ researchers on the projects that Chris has outline. But USQ is also interested as Graham has said, in growing research leadership capability for the future, and that’s something we have some considerable experience of. We were the first in the tertiary sector to introduce a research leadership program and so it's that program that Uni SA is going to transpose into USQ, hopefully in a way which sees it very fit for USQ’s particular needs.

J: So Graham, how will the work of digital futures and the collaborative research network benefit staff and students?

G: Well firstly the university as a whole benefits by building our research capability. It is a fundamentally important activity for all universities and we have aspirations to grow our profile in that area. But to do so not spread across every activity you could imagine, but to choose certain thematic areas and digital futures is one of those. I think the activities that my colleagues Pat and Chris have just outlined really have been a great assistance to our staff in helping them with their research careers and therefore their future and their promotion and all of those very important issues. For our students I think in the long term the research that flows out of the project which will undoubtedly influence our own developments in online learning will of course bring high hope, great benefits to our student's, but I'd add society to your list of staff students and society – our communities we hope will benefit in the longer term as we all understand the impact of digital futures and the role it will play moving out, 10, 20, 30 years.

J: Graham, Pat and Chris thank you so much for your time today. We hope this information has been useful. Thank you for watching.

(Recording stopped)