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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Just one more hit

“People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid.”

Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

Evening all, I'll come back to Renton shortly, but somehow that quote above reminds me of academia.

Now, I spent this Tuesday with colleagues from across the sector at the Learning and Teaching Leaders forum, a day devoted in large part to helping the Australian higher ed sector get to grips with the reality of generative AI. Chatham House rules applied, and we all know I play by the rules, right?

Background: for those not in the Australian higher ed sector, (and perhaps for some in the Australian sector) our federal regulator has decreed that each of Australia's 200-odd higher ed institutions must respond to AI. Specifically, the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency requires that each institution must present a "credible plan" for how they are going to respond institutionally to AI, by July 1st. As we say here in Australia, "piece of piss." Easy done.

Now, if you believe that I also have a bridge to sell you. Here it is. It's a beauty, hey?

Seriously though, the discussion at the forum centered on how we're all going to respond to AI across the Australian sector. Discussion was wide ranging, insightful and full of ideas about the issue we face. I was especially impressed by a couple of Deputy Vice-Chancellors who really stood out as incredibly solid and forward thinking, explaining their positions with clarity and vision. You know, the whole "leadership" thing. However (deep breath), for all the brilliance and forward thinking I heard, what was also roaring in my ears was the silence of all those leaders not in the room, and all those institutions not represented in the room.

It's pretty obvious to me that despite a decade of what should have been seen as serious challenges to the credibility of higher ed, generative AI may be the straw that broke the camel's back. There were plenty of reasons to think seriously and reform our assessment practices, but nothing changed- until now. But it also strikes me that only a subset of unis are seriously thinking about the change required.

Now, why do I think this would be? I did say I would come back to Renton, didn't I? Quite simply, it seems to me that universities are like the Trainspotting junkies Renton, Sickboy, and Spud. They've gotten themselves hooked on revenue and rankings and rewards and prestige, and new shiny buildings, and golden toilets. Because all of that stuff feels good to users. But in order to keep getting those highs they must ignore the squalor (epidemic cheating anyone?), the crimes they commit (wage theft, for example), and the human detritus left in the week of their addiction. I'm not sure where upside down babies on the ceiling fit into this analogy though.

Higher education is an addict, constantly shooting up poison, and leaving carnage in its wake. I seriously struggle to focus on the good things that we as a giant collective achieve, because we're so profoundly failing in our mission in other respects. I honestly hope that I'm not just seeing this through my own lens- I'm obviously aware of this possibility. But, to hook back to where I started, if higher ed isn't going to face what is probably the greatest ever challenge to assessment square in the face, and change accordingly, we're actually no better than Begbie.

Until next time,


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