Archive for March, 2010

Carina’s ‘amazing journey’ at UNE

March 22nd, 2010

normal_carina-bossu-04Arriving in northern NSW from rural Brazil in March 2004, Carina Bossu (pictured here) embarked on what she now sees as “an amazing journey” at the University of New England.

That journey, made possible initially by a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship, has included her successful completion of Master’s and PhD degree programs, her marriage to a fellow student, and her appointment to the staff of a major research project based at UNE.

It began with a 15-week program of English language training in UNE’s English Language Centre, which was then housed in the heritage-listed Newling Building (”the Old Teachers’ College”) overlooking the city of Armidale. “I had only basic English when I arrived – enough to survive,” Carina said. “And I must say the Australian accent was a problem at first.”

At the English Language Centre – and within the Armidale community – she met, for the first time, people from countries other than Brazil. “I was born and raised in a very small town in the countryside of São Paulo State,” she said, “where there was no opportunity for multicultural experience. But in Armidale I had it all. Having something to compare my Brazilian background with, I learnt much more about myself and where I come from.”

“Everything was so new to me I wasn’t even homesick,” she added. “I just couldn’t believe I had this opportunity. I tried to do as much as I could in meeting people, learning about Australia, and practising English.”

From the outset, her Armidale experience was enhanced by the support and friendship of her “Rotarian counsellors” John Turnbull and is wife Fran, who became – and remain – her “Aussie parents”.

Having satisfied the requirements of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Carina enrolled in UNE’s Master of Educational Administration degree program. Her approach to her Master’s research project so impressed her principal supervisor, Dr Robyn Smyth, that Dr Smyth encouraged her to go on to doctoral studies. She did so with such success that she will graduate from UNE as a Doctor of Philosophy next month (on the 16th of April).

To assist her with her PhD studies, Carina was awarded a UNERA International Scholarship (”UNE Research Assistantship for International Student of Exceptional Merit”), and – to support her field work in Brazil – a Keith and Dorothy Mackay Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship. “I want to thank everyone – Robyn, my other supervisors, the University generally, and the Rotary Foundation – for believing in me and giving me the opportunity for further education,” she said.

She plans to develop her PhD thesis, titled Higher Distance Education in Brazil: Policies, Practices, and Staff Development, into a book for publication (in Portuguese) in Brazil, believing that it could assist the development of distance education in that country. “For the first time in Brazil, staff development is – to a certain extent – being encouraged by new policies on distance education,” she said. “But the policies need to be developed further.”

Carina Bossu and Darren Ellis met and got to know each other at UNE, and were married there, in the gardens of Earle Page College, on the 2nd of May last year – less than a fortnight after Carina submitted her PhD thesis. Her parents travelled from Brazil for the wedding, and the couple reciprocated by travelling to Brazil for a second ceremony on the 18th of July. “We have plans to experience other places and cultures,” Carina said, “and eventually become parents.”

Both Carina and Darren are now working at UNE – Darren as a lecturer in the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, and Carina as a Research Fellow on a collaborative project (”DEHub: Innovation in Distance Education”) that, led by UNE, is paving the way for 21st century developments in distance education both within Australia and abroad. Carina is conducting research on open education resources in collaboration with UNE’s partner universities. She is also leading an academic exchange project between four distance-education universities in Australia and four in South America, in which they will share information, build capacity, and establish links between the two regions.

“It’s a big transition from being a student, when everybody helps you with your own project, to doing a job, where you have to contribute to something much larger,” she said. “I’m starting to feel, however, that I am making a contribution.

“It’s been an amazing journey.”

New approach reveals roads to recovery from child sexual abuse

March 12th, 2010

normal_sally-hunter-book-launch-05By taking a novel approach to the subject of child sexual abuse, a researcher at the University of New England has revealed some of the inner sources of resilience that can enable adults to recover from such childhood experiences.

Dr Sally Hunter, who has just published her findings in a book titled Childhood Sexual Experiences: Narratives of Resilience, decided at the outset of her research not to label such experiences “abuse”. “This approach enabled me to hear new narratives of resilience – especially from men,” she said. “Most of the men (and some of the women) I interviewed refused to be labelled as a victim – or even as a survivor – of child sexual abuse, either because they chose not to see their experiences as abusive or damaging, or because they didn’t want their whole identity to be linked to events in childhood.

“I have found that it is more useful to frame the discussion of this issue around ‘childhood sexual experiences’ rather than ‘child sexual abuse’ – at least to begin with.”

Using this approach, Dr Hunter was able to hear stories that, she said, impressed her with “people’s amazing ability to overcome the effects of truly horrendous events in childhood”. “After often having a difficult time in early adulthood, these people are now living good, satisfying lives,” she said.

Speaking at the launch of Childhood Sexual Experiences at UNE earlier this week, Dr Hunter paid tribute to “the 22 remarkable men and women to whom I’m indebted for telling me their stories”.

“I have tried in the book to describe some of the impact that listening to their stories had on me,” she said. “And I have tried to do justice to their stories, and use their insights to help other people come to terms with their own experiences and recognise their own strengths and resilience.”

“As a result of my research,” she explained, “it is my belief that childhood sexual experiences often cause relational injuries. After all, if you feel betrayed or used by someone that you loved or admired as a child, this is going to affect your ability to trust people and to build good relationships with others. It is this relational injury that I believe is a more useful construct than the concept of ‘trauma’, or the idea of ‘victimhood’ – or even ’survivorhood’.”

In officially launching Childhood Sexual Experiences, the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, spoke from his past experience as a researcher on several projects related to child sexual abuse. “How do you ‘welcome’ a book on this subject?” Professor Barber asked . . . and then said: “I welcome it because it’s a book about resilience and the fact that it is possible to recover.”

Childhood Sexual Experiences: Narratives of Resilience, by Sally V. Hunter, is published in Oxford, UK, by Radcliffe Publishing.

Collaborative distance-education project launched at UNE

March 10th, 2010

normal_de-hub-launch-0178A collaborative research project that is paving the way for 21st century developments in distance education, both within Australia and abroad, has been officially launched at the University of New England.

The project – led by UNE and named “DEHub: Innovation in Distance Learning” – involves UNE, Charles Sturt University, CQUniversity, the University of Southern Queensland, and New Zealand’s Massey University. Together, these universities form a “hub” of research-based expertise on new developments in distance education practice. Work on the project began last year with Commonwealth Government funding of $3.5 million.

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, who officially launched the project during the ceremony at the end of last month, said the “Hub” was a “research-and-development engine” behind a global educational movement towards distance education. He said he was very pleased that UNE was “part of a consortium at the forefront of this development”.

Professor Barber said that the reality of education today was that people could be “separated by space and time and nevertheless be part of the same learning network”. “It is now possible, through technology, for students to do all of the social networking – and for academics and educators to exert all of the personal influence – that they have traditionally engaged in,” he said. “We can talk, we can interact, and we can do it in real time.”

The guest speaker at the launch was Professor Asha Kanwar, Vice-President of the Commonwealth of Learning – an international organisation that, by encouraging the development and sharing of open learning / distance education knowledge, resources and technologies, aims to improve access to education and training in developing nations.

“Distance education at every level – even non-formal education – is a major tool in the development of these nations,” Professor Kanwar said. “We need high-quality distance education – with research to support it. This is where DEHub comes in; I’m very glad that Australia has taken a leadership role in this respect.”

Professor Kanwar, who is based in Canada, said that the project was particularly exciting because of its collaborative nature – something relatively new for higher education institutions.

UNE’s Professor Belinda Tynan, the Director of DEHub, said that she and her colleagues were hoping to be able to work with the Commonwealth of Learning in helping to provide access to education for “a whole range of people”.

Professor Tynan (pictured here) confirmed that the DEHub project was a true collaboration, with the participating institutions “leading it together”.

The representatives of those participating organisations who attended the launch were Professor Phil Candy, the University of Southern Queensland’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Global Learning), Professor Mike Keppell, the Director of the Flexible Learning Institute at Charles Sturt University, Dr Leone Hinton, Director of Strategy, Quality and Review at CQUniversity, and Associate Professor Mark Brown, Director of Blended and Distance Education at Massey University (NZ).

Other special guests included representatives of the Cunningham Library (Australia’s most comprehensive educational research library), Victoria University, and AARNet (Australia’s Academic and Research Network).

Social Work – School of Health

March 4th, 2010

normal_linda-turner-0001One way the growing Social Work team in the School of Health at UNE will provide students with valuable learning experiences while meeting the community “on its own turf” is through establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with social workers and members of community organizations who are demonstrating leadership in initiatives that contribute toward positive social change. Last year social work team members Dr. Myfanwy Maple and Dr. Ahmed Kuyini-Abubakar initiated discussions with social worker Sabine Altmann whose position involves working with the NSW police force responding to domestic violence issues in the Northern Region of NSW. Professor Angelika Hendchel  of The University of Luneburg, Germany will travel to UNE in March and April when the research components of the collaboration will be finalized. Dr. Linda Turner, from Canada, the latest to join the School’s social work team, has with her former colleagues recently contributed to a forthcoming book on Field Education in Human Services in that country. Faculty members from St. Thomas University’s Department of Social Work implemented an innovative model of field education two years ago that requires all social work students to spend their final practicum as members of a team working on a community-initiated project with a clearly articulated commitment to social justice. Research has demonstrated that students who become engaged in social action and advocacy while in university are more likely to contribute to social change when working as practitioners. Furthermore the rural communities who are trying to creatively respond to needs with limited or stretched resources and services are strengthened by the presence of students and the faculty who supervise them.  Rural agencies and organizations who participate in partnerships of this nature are able to pursue initiatives such as advocacy, needs assessment and education that they would not otherwise have the time or the funding to develop.

NSW Aboriginal Community Development Project

March 4th, 2010

normal_crams-seminar-012Adjunct Professor Jack Beetson , Associate Professor Bob Boughton and an independent consultant Deborah Durnan undertook two innovative community research and development projects for the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs (now AANSW) Partnership Communities Program. Under this program, forty Aboriginal communities across NSW were chosen to pilot a new community governance policy framework. The aim was to establish a process through which government at all levels would agree to recognise one community governance body in each community, and then negotiate a community action plan with that body to achieve improved service delivery and increased community health and wellbeing.

The first project Jack’s team undertook was a state-wide community consultation on a draft of the proposed framework prepared by AANSW. During July 2008, Jack, Bob and Deborah facilitated community meetings in nine locations, at which AANSW officials explained the new policy framework, and sought feedback. Over 270 people attended from 61 different communities. The government’s proposal generated vigorous debate, and many suggestions for major amendments. The consultants documented and analysed this feedback, before circulating a report which sought to achieve a consensus on how the framework could be improved to satisfy the communities’ requirements. Following further feedback, and a final meeting with stakeholders from both government and the Aboriginal community of NSW, the team produced a new draft which the Minister approved to be implemented on a trial basis in 2009-2010.

In 2009, the team signed another contract with AANSW, this time to deliver an action-based learning professional development program to twenty new community development workers recruited by the Department. Their job was to help the forty partnership communities establish governance bodies which would be recognised under the revised draft framework, and to develop their community action plans. Action-based learning was chosen as a methodology because such an experiment had not been tried before and there were no set procedures or protocols for how things should work. Both the Department and its new employees of whom the majority were Aboriginal, were moving into unchartered territory, and action-based learning provided a model in which all parties – government, its employees and community members – could contribute to the new learning that was required.

The partnership community project officers (PCPOs), along with their regional managers and representatives from head office executive and policy branches, took part in a series of workshops facilitated by Jack and his team at one- and two-month intervals, to reflect on the experiences they were having and to share learnings among the different locations. During and between workshops, participants formed small learning ‘sets’, following the action-learning model, to undertake focused group reflection on specific aspects of the program, and how it was working in the communities. Over time, these ‘sets’ became powerful tools for solving problems and improving procedures and practices, building up a repetoire of ‘fit for purpose’ community development tools and internal policies and procedures. Once agreed by the whole group, these became part of a loose-leaf manual which the staff used to carry out their duties, and which became a resource for new staff who joined the program at a later date.

At the time of writing, the action-based learning process was at the end of its first twelve month cycle. Jack’s team provided regular evaluation reports over the first twelve months, and the Department is now considering whether and in what form to keep the program going. Despite a number of setbacks, including delays in recruitment and staff changes, the AANSW policy framework is on target to met its objectives by June 2010, with recognised governance bodies in most of the forty communities, and a significant number on the way to developing their community action plans. Only time will tell if this will lead to the ultimate goal of improved health and well-being in the partnership communities. One problem faced by all community development workers is that the rhythms of community life rarely synchronise with the timeframes of government policy making and election cycles. The risk is that a change of government will trigger a whole new policy formulation process, just as the communities start to gain control of the current one. This serves to underline the need for a bipartisan approach to Aboriginal development policy, which most people in Australia now agree is an urgent national priority.

For more information, please email:
Adjunct Professor Jack Beetson jbeetson@midcoast.com or
Associate Professor Bob Boughton bob.boughton@une.edu.au