the notes from which this rant is drawn are dated July and September 2016.
this version written 2016-11-16, on the CSESoc Facebook Group.
reproduced here 2016-11-29

tl;dr: you can’t and won’t get the depth of learning, breadth of understanding, and quality of skills; instead, you’ll go broke, your lecturers will retire, you’ll become (more) physically & mentally ill, your holidays will suck, your internships will suck, and you’ll rarely see your family.

We currently have 12 weeks of content and around 13 weeks in which students would develop skills and understanding, and learn content, before it’s examined… Sure, simple elision of content – almost ‘chopping off’ bits that hang outside an arbitrary box – would work, but courses which could endure that with no ill effect probably place too much of an emphasis on rote-learning of content and shouldn’t be taught here anyway.

Reduced face-to-face teaching time means teaching staff for ‘small-group’ (tutes, labs, etc.) cannot engage as well with each student, which, combined with the exceptionally short-sighted UNSW 2025 “Vision” of larger classes, leads to larger, more impersonal classes; even with the threat of lectures becoming online-only, that moves what currently work fairly well as tutorials into hundred-plus groups, an almost definitely disadvantageous experience for all students. (Imagine, if you will, a COMP1927 or similar tutorial in, say, Keith Burrows Theatre…)

Courses with substantial skill or understanding components lose a good chunk of the time needed for the development of ‘graduate capabilities’, like science and engineering courses (e.g. CS&E, aero/avio, maths), languages, medicine, law, performance (e.g. NIDA, COFA, Music)… you simply can’t take something like C or Japanese and lop it up until it fits in a collection of arbitrary-sized boxes. I note there are academics, including the Head of MathStats, who think 3 courses in 10 weeks is less work than 4 courses in 12 weeks, but seems to make the assumption that all time is created equal.

Many subjects still have obvious ‘scar tissue’ from the incisions of the previous trim down to 12 teaching weeks; or were substantially redeveloped to move course content. Many courses that I’ve seen (and likely others) in both categories would lose their cohesion, if not become completely disjoint messes, or show the same hideous scar tissue in their ten-week modes. Also, a quick note on our all-new ‘summer semester’: currently, summer is firmly pressed up against the edge of unreasonable intensity with (effectively) 12-week courses taught in 8 weeks; this will become 5-week offerings of 10-week versions of 12-week courses! Hooray!

If multiple offerings of courses per year expands to three equal-length offerings (and optionally summer), who’s going to teach them? Staff are already stating they’ll only do one semester’s offering of the twice-yearly new CSE Core (COMP[12]5[123]1), putting pressure on to get more staff to run three offerings, for a weird spread of teaching styles and course quality, and no doubt some current staff across the university will opt for strategic retirement when trimesters arrive….

Holidays throughout the year no longer align with NSW School Holidays. For students or staff with families (parents, siblings, children), this means less face-to-face time and fewer actual holidays, or students here or in other education institutions (e.g., primary and secondary schools) or academics taking time off during their teaching periods. The loss of mid-semester breaks means longer and more intense periods of study or work (for that wonderful burn-out sensation). One alternative would be to follow the proposed “Experiences” model of taking a trimester off occasionally, which risks student benefits, program flexibility, internships, and exchange opportunities, in exchange for a reprieve or a chance to recover from burn-out.

And on the topic of burn-out: for those people who have Real Life Problems that limit their physical or mental endurance for the threatened^Wproposed workload choose currently between effectively 25%/50%/75%/100% of the workload (and may choose to, say, drop from 24 to 18 UoC per session while retaining their full-time status); they would now have less flexibility and granularity in the 33%/67%/100% workload options. For people with short-term impediments, temporary medical conditions, or similar sudden things that may crop up, it’s harder to ‘flex’ a smaller and more intense teaching period around that; they may have to go so far as withdrawing from part or all of a teaching period.

More intense semesters gives students less chance to be able to work part-time with their course load; for the great many students who rely on this to make ends meet, this means they need to work longer and more intense weeks. The same goes for teaching staff, who currently are in the throes of exam marking: they would have to approximately halve the time they currently have. And for students who plan to take internships for a bit of a fiscal boost, even taking a whole trimester off to intern loses a few weeks compared with the current summer option… also the propaganda makes statements like “companies need to change to suit us!” which is clearly Just Plain Wrong.

About the only up-side is that course assessment will need to be rethought, meaning more heavily weighted assignments offsetting more wishy-washy exams.

Some unanswered questions in the current propaganda:

  • how does current coursework (including, e.g., medical residency requirements) interpose with the new timetabling model? will we wind up with Yet Another disjoint set of teaching periods that run simultaneously?

  • what will actually happen with part- and full-time loads?

  • has anyone looked at the research output of the crumpled paper bag^W^W^W UTS to see how trimesters affected them?

A few things I didn’t mention: programs across faculties like the Nura Gili programs haven’t had a look-in, residential living arrangements around campus would have to change, there’s a streaming of academics into teaching and research, and we’d lose the time spent building these wonderful learning communities we have in CSE.