The colloquium

An “official communication” from early June demanded that all Engineering and Computing postgraduate students take part in the Curtin Engineering & Computing Research Colloquium. Those who didn’t might be placed on “conditional status”, the message warned.

A slightly rebellious instinct led me to think of ways to obey the letter but not the spirit of this new requirement. Particularly, the fact that previous colloquiums have been published online introduced some interesting possibilities:

  • a randomly-generated talk;
  • a discussion of some inventively embarrassing new kind of pseudo-science/quackery; or
  • the recitation of a poem.

In the end I yielded, and on the day (August 25) I gave a reasonably serious and possibly even somewhat comprehensible talk on a controlled experiment I’d conducted on defect detection in software inspections.

A while afterwards, I received in the mail a certificate of participation, certifying that I had indeed given the talk I had given. It felt a little awkward. Giving a 15 minute talk isn’t something I’d have thought deserving of a certificate. It might be useful for proving that I’ve done it, since it now appears to be a course requirement, but a simple note would have sufficed.

Interestingly, I later received another certificate, identical except that my thesis title had been substituted for the actual title of my talk. In essence, I now have a piece of paper, signed personally by the Dean of Engineering, certifying that I’ve given a talk that never happened.

From a campus

I found this somewhat random piece of work (sung to the tune of Bette Midler’s From A Distance) while digging through my hard drive. I did have to change “John” to “Rudd” though.

From a distance the campus looks green and orange,
and the concrete buildings grey.
From a distance OASIS meets the screen,
and the grant cash has been paid.

From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the labs.
It’s advice of hope, it’s advice of peace,
lecture notes in browser tabs.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one hates the dean.
And there are no scales, no fails, and sound degrees,
no paying customers to please.

From a distance we are researchers
writing worldly documents.
Giving talks on hope, giving talks on peace,
They’re the talks of common sense.
Rudd is watching us. Rudd is watching us.
Rudd is watching us from a distance.

From a distance you look like my friend,
though you’ve plagarised before.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all these meetings are for.

From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the labs.
And it’s the test of hope, it’s the test of love,
it’s the students’ study plan.

It’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves.
They are all basically human.
And Rudd is watching us, Rudd is watching us,
Rudd is watching us from a distance.
Oh, Rudd is watching us, Rudd is watching.
Rudd is watching us from a distance.

Students

Here’s what diversity means to a university tutor.

Student A appears with a deer-in-the-headlights look at the door to the senior tutor room and asks (in a bewildering tone that sounds as if a layer of righteous outrage has been suppressed and petrified beneath another layer of sheer blinding terror) if there is going to be a tutorial now for the unit that I tutor. I stumble through an explanation of the weekly tutorial times – there are only two, and neither of them are now – and leave him with a look of deep suspicion and confusion. This is half-way through semester.

Student B appears at the door to the senior tutor room with a demeanour that could very well be those transfixing headlights. She doesn’t have a question – she’s just bored. She bounds over to see what I’m doing and recoils at the tutorial exercise I’m preparing to give in an hour. Nevertheless, I begin to explain it and within a minute she rips the paper out of my hand and sits down to undertake the exercise: disassembling a Java class file by hand. She isn’t even enrolled in the unit, and won’t be for another year.

The university of technology

All Curtin students and staff know about OASIS.

OASIS purportedly stands for “Online Access to Student Information Service” . Is that the best they could do, you ask? Evidentially, that full name is now such an embarrassment that it doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on the official OASIS website. However, I’m still not sure which is sillier – the full title, the abbreviation (a transparent backronym), or the slogan bestowed upon us when it first launched: “One site to rule them all”.

It’s bigger than Jesus!

The centrepiece of OASIS is the OCC (Official Communication Channel), through which students receive official correspondence from the University. Replacing physical mail with electronic mail is commendable, but OCC has two small drawbacks. One is that you can’t choose to receive OCC messages via email, or even to receive email notifications. You must remember to log in to OASIS. The other is best illustrated in the following pie chart, representing all the messages (now archived) I’ve received:

oasis_occ

In the past 27 months, I’ve received 21 useful messages: about 0.18 per week. I realise that at some level the University is obliged to send me the other messages as well, but that’s not the point. Logging into OASIS isn’t hard, but you quickly forget because it’s usually such a fruitless exercise. According to the official policy, one “performance indicator” for the OCC is: “The percentage of students with active OASIS accounts that access their official correspondence at least once per week.” They’re not advertising this metric, of course.

It’s not until a library book is recalled (whether you’re the original borrower or the recaller) that you appreciate the true splendour of the OCC. I simply didn’t know about mine until after fines had already started accumulating, and the person who’d recalled the book probably wasn’t too happy about it either. With email, I’d have returned the book the same day.

Not to be entirely defeated, however, I created a script on my laptop that automatically logs into OASIS for me at 11:30 am each day and forwards all new OCC messages to my email account. The Curtin bureaucracy hasn’t quite mastered that idea yet.

Curtin University… of something

Update (2009-07-11): it has come to my attention that this page ranks rather highly when one searches for “Curtin University of New Technology”. Hence, I’d like to point out that you really should not take it at face value, just in case you were inclined to do so. This was intended to be satire directed at universities in general.

For a variety of reasons Curtin University of Technology, formerly Curtin University of New Technology, formerly the Western Australian Institute of Technology, is considering the radical option of changing its name. University strategists feel that the current name is unmarketable, because:

  1. The Educational Institute Exploratory Inquiry Organisation (EIEIO) has recently concluded that the use of the word “University” within an institute’s name rather than at the start or the end is overly confusing.
  2. In the current economic climate, prospective students may be put off by the unrealistically high standards that the word “technology” would seem to imply.
  3. Curtin doesn’t actually have any technology.

Therefore, other candidates include:

  • Curtin University of Technology University
  • The University of Curtin University Institute
  • Curtinnovation University
  • Curtin Family Values University
  • Curtin Online Multiple-Choice University

In the coming months, University strategists will consult widely with academics and prospective students in an attempt to find evidence to support the decision they’ve already made.