The promise of the new

Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Tulip among leaves and dirt

(cc) Flickr User: dugspr

Isn’t it rewarding that when you least expect it, you are given a shake and reminded why you do what you do?

Well for me it happened on Sunday, when I gave up my morning and volunteered at the University’s Open Day, and  I am so glad I did. It reminded me that what I have been taking for granted is of importance and significance to others.

When you are teaching you can get lost in the mire that can be ‘teaching’: marking, PowerPoints, student questions (why don’t they read the notes!), meeting deadlines and technology challenges. In doing so it is easy to forget why we are here and what we are offering to our students. In my three hours at Open Day I saw, met and spoke with potential students and realised that for them coming to university is a significant point. It takes them away from the familiarity, structure, and comfort of secondary school and places them into a whole new environment and onto a path to their future.

Now my role on Open Day was traffic direction. This meant wearing a stylish fluoro orange vest, holding a clipboard and greeting and directing the myriad of people who came through the door where I was standing. Can I say it is amazing the power a clipboard gives the holder: people saw an authority figure, or perhaps it was the fluoro vest. Anyway, people were more than happy to engage and ask questions and take my directions.

I spoke with many, often just to confirm what the signs said: “Yes the presentation is on the third floor”. Or to help them navigate through the maze that is RMIT. It is easy to forget that coming to a university for the first time can be physically daunting: buildings can seem to be arranged randomly, and numbers whimsically. Why else would Building 94 be opposite Building 53? Someone might pipe up here that it is probably the order in which they were built or acquired: the new RMIT Design Hub after all is number 100… and that holds until you get to Brunswick and Bundoora. There are little traps too like forgetting that the Art is often listed as Fine Art and that Art is scattered across a number of levels and buildings across what seems like the entire CBD.

What I had forgotten was that this part of going to uni is often a family affair, potential student were there with one, maybe two parents, often a sibling or two and in a couple of cases, I’m guessing a grandparent. There seemed to be two types of groups, one where the potential student was running the show and the rest were following along behind and the other where a parent, often with notes in hand was trying to find out what was on offer and how it would help their child. It was also interesting to consider the siblings who were tagging along, not always voluntary I’ll bet, but nonetheless seeing what the future may hold for them too.

I met a girl, in Year 10 who had come with her Mother to see what uni is all about, spoke with some parents who wanted to know if university studies could lead to a job and how the courses were linked to ‘the real world’ and others who didn’t know what they wanted but had come to look around.

It is interesting isn’t it, that most of the information could be found online but there is still a need to engage with the visual and physical aspect of the university, to see what it is like and to experience the environment and in doing so to get a felt sense of where their future may be.

In the lulls between greetings, I took time to guess, which area are they interested in. My general observations, were that stylish, well groomed young women were interested in Public Relations, those in grungy t-shirts, the Music Industry and those with novelty bags or water bottles – Communication Design.  Yes, it was stereotyping but it was harmless fun, and I was often right, so it also may mean that they were on the right path.

After my three hours I handed over the Clipboard and Vest of Power. I wandered through the buzzing crowds, to Bluebelle, my trusty bicycle. Pedalling home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and the positive energy that surrounded it. Over my journey, I concluded that Open Day is all about potential, options and future. Although ATAR was mentioned, it wasn’t the focus.  There wasn’t a sense of limitation, just possibilities, for potential student, their families and even for the staff present who were there to show the University as a place to develop that potential.

So I have decided “I‘ll be back”, because every now and then you need to be given a dose of optimism, as it helps to keep you out of the mire.

PS: Question of the day: “Where is the lightsaber display?”

Tempted answer: “In a galaxy far, far away.”

Real answer: “Not sure, try ‘Games and Animation’.”

(That is the answer from someone who responsibly wields the Clipboard of Power!)

Share your thoughts about the possibilities of Open Day in the comments!

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