Tag Archives: education

Local crowned International Student of the Year

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 1.17.09 PM

When 22 year-old Leticia Cabral Satiro Luiz first came to Australia from Brazil to study at the University of Sydney (USYD), she was excited to meet people of all different nations. It’s this enthusiasm that led to her being crowned the NSW International Student of 2013.

Leticia comes from a small rural town called Oliveira in Brazil. She left there when she was 16 years old to go to a selective school in the city before starting a mechanical engineering degree at Universidade Estadual de Campinas. In July 2012, she received a Science Without Borders scholarship and left Brazil to study engineering in Australia.

Upon arriving, language was the most difficult hurdle. “I used to be a good communicator but when I got here I couldn’t talk to people,” she said. “You can’t understand what a person is saying. It’s very frustrating.”

She also recalled reluctance and shyness among other international students to cross cultural boundaries. “Many people have a strong tendency to stay with other people from their own nationality,” she said. But she persisted in trying to bring different cultures together.

She began giving speeches and leading forums at the Centre for English Teaching USYD (CET), encouraging students to join extracurricular activities and meet people from different countries. “When you get to know people from other cultures, it’s adding to yourself because it’s something different, something that you don’t know,” she said. “You don’t know much about your own culture until you compare your culture with something else.”

In 2012, she helped organise a talent show for CET’s annual awards ceremony, showcasing acts like Chinese folk dancing and a pipa music performance. She also volunteered for Engineers Without Borders early 2013, assisting in an event that encouraged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to consider a career in engineering.

She was rewarded for all her work on October 10 last year when StudyNSW and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet presented her with the NSW International Student of the Year Award in the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students category.

USYD Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Carlin, says CET nominated Leticia for her ongoing commitment to building stronger student communities and her leadership skills in creating opportunities for international students to meet and integrate with Australian students.

Leticia said her experience in Australia has been “life changing”, enabling her to develop public speaking skills, empathy for other nationalities and a better understanding of worldwide education systems. Returning home late February, Leticia is now hoping to share what she’s learnt of Australia’s “good educational system” in order to improve Brazil’s own system.

 

Published in the South Sydney Herald, February 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, South Sydney Herald

Pranking Tharunka – is there a lesson to be learnt?

Published in Honi Soit, p. 9, Wk 10 Semester 1 Edition, 15 May 2013.

Click here to see it online.

Screen shot 2013-05-16 at 5.58.10 PM

The demonisation of Government lecturer Peter Chen has been largely misinformed and misleading, argues Ada Lee

Recently, some Sydney University students were  given an assignment to submit a fake news article to UNSW’s student paper.

The purpose of the ‘Prank Tharunka’ assignment was to test whether the media is susceptible to manipulation. It was not attempting to raise up the next generation of lying, sensationalist journalists. GOVT2603 (Media Politics) is a politics, not a journalism, subject. Peter Chen is a media critic, not a journalist.

The majority of reactions have oversimplified the issue. At one end, we have the conniving, mohawked Dr Chen, setting out to destroy the media. The Australian suggests that “maybe the lecturer” is what’s wrong with the media. Again, this was not a journalism training exercise. At the other end, we have Tharunka, UNSW’s student publication, maliciously targeted and victimised.

Tharunka admitted to Crikey that they had planned to run a fake story on fare evasion.

Here’s a question for Tharunka: did you check the facts? Would you have noticed the prank if not for the whistleblower? The assignment’s task to post false stories only works if the media is not doing its job properly. Tharunka, if you fact-checked and sifted out all the false stories, then I salute you—for doing your job.

As journalists and editors, if all our sources were entirely truthful with no distortion, no attempts at manipulation, no deliberate omission of facts, then the media world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Journalists and editors have a responsibility to check facts, investigate and sift out spin. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it might suck. But spin happens and the media should be prepared for it.

It is not sufficient to use Peter Chen as a scapegoat. Journalists and editors are not infallible lie detectors, but they also need to take responsibility when they make mistakes.

The argument has been made that as a small university paper with few resources, Tharunka was an unsuitable case study for testing the media’s gatekeeping role. But perhaps there is a  broader point. With highly concentrated media ownership and fewer journalists to fill in a demanding 24-hour news cycle, are our major news providers really better equipped?

Has the journalist watchdog been overtaken by a pack mentality where certain stories are over-emphasised and others completely missed? Is it sufficient that the media often rely on carefully planned press conferences and written statements rather than hard in-depth interviews with our political leaders?

If the big papers were bombarded with falsified stories as Tharunka was, would they pass the test? And if not, can we still trust them to bring the important issues to the surface? These are the questions we were asked to explore.

I don’t know whether encouraging students to post fake stories was the most virtuous thing to do. But what I do know is that I’ve learnt an invaluable amount about the politics of media.

For more of my coverage on the Tharunka prank, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Honi Soit, Opinion & Letters

An Insider View on the Tharunka Prank

Screen shot 2013-05-11 at 10.59.36 PM

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 3.44.02 PM

The USYD assignment asking students to prank UNSW publication, Tharunka, has triggered impassioned debate about the ethics of journalism and teaching.

USYD Media Politics lecturer, Peter Chen, asked students to submit a “false story” to Tharunka. As someone enrolled in this unit, I can give some insight into the workings of the assignment.

Essentially, students were to figure out what makes stories publishable. To complete the assignment, we had to test our hypothesis on ‘what makes the news’ by constructing several false articles that covered a scope of topics with varying levels of quality and sensationalism. In doing so, we tested the role of media as gatekeepers of information and whether they were susceptible to ‘spin’ and manipulation. The assignment sheet said we were to “reflect on the practice of PR that uses an understanding of media practice to promote particular messages”.

GOVT2603 Unit of Study Outline

On 6 May, Tharunka discovered the truth via a whisteblowing student and on 8 May, Tharunka revealed all in an article by editor Lily Ray. Editors recalled their surprise at the sudden influx of student submissions—even those from USYD email addresses.

Lily Ray even wrote that Tharunka was happy to receive submissions from students of other universities. The point of concern, however, seemed to rest in the assignment requirement that students post falsestories.

The whisteblower from the GOVT2603 subject, Josh Tassell, told Crikey,“I have a major ethical problem with trying to print lies. I don’t see the point. I honestly don’t think it taught us much at all except terrible habits.”

The same day that Tharunka, Crikey and The Australian picked up the story, the GOVT2603 twitter and tumblr accounts were deleted.

Over the semester, Dr Chen has become a familiar face—particularly notable for his Mohawk which changes colour every week. He asks students to engage via twitter, tumblr and text messages. At times, he spoke about his involvement in the NTEU Sydney University strikes. In lectures, he got us to watch a documentary critiquing Fox News sensationalism and another that explored election campaign tactics in New Zealand.

When we got the assignment sheet, I noticed mixed reactions. There were five different topic options. Others included creating an online protest page for a “fictitious” cause or trying to get calls through on talkback radio. We were told in our tute that all five topics had to be covered. In response to the Tharunka exercise, some students thought it was hilarious, some a useful exercise and perhaps, others worried about the ethical boundaries it pushed.

Whether the assignment was successful in teaching any sort of lesson, I think it is fair to say Dr Chen did not intend to teach his students how to be lying spin-doctors. Rather, the lesson was more in exploring the potentially powerful role ‘spin’ can play in today’s media system. Here, it is important to note that this is a ‘Media Politics’ not a journalism unit.

Granted, if this was the purpose of the assignment, Tharunka editor, Renee Griffiths, makes the point in the Crikey comments section:

“wouldn’t it have been more fruitful to make students target the multitude of organisations that are better resourced and deal more extensively with said PR injecting?” On Twitter, editor Lily Ray said the assignment “victimized” Tharunka.

Image Credit: Tharunka

James Davey, another GOVT2603 student, disagrees.

“I don’t understand why [Tharunka is] making the ‘victim’ call on this one…I don’t think it was a targeted attack against Tharunka…[The assignment’s lesson] could be learned through any news organisation. It just happened to be Tharunka.”

The ensuing upheaval has been met with a variety of responses from Media Politics students. Some worry about the academic ramifications. Some believe Mr Tassell over-reacted whilst others thought he could have handled the situation better.

Mr Davey defended the assignment. He said:

“It is up to the editor of a news organisation to vet any and all submissions. The fact is that Tharunka found itself with articles it was willing to run. When someone informed them of the ‘prank’, they got embarrassed. Cue retaliatory article. The reality of the news landscape is that it is competitive. It was on point and a relevant assignment.”

In July last year, UNSW SRC students actually launched a similar prank. A UNSW Foundation Day hoax falsely announced that UNSW planned to bid $1.2 million for the Sydney monorail. The difference? This story actually succeeded in getting published. It grabbed the attention of ABC News Radio, took 25 minutes of David Oldfield’s 2UE show, sat on the front page of the MX and finally, got uncovered by Media WatchTharunka itself reported that the hoax “catches” students and media.

Regardless of whether it was ethical to encourage students to print false stories, an important question is posed by this exercise: if these stories, embellished with spin and falsified facts, succeed in getting published, what does this say about the quality of journalism today? The assignment put the quality and legitimacy of media to the test.

Published in Vibewire, 10 May 2013.

For my opinion on the Tharunka prank, click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, Vibewire