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Educating for sustainability

Teaching and Learning Forum 2010 Home Page

On behalf of all the Western Australian universities, Edith Cowan University welcomes you to the 19th annual Teaching and Learning Forum. The theme for the 2010 Forum is Educating for Sustainability.

The United Nations has declared the decade from 2005 to 2014, the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development [1] Sub-themes arising from this include:

The aims of the Teaching and Learning Forum are to provide university (and other) teaching staff with practical guidance on embedding sustainable teaching and research practices, enhancing student learning, and networking with colleagues and peers.

Table 1 presents our standard summary of numbers of submissions and outcomes for TL Forum 2010. Table 2 provides a six year overview, which suggests that "steady state" and "sustainable" are perhaps the most apt descriptors for the series, now numbering 19 Forums (1992-2010) [2]. However, we need to sound a note of caution about the longer term sustainability of the Forum, as it may be affected by forthcoming changes in Australian Government policies.

Table 1: Summary of TL Forum 2010 numbers of submissions and outcomes

Category (a)Submitted (b)AcceptedRejectedOfferedWithdrawn(b)Net outcome(b)
Ref research241212(c)12012
Ref prof prac1156(d)9(e)18
Abstract only5554167(f)1255
  1. See http://www.ecu.edu.au/CLT/tlf/presentations/criteria/ for definitions of the categories of submissions. Refereed papers, both categories, and all abstracts are published online at the TL Forum Proceedings website, http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2010/contents-all.html
  2. As there may be additional withdrawals after the date of last revision of this table (19 Jan 2010), numbers in these columns are subject to change.
  3. Of the 12, 4 were offered Professional practice publication, and 8 were offered Abstract only publication.
  4. Of the 6, 5 were offered Abstract only publication, and 1 was rejected.
  5. Added 4 from Research rejects.
  6. Added 8 from Research rejects and 5 from Professional practice rejects.
For TL Forums 2005-2009 numbers of submissions and outcomes, see similar tables in the 2005-2009 'Welcome' pages at http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/. Compiler: Roger Atkinson.

Table 2: TL Forums 2005-2010 submissions and outcomes summary (a)

YearResearchProfessional practiceAbs only
Total all
Submitted AcceptedOffer PPSubmittedAcceptedTotal(b)
  1. Data sources: http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2010/editorial.html, and similar files for 2005-2009 Forums.
  2. Total for PP includes submissions in the Research category that were offered publication in PP.
  3. Includes all categories: Research, Professional practice, Abstract only publication and Workshops.
  4. W is the number of post-acceptance withdrawals (or cancellations), all categories.
Compiler: Roger Atkinson

The policy changes that we feel may affect the sustainability of TL Forum are illustrated by cryptic references to academic conferences made in the document ERA Indicator Descriptors [3]. Referring to "Refereed Conference Publications", this document states:

Conferences are an important venue for releasing and communicating research; however, they only represent the predominant output for publishing research for a small number of disciplines. In conjunction with the relevant disciplines, the ARC has undertaken preliminary work to develop tier descriptors for the ranking of refereed conference publications and will continue to work with these disciplines to develop ranked lists. [3]
The ERA Indicator Descriptors document does not give information on what the ARC (Australian Research Council) has in mind for "tier descriptors for the ranking of refereed conference publications", or what is eligible for inclusion in the "ranked lists". For clues, you can look further in ERA Indicator Descriptors, which implies that there will be three tiers, namely "A", "B" and "C" [3, Figures 3 and 4], and look also at the ARC's "ERA" thinking on the matter of "Tier definitions for the Ranking of Journals" [3, p.21; 4], and its publication of a "ranked list" of journals [5].

The matter of great interest to academic conference organisers (and the authors of works that may be peer reviewed and published by that conference!), is "ranking". If your conference is ranked "C", or even worse, is "unranked" [3, Figures 3 and 4], will it continue to attract authors and presenters, or will it just "die" because authors and presenters are "saving up" their work for presentation and publication at a higher ranked "A" or "B" conference, or for submission to a high ranked, "A*" or "A" journal?

TL Forum is an "unranked" (i.e. "not listed") conference according to the new ERA thinking revealed in the document "Ranked conference list", which lists 1,989 conferences [6]. The list does not appear to be supported by any documentation defining the tiers, or explaining in any detail the processes that were used to develop the list [7]. In contrast to the Ranked journals list, for which we were advised some time ago [8], "Tier A* (top 5%), Tier A (next 15%), Tier B (next 30%) and Tier C (bottom 50%)", the Ranked conference list does not specify Tier percentages. Thus there are quite a number of questions arising about the ranking of refereed conference publications, and the organisers of future Forums may have to deal with considerable uncertainty about the impact that the ERA Indicator Descriptors process may have upon the Forum's sustainability.

A number of perspectives may be entertained. One perspective is the view that TL Forum's core strength is the interchange of ideas that will benefit teaching and learning, and research is secondary, though of course research underlies all endeavours to improve teaching and learning. This perspective would minimise the concerns about ERA. Evidence in favour of this perspective is provided by the much larger number of presentations for which publication category is "Abstract only" or "Professional practice", compared with presentations associated with "Research" publication. If numbers in the "Research" category diminish, because authors are reserving the full publication of their work for a journal or higher ranked conference in the future, the impact will be minor. Also, many authors may be happy to have "Abstract only" publication, regarding it as a part of the "working up" of their research towards full publication elsewhere, a perspective mentioned in the 2009 TL Forum Editorial [9].

However, an alternative perspective is that actively supporting research into teaching and learning is a core purpose for TL Forum. This perspective regards the ERA initiative with greater concern. If authors perceive the ARC/ERA policies as exercising a downgrading of research into teaching and learning, and TL Forum's role as a publisher in this topic, they may put their effort into other directions, for example into their "mainstream" research, typically discipline based (thereby diminishing their attention to teaching and learning matters), or they may pursue "Tier A*" or "Tier A" journal publication, bypassing the lowly ranked TL Forum. Evidence in favour of this perspective cannot be obtained from TL Forum data such as that in Tables 1 and 2. It may be found (to an extent we cannot estimate) in perceptions of institutional pressures upon staff to improve one's rankings in national research assessment exercises, and in a small but growing body of university-based research into such exercises [10].

Facing uncertainty, perhaps the best way forward for TL Forum may be our collective projection of it as "a popular avenue for presenting, discussing and 'working up' research and professional practice topics in university teaching and learning, in contrast to being an avenue for the final publication of completed projects." (TL Forum, 2008).

We wish you all the best for a productive, thoughtful participation in TL Forum 2010, and for a successful and rewarding academic year.

The TL Forum 2010 Organising Committee
per Roger Atkinson


  1. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) (undated). Education for Sustainable Development. http://www.unesco.org/en/esd/
  2. Proceedings for all Forums post-1994 appear at http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf-pubs.html
  3. ARC (Australian Research Council) (2008). ERA indicator descriptors (Excellence in Research for Australia). http://www.arc.gov.au/pdf/ERA_Indicator_Descriptors.pdf
  4. ARC (Australian Research Council) (2009). Tiers for the Australian Ranking of Journals. http://www.arc.gov.au/era/tiers_ranking.htm
  5. The file http://www.arc.gov.au/zip/era_journal_Ranking.zip (extracts to ERA Research Journal Ranking Workbook.xls, dated 13 June 2008) contained ranked lists. It seems to have been withdrawn. Currently (19 Jan 2010) the file on offer, http://www.arc.gov.au/xls/ERA2010_journal_title_list.xls, does not contain rankings, although rankings are promised (according to http://www.arc.gov.au/era/era_journal_list.htm) for "early February 2010".
  6. ERA (2009). Ranked conference list. http://www.arc.gov.au/xls/ERA2010_conference_list.xls [viewed 19 Jan 2010].
  7. See ARC pages concerning "Ranked outlets", http://www.arc.gov.au/era/era_journal_list.htm; "Ranked Conference List Development", http://www.arc.gov.au/era/conference_list_dev.htm; "Key 2010 Documents", http://www.arc.gov.au/era/key_docs10.htm
  8. DEST (2007). Frequently Asked Questions. Bibliometrics. http://www.dest.gov.au/NR/rdonlyres/8F12ADCB-C221-421E-A128-2C344CD58BDF/18968/FAQBibliometrics_17October2007.pdf [verified 19 Jan 2010]. This reference precedes the name change from RQF (Research Quality Framework) to ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia), and departmental location change from DEST/DEEWR (Department of Education, Science and Training/ Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations) to DIISR (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research), http://www.innovation.gov.au/. However, post-2007 references to Tier percentages appear to be unavailable.
  9. TL Forum (2009). Welcome. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/editorial.html
  10. For example, see special issue 9(1) of International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives. It is not available online, but articles include:
    Currie, J. (2008). Critique of research assessments. International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, 9(1), 3-14.
    Other authors include Siobhan Austen (Curtin University of Technology) and Lesley Vidovich (The University of Western Australia).
  11. TL Forum (2008). Welcome. In Preparing for the graduate of 2015. Proceedings of the 17th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2008. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2008/editorial.html

Please cite as: TL Forum (2010). Editorial. In Educating for sustainability. Proceedings of the 19th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 28-29 January 2010. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2010/editorial.html

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Created 19 Jan 2010. Last revision: 20 Jan 2010.