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Dr Mollie Dollinger standing behind a podium

19 July 2023

HERDSA 2023 keynote: an integrated student experience

Dr Mollie Dollinger, Senior Lecturer with Deakin Learning Futures (DLF), presented a keynote at the 2023 Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) annual conference. We spoke to Dr Dollinger about her keynote on the importance of an integrated student experience.

Can you tell us about your keynote?

The context of the keynote was the complexity around the higher education sector today, where universities are facing a multitude of ‘wicked issues’ from learner engagement, generative artificial intelligence, to academic integrity. In the keynote I argued that critical to addressing these complex issues was better integration of our data, and in particular, greater respect for qualitative data of student voices. Qualitative data is, unfortunately, often seen as less rigorous, or inferior to your typical large sample size quantitative survey. This means that as educators or leaders, however, we may be missing key details and nuances that arise from qualitative data.

What were your key points?

I can imagine that depending on the audience member’s epistemological beliefs they probably took away different aspects from the keynote! For quantitative researchers, or senior leaders who perhaps rely a bit too much on metrics and student performance data, it was about recognising the limitations of that data and considering how qualitative data could be integrated, rather than just tacked on to their research.

For qualitative researchers it was about challenging them to reflect on how they can better advocate for the value of their research approaches and link it more to national policy or institutional strategy to drive real change. For mixed methods researchers, I think it was about considering how quantitative and qualitative data can be integrated meaningfully, with intention and reflection, to tell the story that arose from their research.

But regardless of the audience members methodological leanings, it was also about reflecting on what evidence drives our decision-making. And considering how this evidence is representative and authentic to the participants, our students, who are sharing it.

What went into creating your keynote?

To be asked to give a keynote at the premier Australian higher education conference as an Early Career Researcher was incredibly daunting! Even before selecting my topic, I did a bit of a deep dive into the literature on academic conferences and the lost art of a keynote. I was very intentional about being provocative, having an arc to my story, and creating something that would spark conversation in our community.

I also was very considerate on who I cited in my keynote, citing people both from the HERDSA conference community, and diverse scholars who I wanted to draw more attention to. I also tried to cite almost 50% of other ECR or PhD students in the keynote to share the opportunity that I had so generously been given.

Where can people learn more?

Anyone interested in learning more can read an article I recently published about my keynote in Future Campus. The keynote and some commentary around it will also be published later this year in the Advancing Scholarship and Research in Higher Education journal.


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