Member profile: Charles Flodin: Curtin University

Name: Charles Flodin
Job title: Manager (Addressing Higher Education Access Disadvantage) AHEAD Program
Institution: Curtin University, Western Australia
ACU Engage Community member since: 2017

Charles Flodin Curtin AHEAD at Youth Awards

Charles Flodin (centre), Curtin AHEAD Program Manager

How long have you been working in a public engagement/outreach role?

I have been working in education since 2006, starting out as a specialist secondary and sixth form humanities teacher in the UK, however, from the beginning of my career I have designed programmes aimed at improving critical thinking skills and raising higher education (HE) aspirations for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. I have always had a special interest in the use of technology as a learning and engagement tool, and as a means through which low socioeconomic status (SES) students can gain access to resources that expand learning opportunities.

What do you enjoy about your work and what inspires you in your career?

I have been fortunate to work with inspirational colleagues who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to supporting students achieve personal success, most recently within the Curtin Learning and Teaching, Learning Futures Directorate. I enjoy being surrounded by skilled and passionate educators and academics who I can learn from, and being part of the creation of programmes and resources that help young people overcome challenges and create positive educational opportunities. A number of social, economic, and technological forces are creating fast-paced change within education and though this can create uncertainty, it is inspiring to be part of crafting new approaches to teaching and learning, and finding opportunity within the changes.

What is your university's approach to public engagement/outreach?

Curtin University's mission is to transform lives and communities through education and research. This informs Curtin's organisational values and culture, which states that by building on a foundation of integrity and respect, and through courage, the university will achieve excellence and have an impact on the communities it serves.

The university demonstrates its values and commitment to public engagement and outreach through, for example, the development of programmes such as AHEAD, with a focus on aspirations for HE. Curtin also promotes awareness and access to specific subject areas, such as STEM, through the Faculties of Science and Engineering and their respective outreach programmes.

What does your role involve?

As Manager of the Curtin AHEAD Program, I am responsible for developing the ongoing strategic direction of the programme. This offers me the opportunity to work closely with the amazing AHEAD team, both in sustaining our current suite of resources and designing new projects that will evolve and expand our ability to support traditionally underrepresented students in their transition to HE.

The focus of my role is ensuring that the programme's government supported funding (through the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program) is used effectively in the support of low SES students within Western Australia. This involves supporting the AHEAD staff, validating impact, and ensuring continuity and innovation of the learning experiences that we design to foster HE aspiration.

What are your current projects/initiatives?

The AHEAD Program has established a set of in-class workshops and campus visits for year 7-12, that facilitate aspiration focused learning experiences – these have proven both popular and successful with students and schools. We also deliver a successful prison-based support initiative.

In 2018, AHEAD will build on these resources with projects that seek to contribute to the understanding of the area of HE aspiration, by further imbedding research into our projects, which investigate programme impact and the role of emerging technologies on the aspiration and learning experiences of our participants.

What challenges do you face in your day-to-day work and how do you overcome these?

The challenges for many outreach programmes often stem from the fact that outreach is, in the main, funded through short-term funding arrangements. This can create challenges from a sustainability perspective and impact continuity of support to participants. AHEAD has received concurrent funding since 2014 and this has enabled the development of strong relationships with school networks. Communication is key to ensure that participants and stakeholders are always aware of the programme's outlook and trust that the programme can fully operate to an established timeline of support.

Operating within a short-term planning dynamic can create barriers to measuring programme impact. Time limits also constrain the capacity to innovate and explore new ideas. AHEAD mitigates some of these issues by ensuring there is always a programme element or resource that will continue, should the programme end. Importantly, AHEAD has been empowered through Curtin to try new ideas and this has built a record of successes, which facilitates further opportunities to build innovation into the AHEAD strategy.

What have been your main successes recently and what's your top tip for fellow Community members?

Since its inception, AHEAD has won a number of awards. These include: the WA Library Board Award for Excellence (2015) in collaboration with Curtin Library for our game-based learning activities; the Curtin Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence (2016) and; the WA Youth Awards Mercy Care Organisational Achievement (Large) Award (2017), which highlighted our student impact and innovative approach. AHEAD is most proud of the fact that the awards represent achievement in two of our key priorities: collaboration and innovation.

I would highlight the important role that collaboration has played within our programme. AHEAD program achievements – defined by successful outcomes for our community and school participants – would not be possible without collaborative relationships with school and community partners. Though the vast majority of our time is spent engaging students, communication with school and community organisations is prioritised. These relationships define our capacity to engage in constructive and authentic dialogue, ensuring we are staying current to emerging challenges in accessing HE, enhancing our understanding of our key demographics, and informing our ability to innovate through collaboration to meet their specific needs.

What big changes have you witnessed and what do you see as the key issues or trends for public engagement/outreach in the future?

The key issues and trends are defined less by the big changes and more by the rate of change. I recently wrote a piece for the ACU Bulletin, where I identified what I see as the biggest issue facing all prospective HE students – though disproportionally impacting low SES students – that being 'choice' and 'uncertainty'. The traditional pathway into a university course and onwards into a profession is more complex and ambiguous then it once was. I describe the issue as a wicked problem – a problem that is hard to solve due to its changing, incomplete or unreliable nature.

University based outreach programmes are best placed to keep pace with the evolving landscape of HE and the university student experience, and create relevant opportunities for low SES students to connect positively with HE environments.

What are your future aspirations for your work and your university?

The AHEAD Program will continue to evolve its in-school and on-campus workshops and aspiration experiences, exploring avenues to increase capacity and reach.

A future focus is the development of the AHEAD Academy concept, which represents the development of AHEAD online programmes. This will see the emerging use of digital platforms to expand the learning experience for our participants and reach those groups who are unable to take part in our face-to-face programmes, creating new possibilities for engagement.

I will also be progressing my research into the area of big data socialisation, focusing on how educational institutions are integrating big data into the organisational workflow and the possible impacts on the student learning experience.

What do you value most from your professional networks, like the ACU Engage Community?

In becoming a member of the ACU Engage Community's Steering Committee, I have been introduced to the body of work and ideas of committee members through their academic journals, articles and inspiring projects. This has already been insightful and stimulated new ideas and ways of working. As a relatively new member, I am looking forward to contributing more to discussions and learning more about and from my fellow committee members and the wider community.

It is professional networks, such as the Engage Community, that create exciting opportunities for collaboration, sharing of ideas, and indispensable contact with experts in the field. These types of discussions can inspire new projects and the formation of new partnerships that can only be of benefit to the communities that we seek to support.


ACU Engage Community

Charles Flodin has been a Steering Committee member for the HR in HE Community since 2017.

The ACU Engage Community is a forum for all university staff working or involved in university community engagement and outreach, including university public engagement staff, industrial liaison officers, research managers and communication officers, and those specialising in distance or open learning. If you're interested in joining the ACU Engage Community, please email engage@acu.ac.uk

Last modified on 10/01/2018
Tags: students, Australia, Member Communities, ACU Engage Community, Community engagement