New tech = New lit: Deconstructing the sms-ay

27 07 2009

First week of university down. It looks like they might actually try to teach me something.

One of the units I’m taking is Multiliteracy in Middle Years. It involves identify and using different text types (in the classroom), and identify and also teaching your students which grammar is suited to the textual style. To explain the latter, the lecturer gave us this example – it’s the first few lines of what a 13 year old UK student submitted when asked to write an essay about what they did last holidays:

My smmr hols wr CWOT B4, we usd 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY. it’s a gr8 plc.

Anyone … ? I think she* visited Kuwait or something.

Some of you are probably smacking your heads in disbelief at that little effort. Grammar Nazis are possibly having fits. It is not even consistent, the writer ignored quite a few punctuation points and vowels, but then decides that an apostrophe for “it’s a gr8 place” is deserved (correctly).

What should a teacher do when confronted with this?

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Today is special

20 07 2009

Today was the first day of classes for my Graduate Diploma.

It only consisted of a lecture and tutorial for our field studies unit – but for some reason QUT has two hour lectures. Not that I am complaining or anything. At least one good thing you can expect from the education faculty is that the lecturers know how to teach.

Today was included some discussion on teaching/learning, as well as what exactly this “Middle Years” thing that I signed up for was actually about. There was also fruitful discussion on creating and developing our personal teaching philosophy – which in addition to our performance on pracs will form a major part of our assessment for this unit. In reflection, perhaps I should work towards obtaining the required texts for classes, they may actually be useful (then again everything does seem to be downloadable from the Blackboard site).

Some statistical information that came out of today included (note: some of these were dated 1998 and 2000*):

  • 1 in 5 school students in Australia are affected by poverty
  • 1 in 4 school students come from a culturally diverse background
  • 83% of school students with a disability attend a regular school
  • 18% of school students have a parent with a disability
  • less than 40% of ATSI (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) children finish high school at a year 12 level
  • roughly 30% of pre-service teachers are “career switchers”
  • $21 million is spent on stress leave for Australia’s teachers each year

The last one was perhaps not the most encouraging thing to hear on our first day (but I guess at least it’s not $22 million, and remember these are only Aussie dollars, they quite literally give them away).

Image credit: Exploding dog

*They were also scrawled hurriedly in my notepad so may be less than acccurate





Name your job

12 07 2009

One of the final pieces I need to line up is part time work while I study, if only to minimise my need to deal with Centrelink.

This means dusting off and brushing up the old resumé… and making myself as appealing as possible to employers.

Something interesting in my “to post” box was some research out of Canada that showed employers are discriminating against persons with non-English names that might be perceived as difficult to pronounce. If you’d like to see the names they used, the actual working paper here: Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Six Thousand Resumes.

A few weeks after I read this item, the story circulated in the Australian press, this time citing an Australian study from ANU that used only 4,000 resumes. Headlines abounded stating that Australian bosses were racist.

Now this may be fair conclusion, but it neglects to mention that this scenario is the same any where – someone with a local sounding name is always more likely to be hired (the Australian study found that Italian surnames were no hinderance in Melbourne, a city with Australia’s largest Italian community). This does not mean it’s an okay practice, but it is something to consider.





Scabies treatment uptake in regional indigenous communities

21 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgIn doing some background research for this blog entry, I discovered scabies causes 1 death in Australia per year. Yikes!

That aside, the point of this blog was to help illustrate that health is not just about big killer diseases. And that non-lethal diseases are not issues that do not need to be taken seriously. A non-lethal disease like scabies still represents a burden on the community. It drains on health resources, it also drains on family resources, and can also be a source of conflict and agitation.

This paper is an Australian study published through PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, it examines scabies and treatment uptake in two rural Aboriginal communities in northern Australia. A number of factors lead to these communities experiencing a high burden of scabies infestation – including distance from resources, household overcrowding and high mobility between households. Those most at risk are young children.

In general, the best known way to control endemic scabies is through community-based mass treatment initiatives. However these initiatives require community awareness and cooperation in order to be successful. This study looked to not only measure levels of cooperation and success, but also what barriers exist in the community that might hinder such initiatives.

Scabies is primarily an inflammatory condition caused by the bodies reaction to burrowing behaviour and eggs laid by the scabies mite (pictured to the left). In Australia, the approved treatment for scabies is a topical cream, permethin that is applied to the entire body. In the study, a “Healthy Skin Day” was held in the community, and all community members were advised to utilise the cream over an 8-day period. The study then followed those households in which at one or more cases of childhood scabies were subsequently identified.

If a child was diagnosed with scabies, the parent was given cream to use not only on the child, but every other member of the household. Not only is this because there is likely to be others not diagnosed but affected in the same household, but the mites are likely to just leave the treated person and go over to new host.

As expected scabies susceptibility was lower in households that experienced universal treatment. However, while 80% of children directly diagnosed with scabies used the supplied creams, compliance rates amongst other people advised to follow the treatment because of someone else in the household being diagnosed was less satisfactory (44% of these persons used the cream). Just over three quarters of households had at least one household member not take the treatment, and in almost a fifth no one followed the treatment. The study also noted that treatment cooperative households were more likley to remain in the study, meaning that if anything these statistics are possibly over-estimating compliance rates.

There were multiple factors that contributed to treatment not being followed through: treatment not being a priority, treatment was not considered necessary, and treatment caused discomfort. The first two of these responses point to issues in education and trust. The community needs to be aware of the burden of disease on the community, and the benefits of treatment. Trust is a more trickier issue, as the relationship between indigenous communities and the government is one giant elephant that I’m not quite ready to take on that I’m not quite wanting to take on at the moment. The last points to a question of whether the proscribed treatment is appropriate for these communities.

The authors point out that in a hot, crowded environment, a sticky cream-like substance is possibly not the most enjoyable of treatments to experience. The cream also needs to be washed off in the morning, and with drought and water access also being an issue in regional communities, provides further complications with treatment compliance. Sadly while creams like permethin are the only treatments available in Australia at present, oral treatments for scabies do exist and would seem on the front a more acceptable treatment for the tropical environment. Pills might also be considered more like “real working medicine” and therefore encourage higher rates of compliance.

This study, while obviously not carried out with unlimited resources, does a very good job at highlighting the multiple factors that complicate rural health.


La Vincente, S., Kearns, T., Connors, C., Cameron, S., Carapetis, J., & Andrews, R. (2009). Community Management of Endemic Scabies in Remote Aboriginal Communities of Northern Australia: Low Treatment Uptake and High Ongoing Acquisition PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 3 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000444

Image credit: Scabies by MacAllenBrothers





Thanks for all the fish!

19 06 2009

For those of you amongst the three possible regular readers I think I have who may have been wondering what the “thing” I’ve been alluding to in my Pharma is your Phriend series, with comments of “only a month to go”, you may have guessed it. I have resigned from my job in medical communications. My official last day is Thursday next week.

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Monkeys are dirty commies

20 09 2008

Not that there is anything wrong with that…

Back at NERS – Ed Yong explains implications of a study that showed capuchin monkeys showed interest in making sure that other monkeys got the same rewards as themselve, when in a social environment.

The researchers did lots of test modifications to try and rule out any source of bias in the tests.

The main test was the test monkey picking one of two tokens. One would let the test monkey receive a piece of food. The other would not only let the test monkey receive a piece of food but also another monkey would too.

Rather than being self-absorbed and just picking any old token to get itself some chow – the test monekys showed bias for picking the “pro-social” token that lets both monkeys get food. No factors appeared to significantly affect this – except hiding the other monkey from the test monkey. This sort of reinforces the social basis for the behaviour. The monkey is hardly going to try and give food to a monkey it doesn’t know is there.

Monkeys also had some sense of stranger danger too – they weren’t likely to be socially helpful to a complete stranger monkey. Showing a similar “circle” style of relationships (family>friends>others) that is used to describe human social networks.

Go read Ed’s post for further analysis on the greater impact on animal and human behavioural sciences

(yes I’m being a little lazy, I just unpacked into my new flat and am trying to offload numerous web item thingys)





Jackie Chan – friend of science

28 07 2008

Come on Jackie Chan
Uh uh uh uh uh oh – Ash

I’m a little disappointed I was unsuccessful at final stage selection for several positions based at ANU and Canberra – if only it means I will miss out on the opportunity to meet Jackie Chan as he opens a study wing at the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

Is there anything Mr Chan isn’t involved in?

PS: Jet Li vs Jackie Chan, can you saying House of Flying Awesome!!!