What our students are saying

Master of Ageing students talk about their experiences in the course

1. Landscape architecture and the Master of Ageing

I have spent the last 10 years working on how best to promote active ageing through design and have found that in the aged care industry the design and use of outdoor space to entice and motivate older people is rarely considered. Well-designed outdoor spaces would provide areas of potential physical and social activity. For me as a landscape architect, I believe that it is not enough to espouse the virtues of creating these spaces; I need to be able to speak with authority about the needs and desires of older people and their capabilities and limitations. With a view to further study, I searched for over two years for a course that could give me those foundations in ageing and that would help me to be able to stand before anyone and speak confidently about ageing populations and their requirements in terms of space. Most courses on ageing that I came across, focus on the medical and care needs of ageing populations. Courses that take a broad approach and cover a range of perspectives on older people seem to be lacking. After seeking far and wide in places like the USA and Europe, I found that the answer to my search was right in my own backyard, the University of Melbourne’s Master of Ageing course.

I enrolled in early 2017 and am now into my fifth subject (Ethics of Ageing) in the Masters and have so far managed to ‘survive’ the first four subjects; Global Population Ageing, Design for Ageing, Body of Ageing and Leadership for an Ageing Workforce. This is the first study I have undertaken in close to 30 years and I have found the course to be informative, wide reaching in terms of subject matter, stimulating, and challenging, and it has opened me up to conversing and learning with people from very diverse backgrounds. The course is delivered by a range of lecturers from design-based professionals to ethicists, economists and allied health professionals. As the course is relatively young and unique I can imagine that when word spreads it will be one of the most enrolled-in ageing courses available. This is because it is relevant to todays and tomorrows worlds and it addresses the complexity and genuine issues around ageing. It is not confined to a single disciplinary approach. I look forward to completing the degree and being not only able to talk about ageing populations in society with knowledge, but to being able to help create stimulating and engaging environments that we can all enjoy as we get older.

[Source: Grant A Donald, Creative Director at Silk Tree International (www.silktreegroup.com) and Master of Ageing student at the University of Melbourne]

2. Applying learning to policy and practice

My working environment and career trajectory that initially led me to enrol in the Master of Ageing was as a senior executive for a peak body specifically aimed to represent the diversity of older people in Australia. Initially I had qualified as a pharmacist in the 1980’s and so I had a distinctly clinical perspective on ageing when I took up my role with the organisation.  However one other clear attraction of the Master of Ageing program for professional development was that it took a trans-disciplinary approach to my new paradigm, the complexities of ageing beyond the biomedical model.  As a peak body we needed to reflect the diversity of a 50-year plus age demographic and respond when needed to those most in need which did not always fit into my area of expertise, biomedical and health information and promotion.  In general all the units of the Master of Ageing have challenged me to explore new areas in terms of the impacts of ageing, particularly with the significant demographic shift that is occurring not only in Australia but worldwide.

The particular tool that has been used throughout the new online delivery of the Master of Ageing that has demonstrated some of these unique challenges is how a diverse mix of students interact online and this was particularly evident in the subject Shifting Paradigms in Ageing.  We were “nudged” to see things from different perspectives including the nonhuman factors and how this could influence policy decision makers, older people themselves and also the interface between human and non-human actors.

A scenario was provided that was a classic situation of what can happen with community consultation (in France).  This is my bread and butter and indeed what we needed to deliver for a government consultation under a grant deed.  I was intrigued whenever I went online to check in and see what my fellow students felt about the scenarios we were exposed to throughout the course.  Who identified what from their perspective on the case studies presented? Did I agree? Was I challenged by this? How do I respond to put forward my case while being respectful of other interpretations?

My “critical friend” for the subject was my mother-in-law and her reflections were things I have never heard from her before, we have never been given the opportunity to explore her reflections on her experiences with a new family in the face of a bushfire (1967 Tasmanian bushfire).  It made me think about my early parenting years, her role in that, and how I would have responded if the fires were in my life experience.  It gave me new perspective on someone I thought I knew well.

This led me to reflect on how we can aim as an organisation to gather and accurately represent the views of a diverse population group to policy makers.  In Tasmania we have the oldest demographic in Australia and from a policy perspective we need to represent those saving for retirement throughout their working lives, those experiencing workforce issues at the age of 45 with ageism and discrimination within workplaces, a diversity of cultural issues, gender issues, frailty issues, mental health issues, equity issues to name just a few, through to the extremes of elder abuse.

The concept of narrative rang through clearly to me as a legitimate way to portray powerful individual experiences of ageing, and a valid research method.  It has profoundly influenced how we gather data within our organisation.  The “cold” data has a place, but richness comes from narrative, and the use of the discussion forum provided me with a myriad of perspectives to dwell upon with such a variety of experience of what this new space of “active ageing” may look like.  It shaped how we framed our consultation for the government to inform their new ageing policy.  We made a purposeful decision to include collection of narrative data to tell the story beyond the collation of survey responses, to shine a light on the individuals who sat behind the data.  It allowed us as an organisation to use an arts and culture approach to informing social policy, culminating in an event as part of an arts festival to challenge “what it takes to flourish as an older person in Tasmania”.  Our audience responded to narrative from an indigenous elder, a musician who spoke of love and ageing, a policy expert who spoke of how poetry could express her ageing, and finally a creative artist who is expanding social programs in residential aged care beyond “bingo” and “bus-trips”.

The challenges put to me through the Shifting Paradigms in Ageing subject and the use of the Discussion Board allowed me to give creativity a legitimate place in my policy practice, and allowed a richness to explore one of our great challenges as an organisation to represent such diversity in terms of hopes, desires and lived experiences.

[Source: Sue Leitch, CEO COTA Tasmania, Master of Ageing student]