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How to create a lecture coven: The art of auditing classes

Brew your own auditing coven across subjects and institutions, befriend teachers, and make universities actually public.

Art by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

Ever since I was a snotty 16-year-old, all I wanted to do was study relentlessly without the nightmares of assignments and fees. A class on Roman bathrooms in the morning, followed by an excursion to Palbury ruins in the evening, I love being quite the witchy wolf in a herd of sheep. 

“Auditing” a class usually means attending lectures and accessing learning resources without officially enrolling, gaining credits, or undertaking assignments. Several US universities offer auditing options that have lower fees than those paid by students taking credited courses. However, most Australian universities do not have official auditing options. The University of South Australia is one of the few universities which does. There, students pay $1,325 for each 4.5 unit course they audit.  

Do I, or those who simply want to learn, have the ability to pay this amount for something that will not count towards my transcript or degree? Hell no. 

I have no wish to write a thesis on Roman pooping habits or what happened when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Neither do other people who have full-time jobs and caring responsibilities, they just want to know. They don’t want to know this in the dreary isolation of edX but in the privileged, lively places of Universities. 

Tertiary education monetises every aspect of learning and reduces everything that public universities have to offer for profit. Every six months I witness $40,000 swoosh away from my bank account for 24 credit points, blobs of courses on my transcript, accessing a humongous library and interacting with my knowledgeable teachers (totally worth the money, but they are grossly underpaid, oops). 

How could regular people, without the means to pay for expensive, structured courses, access this vital education? During a conversation with my 45-year-old colleague — who I have let into my Gender Studies classes on multiple occasions —  I realised that we need to create a coven for auditing classes effortlessly.

Covens work on the idea of collective power, networks, and the idea that the exploration of ideas helps everyone strengthen their craft. In practice, this means forming groups that share information about where classes are held and how to attend them.

Most staff are quite welcoming to students observing their classes. In my experience, they are enthusiastic about it; with one academic being rather ecstatic to talk to me post a two-hour seminar on the use of copper in architecture. 

The biggest deterrence to the formation of networks helping people learn unencumbered by fees and assessments has been the art of navigating class timings, locations and unit outlines secured behind the confusing realm of Canvas. To counter this, I have entered multiple Faculty-specific Facebook chats, and befriended those studying courses I am keen to audit. Some have become my nerdy conjurers in the process, and others have revealed class details thinking I am a fellow Undergraduate Architecture student with a summer internship at HKS (apologies for my treachery).

My friends have also let me into Gender Studies classes in UNSW and other humanities subjects which enrich my trail of thoughts, but I cannot access over and beyond what I am already paying for. I understand this is also easier for me as a 20-something-year-old, though. I am already acquainted with the systems of a modern university: course codes, checking upcoming lectures outside rooms, and the emailing system.

What is it like to be a middle or old-aged person wishing to immerse yourself in the exciting yet overwhelming world of academia again, or for the first time ever? Auditing covens make the process of learning a combined effort where those who have first-hand access to university systems are more feasible. My colleague and I co-created a new University timetable for her with an amalgamation of Gender and Cultural Studies, Archaeology, and Environmental Sciences classes. “My day-offs look like loitering on campus and sipping on matcha at… what’s that hip place? Yeah, Courtyard.” My friends, who are studying different subjects, and I email tutors on her behalf when she wants to access things beyond a lecture. Readings are shared in our small coven when they are not accessible in Fisher, and the cycle stays alive.

None of this is meant to diminish the efforts of teaching staff in any way though, or insinuate that their expertise is not of any value.

Lecture covens, as a system upheld by students, highlight the inaccessible nature of universities; rendering knowledge a matter of financial, cultural and age-based capital. You should make your own auditing coven across subjects and institutions, befriend teachers and make universities actually public. 

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