Saturday, August 31, 2013

Digitally Certified University Certificates

Thomas (Tom) Worthington's Graduate Certificate in Higher Education from the Australian National University (ANU) 19 July 2013. Please note that the signatures and some other details have been obscured for security. Original at:
The Australian National University now issues Certified digital documents, to graduates. Provided in electronic form  are the academic transcript, Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement (AHEGS) and testamur. These are provided at no charge to the students (in contrast, USQ charges a fee for paper transcripts and provide no electronic certificates).

One of the problems for students and university administrators alike is producing certificates, transcripts and other evidence of study. Paper documents are easily forged and despite anti-copy features I find that laser printed copies of university certificates often look more genuine than the originals. One solution is digital certificates verified on-line.

The ANU certificates are distributed through  the Digitary service, which was a spin-off of Dublin City University. Instead of providing a certified paper copy or a scan of it, students can provide a hypertext link to the document in the on-line service. Copies printed from the service have instructions on them of how to verify the details.

This is a much more secure and convenient system, than trying to verify a paper copy of a document, or a facsimile of it. A university can provide such a service directly, via its own web site, but using a service shared by other universities (including the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics) increases the credibility of the documents.

In practice the system has a few problems. There are several weeks delay between graduation and the documents being provided on-line. Also there is no notification to the students that the documents are available, they have to keep checking the system. Given that a student is likely to want to make us of their qualifications for applying for positions immediately, this delay would be frustrating and result in much of the value of the system being negated.

The student uses their university user-id and password to access the Digitary system, via the university website. The student has control over who can access their documents. They can choose to have open access, limit access to users registered with the Digitary system or only a specific email address. Also the access can be set to expire after a specified period (default is 90 days). For limited access, Digitary sends an email to the recipient with details of how to get the document.

The documents when "printed" is a PDF file consisting of a cover sheet explaining the digital security process, followed by a facsimile of the university's printed certificates. By emulating the printed certificate, the reader of the electronic version will feel more comfortable. However, there is nothing on the facsimile (or the paper original) to aid verification. It would be preferable if all the certificates included a URL (and perhaps a machine readable QR Code) which could be used to verify the document. Also a photograph of the student, would be useful.

One problem is that my email system warned the message Digitary sent may be Spam. The company might want to reformat its messages so they do not look suspicious.

So as to demonstrate the system, I have set open access for my ANU Graduate Certificate in Higher Education (for the next 90 days). There seemed to be no harm in making this document public as the fact that I received a qualification from the university is not something I want to hide. However, the details of my marks for specific subjects is something I may not want to make so readily available.

US States Consider Australian Style Student Loans

The US state of Oregon has introduced legislation for government subsided loans for college students. The bill is called "Pay It Forward" (HB 3472) and has some similarities to  the Australian subsidized "HELP" student loans scheme. Other US states, such as "An Act to reduce the cost of college education for Massachusetts residents" (Bill H.3631, Referred to Massachusetts Joint Committee on Higher Education, 19 August 2013). However, the Oregon bill is not legislation to enact a specific funding scheme, but just to have the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission formulate the details of a scheme.

Under the Australian scheme, loans only need to be repaid in installments based on the student's income and after it reaches a set level (currently $51,309 Australian dollars a year). This is a relatively low cost scheme to administer as repayments are handled as part of the income tax system. It lessens the worry of debt repayments, as the students know they only have to repay when they have a higher income. But the scheme is not without problems (such as students who leave Australia and never repay the debt). Also the scheme assumes that education leads to higher income. The Australian government has a set of other schemes for quality education and to inform students, but this does not guarantee higher wages for graduates.

Some of the proposals for the Oregon scheme, as described in 'OREGON'S “PAY FORWARD, PAY BACK” PROPOSAL' (by Terrance Adams and Alan Shepard, Connecticut Office of Legislative Management, 6 August 2013), differ from the Australian model and do not look like a good idea to me. In particular, one proposal is for a lower rate of repayment if the student does not graduate. It is not clear why the rate is not based simply on their ability to pay and the amount the course cost. Having lower rate for students who do not graduate will complicate administration and invite manipulation of the system.

One useful way to encourage students to study is to allow multiple exit options. In this way the student does not have to commit to many years of study with the risk that if the do not complete all years they receive no reward. Instead they can be granted a lesser qualification for part completion of the program. However, under the Oregon proposal, it would not be clear if this counted as "graduation". Also there would be the temptation for the student to game the system by withdrawing shortly before completion, moving out of Oregon and using their course credits to graduate elsewhere, and avoiding the higher repayment rate.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Learning from Adult Education in Australia

While looking for  books on adult education at the ADFA library I came across "A history of adult education in Australia" by Derek A Whitelock (University of Queensland Press, 1974). Whitelock starts with British adult education and then relates this to the Australian experience. One difficulty I had was with what was being referred to. The modern definition of "Adult Education" refers to any form of education of adults, in the workplace, special institutions or the same institutions as used for educating children, for vocational or other purposes. However, Whitelock appears to exclude both vocational education and adults undertaking classes at conventional institutions. He concentrates on Mechanics Institutes and university extension schools.

Advocates of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) propose these are a new innovation in open low cost education reaching beyond those currently catered for by universities. But

Whitelock points out that 1891 there were 45,000 university extension students in England., with Sydney University setting up extension program as early as 1886. They were catered to by traveling lecturers, printed syllabus, discussion groups and assessment by essay. Features of the waves of initiatives with such programs are access to reading materials, with institutions providing local libraries and educators making special compendiums of texts. There were issues with how to contain costs, subsidies from government, vocational versus cultural studies and entertainment/hobby versus "serious" education.  Apart from the Internet largely solving the problem of distribution of materials, not much seems to have changed in one hundred years.

Adult education's link with the military in Australia started with the first fleet, with a Royal Navy officer teaching reading to the convicts on board ship from England. Military adult education in the first world war with the AIF Education Scheme and Australian Army Education Scheme (AAES) in WWII is also of interest due to its scale. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) military personnel and civilian staff are now trained, in part by use of learning management systems, such as Moodle: (at the Australian Defence College, Australian Defence Force Academy, Defence International Training Centre (DITC), Defence Estate Quality Management System (DEQMS) and the  Defence Systems Innovation Centre (DSIC)).

On lesson from Whitelock's history of adult education in Australia are that it has to have a sustainable business model (and that the customer for such education, even if they are poor are still willing to pay). The local community and businesses, as well as all levels of government, are willing to help with resources, where there is a clear social benefit from education.  Adults are interested in both vocational topics which can get them a better job and more cultural non-vocational topics. Assessment is an appropriate part of such education. University academics are willing to help with adult education, even where there is no official support from their institutions.

One important lesson for MOOCs is that there are likely to be waves of new initiatives, each claiming benefits for the organization and the community, in terms of promotion of existing programs, lower cost, and wider access. Most such schemes soon fail and are quickly forgotten.

ps: In looking for current distance education programs in Australia, I came accross the very interesting "Advanced Technology Industry School Pathways Program" sponsored by the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO). This program is to encourage students in science, maths and technology, with nineteen schools participating.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Turning Research into Companies

Greetings from Entry 29,  the co-working innovation space next to the Australian National University, where David Keightley is talking about starting companies based on research.  He launched Mediaware Solutions, based on imagery technology from CSIRO. His latest venture is Ecospectral Pty Ltd, with smart sensors for energy saving.

Social Science Research Using Twitter

Rob Ackland will speak on "Some approaches for social scientific research using Twitter" in the CSIRO seminar room at the Australian National University in Canberra, 4pm 2 September 2013.

Some approaches for social scientific research using Twitter

Rob Ackland (ANU)

4-5pm Monday 2 September 2013
CSIRO room S201, CSIT Building, ANU, North Road, Acton, Canberra

In this presentation I provide preliminary findings from two Twitter research projects. The first involves the use of social movement theory and logistic regression to investigate the factors that predict whether a Twitter user will contribute to the emergence of a new hashtag, using a collection of Occupy Wall Street Twitter data as an example dataset. The second involves the use of index number theory (from economic decision theory) to develop new measures of attention and information consumption in social media. CSIRO room S201 (next to the seminar room, note change of venue), 4-5

Costs and Economics of Open and Distance Learning

Greville Rumble's "The Costs and Economics of Open and Distance Learning" (Routledge, 1997) was written in the early days of Internet based education, but is applicable to today's MOOCs. At the time the book was written, Rumble was a planning manager at UK's Open University (OU). This experience shows in the books non-nonsense analysis of the cost of design and delivery of large scale distance education.

Rumble first provides a gentle introduction to budgets, costing, the effect of volume on cost, attribution and activity costing. Academics might ask what any of this has to do with their design and delivery of education, but resources for education are always limited and so it helps to plan for their use.

Rumble then discusses costing the design of courses, comparing traditional face-to-face courses with distance education. While this was written at the dawn of the Internet age, where dial-up modems were new hot technology, the concepts and approach are still relevant. The central point of distance education, including today's MOOCs, are that you need a large number of students to make them cost effective. The materials must be designed carefully, most likely by a team of people and then tested.

Rumble discusses the cost of developing text versus multimedia (audio, video). Open University was conceived as being reliant on broadcast TV, with full professional program making by the BBC. But the point is made that the production quality of the video makes no difference to the educational outcomes. High quality professional video production does not help the students learn any better (although I suggest it may influence their perception of the quality of the course).

Surprisingly, given OU's comprehensive approach to course material design, Rumble suggests that simple conversion of face-to-face courses is cost and educationally effective. This involves conversion of lecture notes into a booklet and recording of lectures on video.

One area Rumble does not explore at length is the cost of assessment. This is a significant part of any course and teaching techniques which use progressive assessment preclude it being simply relegated to an examination at the end.

Academics do not need to know all the detail of costing courses, particularly not the equations presented in this book. But the general principles should be part of the basic training of all of those who design university courses.

Many institutions pioneers of distance education are mentioned by Rumble. Some which caught my attention are Athabasca University (which offers my Green IT course), University College of Southern Queensland, which is now the University of Southern Queensland (I was an online higher education student there last year) and Indira Gandhi Open University (which I was presented with a tie from by Professor Uma Kanjilal, Director of the School of Social Sciences, INGOU on a visit to ANU).

Opportunities for Academic Librarians with MOOCs

Cameron Barnes' paper "MOOCs: The Challenges for Academic Librarians", (Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 1 Aug 2013) provides a useful checklist of issues raised with Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) for academic librarians.  As Barnes points out, MOOC have no formal entrance requirements, are free, delivered on-line and have thousands of students. But the issues MOOCs raise are not new and have been addressed by universities offering online courses (and distance education on paper before that) for decades.

Recently I have been working my way through some of the books written about the UK Open University decades ago, which I found while wandering down the shelves at the ADAF library. All the issues brought up by MOOCs, to do with courses with no formal entrance requirements, low cost, students with disability, copyright clearance  and having tens of thousands of students are covered there

Dr Peter Riggs Shows Lectures Still Have a Place

Last night Dr Peter Riggs from the Australian National University Department of Quantum Science, in Canberra, presented "Time travel: Its implications for physics and philosophy". This was a lecture for the public, a mix of advanced science facts with some old fashioned showmanship. He asserted that time travel to the future is not philosophically problematic and theoretically possible according to Einstein. Time dilation, by traveling fast allows a one way trip to the future, as confirmed by experiment. Dr Riggs used a video projector (but he could just as well been using lantern slides), along with a model of the universe made from cardboard and sticky tape, keeping the audience enthralled with a vision of time travel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Masters in On-line Distance Education

Having completed the ANU Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, I thought I would look at enrolling in a Masters in Higher Education specializing in on-line techniques. Unfortunately I can't articulate to the ANU Masters in HE, as that has been discontinued. As I had already completed two courses from their program I looked at the USQ Master of Education. However, it appears to be aimed at school teachers, rather than higher education (I was told I had to complete a Bachelor of Education first). There is an interesting new CSU Master of Education in Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation, but this looks like it is designed for teacher librarians, with limited computer knowledge. At this point it occurred to me that I could look at programs offered by universities in other countries as I would obviously studying distance education techniques via the Internet.

The obvious first choice is the Open University MA in Online and Distance Education. The techniques I routinely use for on-line teachings were derived from OU. However, it is very difficult to work out if someone in Australia can even enroll at OU (I sent a query and received no reply).

The next obvious choice is the Athabasca University Master of Education in Distance Education. Athabasca offer an on-line course I designed: Green ICT Strategies. So they obviously have an approach to distance education I am comfortable with. Also Athabasca's enrollment process is a little easier to follow than OU.

If anyone has experience as a Masters student of On-line Higher Education and would like to share your experience, that would be useful

Plan to Rate US Colleges and Cap Student Loans Similar to Australia

US President Obama released a "Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class" (White House, 22 August 2013). This envisages publishing performance measures for US Colleges from 2015 and later tie government aid to these ratings. Also it is proposed to cap student loan repayments at 10 percent of monthly income. These measures are similar to some already in place in the Australian higher education system. The USA could learn from Australia's experience.

The Australian Government provides subsidized student loans called "HELP" which only need to be repaid when income reaches a set level (currently $51,309 per year). This is a relatively low cost scheme to administer, but is not without problems (such as students who leave Australia and never repay the debt).

If government is funding education, then it seems reasonable there is a government mandated minimum standard. This system applies in Australia to higher education, with both private and public institutions requiring to meet minimum standards. But a government rating one institution as better than another is more problematic and not done in Australia. Apart from the problem of having a reliable system, it has to be asked what is the purpose of the government rating and if it will be effective.

Australia has the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), which is a government agency, but relatively free of political interference, with academics setting the standards.

The Australian Government provides the "MyUniversity" website with details of all Australian institutions. This details the qualifications of the staff and how many have awards for teaching, which is relatively uncontroversial.  More at issue are student survey results for each subject area.

I have recently undertaken tertiary teacher training and so am comfortable with the idea of being rated by the students and have designed a course which rates highly. But some of my colleagues have difficulty with the concept and practice of designing courses which meet external standards and are popular with students.

There is the risk of a race to the bottom, with courses which just meet minimum standards and are designed to be easy and therefore popular. But I find that students value a course which challenges them. Also while meeting external standards is a useful discipline for the course designer.

The USA might want to adopt more of the Australian approach to encourage quality higher education. However, problems remain with both systems. One issue is if the information provided about courses actually influences student behavior and if this information is useful in making a decision on what and where to study. As an example, there are swings in different sectors of the economy. If these swings match the length of a course, then the information reported about student's success in the workforce will give the wrong signals to the students.

As an example, Australia has experienced a mining boom over the last few years, with a high demand for skills in that sector. A student looking at the statistics would think  mining is a good area to get into. However that boom is now coming to an end. The student may find there are no jobs by the time they graduate. Or if they are lucky, the end of their course will coincide with the next upswing in mining. One way to counter this is to provide predictions of future employment (which have their own problems). Another solution is to provide courses suitable for a range of jobs.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What is Mobile Learning?

Dr Angela Murphy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Digital Futures Institute, is visiting the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra this week to conduct Staff mobile learning focus groups. ANU, University of Southern Queensland USQ) and the University of South Australia (UniSA) are jointly developing a Mobile Learning Evaluation Framework. As part of this, I was interviewed by Angela about the impact of mobile technologies on my teaching and my student's learning.

I am skeptical as to if "Mobile Learning", that is learning using mobile devices (mobile phones, smart phone and tablet computers) is different enough from other forms of e-learning to be worth studying separately.

From 2001 to 2009 I was teaching the design of web based mobile phone applications to students at ANU. One difficulty was revising the examples each year. Companies would launch new mobile web technology, only for this to fail within a year. This was partly due to the immaturity of the technology but also by the businesses building completely new websites for the mobile devices. These businesses argued that mobile was a new market, with new customers wanting new services. However, the business could not sustain the level of investment to create these new services. The companies which succeeded integrated mobile into their existing business. In education, I suggest the same applies: m-learning should just be an aspect of e-learning, which in itself is just another form of learning: its all just learning.

One place this integrated approach was adopted was for the Sahana free open source emergency management software. After being developed quickly for relief operations after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, at my suggestion the software was modified to operate better on mobile devices used for subsequent emergencies.

See: E-government for emergencies: dealing with a bird flu pandemicusing the wireless web and podcasting, for CeBIT Australia,  2006.

Accessible Design Aids Mobile Learning

Mobile devices have small screens, limited keyboards, limited processing capacity and  lower bandwidth network links. Those limitations can be dealt with using the same Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as used for disabilities. Australian law requires accessibility, whatever form the education is delivered in and as a byproduct access is provided for mobile learning.

I design my educational materials with low bandwidth user in mind and find the students appreciate this. See "Demonstration of Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smart phones",  for OzCHI Conference 2011, 1 December 2011.

Good Design Aids Mobile Learning

Those using mobile devices may be learning in a location which is public, noisy and full of distractions (such as on the bus, or while minding the kids). These distractions require the learning materials to be well laid out, so the student can easily see what they need to do. But this requirement is no different to previous forms of distance education using paper, which required carefully laid out materials.

Mobile devices lend themselves to short, brief snippets. However, educators should resist the temptation to chop up the educational materials into Twitter size chunks. Different devices have different screen sizes and students will likely be using several. It is very annoying to be looking at a large screen and getting only a few lines of information which read like Haiku poetry. The course materials should be designed to reformat to suit the capabilities of the device used and the preferences of the user.

Some courses adapted from a traditional classroom environment do require too much input from the student not often enough. Recently I was giving advice on a course which had a low rate of student completion. I noticed the course was described as having "progressive assessment" but it had 70% for examinations (including a 60% final examination). There were a couple of assignments and some lab exercises, but these seem to be concentrated in the second half of the course. I suggested reducing the size of the final exam and nonreducing some real progressive harassment starting early in the course. Some of this could be via m-learning, with the student entering a few sentences of text. However, students need to understand that just being required to come up with a short answer does not lessen the work required. Einstein's equation E = mc2 takes only a few characters to write, but volumes to understand. For more on this see "A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks", for the 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012.

m-Learning is e-Learning is Distance Learning is Learning

The more I learn about learning, its theories and history, the less e-learning and its reiteratives, such as m-learning, seem different. The proponents of MOOCs envision a new era of low cost anywhere education with low barriers to entry. These same aims were set down for distance education using TV several decades ago, radio about 70 years ago, and correspondence courses one hundred years ago.

In my view there is not that much different between teaching in a lecture theater or on-line. The same principles work. The key is having courses well designed and educators who are trained in how to teach. The difficult issues with on-line education are ones of academic independence and the business model of educational institutions.

All that said there is scope for better on-line learning tools.  It is frustrating that a different set of software has to be used for non-real time (so called asynchronous) and real-time (synchronous) e-learning. After exploring what was needed I set a project for computer science students at ANU to add real time features to Moodle. See:

Delphi, ANU and m-Learning

One of the research techniques being used for the m-Learning project is a Delphi panel. The Delphi method uses a panel of experts. The name derives from the Oracle of Delphi. Angela interviewed me at the Purple Pickle Cafe, at the ANU sports centre. This put me in mind of my return from a trip to Greece, when I visited Delphi.

Purple Pickle Cafe at ANU
Writing with wax tablet, ca 500 BC
While I did not have any revelations from the oracle there, I did visit the ancient gymnasium at Delphi, which had a covered walkway (Stoa) next to it and an old Oak tree. This was where the ancient philosophers used to teach.  On my return to ANU I noticed the sports centre (a modern gymnasium) had a covered walkway outside, trees and a cafe where modern academics sit and teach. Students at the cafe using a tablet computer and stylus adopt a pose not so different from those depicted on ancient Greek pottery writing on a wax tablet.

See: Learning Commons Technology: the dos and donts in developing learning commons, for 2nd Annual Learning Commons Development and Design Forum, 2011

Monday, August 26, 2013

Teaching Interdisciplinary Teamwork

The conference "Research Integration and Implementation" is being held at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra 8 to 11 September 2013. Digital posters for the conference are available on-line. One poster is "PROMOTING INTERDISCIPLINARY EDUCATION: Vice-Chancellor’s Courses at the Australian National University" by Richard Baker , Shayne Flint, Mary Kilcline Cody and Lawrence Cram. This poster describes four undergraduate courses introduced at the ANU in 2008 to encourage cross disciplinary study.

The not very usefully named "Vice-Chancellor's Courses" are:
  1. Leadership & Influence (VCUG2002),
  2. Creating Knowledge (VCUG2001),
  3. Unravelling Complexity (VCUG3001/6001), and
  4.  Mobilising Research (VCUG3002/6002).

I was one of the student mentors for "Unraveling Complexity". A group of students selected a project topic I wrote on e-waste" This was based on one of the modules of my masters course "ICT Sustainability":

What to do with old gadgets?

Australian had a problem with old computers and TVs being dumped in landfill. There is now a scheme for collection of equipment to be broken down and the material recycled. But is this resulting in equipment which still has a useful life being scrapped? Should this equipment be refurbished and reused, or will that result in increased energy use (new equipment is more efficient)? See:
The students narrowed down the topic to specifically address e-waste at their university. But the major issue for the students was not the subject matter, but how to work as an interdisciplinary team. Computer science and engineering students are trained in how to work in teams and evaluated on their team-working skills. However, those are relatively homogeneous teams of people from the one discipline. The interdisciplinary nature of unraveling complexity and the other ANU VC courses, throw up additional challenges, especially for undergraduate students with less experience. The challenge for myself, as a mentor, was to resist the temptation to solve problems for the students, as they needed to learn from the experience.

The ANU VC courses are intended for an elite of students who excel academically and want to undertake work beyond the normal program requirements. However, in my view this is not the correct approach to take with interdisciplinary studies for vocational courses. Those studying at university for a career can expect to have to work in interdisciplinary teams after graduation. Therefore teamwork and interdisciplinary work needs to be part of their degree program, not an optional extra for a few students. This should be part of teaching professional skills to all students in vocational programs.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ultra High Definition TV For Education

Manufacturers are now producing Ultra High Definition TVs. The current units are described as "4K Ultra HD" which is 3840 pixels × 2160 lines and has four times as many pixels as the current 1080p HDTV standard. There is little video material available to this standard, but I suggest it would be worth looking at using these screens for some smaller meeting rooms and offices. The 55 to 65 Inch UHD LED TVs are currency priced at about $5,000 US. Prices are likely to drop rapidly, as has happened with other flat screen TVs. This size screen could be attached to the wall for a group of about six people. Rather than having the screen high up on the wall, I suggest placing it no more than 300 mm above desk level. When not needed for a group the screen can be used by one person, with a desk pushed up against the wall to provide an ultra-large display.

These screens could also be used in academic offices. One person could use the TV as their computer monitor and it could be used by a small tutorial group. This might suit an arrangement where offices are sized to accommodate one professor (with a meeting table), two lecturers, or four tutors.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Government Rating Universities Not a Good Idea

The US Government is reported to be planning to rate colleges and using this to apportion funding ("Obama’s Plan Aims to Lower Cost of College", by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times, August 22, 2013). If government is funding colleges, then it is reasonable there is a government mandated minimum standard. But a government rating one college as better than another is more problematic. Apart from the problem of having a reliable system, it has to be asked what is the purpose of the government rating and if it will be effective.

Australia has the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), which is a government agency, but relatively free of political interference, with academics setting the standards.

The Australian Government provides the "MyUniversity" website with details of all Australian institutions. This details the qualifications of the staff and how many have awards for teaching, which is relatively uncontroversial.

More at issue are student survey results for each subject area. I have recently undertaken tertiary teacher training and so am comfortable with the idea of being rated by the students and have designed a course which rates highly. But some of my colleagues have difficulty with the concept and practice of designing courses which meet external standards and are popular with students.

There is the risk of a race to the bottom, with courses which just meet minimum standards and are designed to be easy and therefore popular. But I find that students value a course which challenges them. Also while meeting external standards is a useful discipline for the course designer.

Problems with US Higher Education

The US Government plans to rate colleges are reported to be related to a number of perceived problems with US higher education: low completion rates of students, and defaults on student loans. Some solutions proposed are already in routine use in Australia, such as competency-based assessment, used in the Australian vocational system, where the emphasis is on demonstrating the required skills, not the length of study. The Australian system of student loans is tied to the income of the student, lessening the hardship for the student (but not reducing the need for policy to encourage vocationally relevant courses).

While the New York Times article mentions MOOCs as a way to  reduce costs. However, someone has to pay for the development of MOOCs. Without correcting flaws in the US education policy, MOOCs will accentuate problems. It is likely there will be new startup educational institutions offering MOOC based programs of questionable value, temping established institutions to follow the same path to compete. This is likely to lead to a collapse of institutions, much as happened at the turn of the last century with the DOT.Com crash of companies offering free web products with no underlying business case.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Support for Early Career Academics

The Australian National University (ANU) have set up a new web site NECTAR for Support for Early Career Academics. It is not clear what "NECTAR" stands for and the web site has some validation errors, rates only 44% for Mobile compatibility and has some accessibility problems. Other Australian universities also have resources for ECAs (with similar web design problems), including: University of Newcastle, QUT, UQ, Curtin University, and Griffith University.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Waiting for the Penny to Drop on MOOCs

In "MOOCs vended learning" (Higher Education section, The Australian newspaper, 21 Aug 2013), e-learning innovator Gilly Salmon uses vending machines as an analogy for Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs). Like vending machines, MOOCs provide a prepackaged low cost convenient product (in this case education). She points out that it is not clear if the small samples of education offered with MOOCs will induce students to sign up for a full program.

I don't agree with Salmon's assertion that that MOOCs are a "disrupter to the 1000-year history of university education". It is the e-learning techniques which Salmon helped pioneer which is causing that disruption. MOOCs are just a re-packaging of those techniques. Many of the issues around mass higher education were debated and systematized by the UK Open University, 40 years ago.

The current fuss over MOOCs reminds me of the DOT.COM bubble of the turn of the last century. People from the IT industry and business would rush up and breathlessly ask if I has seen this new technology called "The Web", just invented by a company in the USA. I would try to patiently explain the web was from a European physics lab, invented by an Englishman, and I had been producing web pages since 1994. The person would usually not hear what I was saying and rush off to tell someone else about this new invention the web, from the USA. Most DOT.COM companies went out of business when the bubble burst and the same is likely to happen with MOOCs. Hopefully most of the failures will be private companies with risk capital, but some may be public universities.

To extend Salmon's vending machine analogy, we should wait for the penny to drop and it is realized that MOOCs are not a miracle answer to education.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Canberra Innovation Competition

The 2013 "Innovation ACT" completion is being launched 6pm, 28 August, at the Australian National University in Canberra. 
Over nine weeks, teams of higher education students and staff from the Canberra region compete for $55,000 in prizes, for the best new business ideas.

The teams are given help with preparation of business plans and to prepare a pitch to investors. Institutions include the Australian National University (ANU), University of Canberra (UC), Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), Australian Defence Force Academy (UNSW ADFA), Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Charles Sturt University (CSU).

In past years I have helped with presenting to the teams on sustainability for business ideas and as a team member. The competition is challenging but fun. Some student take part in the competition as part of their formal studies in business and innovation disciplines, but this is not required.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

ANU Graduates Talk About Working at Google

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where graduate Nigel Tao is talking about his work on software development at Google. Each year Google visits the ANU campus to recruit computer science graduates.

Unlike many corporate recruiting campaigns, this has a local flavor by alumni of the university who work in Google's Sydney office. Google recruits graduates with degrees in computer science, commerce and/or business. The staff in Sydney undertake development of Google software, as well as product support. There is a special Australia Students Google jobs page. Google have an interesting approach to staff selection, where after the preliminaries are dealt with by human resources staff the applicant is interviewed by phone or on-line by engineers.

Nigel started by pointing out that in his daily work he spent a lot of time reading, both text and other people's computer code. At the end of each day he posted a quote of the day on the internal Google+ system. The quotes were designed to make a point short and succinctly as well as be entertaining.

Nigel talked about Google Wave which he worked on, but was one of Google's failures as a product. Wave was technically very sophisticated, but too much so to be popular. I attended several Wave seminars with the developers and found it very hard to use. Google is one of the few large companies which is willing to admit when it makes a mistake, learns and moves on. I assume the Google+ is the replacement for Wave: it is much simpler, less sophisticated and moderately successful.

One of the much smaller scale problems Nigel mentioned was the lack of consistency with how an end of line is indicated on computer systems. This can be incited by CR, CRLF, LF. These characters are hangovers from the early days of computing with mechanical teletypewriters, which had one code "Carriage Return" (CR) to return the printing head to the start of the line and " line feed" to  move the paper up one line. Different computer makers used one, the other, or both of these characters to indicate the end of a line of input text, which to this day causes problems of comparability.

Nigel mentioned the Apple Newton MessagePad an early 1990s hand held computer which failed as a product and was ridiculed in the press, cartoons and comics (but was the forerunner of the Apple iPhone). He pointed out that it is easy to see something wrong in retrospect.

Nigel pointed out that software engineers don't like to do documentation.

Nigel's talk was entertaining and contained much more credible content about IT than the average corporate presentation.

Privacy Preserving Data Integration Strategies

Professor Bradley Malin, Vanderbilt University (Nashville, USA), will speak on "Towards Practical Private Data Integration and Analysis" 4pm 26 August 2013, in the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Towards Practical Private Data Integration and Analysis

Assoc Prof Bradley Malin (Vanderbilt University, Nashville)

DATE: 2013-08-26
TIME: 16:00:00 - 17:00:00
LOCATION: CSIT Seminar Room, N101


Over the past decade, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that data devoid of explicit identifiers can be linked back to the identities of the individuals from which it was derived. This has made organizations increasingly apprehensive about sharing person-specific information. Yet, with the dawn of the big data age upon us, it is imperative that data sharing proliferate to ensure that researchers can validate published research findings, combine datasets to discover novel associations, and comply with open data initiatives. In this talk, I will review recent research on privacy preserving data integration strategies that are efficient, effective, and obscure personal identities in the process. This talk will further illustrate how such integration can enable biomedical association studies while obfuscating the identities of the corresponding participants.


Bradley Malin, Ph.D., is the Vice Chair for Research and an Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics in the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. He is also an Associate Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and is Affiliated Faculty in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society. He is the founder and current director of the Health Information Privacy Laboratory (HIPLab), conducts technologies that enable privacy in the context of real world organizational, political, and health information architectures. Dr. Malin's research has been cited by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and featured in popular media outlets, including Nature News, Scientific American, and Wired magazine. He has received several awards of distinction from the American and International Medical Informatics Associations and, in 2009, he was honored as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. Dr. Malin completed his education at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, where he received a bachelor's in biological sciences, a master's in data mining and knowledge discovery, a master's in public policy and management, and a doctorate in computer science.

Lessons for MOOCs from the Open University

Recently I was browsing the shelves of the education section of the Australian Defence Force Academy Library (ADFA) in Canberra. I came across the book "The Open University: History and Evaluation of a Dynamic Innovation in Higher Education" by Walter Perry (1976, also published in the UK as "Open University: A Personal Account by The First Vice-Chancellor", Open University Press, 1988).

Perry was the first Vice Chancellor of the UK Open University, which was originally to be called "University of the Air". The university set out to provide a low cost education, with no academic limit on entry, using the information technology of its day (broadcast TV). Debates over completion rates and educational standards were essentially the same as those now about MOOCs.

Over the decades, the Open University evolved an approach to education, which later incorporated the use of the Internet. I was trained in a evolved version of that approach to on-line education, used by the Australian Computer Society for teaching masters level professionals and attended on-line courses in a similar technique used by the University of Southern Queensland. I now use at the Australian National University and get good results (with student feedback scores of 5 out of 5 for satisfaction with the course).  I stopped teaching in a classroom in 2009 and now regard on-line education as routine.

What I find surprising is that much of the current debate over MOOCs has not been informed by decades of research and experience with on-line courses. The debate should not be about if MOOCs are better than classrooms, but what is the value of this new, and slightly different form, of on-line distance education.

Perry mentions several distance education institutions as having helped shaped Open University. These include University of South Africa, at the time the largest distance education university in the western world. Also mentioned is the University of New England, in Armidale, Australia.

Perry's book provides a fascinating first hand account of the top-down creation of a university.  Rather than dealing with the minute detail of courses, it starts with the idea, the political debate and securing funding. Chapter 3 "Early Problems" has a two page PERT Chart, showing the interrelationships between the tasks needed to set up the university. Some tasks, such as building facilities and hiring staff, have a long lead time and had to be started while the details of what was to be done was still unclear. The book progresses to discussion of degree structures, course creation, accreditation, what might be the student demand and distribution of materials.

Looking back from the 21st century, some of the challenges of the OU seem irrelevant. As OU had to produce materials on paper and post them to thousands of students. Use of computers was in its infancy and the idea of supplying all the course material on line was a distant possibility. Video materials were produced by professional BBC TV staff, edited using reel-to-reel videotape and distributed by broadcast TV or film (no computer editing or downloading).

Some challenges of distance education (and education generally) have not changed. OU required a team approach to the creation of quality course materials and a long lead time for development and testing. Being able to distribute materials on-line has cut some weeks off the production process for distance education, but developing courses still takes considerable time and effort, which is not understood by educators used to ad-hoc live lectures.

The issue of credit exemptions is one which remains alive today. Universities remain reluctant to grant credit for courses undertaken elsewhere. The issue of recognition of prior learning remains contentious for the more elite universities.

Funding of courses remains a perennial issue for universities. OU's budget depended on economies of scale from large numbers of students using standardized materials and this is one of the ideas which todays MOOCs are based on.

What I find curious is that while I have been learning and teaching e-learning for several years, there has been little mention of the Open University's experience. On the shelf next to Perry's work there were several other books from Open University authors about the development of courses. One which caught my attention was on the costing of courses, an important topic which was not addressed in any of the higher education courses I have undertaken.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Skills for University Tutors

As part of the Vocational Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, I was required to learn how to prepare Work-based Learning Pathways. At the time I was looking at what training university tutors received, so I prepared a work-based learning pathway for an ANU computer science tutor. This was an interesting exercise in seeing what training was available from the university and if  vocational e-leaning modules could be used to supplement this. Also it was interesting to see if the vocational approach made sense in a university environment. Overall it worked reasonably well.

It would be interesting to see if the training which early career academics (ECAs) receive could be structured in such a way that they receive both a university and vocational qualification. That is the student would receive a Cert IV in Training and Assessment, plus do extra study for a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, so they were qualified to teach in universities and TAFEs.


Graduate Students Tutoring Undergraduates in Computer Science

Workplace: ANU

Name of employee/s: Graduate Students Tutoring Undergraduates in Computer Science

Learning goals:
  • Run tutorial groups and workshops. Administer the course website.
  • Maintain student records for the course.
  • Assist with teaching in tutorials and workshops. Undertake assessment of assignments
Benchmark/units of competency
Instructions to facilitator: This learning pathway documents the recommended learning pathway for graduate students tutoring undergraduates.

Please note:
  1. This will need tailoring for individual tutors. It is expected the graduate students have necessary technical knowledge of computer science topics and be familiar with HTML, but have limited presentation skills and little or no teaching experience.
  2. Tutors will need to make a presentation and assist with a tutorial before doing so on their own.
Tutors will need “tutor” access to the Learning Management System.

Development Plan


Skills and knowledge to be developedLearning activity and recommended strategyFacilitatorCostSequence/
Agreed Completion Dates
Run tutorial groups and workshops.
  • Attend introductory university on-line course on small group learning.
  • Prepare and present to the group of tutors.
CECS Educational Development Group 3 hoursDay 1Day 1
Administer the course website. ANU Library and Central Wattle Training3.5 HoursDay 2Day 2
Maintain student records for the course. ANU Division of Registrar & Student Services3 HoursDay 3Day 3
Undertake assessment of assignments ANU Academic Skills & Learning Centre3 Hours3 HoursDay 4

Implications for the workplace: Face-to-face workshops may take months to schedule and so would be better if this was organized the semester before the tutor is to start work.

Assessment methods: Student to keep a journal using ANU Mahara e-portfolio system to document learning. Experienced tutor to provide feedback on this.

Support needs: Student will need to be paid 12.5 hours for the training. Experienced tutor will need to be paid to undertake the coaching (3 hours).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Learning Counterinsurgency at University

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr. John A. Nagl, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army (Retired) is speaking on "Learning to eat soup with a knife - counterinsurgency Iraq and Afghanistan". He is the author of "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam" (University Of Chicago Press, 2005).

Dr. Nagl explained the title of his book (and thesis) came from  T. E. Lawrence's ("Lawrence of Arabia") book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (on page 136 of the Wilder Publications 2011 Edition). His thesis is that the US Army was not prepared for counterinsurgency in Vietnam and after learning the lessons in that war decided not to do so again. As a result the US Army had to relearn counterinsurgency in Iraq.

Dr. Nagl explained how counterinsurgency depends on intelligence information rather than firepower. He detailed the importance of providing infrastructure (roads, water sewage) to the civilian population, which required liaison with the civilian aid agencies. He likened the current conflicts as being similar to the Cold War, being dependent on economic development, rather than military force.

Dr. Nagl suggested that the Afghanistan government will survive, provided 15,000 US and European military personnel are kept in country indefinitely, along with funding.

Dr. Nagl  asked why great power conflict had reduced. He suggested this was due to nuclear weapons deterring large wars and general improvements in economic conditions reducing the impetus for war. He suggested the photocopier brought down the Soviet Union and the smart phone would bring down the Communist Party of China. This seemed an overly simplistic view to me. Professor Christian Goebel, Vienna University, will provide a more useful analysis in "E-monitoring and regime improvement in China: technical capabilities and systemic limitations", at ANU 4:00pm 10 September 2013.

I asked Dr. Nagl if the US Army should be able to conduct counterinsurgency, as this is more a role for the US Marines and special forces. Most medium to large countries have their military structured with a large conventional force and smaller more flexible forces for counterinsurgency. He responded that Iraq required more personnel than the special forces had. He suggested that as the US reduces its armed forces, the more experienced NCOs and Colonel should be retained to retain corporate knowledge.

It would be interesting to hear Dr. Nagl  views on the Australian Army. The ADF appears to be planning to re-fight US Navy's war in the Pacific in World War Two, building up a long range submarine force and carrier battle groups with amphibious assault capabilities. It is unlikely that the Australian government will provide sufficient resources to purchase all of the hardware required, or the even more expensive personnel and if they did it is not clear how such a force would be used. It is more likely that the ADF will be involved in counterinsurgency operations where sophisticated equipment is, at best ineffective and may actually make the situation worse by isolating the personnel from the local population.

In my view the ADF and the Australian Government are failing to invest sufficient resources in cyber-warfare. For this I proposed a "Australian CyberWarfare Battalion".

This was one of a series of talks at the ANU Strategic & Defence Studies Centre. The center teaches senior military officers the Australian Defence College, as well as public servants and others. 

On-line Education for Disaster Management

The Sahana Foundation, which I am a member of, provides free open spruce software for use in disaster management. The software is maintained and deployed by volunteers who are trained at "SahanaCamp". These events are run around the world for the volunteers. An interesting option now being considered is the use of flip classroom teaching and e-learning, with some form of certificate for attendees.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Academia isn’t Limited to 26 Weeks a Year

In "Academia can’t be limited to 26 weeks" (Australian Financial Review, 27-May-2013),
Alan Tudge MP, Chairman of the Coalition’s Online Higher Education Working Group, argues that academia could be more efficient. He suggests universities could:
  1. Offer more than 26 weeks of tuition, perhaps the 40 weeks of schools,
  2. Use more online materials for greater flexibility,
  3. Offer credentials based on what is learnt, rather than time elapsed.
As well as being more convenient and cheaper for domestic students, Mr Tudge suggests this would appeal to international students. However, Mr Tudge doesn't mention that a major part of Australia's Higher Education sector already does all these things.

The Australian vocational education sector has flexible on-line courses and skills based assessment. Unfortunately Australian governments have failed to value the contribution TAFEs and probate training providers make and have tended to reward innovation by cutting funding. Also the Federal Parliament failed to put in place adequate protection for international vocational students, resulting in their exploration and then collapse of this expert industry. Having seen this, it would not be surprising if university academics were reluctant to follow the vocational sector reforms too closely and risk the same government mismanagement.

Many of Australia's universities already offer short intensive courses and other programs  during the semester breaks. Some also offer on-line courses, or whole on-line programs.

As an example, recently I completed a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. As a part time student undertaking one course at a time, this would normally take two years. However, I completed it in just over one year, by taking courses in break sessions as well as during semesters. Two of the four courses were purely on-line and two blended classroom/on-line (at two different universities). At the same time I was enrolled at a vocational institution to learn vocational education and  received a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. We are likely to see this approach of multiple institutions and forms of education being the norm for students.

Higher educational institutions in Australia offer a range of education delivered in different ways at different times. Some already implement the techniques advocated by Mr Tudge. As an example I teach an entirely on-line course at the Australian National University, with no prerequisites, no lectures and no examinations. This course (ICT Sustainability) is very popular with the students. But many students undertake face-to-face on-campus courses as well. The students like the option to be able to mix and match forms of education.

In my submission to the NBN Inquiry  ("Broadband for a Broad Land"), I suggested there was scope for savings and efficiency in education through on-line services. This would require cooperation between university and vocational institutions. This might require action from government to force cooperation, through funding mechanisms.

Before suggesting efficiency for other institutions, perhaps members of the Australian House of Representatives need to put their own house in order. The Parliament has sat for an average of only 13 weeks a year, half the university teaching period. MPs do other work when Parliament is not sitting, but even so they might like to consider some use of technology to make their processes more efficient.

I proposed to the 1998 Constitutional Convention that the number of MPs be halved and half the sitting days be on-line, not face-to-face in Canberra. In this way MPs could be in their electorate for longer, addressing constitute matters face-to-face, while in touch with their fellow members on-line. This is much as education is done now (a few months ago I was at an education conference in Colombo, while teaching a class in Canberra). Whoever makes up the next federal government might like to consider options for trimming down the legislative arm of government, while also trimming the executive arm.

Accessibility of Course Content and Administrative Systems

Greetings from the Accessibility Week Conference at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. The first session is an introduction to web accessibility for people with a disability. As anyone working in education should know, there are federal laws requiring education to be made available to people with a disability and guidelines for web accessibility. I was an expert witness in the case which was the legal precedent for web accessibility (Maguire Vs. SOCOG, 2000). This case was more than ten years ago and conforming with the guidelines is not very difficult, but many universities are still failing to make their course content and on-line administrative systems accessibility. Apart from people with a disability, the accessibility guidelines also make web materials easier to access for those using a smart phone, with English as a second language and on slow Internet links.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) provides a list of Accessibility Standards and Guidelines for Education as well as Web Accessibility Information. Some of the problems I commonly see in university materials are poorly formatted PDF documents, videos with no captions and no text notes, images with no captions and use of color with no text alternatives.

Checking a course for accessibility can be a good time to rethink what information you are providing to students and how you provide it. One common response I get when I point out to teachers and administrators the need for accessibility is: "We can't reformat all this material.". But in many cases the material would benefit from revision and simplification. In many cases the course has grown up with a jumble of documents with redundant, obsolete and contradictory information. Paring down the information will help. Also preparing documents in an accessible format can make them easier to maintain.

One tip I have is to use web pages in place of of HTML. While it is theoretically possible to create accessible web pages, it is easier to avoid the issue and just use web pages. This also makes maintenance easier. As an example, I prepare my ICT Sustainability course notes as a set of web pages, one page per week. The notes use the basic HTML constructs, such as headings, paragraphs and lists with no mention of fonts, colors or layout. When I import the notes into a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Moodle, the document inherits the colors, fonts and layout set by the educational institution. This way if the color scheme or other details change, I don't have to make any changes, my notes adjust automatically. If a mobile version is provided for smart phones and tablets, my notes also adjust.

But before spending time making course documents accessible, first consider if they are needed at all. As an example,  one of my colleagues showed me a table they had prepared to summaries their course topics, week by week, along with lectures, tutorials, workshops, assignments and exams. They had color coded the table and tried their best to make it clear. However, the problem was that the course seemed to have no logical pattern to what the students had to do. Instead I suggested breaking the course into modules which had a repeating pattern, so that a complex table would not be needed.

As an example of a pattern, my ICT Sustainability course is divided into two halves, with an assignment for each. Each six week module has one forum with questions to be answered at the same time each week.

Friday, August 9, 2013

ANU Seeking Director for Climate Change Institute

The Australian National University in Canberra has advertised for a new Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute (A348-13NC Professor salary about $140,000).
We are seeking an outstanding leader to enhance the University’s reputation in climate change research and education; communicate a broad range of climate change research; inform public policy development; promote outreach and engagement with government, industry and the community and develop and implement the Institute’s strategic plans in research and education. The position of Director is a full Professor (Level E), negotiable as renewable as Director or revertible to a standard Professorial position at the end of the five year term.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Certificate IV in Training and Assessment

Today I received my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110) from Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) in the mail. This does not have quite the gravitas of being handed a certificate by the ANU Chancellor a few weeks ago, but in may ways is a lot more useful.

Recognition of Prior Learning

Of the ten courses I was required to undertake for the Certificate IV, I was able to obtain eight by Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This was made a little easier by having just completed the equivalent university qualification, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education.

Having prepared open on-line course material also made it much easier to provide the evidence needed for RPL. This still was not an easy process, requiring me to find people to attest to my teaching experience along with evidence.

On-line Courses

Two courses I could not obtain RPL for and I had to complete on-line assessment (Workplace Coaching  and Learning in the Workplace). CIT use the same Moodle Learning Management System I am used to at ACS, ANU and USQ, which simplified the process.

CIT has very standardized, carefully designed and consistent on-line documentation, as is common in the vocational sector. However, this was not without problems. The very modular nature of vocational courses meant there was a lot of repetition and the emphasis on standardization meant for some very long winded materials.

One glitch with on-line access is that CIT does not permit students to change their password remotely.  I was required to travel to a CIT campus to change the password. As a result I suspect that many student never change their password from the default. This is a serious security law in the CIT system.

Lack of e-Portfolio System

One surprise was that CIT does not use an e-Portfolio system for the student to collect their RPL evidence in.

ACS and USQ both use the Mahara e-portfolio software. This allows the student to collect materials and then submit them for assessment on-line.

CIT uses Moodle's submission system for on-line assessment tests, but not for RPL evidence, which is tracked using a paper form, with photocopies attached. This made the process cumbersome and error prone (added to the fact that I could not read the hand-written notations from the RPL assessor).

Vocational Standardized and Work  Relevant

The CIT certificate arrived about two weeks after I completed the program, whereas the ANU certificate took four months to arrive. The Cert IV T&A is recognized nationally and required for teaching in government TAFEs and private Registered Training Organizations (RTOs). Many universities run graduate certificates in higher education, but these are not mandatory for  university teaching staff and no standard syllabus. Presumably an ANU certificate will be well regarded nationally, but there is no guarantee it covers what is needed at another university.

Need for Mutual Recognition of Vocational and University Teaching Qualifications

While the RPL process allowed me to gain the qualification for teaching in the vocation sector largely from my university qualifications, this should not be necessary. Apart from the terminology used, there is no real difference in teaching between the vocational and university sectors. This is particularly the case with universities catching up with TAFEs in the use of on-line technology and practical work-orientated assesment.

There is no reason why vocational and university teachers could not undertake the same training. Currently postgraduate university students may receive some ad-hoc training to help them tutor, but in general will graduate and go into university teaching with no formal teaching qualifications.  It would make sense for higher degree students to obtain at least a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

Previously when I suggested university postgraduates should have vocational qualifications my university colleagues were shocked and suggested I did not know what I was talking about. But I am now more qualified than most of them to express an opinion. ;-)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Students citizenship of the digital world

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society Branch Forum in Canberra, where Dr Karen Macpherson of the University on "Digital Technology and Australian Teenagers: Consumption, Study and Careers". In 2012 the Australian Computer Society (ACS) commissioned a study into school student's use of computer technology and their views on a career in technology. The results have been published by the University of Canberra as "(by Karen Macpherson, May 2013).
The ACS sponsored this research because there are too few young people enrolling in computer science courses at university to meet industry demand. Dr Macpherson took a refreshingly simple approach to answering this question, by simply asking young people about their use of ICT and views on career.

Students interest in studying IT peaks in Year 8 (age 14) of school. But interest in "How Computers Work" stays at a higher level until age 18. This may indicate a problem with the perception of what IT is brought about by school courses.

School students perceive university IT courses as being difficult but interesting. Most students think IT professionals write software and design databases for business. There is little perception of creative uses for IT, such as in robotics. Students though that working in IT meant a dull job sitting at a computer all day. Students wanted a creative, well paid, creative and interesting job. The problem for the IT profession is to point out the creative aspects of IT and also perhaps reform the current school IT curriculum.

Dr. Macpherson pointed out that students wanted interesting "well paid" jobs, but not necessarily professional ones. So I suggest that perhaps ACS should place more emphasis on the vocational path to an IT career, as an alternative to university.

Macpherson reports that young people have a type of “dual citizenship”: in physical space and digital space, with different language and mores. As students, young people make intensive use of on-line information sources, but are not necessarily able to identify definitive content.  Educators then have to help students bridge these cultures. I suggest this might be though of in a similar way to overseas students who have English as a second language. In a way this has always been the case, as student learn the language and culture of higher education.

In teaching university students via the Internet, I find that they know how to use a computer (these are computer science students), but not necessarily how to use it to have a structured professional discussion.

I will be speaking at the 12 November ACS ICT trends in Education" (I am a member of the ACS.