Thursday, December 31, 2015

Service for Citing Scholarly Blogs

The ACI contacted me to say they had indexed my Higher Education Whisperer blog. They have applied the Library of Congress Classification L: Education 290 and LB: Theory and practice of education 290. They also provide a citation of each blog posting. It will be interesting to see if anyone uses the citations in publications and if any of the academic  Citation Counts and Ranking systems will include these.

Here is an example citation (embarrassingly, I misspelled "education" in the title of the post):

Worthington, T. (2015, December 29). Technical Educaiton is as Important As Business Skills [Weblog post]. Retrieved December 31, 2015, from Retrieved from ACI Scholarly Blog Index.

Students Can Volunteer to Gain Experience

Students can gain experience by volunteering. Universities have regular call for volunteers to help with research and with community projects (search for "volunteers" and the name of your university). As an example, ANU has a list of ways to volunteer.  There are more specific programs for students in fields such as engineering and computing. Each year I judge the Random Hacks of Kindness competition in Sydney, where IT people volunteer to help design or build applications for community benefit. On a larger scale computing students undertake group development projects as part of their studies, which can be for for-profit organizations, or government. As part of the ANU Tech Launcher program this year, students had the option to do their own start-up and then enter the Innovation ACT competition.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Distance Education for Teachers

Over the holidays I read the book "Trends and Issues in Distance Education: International Perspectives" (2005). One thing that stood out is that many of the examples of distance education, were for training in-service teachers. This is particularly the case for developing nations with a critical shortage of teachers, but even the UK's Open University had a significant number of teachers as students. Visser, Visser, and Buendia (2005) discuss training teachers in Mozambique and Simonson (2005) in Zimbabwe. The need for increasing the number and training of teachers in developing nations is obvious, but the UK's Open University also had a significant number of teachers as students. The role of DE, nor via the Internet, for in-service teacher training, has a long history but still tends to be neglected.

The authors in the 2005 edition of  Trends and Issues emphasized that paper based DE was still important as the spread of computers and the Internet was limited in developing nations.

One curious footnote of history is that Visser, Visser, and Buendia (p. 221, 2005) note that the Mozambique railway company in 1957 had correspondence courses for railway workers delivered by train.

Only afterwards did I discover there was a newer second edition (2012). It would be interesting to see if their views had changed in the seven years to the second edition.


Simonson, M. (2005). Trends in distance education technologies from an international vantage point. In Y. L. Visser, L. Visser, M. Simonson, & R. Amirault (Eds.),  Trends and issues in distance education : international perspectives (pp. 261-285).
Visser, Y. L., Visser, L., Simonson, M. & Amirault, R. (2005). Trends and issues in distance education : international perspectives. Information Age Pub, Greenwich, Conn

Visser, Lya, (editor.) (2012). Trends and issues in distance education : international perspectives (Second edition). Information Age Pub, Charlotte, N.C

Visser, M., Visser, J., & Buendia, M. (2005) Thank you for (not) forgetting us In Y. L. Visser, L. Visser, M. Simonson, & R. Amirault (Eds.),  Trends and issues in distance education : international perspectives (pp. 217-241). Information Age Pub, Greenwich, Conn

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Technical Education is as Important As Business Skills

"75% of people lacking a technical education will believe made up quotes containing  spurious statistics" - Tom Worthington ;-)
More seriously, the ability to communicate, negotiate and lead is important, but it is also necessary to have at least basic technical knowledge. Being able to lead will be of no use if people can fool you with such obvious nonsense as the often cited, supposed quote:
"85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge." - Carnegie Institute of Technology
Variations of this appear in tens of thousands of publications. Jeff Lopez-Stuit traced it to a Forbes article by Keld Jensen  (2012):
"Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. "
Brian Austin traced this back to a 1918 work by the Carnegie Foundation. I was able to find the actual article (Mann, 1918), which does not support the proposition that technical knowledge is relatively unimportant. It is actually about how to improve technical education, which ensured the USA's economic success in the 20th century.

I suggest we need people who are trained in both technical and business skills. In particular there is great value in giving technical people some training in how to communicate and some understanding of business. One way to do this is with "innovation" programs, where the technical and business students are required to work together.


Mann, C. R. (1918). A study of engineering education. Bulletin, 11. Retrieved from:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Education in Refugee Camps

A special form of international education is for those in refugee camps. Donald and Stankiewicz (2015) discuss work in Kenya, Malawi,the Thai-Burma border and Jordan. This is not just about e-learning, the authors suggest the use of "learning hubs" and ‘Innovation spaces’ in camps.

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) offer a Liberal Arts Diploma, for students in ACU boarding houses at nine Burmese camps for Karen refugees along the Thai-Burmese border. The courses are delivered using supplied computers.

Regis University (USA) provide a Liberal Arts Diploma at at ‘Arupe Centers’ camp computer centers using Desire2Learn.

Canadian and Kenyan Universities provide an Education Associates Degree, articulated to a Bachelors Degree in Education or Business at Garissa
Country, a satellite campus of Kenyatta University, near the refugee camp.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Associations for International Distance and Open Learning

Demiray (2015), nominates three organizations important to distance and open learning internationally and nine regionally. The go on to announce "UDEEEWANA" (United Distance Education for Eastern Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa) as a new regional association. This seems to be a genuine attempt to start a new organisation, but it does not seem to have received much support so far. Perhaps this is too large and disparate a "region" for an organization.

International organizations:
  1. Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
  2. International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE)
  3. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)

Regional organizations (some of these I could not find links to):
  1. African Distance Learning Association (ADLA)
  2. African Council of distance education (ACDE)
  3. Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU)
  4. Canadian Association for Distance Education (CADE)
  5. European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU)
  6. Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA)
  7. Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Open Learning Center (SEAMOLEC)
  8. United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA)
  9. Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED)
Also I found the "The Open Education Consortium". This has listed as an Australian member the "People's Open Access Education Initiative: Peoples-uni" which is odd, as it is UK based and does not appear to be registered as a University in Australia. Other members are more mainstream: University of Southern Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology, and Deakin Digital.


DEMIRAY, U. (2015). WITHIN WESTERNIZATION MOBILITY OF THE DISTANCE EDUCATION FOR A CASE OF UDEEEWANA: Adaptations, Challenges, Limitations and New Sustainable Innovations. Retrieved from

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mobile Devices for Tertiary Study by Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women

Townsend (2015) outlines his PhD research on mobile learning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female pre-service teachers in very remote Australian communities. He proposes mobile devices to counter the low completion rates for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programs in South Australia (SA) Queensland (Qld). These programs have a  36% completion rate nationally, which itself is not good, but only 15% in remote communities. Townsend argues that mobile learning particularly suits this group of students who have a "collective or corporate understanding" and posits it will improve completion rates.
Townsend (2015) studied 64 students, but not all used mobile devices. I had difficulty working out from the paper exactly how many did.
Townsend (2015)  found that students want videos suitable for mobile devices of the on-campus lectures and seminars (apparently the students don't get all the materials in a format they can use). Also announcements should be sent to the students’ mobile devices.This appears to indicate a failing with the configuration of the  learning software used. The video lecture system and learning management system I use will, by default provide versions of videos and announcements for mobile devices.
The third student requirement reported by Townsend (2015) is non-technical:

"... give frequent personal praise, sympathy or emotional support as appropriate through the changing circumstances of a student's life directly to students’ mobile devices to ensure a student remains engaged in study".

How frequent the support is required is not stated. I provide each on-line student in the courses I teach an individual person message each week. I first positively comment on something the student did, before making suggestions for improvement.

However, this may not be common. In courses I have been a student of, it is rare for students to receive this level of attention, hearing from the tutor in person perhaps once a month. In some courses I have not received any personal message from the tutor at all over a three month course.

Townsend (2015)  points to the value of mobile learning in terms of place, time, and pace of study, with work, family commitments and health issues preventing students from attending a class in person, even when they are in proximity to a study center. He also details the benefits in terms of collaboration between students from e-learning (I have found this as a student).

While these benefits of m-learning apply to the community generally, but to a lesser degree. Those in an urban environment are not so far from a university campus and may have better access through a laptop or desktop computer than in a remote indigenous community. However, issues of family and cultural obligations, along with ill-health, can prevent access to conventional campuses and study.

Rather than treat very remote indigenous students as a special case and provide them with special programs, I suggest that tertiary studies should be, by default designed on the assumption the student will be remote and part time. It is well past the time when a student could be assumed to be full time on campus and not have any work, family or cultural obligations.


Townsend, P. (2015). Mobile Devices for Tertiary Study–Philosophy Meets Pragmatics for Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 1-11.

CSIRO ICT in Schools program

Joel Cowey will speak on the CSIRO ICT in Schools Program (RSVP) at the Australian Computer Society in Canberra, 5pm, 10th February 2016.
ICT in Schools, a partnership program (ICTiS) creates and supports ongoing, flexible partnerships between volunteer ICT professionals and teachers, showcasing real world, contemporary ICT in the classroom.
ICTiS supports implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and the ICT capabilities and how to fully utilise the knowledge, skills and capacity of ICT volunteer. Explore what makes effective, successful partnerships and where the program is going in the future.

Joel Cowey works in CSIRO Education and Outreach and coordinates the ICT in Schools a partnership program element. He sees the best way of improving ICT literacy in the community is through high quality STEM education and to ensure students get the opportunity to learn about STEM subjects at school.
Joel has spent 6 years as a purely ICT geek working for the Departments of Defence, Environment, and Education, 23 years as a teacher of science and ICT and three years as a science and IT education policy officer in the commonwealth Department of Education. There have been occasional stints tutoring IT at TAFE and university and time off for travel, study and parenting.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On-line Models for Research-Intensive Universities

In his Farewell to the Australian National University, the outgoing
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Young, wrote of the challenges that a small research-intensive university faces. He also mentioned his interest in on-line education, a conviction that this will change the nature of universities and the assertion that universities are not equipped to make this change on their own. I suggest that the on-line education will not change the nature of universities, just some of the technology used. Universities can use specialist companies to assist, but should be careful to retain control of the educational process.
Professor Young wrote:
"The ANU model with its high reliance on government research support and a small student base is enormously challenged in the present-day environment. Despite my efforts it has proved difficult to diversify and this has limited what we could do. ...

I have long believed that online education will fundamentally change the nature of Universities."
Universities exist to provide a way for scholars to cooperate to carry out research and to teach. The Internet can assist with both research and with teaching, but I suggest this will not fundamentally change what a university does, just some of the way it does it. The Internet can be used to connect researchers together, on campus, to government and industry. On-line education can connect university educators to their students on campus and in the workplace, worldwide. This is an enhancement to what scholars previous did with paper publications for linking together their community and with distance education by post.

Research intensive universities can make use of  the Internet to broaden the reach of their research and education, without a large investment in additional campuses. Researchers need to meet their collaborators in person, but then can work together on-line. The typical university student will need to be in a classroom for 20% of their studies, but can do the rest on-line. A typical university should be able to increase the intensity of its activity five fold by use of the Internet, without a larger campus.
Professor Young goes on to say:
"... I will be involved, as a part owner, in two companies being set up to work with Universities as online implementation partners. These companies, one of which will operate in Australia and the other in China, will work with universities to place material in a quality online format, deliver the material and quality control the education. ..."
Using a company to package and deliver courses is one model, but not the only one and, I suggest, not the the one for most suited for Australian universities. Designing courses is a core skill for educators, not something to be outsourced to contractors. There is very little difference between the design of on-line and classroom courses. This is something educators can now learn as a routine part of their training. Similarly, assessment design and quality control are core educational issues, ot something to be outsourced.

There are some technical issues with preparing content for on-line delivery, but these can be dealt with by specialist educational designers employed by, or contracted to, the university. An on-line system is needed to deliver the content and universities are increasingly contracting the maintenance of these systems out to specialist companies. However, the university needs to ensure it retains control of its courses and content. Also the university needs to ensure that the students are their students, not clients of the contracted company.
Australia has had success with multiple university consortia for on-line delivery of courses, particularly Open Universities Australia. However, other consortia, involving universities and companies, such as "Universitas 21 Global", have had limited success.

An approach I have suggested recently is to design university programs the way major automobile companies design cars (as a Rolls-Royce Education). VW, BMW and other companies engineer a "platform" from which a range of vehicles are produced  globally. The platform defines the mechanical components of the vehicle, but not what it will look like. The platform can be stretched or shrunk to make difference size vehicles, in two and four wheel drive. The platform is designed to meet safety and environmental standards world wide. Low cost and luxury cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles are then mass produced from the one platform. The customer may not be aware that their luxury vehicle with hand stitched leather seats has the same mechanical underpinning as a mass produced car a one third the price.

In a similar way universities can produce an educational platform, from which programs and courses can be produced for global delivery. The platform can be shrunk to a certificate, or stretched to a professional doctorate. The platform can be designed for delivery purely on-line at low cost, with the option of face-to-face tutoring on-campus. Research universities with a good reputation have the advantage in using this model, with the subject knowledge to create courses and the brand name to market them.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Twenty Years of Professional On-line Conversations by Teachers

Lloyd, Skyring and Nykvist (2015) have written a history of the oz-Teachers mailing list. This electronic mailing list for Australian teachers was started at the Queensland University of Technology in 1995 and has been used for daily discussions and a source of inspiration for research over 20 years. The mailing list continues today, hosted on Google groups:

Perhaps a researcher would like to carry out a similar analysis of the "Link list on Australian network policy and communication", which has been running at ANU since February 1995 (the month after oz-teachers started).


Lloyd, M., Skyring, C., & Nykvist, S. (2015). Teacher professional conversations – the oz-Teachers story. Australian Educational Computing, 30(2). Retrieved from

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Victorian VET Funding Review

A Victorian VET Funding Review by Bruce Mackenzie and Neil Coulson, was released September 2015 (incorrectly dated February 2016 on the Victorian Government website). The report had as its first recommendation:
"1) That the Victorian Government work with the Commonwealth Government to consider the applicability of reforms to the fee-for-service and VET FEE-HELP markets."
However, a major failing of the report is that it diplomatically skirts around the way the flaws in the design of the Commonwealth's VET FEE-HELP scheme has distorted the VET market, wasted public money and damaged the reputation of Australian Higher Education.

The report recommends keeping additional funding for regional training:

"12) That the Government maintain a rural and regional loading to reflect the relatively higher costs involved in rural and regional training provision."

But the report fails to consider the value of on-line training to provide access for regional student, as well as those with work or family commitments, which prevent regular campus attendance.

The report proposes that the student contribution increase the higher the level of qualification:
"18) That the Government adopt the principle that the student contribution increase the higher the level of qualification."
It is not clear why the student contribution should increase with level of qualification. In fact there is no clear explanation in the report as to why VET courses should be subsidized for students who can afford to pay. There is a case for subsidizing courses where there is a shortage of skills and for students on low incomes.

The report recommends limiting Recognition of Prior Learning to 40%:
"36) That the Government limit RPL to no more than 40 per cent of the course volume."
This would have caused me problems, when I obtained 80% of a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment by RPL. I already had a Graduate Certificate in Higher Eduction and years of experience teaching at a university and an award from industry for course design. It would have been frustrating to sit in classes on something I could already do.

Researching Transdisciplinarity Research to Solve The World's Problems

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Elizabeth Clarke is talking about "The synergies of difference – moving beyond transdisciplinarity". She is discussing how those from multiple disciplines can tackle "Wicked problems". Elizabeth conducted three case studies (climate forecasting for food security in India and Sri Lanka; food security family poultry and crop integration in Tanzia and Zambia; climate adaption for farming in Cambodia, Lao, Bangladesh and India). Essentially she treated research itself as a topic for social science research.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan for 2016?

Does the Australian Government have an ICT Sustainability plan for 2016 and beyond? In my course "ICT Sustainability" I refer students to the "Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2015". However, that document is now marked "Caution: archived content". Is there a new plan for 2016 and beyond? I am revising the notes for the course starting February 2016. Perhaps I should set my masters students to work writing a new plan for government. ;-)

Why Students Choose Expensive Commercial Courses

in "Understanding For-Profit College and Community College Choice" Iloh and Tierney (2014) have investigated why US students choose courses at for-profit private colleges, over lower cost government run community colleges. This is relevant to the current Australian situation, with students choosing commercial RTOs, over lower cost government TAFE courses.

Iloh and Tierney (2014) surveyed 75 for-profit college students and 62 at community college (state run). They found that students would like to attend community college, but found obtaining enrollment information difficult and the prerequisites required daunting. Also there was a perception that community college would take longer and students felt that a for-profit college would provide better hands-on training and result in better job prospects. Students found for-profit college closer, with more flexible class schedules.

These are factors which Australian TAFEs might want to take into account when designing and promoting programs.


Iloh, C., & Tierney, W. G. (2014). Understanding For-Profit College and Community College Choice Through Rational Choice. Teachers College Record, 116, 080304.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Additional NBN Satellite Allocation for Adult Distance Education?

NBN Co have announced that rural and regional users of its new "Sky Muster" satellite will receive an increased allocation of 75GB a month (up from 20GB). Also it is planned for distance education students to receive an additional 50GB each (for up to three students per location). However, the NBN announcement refers to "children who rely on satellite for the delivery of distance education programs" (from "Broadband satellite data boost", NBN Co, 14 December 2015, emphasis added). It is not clear if adult students will be eligible for the additional allocation when undertaking school, VET, or university distance education.

Monday, December 14, 2015

TAFE Queensland Advertising University Degrees

I was surprised to see a Google AdSense advertisement from TAFE Queensland saying "Do Uni Differently". Australia has strict laws which say only accredited universities can offer university degrees. Clicking on the link I ended up at the Brisbane campus of TAFE Queensland, where it is explained that TAFE Queensland has partnered with University of Canberra and others.

An example is the Diploma of Interactive Digital Media (Games) / Bachelor of Games and Interactive Design. The student first does a one year TAFE Queensland diploma, which replaces the first year of the three year University of Canberra bachelors degree. The program is delivered on the TAFE campus in Brisbane. It is not clear how the University of Canberra component is delivered (on-line and/or with tutors at the TAFE in Brisbane).

Starting at TAFE is a good alternative to going straight to university, particularly for students who are less academically inclined. The TAFE gives a more structured environment for students and gives them a year to adjust from school to university. Also students get a useful vocational qualification from their first year. However, TAFE Queensland might need to change their advertising slightly as they are not accredited to "deliver world-class degrees".

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Paris Agreement on Climate Change Includes Training to Combat Global Warming

The COP21 Paris Agreement on Climate Change (UN FCCC/CP/2015/L.9, 12 December 2015) includes provision for training and education to help combat global warming. "Education" is mentioned four times and "training" six, in the COP21 agreement (same as in the previous draft):
"83. Calls upon all Parties to ensure that education, training and public awareness, as reflected in Article 6 of the Convention and in Article 12 of the Agreement are adequately considered in their contribution to capacity-building;" (From CAPACITY - BUILDING , p. 11)

"84. Invites the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its first session to explore ways of enhancing the implementation of training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information so as to enhance actions under the Agreement;" (From CAPACITY - BUILDING , p. 11)

"86. Also decides that the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency will aim: ...
(b) To provide relevant tools, training and assistance for meeting the provisions stipulated in Article 13 of the Agreement;" (From TRANSPARENCY OF ACTION AND SUPPORT, p. 12).

"Affirming the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and cooperation at all levels on the matters addressed in this Agreement," (From Annex, p.20)

"1. Capacity-building under this Agreement should enhance the capacity and ability of developing country Parties, in particular countries with the least capacity, such as the least developed countries, and those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, such as small island developing States, to take effective climate change action, including, inter alia, to implement adaptation and mitigation actions, and should facilitate technology development, dissemination and deployment, access to climate finance, relevant aspects of education, training and public awareness, and the transparent, timely and accurate communication of information." (From Article 11, p. 26).

"Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement." (From Article 12, p. 27)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Combating the loneliness of learning

In "The loneliness of the long distance learner" (The Guardian, 8 December 2018), Judith Vonberg writes that there are an "... invisible group of distance learners ... studying on standard postgraduate courses, but they live ... at a distance from their university ...". I suggest the solution is for universities to remove the distinction between distance and on-campus, part-time and full time students. Programs should be designed on the assumption that students will be, for all or part of their studies, away from the campus.
Rather than making special arrangements for distance students, programs should be designed by default for them. Then additional on-campus options can be added, as required and as resources allow

I have been a postgraduate student for two years, studying by distance education for part of this time, while also designing and tutoring on-line courses on-campus and on-line myself. The most important lesson I have learned is how hard it is to be a student and how a well designed course, with well trained tutor can help. This is most important in the on-line environment, but the same teaching techniques apply on campus.

As an example, tutors are trained to first introduce themselves to the class. In the on-line case, this is done by providing a photo, a bio and a welcome message. The next routine step is to have the class introduce themselves to each other. Isolation can be further broken down by using group exercises.

While being an on-line student can be isolating, it is better than when I was (briefly) an on-campus, part time, night student. This was a bleak form of education. I would arrive on a cold, dark campus after work, go into a depressing uncomfortable tutorial room with a group of people I did not know and listen to a tutor who never introduced themselves who would simply read out what was on the slides. At the end of the class we would all leave. There was no-where on campus to go, as everything was shut and everyone had homes to go to. I lasted a couple of weeks. In contrast on-line asynchronous education is a much more social experience.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Incubator Support Programme

The Australian government's Global Innovation Strategy announcement included an $8 million Incubator Support Programme. An incubator is a training and advice program for start-ups. These are usually co-located with a co-working space, where entrepreneurs can get low cost shared office space to get started and an accelerator for seed funding. The best example of this is the Kiln Incubator, alongside the Entry29 Co-working Space and Griffin Accelerator at Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).

Landing Pad Innovation Hubs

One aspect of the Australian government's Global Innovation Strategy announcement which did not get much attention are the five Landing Pad Innovation Hubs. These will help Australian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and three locations to be decided. I suggest there needs to be one in China (Guangzhou?), Europe (Frankfurt?) and Asia (India?).

Teach Our Researchers How to be Entrepreneurs

Part of the funding previous cut from CSIRO and NICTA/Data61 has been restored in the Government's
2016 Innovation Statsment. I suggest some of this should go to training the researchers in innovation, entrepreneurship, commercialization and communication. These organizations have been able to carry out research, but have a poor track record in turning the results of research into products and services. The reason for this poor performance, I suggest, is in part because the researchers have seen it as someone else's job to take their work and turn it into a commercial venture. That attitude needs to change and the best way to do it is to teach the researchers how commercialization works, with courses on innovation and entrepreneurship, where they are required to practice communicating with a non-technical audience.  I am designing a course to be delivered via mobile devices to help with this.

M-learning Saving the Planet from Climate Change

The draft Paris climate change agreement emphasizes* the role of education and training in achieving a reduction in carbon emissions. One way to do this is with the provision of education and training, via the Internet, particularly to developing nations, so that government administrators and those who have to implement carbon reduction strategies in industry know how to do it.

Developed nations can assist by providing course materials free on-line. An example, is "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future". The Australian Computer Society commissioned me to write this course in 2008. It has been run by the Australian National University for seven years. The course materials are upgraded each year and made available under an open access license, so any institution is free to use it world wide. For 2016 the course is being upgraded to be delivered using low cost mobile devices in developing nations.


* ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future, course book:

* Presentation about the course:

* "Education" is mentioned four times and "training" six, in the draft COP21 agreement:
Pp15: Affirming the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information and cooperation at all levels on the matters addressed in this Agreement, and recognizing the importance of engagements of all levels of government and various actors, in accordance with respective national legislations of Parties, in addressing climate change,

1. Capacity-building under this Agreement should enhance the capacity and ability of [countries] [developing country Parties, in particular countries with the least capacity, such as LDCs and SIDS and African countries [,in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention]] to take effective climate change action, including, inter alia, to implement adaptation and mitigation actions, and facilitate technology development, dissemination and deployment, access to climate finance, relevant aspects of education, training and public awareness, and the transparent, timely and accurate communication of information.

Article 8 bis: Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.

94: Calls upon all Parties to ensure that education, training and public awareness, as reflected in Article 6 of the Convention and in Article 8bis of the Agreement are adequately considered in their contribution to capacity building;

95: Requests the CMA to explore ways of enhancing the implementation of training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information so as to enhance actions under this Agreement, at its first session;

97: (b) To provide relevant tools, training and assistance for meeting the provisions stipulated in Article 9 of the Agreement;

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Can M-learning Make for a Campus Experience, Off-campus?

Recently I was investigating the use of mobile learning (m-learning) for programs and workplace learning. My area of work concerns teaching ICT students in Australian postgraduate programs leading to professional certification. Such courses are increasingly delivered via blended and e-learning, using tools such as Moodle. However, one aspect of such programs which has limited support from on-line tools and remains an educational and administrative problem, is the workplace experience component required for professional certification of graduates.

M-leaning is a development of e-learning, which was built on the foundation of paper based distance education. This evolutionary approach, I suggest, could be applied to the supervision of ICT students in Australian postgraduate programs leading to professional certification. Students could undertake part, or all, of their education in the workplace, supervised face-to-face by professionals, with remote support from the university. This would overcome the visa restrictions on transnational students, which would otherwise limit their use of e-learning. By using a combination of work-place supervisors and m-learning, to make the learning experience personal, immediate and intimate, students could have an campus experience while off-campus. As well as improving the quality of education by situating it in the workplace, this will provide access to education which would be otherwise denied due to regulations concerning the use of online learning.

Developing bespoke m-learning tools was a high cost process. However, e-learning tools, such as Moodle and Mahara, now come by default with "responsive" web interfaces which adapt to work on mobile devices.

What is the Embedded Energy in a University Degree?

Byron Washom, was speaking on University of San Diego's Microgrid at the 2015 ANU Energy Update the Australian National University in Canberra. He was discussing how to reduce energy used on a university campus. So I asked about metrics used to measure the energy efficiency of the university. He said UCSD uses measures such as energy per square foot.

Half jokingly, I suggested the embedded energy of a university degree should be the measure, as education is one of the products universities produce (the other being research). I might set this as an exercise for me ICT Sustainability students next semester. They could compare the energy use of an on-campus versus an on-line student, to see if e-learning saves energy.

Nobel Laureate on Climate Change

Greetings from the opening of the Australian National University in Canberra, where Nobel Laureate,  Professor Brian Schmidt, just opened the 2015 ANU Energy Update. In doing so he mentioned the "The Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change" issued by a meeting of Nobel Laureates. At a more down to earth level he suggested that ANU staff and students should start a conversation on climate change with the government neighbors in Canberra.

The next speaker is Byron Washom, speaking on University of San Diego's Microgrid.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Live Report from Paris Climate Change Meeting

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Associate Professor Frank Jotzo is speaking live on-line from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Paris. He describes the mood at the conference as "cautious optimism". Frank commented that the approach having heads of state speak at the beginning, rather than then end was working well. Australia was seen to be having a positive note "Australia is back", but as significant as Canada. Frank said Australia is supporting language for a 1.5 degree target. He commented that the alternative wordings in the draft agreement were "very strong", but there would need to be a mechanism to "ratchet up" the targets. All claims from developing countries are unlikely to be accepted. Australia has pledged $200M to the green climate find and is charing that part of the negotiations. Lastely Frank commented that the section of the agreement about what countries will do domestically was "A mess of square brackets" (this being the way not-agreed text is indicated).

Frank then discussed ANU research on what Australia might do to be carbon neutral by 2050. This would be by shitting down the high polluting brown coal fired power station and replacing them with solar power.  He argued this could be done "without tears".

Later today I will be talking about how I teach ANU students to use ICT to reduce carbon emissions.

Speak at ACS Canberra e-Learning Sig in 2016?

This is to invite speakers for the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch Electronic Learning Special Interest Group (ACS e-Learning SIG) in 2016. The dates available are 10 February, 11 May, 10 August, 23 November (Wednesdays 5:00pm for 5:30pm start and finishes at 7:00pm).

Last years topics were:

* Innovations in Teaching Innovation
* E-learning in developing countries
* Educational apps for free education
* Mobile Learning With Moodle for Higher Education in Australia and China

The format for the ACS e-Learning SIG is that the guest speaks for five to ten minutes then there are questions and discussion. Lecture style presentations are discouraged.

Please contact one of the co-chairs: Tom Worthington or Chris Johnson

Saturday, December 5, 2015

MIT App Inventor

The App Inventor (AI2) platform (Abeywardena, 2015) looks interesting. This is a similar interface to that used for teaching programming to school children and to undergraduates taking computing as a service course.

Australian company, Grok Learning use such a visual programming language (Blockly) for teaching programing to school kids. The similar "Snap!" programming environment is used for UC Berkeley's "Beauty and Joy of Computing" (Harvey, 2012).

However, I am not sure we should be turning every educator into a computer programmer. I think we need something at a higher level of abstraction, which implements educational constructs, rather than programming ones.


Abeywardena, I. S. (2015). Educational App Development Toolkit for Teachers and Learners. Retrieved from
Harvey, B. (2012). The Beauty and Joy of Computing: Computer Science for Everyone. Proceedings of Constructionism 2012, 33-39.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

World's Greatest Programming Language

Entry 29, the co-working space at the Canberra Innovation Network Incubator, held a debate this evening on what is the "World's Greatest Programming Language". It was a little like Big Bang Theory meets pub trivia night. Dr. Lachlan Blackhall, CTO of Reposit Power was the moderator and kept the witty banter flowing.
  • David Peterson, CTO of ImageBrief representing functional programming and delighted the audience with an almost erotic description of the joys of FP.
  • Mike Leonard, Fivium, put the case for Google G.O., which could have just been "Its from Google", but was so much more.
  • Dr Ali Salehi, SensorFront Co-Founder, wrapped Python around us.
  • Marcus Dawe, HealthHorizon Co-Founder , kept use sharp with C and C#.
There were some acronyms and a lot of laughs from the metaphors and something about how many monkeys you could wash). This reminded me a little of Dr Richard P. Gabriel and Dr Guy Steele presenting "50 in 50: 50 Programming Languages in 50 Years", with mention of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

The next debate is swinging the dial all the way to  11 on business. I have suggested the topic be "What Color Should your Business Plan Be?".

Implementing Large Scale Electronic Examinations at ANU

Steve BlackburnGreetings form the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Steve Blackburn is speaking on "Electronic Exams" (video now available).

Steve pointed out that the ANU Research School of Computer Science have been conducting on-line examinations for a decade. This has focused on a Linux environment for testing computer programming, but Steve suggests the procedures could be applied more broadly for other disciplines.

Steve pointed out that Moodle had also been used for on-line examinations. I conducted such an examination in a RSCS lab in 2007 for a short course on Electronic Document Management. This was a small group and one invigilator was used to ensure the students only used the specified websites. As Steve pointed out, securing Moodle for a large scale examination is problematic.

UTas/UQ have a project for electronic examinations on BYOD devices "Transforming Exams". Steve mentioned some of the complexities in this approach.

Steve decided to use a browser based electronic examination which mimics the look of a paper based examination. The web pages use persistent storage, javascrpit, CSS and other standard web features.

A sample of the exam is available. The examination web page has the color and layout of a paper examination form at ANU. Interestingly, while intended for a specific desktop environment, because the web page uses standard and straightforward code, it displays reasonably well on a mobile device. Also an accessibility test reported only one known problem (title missing). This suggests the examination would be suitable for those with a disability.

One interesting point is that the 2015 electronic examination was designed based on the 2014  paper one. Steve commented that students complained that students found the electronic version too hard and too long, compared to the paper equivalent. Also students had lower marks for the electronic than paper examination. He suggests this may be because students would sketch on paper, whereas they are encouraged to immediately work on the detail in the electronic form. One of the audience commented that the expectations of examiners may be higher with electronic examinations, as the limitations of handwriting are not there. Steven suggests this needs some rethink of question design and practice examinations.

Steve commented that this was being presented as an example of practice not as something claiming to be groundbreaking research. Clearly the audience did not agree with this and suggested it was worthy to be shown at the Australasian Computer Science Week of Conferences (ACSW 2016), being hosted at ANU, 2 February 2016.

One issue electronic examinations raises is: why have examinations at all? If the students are using on-line systems day-to-day, then why not use this for assessment? One issue raised by the audience are the accreditation requirements of external agencies. However, I suggest there are ways to satisfy these requirements and in some cases the assumed impediments are not real. As an example, in 2009 when I set out to design a fully on-line course at ANU, some commented that this would not meet the university rules for accession, as every course had to have an "examination".  A check of the rules showed this was not the case: courses do not have to have examinations and where there are examinations these need not be on paper.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Large Scale Electronic Examinations at ANU

Steve Blackburn
Professor Steve Blackburn will speak on "Electronic Exams" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 1pm 3 December 2015:
"This talk will discuss an experiment with a large scale electronic examination.
Pen and paper exams are the staple of examinations at institutions like ANU, however the pen-and-paper modality has a number of significant shortcomings:
  1. It is pedagogically limiting; evaluating the students in a setting often unlike the environment in which the teaching and learning occurs, denying access to tools that may be fundamental to the subject matter;
  2. It does not lend itself well to large classes and the possibility of auto-grading;
  3. student handwriting can be very hard to read!  
Electronic exams address these concerns and create a number of opportunities in the design of the exam and in the marking process. The Research School of Computer Science has been using electronic exams for over a decade, using a flexible and robust system of locked-down computers. 
However, the systems used at the Research School of Computer Science were tailored towards computing courses and are did not include a generic, straightforward and accessible framework in which the exam itself could be conducted. Moodle also provides means for running exams, but has a number of open challenges relating to security and robustness in an exam setting.   This semester I built a browser-based electronic exam that is flexible, amenable to other disciplines and content, is designed to look familiar and easy to use, is client-side (not requiring connectivity to a server) and is usable in any operating system that supports a modern web browser.
In this talk I will discuss the various factors that motivated the design of this electronic exam, its applicability to other disciplines, challenges and opportunities ahead, and the outcome of using the system in a large (>200) first year class in the Semester 2 2015 examination period.
You can see a sample of the exam here (  
This talk will be targeted to a broad audience and I will ensure that there is plenty of time for discussion among attendees."