Friday, May 26, 2017

Is the Growth in Australian International Education Sustainable?

Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training, has pointed to "... surging international student numbers.. " at Australian institutions, up 15% on March 2016. However is this growth rate sustainable? Can Australian institutions provide instructors, facilities and the quality of education, with this growth rate? What are the risks from depending on students from a few countries?

The International Student Data Monthly Summary from the Department of Education and Training shows 30% of the students are from China and 11% India. A dispute with China in particular (such as conflict over the South China Sea), resulting in a loss of students, would have a significant effect on Australian institution's finances.

While universities get most of the media attention, this is only just only half of the international students at 54%. Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector makes up 23%. While VET is growing at the same rate as universities (15%), I suggest there is scope for more growth in this sector. The challenge is to provide VET training which governments and employers in the region will find credible. If Australian VET providers can find a way to convince stakeholders that students actually undertook the training and are competent to the level certified, this sector could expand. This may require techniques similar to the livestock export industry, where there is individual tracking.

Just as a consumer of premium beef can see which farm a steak came from and the details of the farmer, credible VET certification may require the employer to see who trained the applicant in what, when and perhaps even video of the applicant undertaking their training and assessment.

The other threat to Australian's inbound international education industry is, of course, on-line learning. At present on-line courses, are not seen as a premium product, with questions over the quality of the education and the integrity of the assessment system. The VET sector could help change this perception, with its results based approach to training and assessment and flexibility.

Australian universities have recently experimented with vocationally relevant skills, micro-credentials and competency based assessment, but these have been routine in the VET sector for decades. It is much easier to convince an employer than a VET graduate has the required skills for a job, where there is a list of skills specific to that job, every one of which the student has been certified competent in. In contrast, a university graduate may, or may not, have been tested against some of a list of vague aspirational goals listed for a degree.

However, Australia suffers from its divided higher education system which sees universities separated from VET and no education focused institutions to fill the gap in between. Solving this problem is the key to further expansion of international education and lowering the cost of domestic higher education.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

EduTECH in Sydney 8 and 9 June 2017

The EduTech 2017 is on at the new exhibition centre in Sydney 8 and 9 June. I enjoyed speaking and chairing at the Tertiary Education IT Leaders stream of EduTech in Brisbane last year. This event has a free exhibition as well as streams for educators (and parents) from K to Vocational/University and Librarians.

This year I will be taking a less active role* and probably will just go to Ed 2030 (11:20am) and Systems Innovation (11:40am). Apart from that I will be wandering around the exhibition seeing what to blog for Higher Ed Whisperer. Anyone with something new and interesting for the blog, please let me know.

* I have volunteered to be on standby if they need a chair or speaker.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Australian USI Transcript Service: Is it any use?

Karen Andrews, the Australian Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, has announced a national Electronic USI  Transcript Service for VET students. This will allow students to obtain an electronic copy of what they did from 2015, onwards. However, the purpose and status of the service is unclear.

The USI website says "The online transcript will have many uses ...", but does not say what all those uses are. It says "This transcript will be a useful backup for when the original documentation is lost ...", but also says "... it does not replace the qualifications or documentation issued by training organisations ...". These statements are contradictory: to be a backup the new service must be able to replace the documentation previously issued.

I suggest the Government needs to decide if the USI Transcript Service can be relied on, or not. If the information in the government's database can't be relied on, then there seems to be little point in having the system. If it can be relied on, then it should be used in place of paper based certificates, which are easily forged.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Visible Learning: see learning through the eyes of students

Professor John Hattie
John Hattie (2015) argues that most teaching techniques work, but what works best is "visible learning": seeing learning from the students point of view, so they learn to learn. In this updated meta-meta-analysis it is easy to get lost ion the detail. But there are some useful, practical points for school and higher education teaching:
  1. Minimal effects of class size: Reducing class size only makes a small improvement in student's learning (Hattie mentions classes of 600 to 15). It occurs to me that the cost of staff is a large part of the education budget, so the way to improve the quality of education may be to increase class sizes. The staff time saved can be devoted to helping students.
  2. Student preparation is important: Flipped classrooms work where students actually do the preparatory work and are aware of what they have learned. As an example, I have students in my "ICT Sustainability Course" undertake a automated on-line quiz after each module.
  3. Reviewing increases learning dramatically: Hattie finds that taking notes does not help learning much, but reviewing the notes does. Also students learn from each other. As an example, I have my ICT Sustainability students answer two or three questions after each module, discuss it and them peer assess each other's contribution.
  4. Problem Based Learning (PBL) later: Hattie suggests that PBL has not been show to be effective as it has been used for first-year students who do not yet have the basic knowledge required. They argue this will be more effective for later years. In my teaching of students in the ANU TechLauncher program, this seems to be the case. Teams of third year and graduate computing and engineering students work on real projects for real clients.
  5. E-learning is just as effective as a classroom: Hattie points out that online and distance courses are just as effective as on campus learning. This has been well established in the research as the so called "No Significant Difference Phenomenon". However, many academics find it difficult to accept that their live lectures make no difference to student learning: live video, recorded video and no video at all is just as effective.
  6. Training university academics to teach: Hattie argues that training university academics to be effective teachers improves student learning. This may seem obvious, but university academics still resist the idea that they need to be trained to actually teach. Particularly at research orientated universities the emphasis is on academics conducting research on teaching, but not undertaking the type of basic learning of teaching techniques which school and vocational college teachers are required to undertake as a condition of employment.
  7. Alignment of Assessment and Course Aims: Hattie points out that students use the assessment as a guide to what is important in a course. As a recent graduate student myself, I found this very much the case. It was frustrating when the instructor had us study what was not assessed, then assessed us on something only briefly touched on in the course.

    There seems to be an article of faith amongst some in academia that students should not be driven by assessment and marks. Curiously, when it comes to rewards in the form of research grants and promotions, these same academics are very much directly driven by short term concrete rewards, not the esoteric pursuit of knowledge. ;-)

    In my own course design, I am careful to show the students the explicit link from the skills demanded by industry, the course learning objectives derived from those skills and the assessment items supporting the learning outcomes. For each module of a course the student can see there is some assessment at the end, with a deadline.

The paper is an update of the earlier book. 

Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn

Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn



Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79. retrieved from

Assessing STEM Students Using ePortfolios

The final assessment item for Computing and engineering students undertaking group projects in the TechLauncher Program at the Australian National University is a Personal Development Review (PDR). Last year this was a reflective portfolio prepared by the student using the Mahara e-Portfolio tool and worth 30% of the total course assessment. This year the exercise has been halved to 15% and recast as an a job application (1,000 to 1,250 words) against five selection criteria:
Dr Shayne Flint
Dr Chris Browne
Dr Chris Browne
  1. "demonstrated proficiency in a technical area of expertise
  2. a positive attitude and/or clear organisation skills
  3. teamwork and/or leadership
  4. demonstrated service to the workplace
  5. a commitment to personal development"
From: TechLauncher Personal Development Review, Shayne Flint and Chris Browne, ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science, 2017
Students will be assessed against these criteria. The use of Mahara is no longer suggested, with the student simply submitting a word processing document via the Moodle Learning Management System.

As I discovered myself, having to complete a reflective portfolio last year for a MEd, this is a particularly difficult task for a STEM student. Having been trained to always emphasize hard facts and write in the third person, it is difficult to suddenly write about myself and my personal relationship to the work. Treating the task like a job application should provide more focus for the students. However, this is still difficult where students have been undertaking teamwork and trained to be "team players" but then asked to write about what they, individually, accomplished.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Peace Through Superior Innovation

Kate Lundy
Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) office, where I am attending a ACT Defence Industry Forum. Former Senator for the ACT, Kate Lundy, the ACT Defence Industry Advocate opened the event. She pointed out that while defence industry in South Australia is discussed in the media, Canberra is the location of the ADF headquarters and many supplier companies. This is timely as I was on a panel for ANU software engineering students this morning, including a discussion of cyber-security and  radar design for warships (which is done in Canberra).

The choice of CBRIN for this event is interesting, as it is usually associated with web startups for consumer products, which would seem a long way from military systems. However, supporting the heavy iron military equipment are thousands of products and services provided by small specialist companies. I saw this first hand in 1997 when taking part in a multi-nation military exercise in Queensland. Not only were there companies at the temporary base set up for the operation, but deployed on warships at sea. I flew out into the Coral Sea by military helicopter to meet with my colleagues on the US fleet flagship, where I bumped into many civilians supporting the military.

Petr Adámek
Petr Adámek, the new CEO of CBRIN challenged the defence industry to think about how innovation could be better done. One way I suggest is to look at adopting some of the gig-economy techniques to defence services. This does not need to involve guns and bombs. Most defence spending goes on personnel: training people, feeding them, and keeping them healthy. The military also spend a lot on "logistics": getting materials needed to the right place at the right time.

A current example is the ADF restructuring to its traditional role as an amphibious fighting force. Australia has invested several billion dollars in amphibious warfare ships, which can transport personnel and equipment across the region onto a shore. However, retraining the Army to be effective marines, to get all the supplies they will need to where the ship is and all of the support on board is an opportunity for many new products and services.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

One Course at a Time Makes Study Easier

In "Sequential single-unit blocks pave the pathway to academic success", Peter Dawkins and Ian Solomonides

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Framework for Open Learning Funding Cut

One small item in the Australian Budget 2017-18 was a $2.5M cut in funding for the Framework for Open Learning (FOLP). ICT for schools, VET and higher education to provide open learning is a worthwhile objective and one which could save billions of dollars.
"The Government will achieve efficiencies of $2.5 million over four years from 2017-18 by returning uncommitted funding for the Framework for Open Learning Program to the Budget. Projects currently funded under the Program will continue until their completion. Ongoing funding of $0.5 million per annum will remain from 2021-22 to continue to support schools to help connect and exchange data digitally.

The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government to fund policy priorities."
From "Budget Measures, Budget Paper No. 2 2017-18", page 81, 2017

Future of Teaching and learning at ANU

ANU Union Court Redevelopment
New ANU Buildings
(artists' impression).
Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra where Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington is speaking on the Teaching and learning futures at ANU. This is one of a series of talks about the new Union Court Development. There are also Union Court podcasts. Three of the new buildings will include teaching facilities. There will be a student services building, teaching and cultural events building (with large theaters).

The teaching building will have 60% formal learning spaces and 40% informal. Rooms are designed for 30, 60, 90 and 120 students (some rooms have movable walls). There will be translucent glass panels to provide privacy with light. The top floor will have a "super-floor" suitable for 320 students in cabaret style.

For the last ten years I have been looking at suitable teaching space design and for three years learning about teaching styles to suit these spaces. I will be presenting on this in "Dogfooding: Learning About Teaching by Being an On-line Student", at ANU, 1pm, 15 May 2017.
The culture and event building will have a flexible space with movable 200 and 512 seat tiered lecture theaters. This is intended to be used for sports and examinations with the seating retracted. I have been to conferences in similar spaces in Hong Kong and Cambridge. There will also be 150 and 300 fixed seat theaters for performances and lectures.
While the new buildings are being built there will be a need for temporary facilities. I have suggested rather than finding large temporary lecture theaters instead change to flipped teaching in flat floor rooms. Apart from being easier to find flat floor spaces this will improve the teaching.
One interesting aspect is that Professor Hughes-Warrington pointed out the new teaching building will be constructed from cross-laminated timber rather than concrete and steel. She suggested this will improve the WiFi signals, but I suspect the cabling in the building will still limit transmission.
"The university landscape is rapidly transforming, driven by societal and technological change on a global and local level. These changes provide us with an opportunity to ensure that we are providing an enriched and valuable learning experience here at ANU.
The revitalised Union Court precinct ANU is building will feature some of the country’s most advanced collaborative learning environments.
This forum will discuss the opportunities these spaces provide for teaching at ANU and the wide range of teaching possibilities our spaces will accommodate, including didactic lectures, tutorials, seminars, flipped classrooms and more."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Making University Relevant to Entrepreneurs

Universities need to counter the "universities kill innovation" view in the entrepreneurial community. This was evident in Steve Baxter's talk at River City Labs in Brisbane last Friday.

On Friday I had some free time in Brisbane so I went along to River City Labs Entrepreneur's Story Evening. River City Labs is a coworking space, much like Fishburners in Sydney and Entry 29 in Canberra. Those wanting to start a new tech business get some office space and help.

River City Labs is in the historic TCB Building  at Level 3, 315 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley. They recently moved from around the corner in Wickham Street (some events in Eventbrite still have the old address). Like many start-up spaces, River City Labs seems to delight in being hard to find. You go down an almost deserted shopping arcade and turn left into a passageway which apparently ends with a blank brick wall. Closer examination shows this is a lift lobby, with the lift doors disguised in brick pattern wallpaper (why?). The only way I found the place was people coming out wearing jeans, black shirts and carrying laptops (the Steve Jobs looks). ;-)

Once inside, River City Labs is a world-within-a-world. This multistory space is fitted out in the usual New York Loft warehouse style of co-working spaces: bare wooden floorboards, bare brick-walls and services visible on the ceiling. There is glass partitioning, making the most of the light from the clerestory windows of the large atrium.

Steve Baxter, as it turns out is not only one of the founders of River City Labs but also appears on the  Australian TV series Shark Tank. Steve is originally from Brisbane, made his mark as an ISP pioneer in Adelaide, then in the USA before returning to Brisbane.

Steve made several comments about the role of universities in innovation, both in his talk and in answering questions after. What he seemed to be saying was that successful tech startups are founded by technologically competent entrepreneurs, not business people. Steve suggested that the tech entrepreneur could obtain business advice and training, but a business person without the needed tech training would have more difficulty.

Steve seemed keen for school leavers to undertake tech degrees at university, but otherwise did not want universities involved in innovation. It was not clear to me what he thought universities were doing that they shouldn't do. Apart from educating students, universities conduct fundamental and, some applied, research. My preferred approach for university research to be exploited is the Cambridge Phenomenon Model: some of the graduates involved with the research transition to the private sector to commercially exploit the work, with the institution perhaps retaining a financial interest. The hands off approach where the scientist hands their work to a company to develop does not work well: the scientist has to get their hands dirty working in industry.

After Steve's anti-university comments I got a laugh asking the last question, when I mentioned I was associated with ANU (I happened to be wearing a black t-shirt with "ANU" in very large white letters). I pointed out that some tech students in Canberra are encouraged to go to the Canberra Innovation Network (equivalent to River City Labs) to learn about entrepreneurship, they then receive credit for the project work they do. Programs such as ANU Techlauncher try to balance the academic and practical aspects. Steve seemed to like this idea.

If entrepreneurs have the idea that universities just turn out academics of no value to industry, then this will become a self fulfilling prophecy. I don't agree with Steve that universities should just produce tech graduates. The universities can also teach tech graduates some basic business skills: how to make a presentation, plan a project, work about cost and what the client wants. Also universities can provide sub-degree and shorter post-degree education to help entrepreneurs. It doesn't have to be a school-university-job production like of people.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Train Teachers to be Professional

In "Here’s what is wrong with testing teachers and Teach For Australia" Keith Heggart (1 May 2017) discusses and dismisses both raising the ATAR and using ah-hoc teacher programs. However, Heggart does not offer a viable alternative. I suggest training teachers to be proactive professionals, who take responsibility for how to teach.

Teach for Australia encourages graduates, particularly in STEM, to take up teaching. This has a high profile currently, being the subject of a SBS TV documentary "Testing Teachers". It is good to see there are some idealistic individuals willing to sacrifice a high paying career to go into teaching. This makes good TV, but clearly is not a viable public policy. If you want highly qualified teachers, then you have to train and pay them all accordingly.

For similar reasons, I suggest that raising ATARs will not improve teaching quality on its own. Why would a university student choose a teaching degree, if they can select an alternative leading to higher pay, less stress and shorter working hours?

Heggart proposes reducing teacher workloads, but does not provide a strategy for doing this. If teachers are willing to work long hours for little pay, why would governments and employers be motivated to change that situation? I suggest that the teachers themselves need to be trained to change this.

Teachers can be trained to be true professionals, who make decisions about what and how they teach. One part of this would be for teachers to cooperate to design the way they teach so it makes efficient use of their time and that of the students.

Rather than just responding to demands on their time and spending long hours filling out useless paperwork, teachers could be trained to prioritize their time. Teachers could work out what is important for their student's learning and allocate time to those tasks. What is not important for learning and for which there is no time should simply not be done.

The issue of how to teach is now being debated at universities. ANU is demolishing its central lecture theater facilities. I have suggested we take the opportunity to do our teaching differently. Lectures are not a particularly useful way to teach university students and so I have suggested we stop doing it.

School teachers can be trained to design learning to efficiently use available resources. The scarcest of those resources are teacher and student time. Teachers can be trained to use technology to reduce administrative burdens and also to collaborate with their peers. Rather than a teacher alone in a classroom, being told to fill out a whole lot of forms, they can focus on actually teaching.

This is not to suggest some sort of revolutionary takeover of schools by teachers. Instead it is suggesting teachers be trained to take responsibility for teaching. Trainee teachers can then have support from mentors and peers on-line. As they advance through their careers teachers can include the role of planning and implementing the future of education as part of the work of a professional.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Replace Lectures with a Flipped Classroom

Australian universities are moving away from the provision of dedicated lecture theaters. This change in physical spaces provides the opportunity to think about how to improve teaching. As an example, the Australian National University (ANU) is replacing the central Manning Clark lecture theatre complex with flexible learning spaces, as part of the Union Court Redevelopment. The obvious approach to consider is the flipped classroom. Apart from improved education, this will halve the amount of formal teaching space required.

A common teaching format is three one hour lectures a week and one tutorial of one hour. However,  a student who has sat through three hours of someone talking at them in a darkened room is not likely to recall much, the following week when a tutorial is held.

With the flipped classroom the student reads material on-line on their own, watches some videos or listens to an audio podcast. They do a short quiz or exercise immediately after, to consolidate the learning. Within a few days they then attend a face-to-face session where they listen to a presenter for a few minutes, do a small group exercise, listen to the results from other groups.

Key to both distance education and the flipped classroom is to have the students doing something active. Also key is to have this activity assessed and to provide the students with feedback on how they are doing, as soon as possible.

But is it feasible to replace lectures and tutorials with a flipped classroom? Will it take too many new buildings and staff?

Consider a typical course with 300 students enrolled and tutorials of 20 students (from p. 4  "A Guide for Parents and Carers", 2016). A typical course will have three one hour lectures a week and one tutorial of one hour. Assuming a 300 seat lecture theater is available, one lecturer can provide the lectures in three hours and 15 tutor hours will be required per week. This would require a 300 m2 lecture theater for three hours and a 40 m2 tutorial room for fifteen hours per week (using usual space guidelines). This is a total of 5 m2 hours of floor space per student per week. 

Rendering of the TEAL classroom at MIT
A room for cabaret style flipped teaching, such as  MIT's Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) or the ANU Physics Studio, requires about 2.5 m2 per student. The 300 students would require 750 m2 with 34 tables (each seating nine students). As well as TEAL* this format of classroom is also called SCALE-UP: Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies (or Student‐Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs), ALC: Active Learning Classrooms, or TILE: Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage.

A cabaret style room requires about two and a half times as much floor space as a conventional lecture theater. However, saving is made in floor space, as each student spends less time in the room, with the flipped approach. There is also no need for a separate tutorial room.

Such large teaching spaces do exist, as an example, the University of Sydney "X-lab wet lab" accommodates about 240 students. However, the X-lab has a very sophisticated (and expensive) audio system allowing it to be divided for smaller classes.

A more workable option may be to divide a course into multiple sessions. This also provides the student with the option to choose a time which better suits them. A course of 300 students could be divided into two groups of 150. This would require a room of 375 m2, about 19 m2, with seventeen tables. This is a total of 2.5 m2 hours per student per week.

Each flipped class will require a lecturer to be the MC and about five tutors (one for each four tables and one to assist the lecturer). If each  student undertakes one workshop of one hour per week, there would need to be two classes a week (or one a week for a two hour class).

The two hours of flipped class per week will require about the same amount of staff time as the four hours of lectures and tutorials. An emcee (equivalent of a lecturer) will be required for the two hours. While this is less than the three hours of lectures, they will also need to supervise the on-line component of the flipped class and handle the increased complexities of the flipped mode.

While only 10 hours of tutor time are needed in the face-to-face class, there will be extra work for the digital teaching in on-line classes.

One advantage of cabaret style teaching rooms is that they do not require a purpose built building. Libraries, offices and commercial buildings with flat floors can be re-purposed for cabaret style teaching These changes can be temporary, using mobile furniture and equipment. When not needed for classes the space can be used informally by students. The ANU Physics Studio, in a former chemical laboratory, is an excellent example of this approach.

The cabaret rooms, with movable furniture can be adapted for other teaching styles, best illustrated by the University of Canberra's Inspire building TEAL room*,  which has semi-curricular flip top tables which can be quickly reconfigured during a class for different teaching styles, or packed away for a function.

Before cutting the space budget at universities, administrators need to consider where students will study when not in formal classes. With an emphasis on group work, students will need somewhere to do that group work. This will not involve an instructor and not be scheduled on the university timetable, but is still key to learning. Learning commons and uncommitted time in the flexible teaching rooms will be needed if the students are to meet on campus. Also students undertaking lab work with specialized equipment will need time to work.

In 2008 I gave up lectures and moved my teaching on-line. With new teaching spaces available it may soon be time to go back to the classroom. I will discuss some of this in "Dogfooding: Learning About Teaching by Being an On-line Student", for the  ASCILITE Technology Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group Webinar (TEL edvisors), 4 May  & Human Centered Computing Seminar, RSCS, ANU, 15 May 2017.

* ps: The University of Canberra's Inspire building TEAL room is colored teal (blue-green), which may be a joke by the designer.

Friday, April 21, 2017

UNESCO Policy Recommendations for Equitable and Affordable Higher Education

UNESCO have released a policy paper on "Six ways to ensure higher education leaves no one behind" (20 April 2017).

The six ways are:
  1. Know your target for equity policies. Review equity policies periodically to make sure that the groups that most need help are getting it. Take advantage of household surveys and other monitoring tools to keep track of different groups. 
  2. Put it in the law. Ensure equity and affordability across diverse higher education systems by guaranteeing principles of access within regulatory frameworks
  3. Set up steering and monitoring agencies. Guarantee student protection by establishing national agencies to develop and follow up on equal opportunities policies, equity and affordability in higher education. Quality assurance bodies can play a role in the monitoring of equity policies.
  4. Level the playing field. Use a combination of admissions criteria to ensure that all students have a fair chance at getting into the best universities, regardless of their backgrounds. Develop effective affirmative action policies that put equity front and centre in the admissions process.
  5. Combine tuition fees with means-tested grants and loans. Concentrate public financial aid on disadvantaged student groups. Establish an agency to coordinate student financial aid disbursement and effective collection mechanisms.
  6. Limit student repayments. Combine low tuition and fees with income-based loans to cap student repayment burdens at less than 15% of monthly income.
From: Six ways to ensure higher education leaves no one behind, Page 10, UNESCO, 20 April 2017.

Two additional measures I suggest may help:
  1. Concentrate public financial aid on shorter introductory vocational programs. The funding needed for one student to undertake a three year degree could instead provide three students with a one year diploma, or six students with a six month certificate. Once the student is qualified for a well paying job they can fund their own studies.
  2. Train Academics to Teach On-line:  On-line and blended learning provides considerable potential for providing equitable access to education. However, many university academics have minimal training in how to use computers for teaching. Academics should be trained in how to teach in blended and on-line modes using courses delivered in blended and on-line modes.

EDUCATION: It's a science!

Here is a virtual placard to display on my e-Book reader at the March for Science Australia, at Parliament House, Canberra, Saturday, 11am, 22 April 2017:


It's a science!

Higher Education

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Facilitating Success for Students from Low Socioeconomic Status Backgrounds at Regional Universities

The report "Facilitating Success for Students from Low Socioeconomic Status Backgroundsat Regional Universities" by Marcia Devlin and Jade McKay has been published by Federation University Australia. There are no real surprises in this 110 page report. Some of the suggested areas for policy reform seem a little naive.

The research found eight factors for the success of students:
  1. Students’ own attitudes
  2. Family support
  3. Financial security and sustainability
  4. Reliable technology
  5. Understanding and responding to the particular circumstances and needs of students
  6. Facilitating students being and feeling connected to university
  7. Student preparedness for the realities of university study
  8. An inclusive, engaged approach to learning and teaching
The authors suggest five areas for work:
  1. Ensuring financial stability for students
  2. Defining, measuring and monitoring ‘attrition’
  3. Valuing staged and micro qualifications
  4. Leveraging existing regional and rural infrastructure
  5. Regional school investment
We do not need a study to identify that financial security is an issue for students from low a SES background. Also the proposal to ensure financial stability for students would exclude many from higher education.

The proposal for micro-credentials is worthwhile. However the term "micro-credentials" is misleading, as this suggests a credential for a few hours work. What the report appears to be proposing are sub-degree qualifications: certificates and diplomas. These take six months to a year of study. These are not "micro-credentials" and are already allowed for in Australian Higher Education. All that is required is the government funding incentives to implement them.

Government could encourage institutions to implement nested qualifications. That is, students would be able to exit with a qualification after six months or one year and be able to reenter the same program later. Government could encourage this by making it a condition of the funding of degree programs: that is degrees which did not have a nested option would not be funded.
Shorter qualification are more common in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, than universities. Government funding to encourage students to undertake VET before university would likely improve success rates for low SES students. Many regional universities have co-located VET facilities and this should be relatively easy to implement.

What the report does not seem to address is improving the inclusiveness of higher education, through better course design and use of trained teachers. This is an area where the regional universities have an advantage over the capital city research universities. Cathy Stone's National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning  provide a useful set of tips for improving e-learning which are also applicable to campus-based programs.

The report also fails to address the role of e-learning in facilitating success for students. E-learning is normally considered to lower student success, compared to on-campus students. However, e-learning allows students who would otherwise not be able to access higher education at all to participate. E-learning offers a way to provide cost-effective support for students from low SES backgrounds in regional areas.

Monday, April 17, 2017

School Students Expectations of Higher Education

In 2016, just over 70% of NSW students undertook some further education or training within six months of completing Year 12.  Just over 51% started a Bachelor degree and just over 9% a vocational qualification and 10% an apprenticeship or traineeships. This is from the NSW Secondary Students’ Post-School Destinations and Expectations2016 Annual Report, prepared by the Social Research Centre of the Australian National University, for the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation. In my view teachers and government need to encourage more students to undertake vocational qualifications.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What is a Webinar?

A Webinar is a seminar conducted using Web browser based video-conferencing software. The webinar usually follows the conventions of a seminar, starting at an advertised time, with a moderator introducing a speaker. The speaker is usually accompanied by a slide show and occasionally short prepared animations or video sequences. The audience can ask questions via a text chat window, or by audio (monitored by the moderator). There may be polls where the audience answer multiple choice questions.

While some webinars have live video of the speaker, this is not necessary and may cause problems for participants with limited bandwidth. A still photo of the speaker at the beginning of the session is sufficient. Similarly, while audio questions from the audience make the seminar more engaging, this can cause technical problems and many webinars use only text chat for audience participation.

Webinar software also has provision for the speaker to draw on the screen and show a live application. These features are also rarely used, due to the tehcnial problems they can cause.

Most webinar systems allow for the session to be recorded, including the audio, video, and text chat. The moderator needs to remind the participants that the session is to be recorded and who will have access to the recording. They also need to indicate when the recording ends.

Webinars are a useful synchronous (real-time) supplement to the more usual asynchronous (non-real-time) on-line recorded video, text and text based forums. Webinars are used because they are more engaging for the participants than just watching a video, or posting to a forum. However, the real-time nature has its limitations, in terms of scheduling and the ability of some to participate and so should only be used as a supplement.

Some commonly used products for webinars are Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate. A free open access product is BigBlueButton (provided free with Moodle Cloud).

ps: One tip is to provide the date and time for a webinar in the local time using the formal official time zone designation. If international participants are expected, then also provide the time in UTC.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Australian Student Experience

The Australian Student Experience Survey 2016 has been published by the Australian Government on the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) website. Overall the news is good, with a Teaching Quality rating of 81% overall. The result which the media has focused on is that the Group of Eight leading universities scored below average for student satisfaction. However, these are leading universities based on the quality of their research. If students want a better educational experience they should choose an institution which has education as the priority, not research. However, contrary to the advertising by universities, study is not fun, it is very hard work, stressful and frustrating.

One other finding is that the percentage of higher education students who considered dropping out is higher for External/Distance students is 17% higher than for other students (21% versus 18%). This is also not a surprise, as it is more difficult for distance students to remain engaged. But what is surprising is that overall at all times about one in five students are considering dropping out. Last month Dr Cathy Stone produced National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning. While intended for e-learning, these measures be applied to improving retention of on-campus students as well.

The reason for  41% of those considering withdrawing is health or stress. Course designers can assist this by reducing the stress caused, especially by assessment. I suggest the use of early and frequent progressive assessment.

A surprising result is the percentage of students with low grades who had considered quiting. The higher the grade the fewer students consider quitting. However, about 45% of students with a grade of 49% or lower consider quitting. This seems a low figure and I would have thought more students would consider withdrawing. While universities should have measures for retaining students, they should also be encouraged to withdraw where the course does not suit them.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Simplifying a course web page

Pictographs by
Carlos Sarmento

from the Noun Project
(CC BY 3.0 US).
As part of my Four Steps to Digital Teaching here is a real example of simplifying a course web page. This shows the page for my ICT Sustainability course as it was when first offered at ANU in 2009 and the latest version in 2016.

Between 2009 and 2016 I removed the paragraphs of text, as the emphasis should be on what the student needs to do. The details of why and how are now in subsidiary documents.

The Terminology List, Course Outline, and Background have been consolidated into an eBook of course notes. There is a chapter in the eBook for each week, which includes the "Read me first" and "Work Notes".

The list of major assessment items had been added to the top of the page.  A reminder is timed to appear a week before the assignment is due and again the week due. The links point to where the assignment is submitted, which is also where information about how to complete the assignment is provided. This avoid confusion when students get multiple and contradiction sets of instructions about assignments. However, having the full title of each assignment makes for a lot of text and I am shorten this in the next version.

The "Discussion Questions" are now listed at the end of the chapter of course notes for the week. Each question is also posted to the "weekly forum" as a thread for the student to reply to. This way the student is prompted by the system to enter their answer.

The "Friday Message" to students is now posted to the weekly forum. This provides feedback on how the students are doing overall, which research suggests the students appreciate.

A weekly automated "quiz" has been added. The quiz and discussion forums have time limits. The student has a week to contribute and receive a mark. A tick box indicates they have completed each of these tasks (as well as the major assignments).

A timed "reminder" appears for the last day to drop course without penalty. At this point students have several weeks of assessment results and so very few students fail the course. The completion rate for the course is similar to conventional courses, but rather than fail, students withdraw while they can.

2009 Version

ICT Sustainability

Green ICT Strategies is an online course about how to use computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit, with minimum energy and materials use.
  • News forum
  • Chatroom
  • Terminology List
  • Course Outline
  • Backgound to development of the course
  • 18 January - 24 January

    Week 1: Introduction to Green ICT Strategies

    Understand environmental, social and business context for sustainability, and overview of background, boundaries.
    • Read me first - Week 1
    • Work Notes - Week 1
    • Workload
    • Assessment
    • Seminar - Week 1
    • Discussion Questions - Week 1
    • Friday Message

    22 February - 28 February

    Week 6: Methods and tools

    Ensure that appropriate methods and tools for the planning, development, operation, management and maintenance of systems are adopted and used effectively throughout the organisation.
    • Read me first - Week 6
    • Work notes - week 6
    • Seminar - Week 6
    • Discussion Questions - Week 6

2016 Version

ICT Sustainability

  • News
  • Chatroom
  • Contact Your Tutor
  • Course Notes: ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future
  • Assignment 1a due week 4: Describe an organization and how you will study its ICT sustainability ☑
  • Assignment 1b due week 6: Estimate the Carbon Footprint ☑
  • Assignment 2a due week 10: Approach to Reducing Carbon Footprint ☑
  • Assignment 2b due week 12: Reduce the Carbon Footprint ☑
  • Tasks Every Week: Read, Answer and Discuss
  • Sample Quiz

22 February - 28 February

Week 1: Politics, Science and Business of Sustainability

  • Week 1 Discussion
  • Week 1 Quiz

Week 6: Methods and Tools

  • Week 6 Discussion Forum
  • Reminder: Assignment 1b due this week.
  • Reminder: Last day to drop course without financial/academic penalty is 31 March 2016.
  • Week 6 Quiz

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Four Steps to Digital Teaching

Pictographs by
Carlos Sarmento

from the Noun Project
(CC BY 3.0 US).
To help with the change in teaching techniques at ANU, I have set out Four Steps to Digital Teaching. These are illustrated on the cover of my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education". The idea is to provide some quick and easy to understand steps to help academics to adapt existing courses and materials, not to turn them into educational designers or technology specialists. My approach, the educational jargon, is constructivist, collaborative and experiential.
Provide ebooks and other curated content on the topic
  1. eBooks: Provide ebooks and other curated content on the topic. Finding what they should read, and do, when can be confusing for a student. The course materials should be laid out like a book, with a table of contents, providing an overview, the course materials and activities in the order in which the student should undertake them and at the end any additional material. There should be an introduction, and a list of all the assessment the student is to undertake.

    The electronic format used for the course materials and the providing it is not so important. However, using many different systems and formats can be confusing for the student.
  2. Facilitate discussion between the students;
    Discussion: Facilitate discussion between the students. Discussion is not only a useful way for the student to learn, but is a valuable graduate skill in itself. At least on asynchronous text based forum should be provided.

    Synchronous text, audio and video "webinars" may also be used, but students may not be able to all attend at the same time, so multiple sessions and asynchronous alternatives should be provided.

    Students need to be told in advance what the purpose of the discussion is, how they are expected to participate and how the discussion will be assessed. The discussion must be assessed in some way, to provide the student with an incentive to participate and to make it educationally relevant.
  3. Provide tools and techniques for the student to explore the topic; andeTools: Provide tools and techniques for the student to explore the topic. The basic tools used for a course will be the provision of reading materials, discussion questions and a forum to answer the questions in.

    Quizzes may be provided to help students with surface knowledge. There may be more specialized tools which emulate those of the discipline on-line or are actual on-line tools.
  4. assessment, including formative feedback, to help them learn.Assessment, including formative feedback, to help them learn. Whenever a student is asked to do something, there should be some form of assessment to check how well they did it.

    For a standard twelve week course, there should be some form of assessment at least every week, making up about one to two percent of the total assessment per week. To improve learning and reduce the instructor burden, most of this assessment can be automated quizzes and peer assessment. The assessment scheme can be set so that this progressive assessment does not count for high grades (above a "Credit").

    Assessment is stressful for the student and time consuming for the instructor. Stress and time can be reduced by using rubrics, to clearly set out what is required. Also firm deadlines with no extensions can help reduce stress and time: student then know when assessment is due and that missed deadlines result in zero marks. To make this less stressful small progressive assessment items can be on a "best of" basis, such as the best ten out of twelve weeks being counted.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Digital Literacy for New Teachers

Jane Hunter A report on Digital Literacy and Learning in Initial Teacher Education, has been released by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, March 2017). But as Dr Jane Hunter from UTS points out, in "The four challenges Australia faces to improve the digital literacy of new teachers" (3 April 2017), the report is full of jargon.

It seems to me, as a non-expert in the field of school teacher education (my book is on "Digital Teaching In Higher Education"), that the solution is quite simple: e-learning and blended learning should be used for basic teacher training. In this way computers in teaching will become normal and natural for new teachers and not something to be feared. These new teachers can then go out and educate their colleagues.

Dr. Hunter lists four challenges, which I suggest are not that challenging, if the new teachers are trained and equipped for digital teaching:
  1. Blackboards by Samira MakhmalbafConnectivity:  To overcome a lack of consistent connectivity in schools, I suggest equipping the student teachers with a $400 mobile broadband touchscreen laptop, so they are not reliant on school infrastructure. The new teachers can then be sent out (like those in the film "Blackboards"), to provide a WiFi hot-spot for their class, even if the rest of the school lacks connectivity.
  2. Funding for professional development: The new digitally trained and equipped teachers can provide PD for their colleagues as part of the new teacher's training.
  3. Develop digital fluency: In the absence of any officially mandated framework, the digital curriculum provided to the new teachers can define what all teachers should know.
  4. Educators involved with initial teacher education need continuous hands on experiences in schools: The trainee teachers will need placements in schools, as part of their training. Rather than their instructors sending these students out to fend for themselves on placements, the educators can provide advice to the trainee teachers on-line, via their mobile broadband laptops. This will connect the educators to the trainee teachers in real time and through them to the school community. I am helping do something like this as a tutor for ANU Techlauncher. Teams of students undertake real projects in industry and, as a byproduct, the students provide a path for academia to interact with business.

The NESA report makes seven recommendations, but these are aspirational, rather than actionable and unlikely to result in any tangible improvement in education:
  1. NESA, in consultation with ITE providers and employing authorities, will review current ITE requirements in ICT to identify how the broader concept of digital literacy can be incorporated. The work will consider what digitally literate graduate teachers should know and be able to do.
  2. NESA will advocate to AITSL, the need to review and revise the National Priority Area for ICT to reflect the concept of digital literacy. This review will also consider a revision of the NSW Elaborations in Priority Areas – ICT to include the knowledge of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property and online content accessibility guidelines in line with international standards.
  3. NESA will advise NSW ITE providers on including knowledge and understanding of the AITSL ICT Statements in their ITE programs. This may be through course accreditation documentation or as a self-assessment tool to enhance teacher education students’ understanding of their own capabilities.
  4. ITE providers should ensure that the provision and approach to the teaching of digital literacy, ICT skills and capabilities of teacher education students is supported in all relevant ITE units by contemporary research.
  5. NESA, in conjunction with employing authorities and ITE providers, will identify exemplar materials that can be used by teacher education students during their professional experience placements focusing on digital literacy best practice.
  6. NESA, in conjunction with employing authorities and ITE providers, will lead the identification of targeted professional development that aims to improve the digital literacy skills for supervisors supporting and assessing teacher education students on professional experience placements and mentors of beginning teachers.
  7. NESA will undertake, in partnership with the NSW Council of Deans of Education, a project to share exemplary work by final year teacher education students on the integration of ICT within capstone teaching performance assessments.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Online Bitcoin Masters

The University of Nicosia is offering a Master of Science in Digital Currency. This is notable for not only being offered on-line, but also having the introductory course free. The university also accepts payment for later courses using bitcoin and uses the blockchain technology the students learn about to issue a digital certificate to graduates. This is an example of dogfooding: the university is demonstrating it is willing and able to use the technology, not just teach about it. The full cost of the Masters is €11,760 (about AUD$16,000). This is about a third less than I paid for a Masters (of Education) in Canada and quite a bit cheaper than at an Australian university degree.

Some Australian universities are offering credit towards a degree for completion of a low cost introductory on-line course. Four go further and offer credit for one quarter of a masters degree for completion of on-line courses. It will be interesting to see if these increase program enrollments and improve program completion rates. However, this may have some negative public education policy implications.

One of the advantages for students is that with a free open course you can have a look at the materials, so I filled in the enrollment form for Introduction to Digital Currencies (DFIN-511). This provided intimidate access to the program's Moodle website. The course has a conventional e-learning format, with twelve weekly topics, each with notes, a quiz and a live forum. The course web page is very plain, easy to read and uncluttered with excess images and formatting (just the way I like it). The live forums are at 5pm UTC, which is inconvenient for Canberra, being 2am, but the sessions are recorded. Also the time is not given in UTC for some forums (I am not sure what EEST, EDT, BST, or PDT are).

While I was not intending to undertake the course now (the latest cohort of students is up to week 8), I completed the pre-course survey. This asks about the background of the student and any experience with the topic of the course. It was implemented using Survey Monkey and at the end left me stuck at a Survery Monkey advertisement. I had to use the browser back button to find my way back to Moodle. It would be less confusing if Moodle own survey module was used.

The first video was a "talking head": the instructor sitting in a bare room just talking. The audio was clear, but an hour long video of one person talking is forty minutes too much. The notes for week 1 are a 2.4 MB PDF file (not too large), containing 50 slides. These are excellent slides, but I would have preferred a set of notes. The slides are not much use without an accompanying audio commentary (which I could not find).

The first quiz had twenty multiple choice questions. This took me six minutes and I scored 8.33 out of 10.00 (83%). This was without having read the notes, but with a reasonable level of background knowledge of the topic. The quiz is well implemented with the Moodle quiz module, providing the student with feedback for incorrect answers. This quiz would be enough to encourage me to study the material carefully, but not so hard as to be discouraging. The quiz allows another attempt, so I can study what I had missed and with the higher grade recorded from the attempts.

I could not find a description of the assessment scheme for the course. The Moodle grade-book showed eleven weekly quizzes, each out of ten, equally weighted for a course total. However, there is no indication of what the pass mark is. Australian universities usually have a grading system with 50% as a pass, whereas vocational education may have a higher requirement.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Australian University City

Richard Evans suggests "Adelaide has everything to become Australia’s first university city", emulating Cambridge, UK (The Advertiser, "speed dating" event for students to meet employers, yesterday, Australian National University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt noted that Canberra had a higher proportion of students than any other Australian city. 

The Defence Department is to establish a naval engineering college in Adelaide. Perhaps Silicon Valley, would make a better model for Adelaide. While now best known for civilian technology, it started out providing high tech products to the US military.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Speed Dating for University Students and Employers

Greetings from the Australian National University, where several hundred students from Canberra's higher education institutions (not just ANU) are meeting potential employers. This is a form of "speed dating" organized by Ribit (more events coming up). There are dozens of tables scattered around the foyer of the business faculty building with the name of a business on each. There are mentors and pitch-doctors to advise the students. There are sticky name tags with color coded dots, indicating areas of interest. As an observer, it is all very exciting. I am hear to see how this works and how I might move the process on-line.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Guidelines for Improving Student Success in Higher Education

National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning  have been released by NCSEHE and  University of Newcastle. There is also a Report detailing the research the guidelines are based on and Executive Summary. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Cathy Stone when she was conducting this work as 2016 Equity Fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity inHigher Education (NCSEHE). While intended for on-line learning, I suggest these guidelines are equally applicable to learning in general. We are at the e-learning tipping point, where students will be spending little, if any of their time in conventional lecture theaters (ANU is demolishing its central lecture theater building in July).
  1. Know who the students are
  2. Develop, implement and regularly review institution-wide quality standards for delivery of online education
  3. Intervene early to address student expectations, build skills and engagement
  4. Explicitly value and support the vital role of ‘teacher-presence’
  5. Design for online
  6. Engage and support through content and delivery
  7. Build collaboration across campus to offer holistic, integrated and embedded student support
  8. Contact and communicate throughout the student journey
  9. Use learning analytics to target and personalise student interventions
  10. Invest in online education to ensure access and opportunity
From National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning  , Cathy Stone, NCSEHE and University of Newcastle, March 2017.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

ANU Physics Studio

Greetings from the Physics Studio at the Australian National University (ANU). I am one of the tutors for ANU Techlauncher and the studio is being used by the teams of students to give their first project pitch. While I have heard mention of this room from colleagues, I had not seen it before today. This is an existing space refurbished as a TEAL type room for "Cabaret" style teaching. The room accommodates about 180 students on two rows of ten round tables, each seating nine students. The room is a little more elongated that is ideal (squarer is better). There are two projection screens on one wall and mains power sockets on the ceiling (with plugboards having long leads available).

There is no electronics built into the desks, providing plenty of space for the usual accumulation of laptops and paper. There is WFi and the students were encouraged to provide feedback using their own laptops, tablets or smart-phones using the Moodle survey module (Tutors also used the same system for feedback). A paper form was also provided to take notes and complete the on-line survey later.

Intriguingly, some desks have small white-boards placed flat on them, presumably for small group work. It would be interesting to consider replacing these with large touch flat screens (essentially giant tablet computers). In addition, it would be interesting to use the same webinar software as used for remote presentations. This would allow students in the room to follow a presentation on their own device and doing polls and quizzes, and give presentations, without any extra software being needed. Remote students could join in as well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rethinking Teaching at ANU

Today I attended the latest in a series of consultations on the redevelopment of Union Court at the Australian National University (ANU). What is most interesting is the changes in teaching practices which will accompany the new buildings.

Some of the more fanciful elements of the previous design have been dropped (such as a thirteen story obelisk). However, the core elements remain: student accommodation, and spaces for education, health and recreation. 

The central Manning Clarke lecture theater complex will not be replaced with dedicated lecture theaters. Instead the new culture and events building will have multi-purpose rooms, with flat floors and retractable raked seating, which can be used for conventional lectures. However, it is expected that more "cabaret" style, flipped teaching will be used, in the new Collaborative Learning Building. This will have rooms with flat floors, furniture on wheels, white-board walls and electronic screens.

The fit-out of the Collaborative Learning Building has not been finalized, but I expect it will have features proven in the University of Canberra's Inspire Center and  their Teaching and Learning Commons.

The change to the classrooms is relatively easy to implement, compared to the new teaching practices needed to make best use of the facilities. The change is one I have advocated, since first hearing about TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) classrooms in 2007. However, this requires new Digital Teaching  skills, which it will take staff time to acquire.

The approach I suggest is to redesign courses and programs top-down, starting with learning objectives, then assessment, and lastly, activities to support the learning. Learning the basics can be moved on-line, with valuable floor space, and instructor time, devoted to acquiring advanced skills. This change can be challenging for a "lecturer" who find themselves no longer giving "lectures". The students also need help adjusting to where the focus is on them learning, not the staff "teaching" them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Australian Higher Education at E-Learning Tipping Point

The University of Queensland,  Australian National University, University of Adelaide and Curtin University are offering 25% credit towards masters programs for those completing an on-line edX Micromasters. I suggest this indicates that Australian Higher Education is at the e-Learning Tipping Point, where on-line becomes the way most university students study.

In the 1990s I was a computer professional in the Australian Public Service. This was when the Internet went from being something experimental, which we were not allowed to use for official purposes, to a routine everyday tool. I was part of a cabal (as the media described it), working to have the Internet and the web approved for official purposes. This took years to accomplish, but it then just seemed to happen (One day I was asked why I was putting documents on the Defence Department Website, the next day I was asked why I was not putting them up faster). I was expecting a similar transition from classroom to on-line education to take place towards the end of this decade. However, the transition in HE seems to be happening faster than expected.

The University of Queensland,  Australian National University, and University of Adelaide are three of the Group of Eight (Go8) leading universities in Australia. By offering credit for edX Micromasters they are endorsing the use of e-learning for the second highest level of university qualification recognized in Australia (Masters). The universities have not directly recognized the Micromasters as a qualification, but have done so indirectly, by giving  25% credit for a Masters. This is similar to the process used for adopting the Internet in the Australian Government: from being not permitted, to an "interim" step.

The Australian Government had planned to implement the Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP), not the Internet. However, GOSIP never really worked, so the Internet was declared to be an interim measure. That interim measure than became permanent and GOSIP was quietly abandoned. This same approach will likely be used to implement e-learning in Australian universities: the proportion of e-learning in blended programs will be increased until they are effectively on-line degrees. My estimate is that by the end of the decade, the average student will be studying 80% on-line (up from about 40% today).

A Micromasters is not a formally recognized Australian qualification. However the universities have now set the precedent of recognizing the edX Micromasters as the equivalent of six months graduate study(one quarter of a Masters program). A six month graduate program is a "Graduate Certificate" in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). So it would seem reasonable for these universities to award a Graduate Certificate to students who complete the edX Micromasters.

As an example those completing the ANUx Evidence-Based Management MicroMasters Program ANU are offered 25% credit for an ANU Master of Management. ANU also offer a Graduate Certificate of Management, which is made up of four courses from the masters, which is 25% of the masters. The edX Micromasters is 25% of the same Masters, which suggests it is equivalent to an ANU Graduate Certificate of Management.

Micromasters offered:

University of Adelaide

Curtin University
University of Queensland
While a Graduate certificate is the lowest level graduate qualification offered in Australia, any qualification from an Australian university is valuable to a student, and particularly one from universities as globally respected as UQ, ANU, Adelaide and Curtin.

One difficulty for universities will be dealing with the much lower completion rate for e-learning. On-line courses, which have small cohorts of students and a tutor have been run by universities for several decades. Experience shows these have a lower completion rate than face-to-face courses. So called MOOCs, which have hundreds, or thousands of students for each instructor, have a much lower completion rate than conventional e-learning. There are methods for engaging student on-line, which e-learning teachers are routinely trained to use. Also the lower completion rates on-line are not necessaries a problem with the courses, but a side-effect of the greater access to courses.

On-line courses are attractive to students who are unable to attenuated campus due to other commitments and those other commitments tend to intervene to prevent completion. Also students have less invested in a free, or low cost course, than a high cost face-to-face one. The students of my on-line ICT Sustainability course at ANU had a similar completion rate as for campus based courses. This could be partly because of the care taken to keep the engaged with the material, but also because they were paying the same fee as for campus based courses.

The Australian edX Micromasters is a significant development for Australian Higher Education. My suggestion that Australian university students will be primarily study on-line by the end of the decade has met with a considerable level of skepticism. I set out how this can be done in the book "Digital Teaching in Higher Education". Many assumed this would not be acceptable, especially not at the top universities, however, now it is.