Sunday, November 19, 2017

How small are the units in micro-learning?

Sean Gallagher writes "As Corporate World Moves Toward Curated ‘Microlearning,’ Higher Ed Must Adapt" (Nov 6, 2017, Edsurge). But how flexible are the alternatives to traditional institution programs and how small are the "micro-learning" units? Gallagher points to MOOC providers, such as EdX, as a new model for corporate learning, but are they? Also is the term "micro-learning" misleading: splitting learning in "micro" units may make the study more convenient, but does not reduce the thousands of hours required for a professional qualification.

The oldest reference to "micro-learning" I could find in the research literature was Brudenell and  Meier (1968). The authors provide "5Rs of Microlearning": Record, Review, Respond, Refine, and Reteach. This is from the age of analogue videotape, but the advice is just as relevant today. The authors suggest instruction videos of three to seven minutes. In contrast, today's MOOCs require more than an hour of study per day, over several weeks.

The "EdX Micromasters", described as "a series of higher-level courses recognized by companies for real job relevancy, and may accelerate a Master's degree...". But the courses making up the Micromasters are each twelve weeks long, with eight to ten hours study a week. This is about the same size as a conventional university course and at 96 hours study for each unit does not seem very "micro". In addition the student must complete a fixed set of courses from EdX and then a capstone assessment for the Micromasters, with no substitutions of other courses allowed, making this less flexible than a conventional university program.

The EdX Micromasters is similar to a university graduate certificate. However, a university will typically permit the student to incorporate courses from other institutions and give credit of prior learning (the Australian VET system provides even more flexibility).

A certificate under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) requires 600 to 1200 hours of learning.  A VET certificate, such as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116), has ten "Units of Competency". This works out to an average minimum of 60 hours per unit. In contrast a university certificate would be made up of only four courses, making for 150 hours per unit, two and a half times the size.

How small can a unit of learning be? At 60 hours a VET unit still seems quite large. At the other extreme the typical one to two hour workplace training course seems too short. There are structured, placed short on-line courses, such as ANU Online Coffee Courses, at one to two hours for a week long course. But could two hour courses be assembled ("curated") into a larger unit of learning? This would require thirty such courses for a VET Unit of Competency and three hundred for a AQF Certificate.

ps: The prefix micro denotes one millionth. If taken literally "micro-learning" is a very small amount of learning. The longest qualification under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is four years.  A full time year is 1,200 hours study, so a four year degree requires 4,800 hours. One millionth of a degree's worth of learning would be just over 17 seconds.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday Night Startup Pitches in Sydney

Last night I attended the weekly "Fishburners Friday Night Pitches". These are held in the basement of an old warehouse, filled with budding entrepreneurs. There were free drinks and much discussion. Then three pitches, and responses by three judges on a couch.

Fishburners is much the same as any co-working/startup center I have been to around the world (silly name, in an old building). However, two of the pitches were exceptional:
  • Omri Wislizki, Manager of the Australian Landing Pad Tel Aviv. Okay, this was not really a pitch of a startup: he was encouraging start-ups to come to Israel. Nevertheless, it was a very funny pitch for a very difficult to sell product: why set-up in Israel?
  • The last pitch was Brian Lim, Co Founder of HyperCubes, who are planning to launch micro-satellites for earth observation.
ps: Fishburners is moving to the Sydney CBD. It will be interesting to see if the start-up atmosphere can be re-created in a bland office building.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Start-ups in Schools

Anderson Hinz and Matus (2017) report positive results from teaching students to be entrepreneurs at twenty-one Australian schools. The schools in NSW and Victoria have been providing entrepreneurial learning, where teams of students work on real world problems, to come up with a product or service.

For several years I have been mentoring teams of Canberra university students in the Innovation ACT competition and more recently tutoring computer science and engineering students in the ANU TechLauncher program. The students learn how to work in a team, talk to prospective clients, make a presentation and budget resources. This is normally thought of as something for later year university students to undertake. It is interesting that this same approach has been applied to school learning.

The report identifies four elements:

  1. "The collaboration
  2. Voluntary networked learning
  3. Students as active contributors - every network learning workshop for and with students and teachers
  4. Adaptive - principles, rather than a fixed program, guided school actions and decisions"
The part I have found most interesting is the re-framing of the student-teacher relationship. Students work with their team and draw on resources, one of which is the teacher. In ANU Techlauncher, we encourage teams to also learn from each other, supported by an assessment scheme which involves students providing feedback to each other and then assessing the quality of that feedback.

The report includes a section on "Scaling the learning", however, the resources which such an activity needs has perhaps been underestimated. Even a well resourced university, such as the ANU, has difficulty finding sufficient tutors, mentors and projects for students. Teaching in this filed requires skills which are not currently part of educational curriculum. I have tried to fill some of this gap with my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment". 

One of the benefits of entrepreneurial learning not covered in the report is the ability to connect to the wider community. Students need problems to solve and mentors to help them do this. Also there are resources in the various "start-up" business centers, established by local government, universities and business organizations. In Canberra there is now a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem around the Canberra Innovation Center


Anderson, Michelle., Hinz, Bronwyn., and Matus, Hannah. (2017, November). The Paradigm Shifters: Entrepreneurial Learning in Schools, Research Report No. 04/2017, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University. URL

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Website for Finding Australian Postgraduate Courses

Richard McKeon, Director at Postgrad Australia
Richard McKeon,
Postgrad Australia
The company Postgrad Australia has launched a new website for students looking for postgraduate programs. As an example, the site lists 18 Graduate Certificates in Higher Education. I was able to sort the list by fee or by satisfaction. 

The most expensive certificate ($23,904) rated highest for student satisfaction, which is reassuring. But the lowest priced course ($3,980) did not rate far behind for satisfaction. At one sixth the price, this suggests value for money. This also applied to Masters of Education, with the cheapest being rated almost as highly by students as the most expensive. Perhaps the website could include a "value for money" rating for programs, which would be a ratio of fee to satisfaction.

One problem with the site is that there is no option to search by method of course delivery. Like many graduate students, I want to be able to study on-line in my own time. So I want to limit searches, at least initially, to on-line programs. This would also be of use to international students, who don't want the bother and expense of having to visit Australia.

Of course the other limitation with Postgrad Australia is that it only includes Australian based institutions. Students can study on-line anywhere in the world. I studied in Canada while on the other side of the world in Canberra.

Dogfooding the Interactive Lecture at ANU

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I have been taking part in an interactive lecture on "Deep Learning and Interactive Lectures" by Glen O'Grady, Director of the ANU Centre for Higher Education, Learning & Teaching. This used the Echo 360 Active Learning Platform (ALP) and is an example of dogfooding: leading by example, using the tools you are advocating others use.

Echo's ALP seems to have moved some way towards the combining of lecture recording and webinar software which I outlined in a paper (Worthington, 2013) and discussed later that year with staff at Echo360's Perth office. This would allow students to interact live in the classroom, remotely in real time, or later with a recording. One feature still missing is for the student to be able to pause the live event and time shift. Students would then be able to interact as if the lecture was in real time, answering quiz questions, entering and reading text chat, but minutes or days, later.

However, the focus of Glen's talk was the pedagogy of increasing interaction in "lectures", rather than the gadgets. This seems to be a development of "Lecture 2.0" from a decade ago, to make the classroom experience more engaging. The problem with this was, and still is, the constraints of the room layouts available, the curriculum, and perhaps most of all, the lecturer's limited course design and teaching skills.

Conventional lecture theaters are designed for the student to be able to see and hear the lecturer, not for group interaction. Even where interaction is physically possible, lecturers have difficulty using a format other then them talking and students listening, as this is the only teaching technique they know.

The focus needs to be, I suggest, on students and their learning needs, not lecturer's dreams of full lecture theaters. Rather than try to modify lectures to make them more interactive, I suggest replacing them with better teaching techniques. This requires the teaching staff to be trained in how to teach (not lecture) and to use different forms of assessment. Lectures can then be a very minor supplement to more effective teaching techniques.

The ANU is building a new flexible learning centre with rooms for "flipped" classes (as discussed in "Brave New World in Future Teaching Spaces" by Bella Dimattina, Woroni, ANU, 3 October 2017). What is needed to use the new building effectively is to also flip the thinking of the teaching staff. Rather than worry about how to get students to come to "lectures", the priority should be first the learning outcomes, then the assessment for those outcomes and lastly what form of scaffolded learning activities are needed.

An example of this approach is the ANU Techlauncher program, where students undertake a project on a real-world problem in teams, or as individual interns, working for a real organization. The student's work is project based, with them attending weekly tutorials for mutual support and advice from a tutor. There are also workshops and conventional lectures. However, the lectures are the least important part of the course.


Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka. URL:
Preprint available at:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Professional Accreditation Needs to Move Online

The Department of Education and Training issued the report "Professional Accreditation: Mapping the territory" in September 2017, but this does not appear to have attracted much attention. The report for the Department by PhillipsKPAPty Ltd, looked at the way  100 professional associations set requirements for higher education programs to be suitable for their members. 

The report points out that accreditation processes are similar between professional bodies: with a public document published specifying competencies, or a body of knowledge, which graduates are to have.Most are aligned with Australian post-secondary requirements, such as TEQSA, AQF, and Higher Education Standards Framework.
Of 100 accrediting bodies, all but 14 were self-regulating. The exceptions were for health professionals, under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme. Half the accrediting agencies belonged to Professions Australia, Australian Health Professions Accreditation Councils Forum or another umbrella body. The authors expressed concern about smaller and newer professional bodies lacking resources for effective accreditation and not drawing on the experience of other groups.
Most accreditation is now national, but some is still state based, with inconsistencies between states. Accreditation of teacher education was identified by the authors as a problem area with a whole chapter (5) devoted to the topic. State authorities were interpreting national teaching requirements inconsistently and adding their own criteria. the authors made the extrondary statement:
"The high political and industrial stakes surrounding initial teacher education confound investigation and resolution of the apparent difficulties in this report, and exceed by far the terms of reference of this overview."
The engineering and computing professions come in for positive comment, with the authors noting that Engineers Australia was an original signatorys to the International Engineering Alliance’s Washington Accord in 1989 and the Australian Computer Society a signatory to the similar Seoul Accord. These accords recognize accreditation processes internationally. As a Certified Professional member of the ACS I benefit from this.
One problem noted, particularly for health professionals, was a requirement for training to undertaken in Australia or by Australian registered professionals. Another issue is programs accredited by multiple professional bodies. One way around this, I suggest, are joint accreditations. As an example, I have been on a panel accrediting a program for both accounting and computing bodies. Even if there are two sets of paperwork to complete, it helps if the educational institution has to deal with just one visit by one panel.

One problem the report identifies are accreditation of programs using capstones, research projects, work-placed learning and reflective journals. These are useful learning techniques, but require specialist skills and it helps if the teacher has been trained using these techniques (I undertook an e-portfolio capstone for my MEd).

The issue of accreditation of online programs does not receive as much attention as it deserves in the report:

  • 'In the case of new mixed mode delivery technologies and paradigms such as MOOCs the current approach is to put the onus on the educational provider to provide the evidence that assessment of learning outcomes is rigorous. Some providers express frustration with the lack of familiarity with these methods represented in review panels who tend to prefer traditional face to face approaches to classroom teaching. Some providers are beginning to invite accreditation panel members to log into their learning management systems so they can “experience some aspects of what it is like to be a student.”'
Australian higher education has already passed a tipping point: students now receive more of their instruction on-line than in face-to-face classrooms. Within a few years almost all university education will be undertaken online in Australia. I suggest accreditation bodies need to prepare for this reality, rather than treating it as a novel exception.

One recommendation in the report which may be contentious is:
"Mutual recognition of online and on campus programs could be considered to avoid duplication of content where mode of delivery is the only difference." 
The  topic of how those who accredit programs is briefly covered, with the recommendation:
  • "Develop more efficient ways to train assessors – online, collaborative inter-professional, inter-agency training."
The authors appear to have missed the obvious similarity between evaluation of programs within institutions and accreditation by outside bodies. Education specialists are trained in evaluation and I suggest these skills could also be applied to accreditation.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Developing my Philosophy of Teaching Statement

Greetings from the Charles Sturt University Canberra Campus, where Pam Roberts from CSU and Karin Oerlemans from Kairos are running a HERDSA workshop on "Developing your Philosophy of Teaching Statement"

This is no powerpoint click and flick exercise. We started at 4:30pm and are going through until 7pm, undertaking a series of short group and individual exercises exploring how we see teaching and our role in in. The workshop is aimed at helping those applying under the HERDSA Fellowship Scheme, but is also applicable to other educational fellowships, particularly the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

One exercise was the Curriculum Ideologies Inventory from "Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns" by Michael Stephen Schiro (2012).

Also I have been attending "Talk about Teaching and Learning" (TATAL) sessions at the Australian National University. These sessions take the educator through a series of exercises over several weeks to get them to think about their teaching practices (McCormack, & Kennelly, p. 8, 2009).

The reflective writing process is one now familiar to me having been through the process to be a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK) and before that in a  capstone for Athabasca University's MEd. However, this is something which still does not come naturally. Having do it several times I am tempted to use shorthand:

Tom Worthington's Philosophy of Teaching Statement
A social constructionist undertaking mentored, collaborative online learning  (Lindley, 2007) for scaffolded vocational professional education. For details, see my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education".


Lindley, D. (2007, November). Computer professional education using mentored and collaborative online learning. In SEARCC 2007, Proceedings of the South East Asia Regional Computer Conference (pp. 18-19). URL

McCormack, C., & Kennelly, R. (2009, February). Talking about Teaching and Learning (TATAL). In A Transition Pedagogy: The First Year Experience Curriculum Design Symposium 2009 (p. 8). URL

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Derelict Campuses In Virtual Reality

Drop Box
Before getting too excited about virtual reality (VR) for education, read Patrick Hogan's "We took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life" (13 August 2015). In this he looks at virtual campuses set up with much fanfare and then left abandoned when they were found to not be popular, or useful. These have the feel of the real empty schools in the documentary "Abandoned: St Louis Schools".

These educational institutions tried to emulate a real campus in the virtual world, which I think is missing the point. VR should be used to overcome the limitations in face-to-face education, not reproduce those limitations (and introduce more of its own).

On real campuses, education is becoming virtual. Creating VR representations of obsolete physical campus facilities will just confuse students. As an example, reproducing a library card index (which some VR environments have done) makes no sense, as most students have never seen, let alone used, a real card index.

When I was an on-line student in North America, a couple of years ago, the instructor told my class to submit our assignments in the "drop box".  So I looked on the course web page for a link to the Dropbox file hosting service, but there was none. It turned out the instructor was using the term "drop box" generically and we were using the Moodle assignment module. My confusion was in part because the term "drop box" is not used in Australia, but also because it had been a decade since I had to put a printed-on-paper assignment in a physical box. In a VR environment having a box with a slot in the top would be even more confusing for a student who has never seen such a box.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Are Bitcoin and Blockchain Bad for the Environment?

Harald Vranken at the Open University of the Netherlands (2017) estimates that bitcoin's ‘proof-of-work’ algorithm is using up to 500 MW of energy. Unlike other computing protocols, which could be improved using a more efficient algorithm, or a faster processor, the inefficiency of Blockchain is an essential part of the protocol. A question I may to put to my ICT Sustainability students next semester at ANU is "Are Bitcoin and Blockchain bad for the environment?".

In the original paper proposing Bitcoin and Blockchain, Nakamoto (p. 1, 2008) wrote "... the longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power...". Vranken (p. 3, 2017) traces the evolution of bitcoin "mining" computers, which started using general purpose CPUs in 2009, then GPUs in 2010,  FPGAs in 2011 and Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) in 2013. Each change in technology brought about an improvement in energy efficiency, from CPUs with an efficiency of up to 0.1 Mh/J (million hashes per Joule of energy). Four years later the ASICs were up to ten-thousand times as efficient, at 10,000 Mh/J.

Vranken (p. 5, 2017) speculates about possible improvements in the energy efficiency of  bitcoin mining hardware, however, the Blockchain design has built into it a mechanism which increases the computation required as hardware (or software) becomes more efficient:
"To compensate for increasing hardware speed and varying interest in running nodes over time, the proof-of-work difficulty is determined by a moving average targeting an average number of blocks per hour. If they're generated too fast, the difficulty increases." (Nakamoto, p. 3, 2008).
This proof of work is used not only to reduce the possibility of fraud, but also to combat inflation of the digital currency (Nakamoto, p. 4, 2008). Those processing the transactions are rewarded with newly generated "coins". If this becomes too easy, then there would be runaway inflation.

Apart from the hardware, the major cost in bitcoin mining is the energy to run the equipment. As Vranken (p. 7, 2017) notes bitcoin's proof-of-work wastes energy, and there have been proposals to replace it with some useful task and alternative schemes to prevent fraud and inflation.However, the current proof-of-work scheme has proved remarkably effective. It would be interesting to conduct a more detailed analysis of how it compares with other more conventional financial systems, in terms of energy efficiency.


Nakamoto, Satoshi [Szabo, Nick?] (1 Nov 2008). Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. URL
Vranken, H. (2017). Sustainability of bitcoin and blockchains. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 28, 1-9. URL

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Teachers Need Tech Skills

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society's Reimagination 2017 conference in Sydney. 
Senator Bridget McKenzie, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee pointed out that teachers need tech skills, to be able to teach in the modern world. I suggest this also applies to those teaching in universities.
Even computer experts need training to apply the Internet, mobile phones and computers to education. It took me years to admit that as a certified computer professional and experienced university lecturer, I could not effectively apply the technology for my students. Five years and three tech-education qualifications later and my academic colleagues are asking what the "trick" to my high student feedback scores is. The trick is simple: learn to use the tech for education and it is easy.

Games for Education

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society's Reimagination 2017 conference in Sydney. The keynote speaker is Jane McGonigal on "Transforming the digital playfield – collaboration and gaming to achieve epic wins". She is pointing out that games can be used for education, because they provide reward for achievement. Also Jane pointed out that game can be a social activity. This is something well known by educators (I studied gamification in my MEd, but it is hard to achieve.

However, we don;t need to make all, or most of, education look like a video-game. The same short term challenge-reward cycle can be built into conventional looking education. As an example, my project management students at the Australian National University Techlauncher program have to learn to give presentations. Giving a presentation is a challenging stressful experience, but provides rewards through intimidate feedback from their peers. The result is confident professionals who can give very good, focused presentations under difficult conditions.

Teaching a can do approach is something which will help with Australia's tech industry development, including defecne. I was discussing this with Mark Eggleton at the Australian Financial Review recently (See: "Forging closer links with commercial partners crucial for military").

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Melbourne University VC on the Rising Tide of Hostility Towards Universities

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne is speaking on "Irredeemable time: the rising tide of hostility towards universities".

Professor Davis began by recommending "The Making of The Australian National University" (Foster & Varghese, 2009). He then took us back to the dissolution of English monasteries as a pointer as to what governments may do to universities. While Australian universities are not as wealthy as Oxbridge, they still have significant assets.

Professor Davis pointed to US research that a majority of Republicans view universities as a negative influence. He suggested a divide where those with a degree vote left and for internationalism, those without will vote for Donald Trump. I suggest this does not apply to all.

I have noticed a tendency for some of our own Australian entrepreneurs to suggest a university degree is not needed for success (while basing their start-ups on the publicly funded research results from universities and staffed with publicly funded PHDs). In May I visited River City Labs in Brisbane, where founder Steve Baxter seemed a bit ambivalent about the role of universities in innovation.

Professor Davis then looked to the promises made by universities as a cause: students gained a degree, a large debt, but not necessarily a good job. Turning to Australia, he then looked at the current government's view of universities with over-paid VCs and a focus on research.

Professor Davis used the Victorian era railway as an example of technology which made some traders obsolete (such as river fishers in Oxford, despite opposition by the university). The 21st century railway is the Internet, with Silicon Vally setting up low-cost education online. He used the example of Udacity offering nano-qualifications. Professor Davis interpreted this as a development of the distance university. It was interesting he mentioned only US examples, not UK Open University which preceded them (and was in part based on Australia's University of New England).

Professor Davis suggested that universities need to better engage with the community, to show their worth. I suggest they also need to be able to deliver vocationally relevant, low cost sub-degree and nested degree qualifications, with an on-line delivery option.

At question time I admitted I had a degree from an overseas "open" university (which happens to be in the field of designing international education). I asked Professor Davis about the role of private for-profit universities, such as Adelaide's Torrens University of Australia. He pointed at that US based for-profit universities had not been able to displace conventional ones and that traditional institutions had proved adept at providing on-line education (in some cases taking over commercial on-line institutions).

Professor Davis was preaching to the converted, with the ANU VC and two past VCs present. This was an informative, scholarly, but also entertaining and vigorous defence of the university.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Educational Leadership Getting Personal at EdTech Posium 2017

Kim Tairi, Librarian, AUT
Greetings from the opening of EdTechPosium Conference 2017 at UNSW/ADFA in Canberra. The theme of the conference is "Fitting the Tech to the Teaching", but Kim Tairi, Librarian, AUT in Auckland, started her keynote on a more personal note. She discussed how she came to be the Librarian of a university and issues with taking on a leadership role. Kim emphasized the human aspects of scholarships, proposing "Circles of Kindness". This gives my more confidence about taking the person approach in my presentaion on "Dogfooding" at 11:25 am.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Deakin University Cloud Campus

One of the more entertaining parts of higher education are the advertisements universities use to attract students. Each year brings a crop of silly video promotions. This year "Deakin University's Cloud Campus is your campus; without walls" is at least short, if somewhat mixing metaphors. 
An exception to the usual fluffy kitten approach to university marketing is the Australian Catholic University (ACU), with their "ACU I Impact through empathy" campaign.

Friday, October 27, 2017

ACS Blockchain Committee

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has announced the members of their Blockchain Committee for 2017/2018. I am delighted to have been included. The committee is to look into the technical aspects and use of blockchain, including Smart Contracts.

ACS Blockchain Committee

Chair: Dr Vincent Gramoli, Head of the Concurrent Systems Research Group at the University of Sydney.

Vice-Chair: Dr Philippa Ryan, barrister and lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology.


  • Mr Ambarish Natu, IT Architect, Australian Taxation Office 
  • Professor Ren Ping Liu, Head of Discipline, Network and Cyber Security, School of Electrical and Data Engineering, University of Technology Sydney. 
  • Mr Scott Nelson, member of the National Committee of the IEC in Australia. 
  • Mr Steven Pereira, Chief Information Officer, GS1 Australia 
  • Mr Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University.

ACS Professional Education Governance Committee

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has announced the members of their Professional Education Governance Committee (PEG) for 2017/2018. I am delighted to have been included. The PEG has "Responsibility for strategy and oversight of ACS education programs and activities leading to formal outcomes or qualifications" (ACS, 2017). This covers programs run by ACS and accreditation of computing degrees at Australian universities.

ACS Professional Education Governance Committee

Chair: Professor Aileen Cater-Steel Professor of Information Systems, University of Southern Queensland (USQ)

Vice Chair: Mr Stuart McIntyre,  senior teacher in Information Technology, TAFE SA.

  • Mr Nick Marks, Director of IT, enterprise business, Singtel Optus, Australia.
  • Mr Geoff Purcell, Chief Technology Officer, Melbourne Water.
  • Mt Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Teaching-Research Nexus Does Not Exist

A quick skim would suggest the Australian Productivity Commission's review "Shifting the Dial" (2017), into the Australian economy, has much to say about vocational education, but not much on universities. However, buried down under a bland sounding recommendation (3.4) that consumer law apply to universities is "The teaching-research nexus".

The teaching-research nexus

The commission notes that:
"Part of the rationale for universities undertaking both research and teaching functions is the ‘teaching‐research nexus’ — the theory that close proximity to world‐class researchers makes students more engaged, develops their critical thinking, aids their research skills and keeps them up to date with the latest research findings."
This was part of the reasoning behind the late 1980s Dawkins reforms, merging the colleges of advanced education with universities. As the Commission point out, there is a lack of evidence that research helps with teaching and the opposite is the case: research being detrimental to education.

The Commission stops short of recommending action, but observes "There is no compelling policy rationale for requiring high‐quality providers to conduct research in
order to be able to label themselves as a ‘university’." This may be correct in a very narrow technical point of view, but I suggest shows a lack of understanding of today's global education marketplace.

Australian universities are a major export industry. This industry attracts international students, partly based on the research reputation of the universities, as measured by international ranking systems. These ranking systems have little, if anything, to do with the quality of the education provided by the universities. However, students and their parents use these rankings to select universities and employers judge the quality of students partly based on these rankings. Australian universities are understandably reluctant to do anything which will jeopardize their research rankings.

As it is, Australia has some universities with a research focus and some education. The Australian Government has encouraged universities to pair up to learn from each other, an example is the Digital Future project undertaken by USQ, ANU and UniSA, under the Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) program (Murphy & Farley,  2012).

Rather than suggest teaching-only universities, or the reintroduction of pre-Dawkins colleges of advanced education, the Commission suggests work relevant "... skills and attributes can be nurtured by high-quality teaching-only academics as well...". However, I suggest teaching-only academics will not necessarily improve the quality of education, what is needed are academics with teaching skills and attributes. Academics who spend part of their time as a researcher can still make excellent teachers, but they need to be trained in how to teach. We can teach academics to teach quickly and efficiently on-line.

 ACS  Certified Professional and Technologist, plus Cybersecurity Specialism
One simple way to improve the quality of teaching at Australian universities, I suggest, would be to encourage (or require), academics who teach to be qualified to teach. This could begin with a qualification at the level of a vocational education teacher: a certificate  (graduate certificate). Specific disciplines may have their own forms of certification, such as the Australian Computer Society's Certified Professional, which could have a teaching specialism added (as Cybersecurity was recently).

I will be discussing this at  the EdTechPosium 2017
educational technology conference, UNSW Canberra on Monday.


Murphy, A., & Farley, H. (2012). Development of a framework for evaluating the impact and sustainability of mobile learning initiatives in higher education. In Proceedings ASCILITE 2012: 29th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education: Future Challenges, Sustainable Futures. Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). URL

Student Information Sessions in India by Australian National University

The Australian National University (ANU) is running Student Information Sessions in India, 14 to 19 November 2017: Tuesday 14  Bangalore;  Wednesday 15 Chenna, Thursday 16 Pune, Saturday 18 New Delhi, Sunday 19  Mumbai. Hope to see you in my ICT Sustainability class, next year.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Turning Australian VET System Up to Eleven

Yesterday the Australian Productivity Commission released their five year productivity review into the Australian economy "Shifting the Dial" (2017). This includes assessment of productive investment in human capital, particularly education and training. This is focused on in Chapter 3 "Future skills and work".

Much of the Commission's analysis and recommendations is focused on vocational education, proposing more federal government intervention and involvement of industry. However, this is an area where the Australian Government has had difficulty with relatively modest reforms. It is not clear the more complex policy proposed by the Commission could be successfully implemented, given the problems with the previous simpler system. As an example the proposed proficiency-based assessment, combined with "independent" accreditation, could result in more rorting of the system by providers, as experienced with the  previous VET FEE HELP scheme.

Chapter 3: Future skills and work

Recommendations on Education and Training

Recommendation 3.2: Proficiency not just competency
"The Australian Government should develop tools for proficiency-based assessment for skills where employers want to know how well an employee can perform a task, rather than whether they can perform it at all.
How to do it
The Australian Government — in conjunction with State and Territory Governments and the Australian Industry and Skills Committee — would initiate planning for proficiency-based assessment processes. The Australian Government should not compel vocational education and training (VET) providers to adopt proficiency-based assessment."

Recommendation 3.3 Disruption of Education Through Independent Assessment

The Australian Government should develop a framework to facilitate the independent accreditation of skills obtained through any learning method. 

How to do it

"A capacity to assess and accredit skills and competencies acquired outside of traditional settings should be established and funded by the Australian Government. For university-level qualifications, this may be the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The Australian Government, in conjunction with employers, the Industry and Skills Committee and
the Australian Skills Quality Authority, should investigate areas of vocational education and training where an independent certification model could robustly test a person’s skills"

Recommendation 3.4 Covering Universities Under Consumer Law

"The Australian Government should monitor consumer law developments in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK), to ensure that the Australian Consumer Law applies to the higher education sector.

How to do it

If, on further examination, it appears that action in Australia is difficult to mount and that the UK arrangements have had a positive impact, the Australian Government should clarify in legislation that the Australian Consumer Law does relate to higher education. This should give the student the right to compensation or the ‘right to a repeat performance’, on the same basis as other products that prove to be not fit for purpose. "

Recommendation 3.5 Make it easy to access learning options

"The Australian Government should ensure that Australians of all working ages can readily access comprehensive and up-to-date information about career and education options, including how to make career changes later in life.

How to do it

As a first step, the Australian Government should consolidate the existing range of career guidance and education information websites into a single portal to provide school leavers and existing workers with a comprehensive one stop shop.  ...

A further step is for the Australian Government to establish a cross-portfolio review of the policies needed to develop a workforce with greater capacity to adapt to structural change. The review would examine the changes needed in the education and training and tax and transfer systems along with the need for awareness raising approaches."

Education is also mentioned in Recommendation 2.5 Embrace technology to change the pharmacy model:

  • Consult with the relevant training institutions — most likely in the vocational education and training
    sector — to develop courses for such qualifications.

  • Inform the various university departments of pharmacy about the reduced need for future supply


Productivity Commission, Shifting the Dial: 5 YearProductivity Review, Inquiry Report, 24 October 2017. URL

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Use an external microphone for podcasts and webcasts from smartphone

A smartphone is convenient for taking part in a webinar, or for recording a podcast. You need not be limited by the microphone in the phone. A desktop microphone can be connected via a splitter cable. The cable has a plug for the phone (usually a 3.5 mm four pole "TRRS") at one end and sockets for a microphone and headphones at the other.

I tried soldering my own adapter from plugs, sockets and cable, but I ended up with a short-circuit and burnt fingers. The "3.5mm TRRS Smartphone - Mic and Headphone Splitter" from Swamp Industries in Canberra was cheaper than the parts and actually worked. The only problem with the Swamp unit is that it has a volume control for the audio output. There is no indicator on the volume control, so it s easy to set it to minimum and wonder why there is no sound. Similar units are available from electronics stores and Amazon, without volume controls.

Educating Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce

The report Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce (Hajkowicz, Reeson, Rudd, Bratanova, Hodgers, Mason & Boughen, p. 87, 2016) suggests, not surprisingly, that education is critical for the future workforce. The researchers suggest new jobs require lifelong learning (and relearning) provided by the educational sector, with business and government.

One initiative the researchers point to is Iceland's ‘Innovation Education’ (Thorsteinsson & Denton, 2003), teaching students to identify, research and solve problems. They suggest using nationally developed teaching materials, which are then adapted for local use. A local example cited is the National Digital Learning Resources Network (NDLRN), used by Australian teachers.

Hajkowicz et al. (2016) touch on the potential of so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but point out their low retention rate. Unfortunately, the authors seem to be assuming that MOOCs are the only form of digital learning available, ignoring several decades of successful delivery of on-line courses by open and distance universities, which predates the now fading MOOC fad. The authors suggest "better understanding" is needed if digital learning is to be into traditional campus life. However, I suggest Australian universities have now passed the tipping point where most courses are blended. Better understanding of how such on-line materials are used is required, but essentially the change to e-learning has already happened.

Hajkowicz et al. (2016) suggest that workplace learning combined with mobile technology is a natural fit for re-skilling and training. I agree, but this is not as nascent as the researchers suggest. My work in the field suggests it is happening informally, driven by the needs of the students, even where not officially recognized, or endorsed by educational institutions. This is not being held back by technology (existing Learning Management Systems such as Moodle, have been retrofitted for mobile access). The problem is that while VET teachers are trained in workplace learning, their university counterparts are not.

While discussing the need for investment in re-skilling the workforce, Hajkowicz et al. (2016) don't address the need to re-skill university educators in how to provide this form of education. Initiatives such as the ACS Intern Program, currently running at the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University, require specialised supervisory skills.


Hajkowicz SA, Reeson A, Rudd L, Bratanova A,
Hodgers L, Mason C, Boughen N (2016)
Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce: Megatrends and scenarios for jobs andemployment in Australia over the comingtwenty years. CSIRO, Brisbane. URL

Thorsteinsson, G., & Denton, H. (2003). The development of Innovation Education in Iceland: a pathway to modern pedagogy and potential value in the UK. Journal of Design & Technology Education, 8(3). URL

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lego Play for Higher Education Academy Recognition

Tom Worthington taking part in Lego Serious Play session at the Australian National University, 20 October 2017
My teaching philosophy,
expressed in Lego.
Today I took part in a Lego Serious Play session run for staff at the Australian National University in Canberra. This was conducted by Dr Stephen Dann, who customized the session to help those working on their Higher Education Academy Professional Recognition.

We were each provided with a pack of Lego bricks and taken through a sequence of quick exercises, where we each built something and then discussed what we had built. This was a very carefully structured process, starting with concrete exercises to get us used to working with the bricks, through increasingly abstract discussing of our teaching and supervision practices.

This may sound like a frivolous exercise of adults playing with children's blocks. However, it was a way for us to reflect and discuss what we do with teaching and research. It turned out to be a very intense and at times emotional process. In a few hours of "play" I discovered aspects of how I think about teaching which I had not realized in my previous three and a half years of formal graduate education. I am tempted to submit a Lego stop-motion movie as my HEA application, in place of the usual text document. ;-)

There is a 22 page "Introduction to LEGO ® SERIOUS PLAY ®". No fee needs to be paid to Lego to use the "Method", but obviously they would like you to buy their Starter Kits of Blocks. In addition there are are books on the method and scholarly papers

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Best of EdTechPosium 2017 in Canberra

The EdTechPosium Conference 2017 on a theme of "Fitting the Tech to the Teaching", starts 30 October in the "Camouflage Building" at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. Here are my picks from the two day program:

Day 1

Rebecca Ng
10:50 “What are Blockcerts again?” — The role of communication in introducing new technologies for teaching at tertiary institutions. Rebecca Ng, Australian National University

Tom Worthington
11:25 Dogfooding: Learning to design for internationalstudents by being an international on-line student. Tom Worthington, Australian National University

Dr Scott Rickard
13:10 Motivating and inspiring students to work collaboratively on assessment items. Dr Scott Rickard, University of Canberra

13:45 Moving from Face-to-Face to e-learning. William Batten, Department of Defence

14:55 Simulations, Gamification and Creative Problem Solving. Sudantha Balage, UNSW Canberra

Emma Power
15: 25 Opening professional learning in Australian higher education using Open Educational Practice: A cross-institutional collaboration. Emma Power, University of Southern Queensland, Dr Katie Freund, Karlene Dickens
& Janene Harman, Australian National University

16:00 eLearning 101 — professional development for busy academics and technology-enhanced learning educators. James Nicholson, Australian Catholic University

Day 2

10:40 “Let’s See What Happens”: Introducing students to interactive online tutorials. Stephanie Kizimchuk, University of Canberra

11:15 Four embeddings and a mural: OK2A — A course layout informed by Constructive Alignment delivering better blended learning. Roderick Huggett, Centre for
Defence and Strategic Studies

11:50 What have we GotS here? New ways for delivering Information Literacy at the University of Wollongong Library. Laura Lidden & Nick Zografos, University of Wollongong

Jenny Edwards
14:45 ePortfolios — Where to next? Jenny Edwards, Australian National University, Shane Nuessler, University of Canberra

Open Educational Resources: Short free online course starts Monday from ANU

A free on-line course "Open Educational Resources: A Continuum for Practice" is being offered by the Australian National University (ANU), starting Monday. This is in the ANU Online Coffee Course Series, where the student spends fifteen minutes a day studying for a week. There are no tests, just on-line discussion.
"In this upcoming course, you’ll explore some of the deeper issues surrounding open education; specifically, practical decisions and questions that should be asked when developing, reusing, and collaborating on open education activities. Each day the facilitators will provide stimulus for reflection and group discussion, as well as a synthesis of the previous days’ discussion."


  1. From Resources to Practice: why ‘mere access’ isn’t enough.
  2. ‘I’ll know it when I see it’, or, usefully defining quality in openness.
  3. Assessment in an open world: beyond the disposable assignment.
  4. Designing for reuse: PDF and the open practitioner.
  5. ‘Nothing new’ or radical reality? Putting openness into practice.


Photo of Adrian StaggAdrian Stagg, Manager (Open Educational Practice) for the University of Southern Queensland.

Photo of Emma PowerEmma Power, research assistant for the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Office (SILS), at the University of Southern Queensland.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Re-imagining Computing at the Australian National University

The Australian National University (ANU) has invited applications for a senior job "re-imagining" engineering and computing over six to twelve months:
"...  embark on an ambitious re-imagination of engineering and computing that will result in expansion of Engineering & Computer Science at the ANU.

Reporting to the Dean, successful applicant will have responsibility for the oversight and academic leadership as part of a team that will develop a blueprint and business plan for the College for the next 10 year period while also providing support to the Dean with leadership and management of the College, and will be a member of the College Executive. ..."
Dean Elanor Huntington talked on "Why We Need Engineers Now More Than Ever" at TEDxSydney. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mobile Phones for Health in Asia

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor May O. Lwin (Nanyang Technological University) is speaking on "Social Media, Civic Engagement and Public Health: Experiences from a Mobile Initiative in Asia". Of particular is Professor Lwin's work on Dengue Fever in Sri Lanka (Lwin, Vijaykumar, Lim,  Fernando, Rathnayake & Foo, 2016). The produced an application called "Mo-Buzz". Professor  mentioned there would be an EpiHack conference on this in Colombo in early November, a five day hackathon to work on Dengue software.

It happens in 2013 I gave a talk for the Sahana Foundation in Sri Lanka to an audience of tropical disease experts in Colombo about "Mobiles and e-learning for PandemicFlu Response".  It turned out that there were a number of epidemiologists in the audience and the issue was Dengue fever not flu.


Lwin, M. O., Vijaykumar, S., Lim, G., Fernando, O. N. N., Rathnayake, V. S., & Foo, S. (2016). Baseline evaluation of a participatory mobile health intervention for dengue prevention in Sri Lanka. Health Education & Behavior, 43(4), 471-479. URL

Monday, October 16, 2017

Steve Wozniak's WOZ U

The Texas-based Southern Careers Institute, a private for-profit school, has announced a tech-based training initiative called "WOZ U". This would not be of note, except it is named after, and apparently with the endorsement of, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ("Woz").

WOZ U is offering a "video-based curriculum," much like other online training institutions. Also like other online institutes, the emphasis is on low cost, as compared with traditional education providers. However, such supposedly low-cost programs need to be compared to what is available from more conventional not-for-profit providers, such as Australian TAFEs (and their US equivalents). Also, such online providers have a low student success rate, which needs to be factored into the cost. A program you have one-tenth the chance of completing successfully  (compared to a conventional course) is effectively ten times the price.

Woz U does not make any explicit claim to be a  university. However, the use of the capital "U" implies "University."

The word "university" only appears once on the website, on the about page where it says: "Woz U has established partnerships with traditional universities, businesses, government, and non-profits ...". However, there are no universities or government mentioned. The only business mentioned is Southern Careers Institute. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Minerva Project

The "Minerva Project" is a 2011 for-profit start-up, which provides a four year university program delivered through the previously established Keck Graduate Institute of California. The program is aimed at students, including those in developing nations, wanting a quality education. Minerva appears to want to avoid the stigma of on-line and distance programs, while using self-paced e-learning modules,  MOOCs and open education materials.

In place of conventional courses, Minerva has four seminar based "Cornerstone" courses in the first year:

1. Formal Analyses
2. Multimodal Communications
3. Empirical Analyses
4. Complex Systems

It gets more conventional in the second year with students selecting a major, but these are broad: Arts & Humanities, Business, Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences, or Social Sciences

In the forth year they focus in their major, with the students encouraged to arrange their own study.

In the final (fourth) year the student self-directed Capstone project (which sounds like "honors" at an Australian university).

Bassis (p. 31, 2015) writes of the Minerva Project :
"The target market is the developing world's rising middle class who aim for an elite American education. Though the school's headquarters is in San Francisco, all courses are taught via an interactive online platform. Thus, both faculty and students can be anywhere in the world where there is sufficient bandwidth."

There is a book just out "Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education" (Ben Nelson and Stephen M. Kosslyn, MIT Press, October 2017).


Bassis, M. (2015). A Primer on The Transformation of Higher Education in America. Association of American Colleges and Universities President Emeritus, Westminster College, UT President Emeritus, Olivet College, MI. URL

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lego Serious Play Method

One of the more fun looking educational techniques for teaching creativity in a corporation is "Lego Serious Play Method".  There is a 22 page "Introduction to LEGO ® SERIOUS PLAY ®". No fee needs to be paid to Lego to use the "Method", but obviously they would like you to buy their Starter Kits of Blocks. In addition there are are books on the method and scholarly papers.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Put VET and University on Equal Footing Says Business Council

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has released a 68 page proposal "Future-Proof: Protecting Australians Through Education and Skills" (October, 2017). This proposes putting the funding of Vocational Education and Training (VET) on an equal footing to university, to address the decline in the vocational sector. BCA point out that university programs attract more government funding and subsidized student loans than for VET. BCA suggest a "Lifelong Skills Account" for each student which can be used for  VET and HE programs, in place of existing loans and subsidies. Also information on jobs and salaries are suggested to help students select courses.

These proposals are worth consideration. However, untangling the current web of state and federal responsibilities for education is not going to be easy. Also the unintended consequences of policies that assume students act in their own long term interests and education providers act ethically, need to be considered. Richard Thaler recently won a Nobel Prize for work on behavioral economics. Perhaps some simple, quick, low risk, small scale "nudge" policies could help achieve reform.

Some simple reforms would be regulations and financial incentives for universities to provide credit to students for courses done at other universities and vocational institutions. At present university will offer such credit, but after the student enrolls, they find that the amount of credit they actually get is very implied. Another reform would be to encourage universities to offer nested qualifications, so a student who has to withdraw after years of study is left with nothing but a debt.