Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stability in the Indo-Pacific

Admiral Scott H Swift
at ANU in Canberra
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Admiral Scott H Swift, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT) is speaking on Stability in the Indo-Pacific: the roles of the US and Australian navies. He had just come from taking part in  Exercise Talisman Sabre 2017 in Queensland. 

The Admiral criticized China over its actions in the South China Sea, without mentioning the country by name: "US forces will continue to fly, sail, and operate, wherever international law allows". In response to a question, Admiral Swift mentioned how being part of Operation Praying Mantis had broadened his thinking as to the role of military operations. Answering another question he spoke positively of China's One Belt One Road Initiative.

Tom Worthington aboard USS Blue Ridge
Tom Worthington
on USS Blue Ridge
I suggest that Australia needs to place an emphasis on soft power, including through the provision of aid, including education, to countries of the region. In 1997 I observed a joint Australian-US exercise on board the USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the 7th Fleet in the Coral Sea. A US Carrier Strike Group is an impressive force, however it is an expensive resource and can't everywhere all the time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

VR as an Educator

The stereograph as an educator
Came across an old sterograph captioned: “The stereograph as an educator ":
"Underwood patent extension cabinet in a home library … Photograph shows a woman viewing stereographs in her home; she is sitting in front of a fireplace with a cabinet for stereographs on her right.”
So I printed a copy of this sterograph and taped it over a hold cut in my Google Cardboard. This turns the virtual reality device into an old fashioned stereograph, showing VR from the Victorian era. ;-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review into Australian regional, rural and remote education calls for submissions

Submissions to the Independent review into regional, rural and remote education, close 29 August 2017. The 59 page discussion paper by the review chair, Emeritus Professor John Halsey, of Flinders University, has nine themes:
  1. Curriculum and assessment 
  2. Teachers and teaching 
  3. Leaders and leadership 
  4. School and community 
  5. Information and communication technology
  6. Entrepreneurship and schools
  7. Improving access – enrolments, clusters, distance education and boarding
  8. Diversity
  9. Transitioning beyond school 
From page 9 

Questions asked:
6.1.1 Is the Australian Curriculum meeting the learning needs and interest of regional, rural and remote students?
6.1.2 Do current assessment processes help to improve the achievements of regional, rural and remote students?
6.1.3 How can schools be supported to deliver the Australian Curriculum in a flexible way to meet local needs?
6.1.4 Are there other examples of innovative ways in which curriculum is being delivered in regional, rural and remote schools?
From Page 23.
6.2.1 What key initiatives are helping to attract ‘top teachers’ to regional, rural and remote schools?
6.2.2 How can we improve retention of ‘top teachers’ in regional, rural and remote schools?
6.2.3 What professional development should be available for teachers, schools and communities?
6.2.4 What innovative approaches could be taken to support a high quality teaching workforce for regional, rural and remote school communities?
From page 26.
6.3.1 What needs to occur so regional, rural remote principals can devote most of their time and attention to student achievements in and beyond school?
6.3.2 What changes could be made to attract and retain experienced educational leaders for country schools?
6.3.3 What innovative approaches could be taken to support high quality leadership for regional, rural and remote school communities?
From page 28.
6.4.1 What new and innovative approaches are you aware of that improve the connection between schools and the broader community?
6.4.2 What motivates regional, rural and remote students to succeed and how can they be supported to realise their aspirations?
6.4.3 Are there untapped priorities in rural and remote settings which, if utilised, could help students realise their potential?
6.4.4 What role does/could the philanthropic sector play in improving outcomes for regional, rural and remote students in relation to school achievement and post-school transition?
From page 33.
6.5.1 What has to be done to ensure ICT supports education in regional, rural and remote schools and communities like it does in the ‘best of the best' city schools?
6.5.2 How could ICT be used to improve educational outcomes for regional, rural, remote students?
6.5.3 What are the main barriers to regional, rural and remote schools realising the full potential benefits of ICT?

From page 34.
6.6.1 What kinds of support would be needed for a school or group of schools to specialise in entrepreneurial education?
6.6.2 What other entrepreneurial education opportunities exist for regional, rural and remote schools?
6.6.3 Are there other examples where entrepreneurial education has improved outcomes for regional, rural and remote students?
6.6.4 What gaps need to be addressed to help students transition successfully to further study, training or work?

From page 37.
6.7.1 Are there changes that could be made to the ways schools are organised and function that would improve opportunities for regional, rural and remote students?
6.7.2  What could be done to expand the opportunities available to regional, rural and remote students to access high quality education?
From page 39.
6.8.1 Noting the findings of the Red dirt education project, what do you consider to be the purpose/role of education in remote communities?
6.8.2 What does educational success look like in remote communities?
6.8.3 How can schools/teachers in regional, rural and remote areas be supported to meet the individual learning needs of all students?
6.8.4 How can we create and sustain vibrant, high quality learning environments in regional, rural and remote schools?
6.8.5 What can be done to address the directional flow of regional, rural and remote students towards cities?
From page 45.
6.9.1 Are there changes that should be made to education, training and employment policies and practices which would improve post school opportunities for regional, rural and remote young people?
6.9.2 Are there innovative models of accommodation delivery that could benefit regional, rural and remote tertiary students studying away from home?
6.9.3 What can be done to address the directional flow of regional, rural and remote students moving to cities for further education and/or training?

From page 50.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Training Tech Professionals to Teach: Part 7,

In Part 6 I looked at ACM and IEEE CS curriculum guidelines. That was back in December last year. I have been a bit distracted by completing my MEd and teaching. Returning to the issue of how to design a qualification for those teaching IT, perhaps the vocational Graduate Certificate in Digital Education (TAE8031) is the place to start.

There are many universities across Australia offering graduate certificates in education. However, the curriculum for these programs is not standardizer and they are proprietary. That is, the content of the hundreds of similarly named Grad Certs is different and each institution claims ownership of their design (except in some cases where a few institutions share a common design).  

In contrast, the curriculum for the vocational Graduate Certificate in Digital Education (TAE8031) is standardized ac cross all institutions, is publicly available and is freely available for use.

Qualification Description

This qualification reflects the roles of individuals who apply substantial specialised skills and knowledge in the field of education and capability development, using ICT.
In these roles they make high-level, independent judgements in major planning, design, operational and educational outcomes within highly varied and specialised contexts.
The qualification is designed to enhance, but not replace, a teaching or training qualification.
The volume of learning of a Graduate Certificate in Digital Education is typically six months to one year. ...

Packaging Rules

Total number of units = 5
3 core units plus
2 elective units of which:
  • at least 1 unit must be from Group A or Group B below
  • 1 unit from the same group as the first elective chosen, or from any accredited course or endorsed Training Package at Graduate Certificate level or above.
The elective units chosen must be relevant to the work outcome and meet local industry needs.
Core Units
TAEDEL801 Evaluate, implement and use ICT-based educational platforms
TAEDEL802 Use e-learning with social media
TAELED801 Design pedagogy for e-learning
Elective Units
Group A
TAEASS801 Analyse, implement and evaluate e-assessment
TAELED803 Implement improved learning practice
TAELED802 Investigate the application of ICT content knowledge
Group B
BSBRES801 Initiate and lead applied research
ICTICT805 Direct ICT procurement
TAELED804 Review enterprise e-learning systems and solutions implementation ...
From: Graduate Certificate in Digital Education (TAE8031)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Graduation Day Pomp and Circumstance

Tom Worthington MEd DE (Athabasca),
GCertHE (ANU), CertIVT&A (CIT),
University graduations are slightly silly, but worthwhile events. However, international distance education students tend to miss out on all the pomp and circumstance. Perhaps embassies could put on a ceremony for graduates of that country's institutions.

Here I am in full academic regalia for my Master of Education in Distance Education, awarded by Athabasca University (Canada), 18 January 2017. I was not able to attend the ceremony in Canada, but wore my new master's hood on stage as a member of faculty at the Australian National University graduation last Wednesday in Canberra (last time on this stage was to receive an ANU qualification).

You can see me in the procession onto the stage, 2 min 50 seconds into the video of the ANU ceremony. Athabasca doesn't have headgear  for Masters, so I was the only one on stage without a hat. The photographer asked if I had the hood on the right way up, but I didn't know (nor did anyone else), as they had never see one from Athabasca in Canberra before.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Master of Computing International Qualification

Master of Computing qualifications have been added to the Seoul Accord, which sets the standard for international qualifications in the computing field. Previously only bachelors degrees were recognized. The new recognition allows someone who already has a degree in another discipline to become professionally recognized via a two year Masters, rather than having to undertake another three year degree.

The Australian Computer Society, which is a signatory to the Accord, has already accredited Masters programs at several Australian universities.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Mobile Learning with Totara and Moodle, ACS Canberra, 19 July

Matthew Burley, CEO of Sydney startup Mobile Learning, will speak on "m-Learning with Totara and Moodle", at the Australian Computer Society's ICT Educators forum, in Canberra, in the evening of 19 July 2017. Matthew is also available in Canberra that day for discussions with educators.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redefining the Research Doctorate

Professor Imelda Whelehan, Dean of Higher Degree Research, Australian National University
Professor Imelda Whelehan, Dean of Higher Degree Research at The Australian National University (ANU) has invited staff and students to help in Redefining the ANU PhD:
  1. "What should a 21st century PhD look like?
  2. How can we ensure that the ANU secures our position as a world leader in graduate research education?
  3. What is best practice for PhD delivery worldwide?
  4. What changes can we make?"
Some of thoughts on the questions (my own, not necessarily the ANU view):

1. What should a 21st century PhD look like

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) recognizes two forms of Doctoral Degree, both at Level 10 (the highest level of qualification): a Doctoral Degree (Research) and Doctoral Degree (Professional). A PhD, while clearly a research doctorate, I suggest should include elements of a professional degree. The community expects a PhD graduate to not only be able to conduct research on a very focused topic, but also to be an expert in their field, able to teach, lead and advise. Teaching, leading and advising are not skills which can be obtained just by conducting research: these require formal training and testing by staff qualified to teach and test.

Research graduates are expected to be teachers and supervisors in academia, as well as leaders industry. So I suggest that doctoral students should be required to undertake teaching and supervision of students and learn education, leaderships and communication theory, sufficient of awarding of a Graduate Certificate in Education (University Teaching and Supervision).

This education can be tailored to the needs of specific disciplines, to meet professional certification requirements. For example, the computing profession has skills definitions for computer educators.

2. How can we ensure that the ANU secures our position as a world leader in graduate research education?

ANU should reestablish formal programs in education, including a Graduate Certificate in Education (University Teaching and Supervision), Masters and a Doctoral Degree in Education. These can build on the reflective portfolio approach of the existing education fellowships, along with e-learning, supplemented with classroom based learning. This can be designed as an exemplar of a new flexible approach to non-lecture based education. The new education programs can be based at the ANU's new union court teaching building.

What is best practice for PhD delivery worldwide?

Dilly Fung's new book "A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education" (UCL Press, 2017), proposes a framework building on the Humboldtian teaching /research approach (full text is free on-line).

The Cambridge University Doctoral Training Centre for Social Sciences provides support for PHDs and might be a useful model for Australian universities. In 2015 I talked to Cambridge University staff on how they could use e-learning for their graduate students, the notes from the meeting are available from their Office of Scholarly Communication.

Athabasca University (Canada) offers doctorates in education, with the students required to be at the campus for only five days. This reflects a new reality of higher education, which Australian universities need to embrace, where students will be out in the field, or workplace, not on campus.

3. What changes can we make?

ANU could require research supervisors to obtain formal education in teaching at the level of at least a graduate certificate in education, in addition to any fellowships obtained.

Universities could offer doctoral students the opportunity to obtain real-world relevant qualifications and certifications, alongside their doctorate. Using the same e-portfolio evidence based techniques for the Grad Cert in Education, students could obtain certifications required for other fields by collecting evidence in a structured way.

This year I have been helping ANU TechLauncher students in computer science and engineering complete their Personal Development Review (PDR). This is a portfolio describing what skills and knowledge the students have acquired in their project work, in a format suitable for a future employer. Some of this is covered in my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education".

Monday, June 26, 2017

E-portfolios for Professional Certification

Today I took part in an excellent webinar on support for applying for membership of the UK's Association of Learning Technologists (ALT), Certified Membership (CMALT) . The webinar was run by Mark Northover from the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Auckland University of Technology. The first tool mentioned was the CMALT Professional Development Module from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (David Watson). The second was Mosomelt  (Thom Cochrane, AUT). Also ASCILITE run CMALT Australasia. These both provide online support for applicants.

The UK also has the Higher Education Academy's (HEA) fellowship scheme. Like CMALT this requires completion of a reflective portfolio. For those not used to this approach, the process can be daunting, thus the need for support. Late last year I completed a reflective e-portfolio for a MEd, which used a similar process.

One thing unclear is the relationship between certification and formal educational qualifications. ALT and HEA ask applicants to describe their training and experience with education (and the in the case of ALT, with technology). However, there is no requirement for formal educational qualifications and these certifications are not educational qualifications. In contrast, membership of the Australian Computer Society (ACS), and the British Computer Society, are expressed in terms of educational qualifications and relevant experience.

An ACS "Certified Technologist" would normally have a Diploma of IT (one year study) and the higher "Certified Professional" a Bachelor of IT (three years study), plus relevant experience. It would seem reasonable for the ALT and HEA to set educational requirements, but perhaps at a lower level, reflecting the lack of maturity of higher education as a profession. A certificate or graduate certificate (six months study) for entry level and an advanced diploma or masters (two years study) for full membership would be reasonable.

ps: On thing to keep in mind with certifications is how long they last and what are the ongoing obligations and costs. The annual fee for CMALT holders is £79.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

ANU Cyber Reading Group

An "ANU Cyber Reading Group" organized by Dr Shane Magrath at the Australian national University's College of Engineering & Computer Science held its first meeting 31 May 2017. The first paper discussed was on Fuzzing,  a form of automated testing. Lockheed-Martin's Cyber Kill Chain was also discussed.
"Fuzzing is an approach to software testing where the system being tested is bombarded with test cases generated by another program. The system is then monitored for any flaws exposed by the processing of this input. While the fundamental principles of fuzzing have not changed since the term was first coined, the complexity of the mechanisms used to drive the fuzzing process have undergone significant evolutionary advances. This paper is a survey of the history of fuzzing, which attempts to identify significant features of fuzzers
and recent advances in their development, in order to discern the current state of the art in fuzzing technologies, and to extrapolate them into the future." From McNally, Yiu,  Grove & Gerhardy, 2012.
Last year I presented the ANU computer science students with a students with a Hypothetical on Cyberwar Over the South China Sea. ANU also offers courses in Cyber-intelligence and Security, Cyber Warfare Law, &  Cyber-security and Cybercrime.


McNally, Richard, Yiu, Ken,  Grove, Duncan, &
Gerhardy,  Damien (2012, February). Fuzzing: The State of the Art. Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence Division, Defence Science and Technology Organisation. DSTO–TN–1043 Retrieved from

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finkel Review Explained?

Greeting from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I am one of the packed lecture theatre, to heard a panel of experts have promised to explain the Explain the Finkel Review of of the National Electricity Market. This is hosted by the 
ANU Energy Change Institute. I am a member, but my expertise is confined to ICT and energy use.  From a quick reading of the report, I was not impressed. Previously, Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, ANU Research School of Engineering, an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster".

The chair,  Professor Ken Baldwin, Director, ANU Energy Change Institute, presented the "energy trilemma": environment, security of supply and affordability. The problem is to maintain supply and contain costs, while also reducing carbon emissions, which Ken characterized as a "wicked problem" and Australia was "leading the OECD pack from the rear" on emissions. He gave a quick overview of the differences of Finkel's proposal, a Clean Energy Target, compared to Australia's previous scheme and no scheme at all. He then summarized the proposal for a mandated Generator Reliability Obligation. However, to me the central problem is not the engineering and economics, but the politics of the issue. As Ken points out Australia is in the current difficult situation due to a lack of planning. The question, I suggest, is if politics will allow this planning to happen.

Ken proposed a "Expert Foresighting Group", this sounded to me a little too much like the fictional "Nation Building Authority" in the TV comedy "Utopia". What are needed is a much smaller group of experts who are able to give government quick, politically feasible options quickly. University academics are used to having weeks, months or years to come up with a "quick" answer, whereas the political process needs answers in seconds, minutes or, at worst, "Action This Day".

Next to speak:
  1. Professor Quentin Grafton, ANU: Questioned the reliability of
  2. Honorary Associate Professor Hugh Saddler, ANU: Pointed out that land clearing changes have made dramatic reductions to emissions. Apart from that he pointed out that electricity generation is one of the few areas where reductions can be made.Also he pointed out that rooftop home solar generation is not regarded as part of the national generating system. Most interestingly, Professor Saddler suggested that state targets could result in a much larger reduction in emissions than the Finkle proposals. It may be that the policy log-jam at the federal level is irrelevant.
  3. Dr Matt Stocks, ANU: Dr Stocks stated up front he assumed the future was photovoltaics, which need storage and a network. He asserted that Australia does not have a robust national network, rather a series of state networks joined together, in a line, which increases the cost of electricity. Dr Stocks pointed out that renewable supplies generally do not provide the "inertia" which coal, gas and hydro provides. Curiously, rather than suggest that this could be provided by upgrading existing conventional generators, or creating new rotating inertia sources, he suggested batteries would be used. A battery will provide power for days, not the fractions of a second inertia will. The high tech equivalent is not a battery but a super-capacitor. Battery technology is being driven (pun intended) by the automotive industry. However, some vehicles, such as the Mazda 6 use a super-capacitor for fast, short term energy storage.
  4. Mr Dan Harding, ACT Government: Pointed out that many of the Finkle report recommendations have been included in previous expert reports, but it packages these all together into a coherent whole.
  5. Dr Nathan Steggel, Windlab: Suggested that the Finkel report overestimated the cost of wind generation. He suggested that market alternatives to a Generator Reliability Obligation should be investigated. 
Overall the panel was positive on the Finkel report recommendations. 

Open University Going Digital by Design

The Open University UK (OUUK) has announced a "root and branch review of every aspect of its operations", with  "major savings and reinvestment plan" for a university "digital by design". The  Vice-Chancellor, Peter Horrocks, gets a poetic proposing to  “... transform the University of the Air ... to a University of the Cloud ...". But the media release "The Open University outlines plans for radical reinvention" (14 June 2017) is vague as to what exactly intended.

Athabasca University, Canada's open on-line university, recently released the results of an independent report into the institution's financial viability. In 2014 UBC released a Flexible Learning Strategic Vision. These, like OUUK, discuss addressing life long learning in a flexible way, but are vague on exactly how to do this and even vaguer on how to attract students to it.

OUUK was a pioneer in how to design and deliver cost-effective higher education programs. Most of the on-line programs of other institutions (and MOOCs) are an adaption of OUUK's approach. It will be interesting to see how, and if, OUUK can improve on its current techniques. It may be that this is not so much about how to design or deliver courses, so much as identifying what the student needs and getting just that to the student, when they need it (an approach emphasized in Vocational Education).

OUUK proposes to "to enhance its reputation as a world leader in lifelong and distance learning". However, I suggest this may make the situation worse, not better, driving away students, not attracting them. As the Athabasca report notes, many conventional universities are now offering on-line distance courses.

I suggest that OUUK, Athabasca, and similar open on-line institutions, have an image problem. Open and distance universities are seen as less prestigious than traditional campus based institutions. Students do not attend an open on-line university because they prefer it, they do so because they do not have a good alternative. By emphasizing lifelong and distance learning these institutions are making themselves less attractive to students.

Perhaps OUUK needs to adopt the marketing approach traditional universities are applying to their on-line courses: emphasize high academic standards and a traditional on-campus experience. As an example, MIT have experimented with on-line courses with optional attendance. Most students will never take up the optional attendance, but will be comforted it exists. Students do benefit from interaction with other students and with an instructor, but this need not be face-to-face, or on campus.

This on-campus dream/off-campus reality is similar to the way automotive companies market off-road vehicles to consumers who never drive them off-road. The companies know that their customers would be better off with a safer, more fuel efficient, lower cost family wagon, but that this is not attractive. The buyers know they are never really going to drive along a beach or across a desert, but the dream is very powerful. Similarly, the dream of attending an ox-bridge style campus is a powerful way to sell on-line courses.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Webometrics Ranking of Ten Thousand Universities

The "Webometrics Ranking of World Universities" by Spanish researchers has advantages over the better known ranking systems and produces a few surprises. Webometrics ranks more than ten thousand universities around the world, which is many more than other measures provide. For Australia 199 institutions are listed, whereas other rankings mostly cover the 43 accredited as universities, not colleges which also issue Higher Education qualifications.

Webometrics uses four measures: Presence, Impact, Openness and Excellence. While the weighted score of these measures gives a similar result to other measures, there are some surprises. For example, many ranking system give a similar result to the the Times Higher Education University Rankings with the "Group of Eight" first:
  1. University of Melbourne
  2. Australian National University
  3. University of Queensland
  4. University of Sydney
  5. Monash University
  6. University of New South Wales
  7. University of Western Australia
  8. University of Adelaide
Webometrics lists the same top Australian universities , but in a different order:
  1. University of Melbourne
  2. University of Queensland
  3. University of New South Wales
  4. Australian National University
  5. University of Sydney
  6. University of Western Australia
  7. University of Adelaide
  8. Monash University
The ANU slips two places due to low Presence and Excellence scores. Monash drops three places to eight position, due to a very low Presence score.

The Presence measure is unusual in university ranking systems, in that it measures the quality of the university's website. Ranked by presence, the top eight Australian universities are:
  1. University of Queensland
  2. University of Melbourne
  3. University of New South Wales
  4. Australian National University
  5. RMIT University
  6. Edith Cowan University
  7. University of Western Australia
  8. Macquarie University
Sydney, Adelaide and Monash are replaced by RMIT, Edith Cowan and Macquarie. This effect of the Presence is more pronounced with world rankings, where the usual US and UK prestige institutions rank first in Webometrics, but for presence the University of São Paulo and  Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Brazil), at 6 and 7 in the world, outrank Clatech and the University of Oxford. 

Another interesting result is that universities with "open" in their names do not rate highly on the Webometrics openness scale (the Open University UK ranks highest at 403). Similarly those with "virtual" in their name do not rate highly for web presence (Tamil Virtual Academy, is highest at 1172).

The institutions I have studied at most recently rank as follows on Webometrics:

1242Athabasca University1256116913621879

This is much as I would expect, with ANU being a leading research university, USQ and Athabasca teaching universities and CIT a vocational college. However both USQ and Athabasca score poorly compared to ANU on presence and openness, despite their emphasis on e-learning and access to education. USQ claims a "commitment to open education" and Athabasca describes itself as "Canada's Open University", but neither rates in the top one thousand.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

MIT For Credit edX Course Shows How to Market e-Learning

Nick Roll reports "For-Credit MOOC: Best of Both Worlds at MIT?" (Inside Higher ED, June 15, 2017). However, the MIT paper this report is prepared from never claims that this was a massive open online course (MOOC).

Marshall (2017) reports that MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department allowed students to undertake an edX on-line course, for credit. This pilot apparently went well but it is not the revolutionary "For-Credit MOOC" portrayed in the media. This is a conventional small, closed, on-line distance education course of the type which have been routinely delivered by universities around the world for decades.

The MIT pilot used material prepared for edX, with videos, text and exercises. Added to this were two instructors (professor and tutor) and the offer of one-on-one on-campus support. With only 31 students in the pilot, is much more instructor support than is usual for an on-line course.

Marshall (2017)reports that students signed up for the on-line course because of scheduling difficulties. This is something I found with my "ICT Sustainability" course, run at ANU from 2009 (Worthington, 2012). On-campus students signed up for the on-line unit as a way around scheduling problems. As Marshall notes, I discovered that even when the students are on campus and offered face-to-face sessions, few take up the offer. Also students get similar results for on-line and on-campus courses.

The most significant and interesting result Marshall found was that students found the on-line course less stressful. On-line distance education courses are usually considered to be more stressful for students. However, like Marshall, I found my on-campus e-learning students at ANU did not find the course stressful. This may be because the MIT and ANU students had already been admitted to a campus program which excludes the non-traditional students which distance education is specifically designed for. Also on-line courses, by design, are much more scaffolded than face-to-face courses.

The approach of using preprepared standardized courseware was developed in the era before on-line education, for paper based distance education. The Open University UK refined this approach and applied it to on-line courses, which had human tutors and in some cases the option of face to face study groups. MIT have applied essentially the same techniques which OUUK pioneered, which I used at ANU from 2009 and which many other open universities have applied over the last few decades. This work has been extensively researched and reported in the literature. It is not surprising that MIT found these tried and proven techniques worked.

EdX and MIT's approach to e-learning do not offer any new approach to education. However, what they do offer is a way to market this form of education to a new generation of students, their parents and government policy makers. Distance education, and its e-learning descendant, do not have a good reputation in the academia, amongst employers or prospective students. Despite decades of research to the contrary, distance and e-learning are seen as inferior. Open and distance education institutions around the world struggle for recognition and funding.

What edX and other "MOOC" providers have done is to provide a marketing buzz around e-learning to make it appear new, exciting and high tech. If that encourages students to sign, up and governments to support e-learning, it is a good thing. I suggest that traditional open universities need to learn from MIT's approach to marketing e-learning, while MIT should look to the literature on e-learning techniques they can apply.

ps: This approach to marking e-learning is similar to that used by the tiny house movement for promoting mobile homes. Manufactured mobile homes have a poor public perception, being associated with trailer parks (or a caravan in your parent's backyard) and low socio-economic status. The tiny house movement emphasizes custom design of homes by young professionals. The designs look like miniature traditional houses, not shipping containers, and are depicted set up in idyllic rural settings. While this is far from reality, if it encourages people to think about smaller homes, it is useful. Similarly, MOOCs are depicted as cheap and easy for anyone to do on-line, which far from reality.


Marshall, A E. (April 2017). A Preliminary Assessment of an MIT Campus Experiment with an edX Online Course: The Pilot of 6.S064 Circuits and Electronics, MIT Teaching and Leanring Lab, Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. Retrieved from

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Improving retention, completion and success in higher education

The discussion paper "Improving retention, completion and success in higher education" from the Higher Education Standards Panel, was released by the Australian Department of Education and Training, 9 June 2017. This seventy nine page report provides a comprehensive overview of efforts to measure and improve the retention of students in Australian university. It points out that many strategies have had limited success and asked what more can be done.

As the paper points out, Australian university students complete at about the same rate as in comparable countries. The report discusses categories of students less likely to complete, such as those who are part time, distance students from low socio-economic groups (p. 45). In a way this reflects the success of Australian Higher Education policy. Such students would previously have been excluded from higher education. Any policy to improve retention rates should be carefully designed so it does not inadvertently exclude these students (or allow an unscrupulous provider to deliberately do so to improve their statistics).

One change the points to  is "From 1 January 2018 Commonwealth support will be available to students at public universities in approved sub-bachelor courses." (Page 14). As the paper notes, this will provide a better transition to degree programs and for shorter work related qualifications.

However, sub-degrees present challenges for universities which are not used to offering such short, practical programs. Those institutions which offer vocational and educational training (VET), through an associated TAFE or Registered Training Organization (RTO) will have an advantage in staff and procedures to suit these shorter programs.

In discussing teaching quality, the paper notes that enrollments in Graduate Certificates in Teaching (the traditional qualification a university lecturer is expected to have) has been declining (p. 50). The paper suggests this be addressed by individual universities. However, perhaps a more centralized policy is needed. VET staff have a very high rate of completion of the equivalent qualification: a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. This is because the qualification is required for VET teachers. No similar requirement exists for university lecturers.

I suggest requiring university lecturers to have a teaching qualification at least the same level as VET teachers: AQF level 4 Certificate IV, while retaining the option of a Level 8 Graduate Certificate. Those academics who also teach in the VET sector would be likely to opt for the Certificate IV and those exclusively in the university system the Graduate Certificate. In either case, this education should focus on practical aspects of teaching, with only as much theory as needed to support it. This should be offered on-line, using techniques including an e-portfolio and recognition of prior learning, both for convenience and to provide familiarity with the environment lecturers will be increasingly working in. and with the option of completion through an

Senior university academics should be expected to have completed a more extensive qualification on teaching, supervision and university administration. A Level 6 Advanced Diploma, or Level 9 Masters Degree would be appropriate.

One aspect of the paper which I find troubling, is the lack of appreciation for the change which on-line education has made, and will make, to Australian Higher Education. The assumption seems to be that most university students do, and will continue to, attend lectures on a campus regularly as full-time students. However, like the education provided by universities, this thinking needs to be flipped. University academics are well aware that only about one third of students attend the average lecture and that students have jobs and families. However, most academics have not been trained in how to provide education to this majority of students.

In March I completed a Masters of Education in Distance Education, focused on how to provide a quality education at a research orientated university catering to international students. Some of my colleagues have asked what the trick is to getting students to do the study expected of them. The trick, as I explain it, is to experience being a student so you understand what they are going through and becoming competent in your profession of teaching. It is then very much easier to teach, once you know how to do it and why.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Auto Power-board to Simplify Computer Setup

On the weekend I purchased a Master / Slave Powerboard. This is plugged into a mains power socket and then my computer and peripherals plugged in. The main item of equipment, usually the computer or TV, is plugged into a "master" socket and the peripherals into the "slave" sockets. When you turn on the computer (or TV) everything else is turned on as well. More importantly, when you turn off the computer (or it turns itself off after a set period of non-use) everything else is turned off. This works remarkably well. One use is for vod-casting studios at universities, where staff and students can record videos, such as ANU's new "One Button Studio".  The unit I purchased is an "Eco Solutions 6 Way Master / Slave Powerboard" by Mort Bay, for AU$35.04, but similar units are readily available. If buying on-line check that the unit meets local voltage and safety standards.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Athabasca University Review Report

The Independent Third-Party Review of Athabasca University (Canada), by Dr. Ken Coates, has been released. The seventy page report (1 May 2017) was prepared for AU, and Alberta's Minister for Advanced Education, on the financial viability of the university and options for its future. This is a positive report, suggesting the university has a future and how to ensure it.

As a recent graduate of the university (March 2017), I took a close interest in the review. As part of my degree I  had studied how to design and resource educational programs. I took part in a teleconference with  Dr. Coates and made some suggestions.

Many of the challenges which AU faces are common to regional universities in Australia. These include the extent to which a university can compete with institutions which specialize in vocational education, competition from city based institutions in providing distance education, competition from new forms of on-line education, and the cost of using on-campus full-time permanent staff. The Australian Government commissioned a review into regional, rural and remote education in March 2017 and a review of national vocational education in June 2017. A consolidation of Australian vocational educational institutions is already taking pace and it is likely that this will happen with universities in the next few years.

Dr. Coates recommends:
"AU should rebrand itself as the leading Canadian centre for online learning and twenty-first century educational technology. " (page 26)
I suggest AU could call itself "Canadian Open University". Dr. Coates  comments that AU lacks the ICT for this, which I suggest is overstating the case. AU already makes use of free open source software (such as Mahara, Moodle and OJS). This approach could be expanded in keeping with AU's open ethos by joining open source consortia and involving IT staff and students in development.

Other recommendations:
"1. Open Access: AU should continue, and even expand, its activities associated with population groups that are under-represented in the Albertan and Canadian post-secondary system." (Page 27)
This is something which effected me personally. I had attempted to enroll in a Masters of Education at an Australian university, but was rejected due to not having a bachelor's degree in education. AU accepted my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and experience as sufficient for entry into their masters program.
"2.  Diversity of the Student Population: While AU has a unique commitment to open access in Alberta, it should continue to take a broad approach to recruitment." (Page 27)
"3. Professional Courses, Diplomas, Undergraduate Degrees and Master’s Programs: AU should continue and expand its efforts to educate lifelong learners and should expand its career-focused and advanced educational opportunities." (Page 27)
Dr. Coates  points out opportunities for programs in business, health, educational technology and service to Indigenous Peoples.
" 4. Deployment of Faculty: While faculty members are critical to the success of a university, the standard disciplinary and faculty-centric approach to professional commitment will constrain an innovative, creative online institution." (Page 28)
This seems more an observation, than a recommendation. As a university, AU can't just shift staff around to meet teaching demand, as these staff need to have a depth of knowledge. What is not discussed is the use of remote part time staff for teaching. Being an on-line university, there is no need for the bulk of the teaching staff to be at Athabasca, or in Canada. Also AU appears to have a very low proportion of casual and part time academic staff (about one third). As a vocationally orientated institution, AU could benefit by making more use of casual and part time academics from the professions. Apart from reducing cost, this would inject current relevant experience.
"5. Mid-Career Retraining: AU has an open-ended opportunity to focus on mid-career retraining and adaptations to the new economy." (Page 28)
Re-skilling professionals is something identified in the UBC Flexible Learning Strategy in 2014. AU is likely to have considerable competition in provided programs in this area. However, its open policy and distance education expertise would provided a competitive advantage.
"6. Pedagogical Innovation: AU has an opportunity to build on its reputation for pedagogical innovation by focusing on the emergence of greater understanding of learning styles and related transformations in pedagogy, educational technology and online learning." (Page 28)
Unfortunately AU does not appear to have benefited from its reputation for pedagogical innovation so far. When looking for a masters of education to undertake AU was one of the three institutions outside Australia I considered, due to its prominence in the education literature. However, outside those who read papers about distance education pedagogy, AU is virtually unknown. There is a risk for AU in pursuing, or being see to be pursuing, every educational fad. Apart from the high cost of initiatives there is the risk of lessing of reputation as a reliable provider. However, some initiatives could be tried.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Impact through empathy

One exception to the usual fluffy kitten approach to university marketing is the Australian Catholic University (ACU), with their "ACU I Impact through empathy" campaign. This depicts the ACU's graduates, in health and education, helping people. It still shows study in a positive light, but is much more serious and sober than some of the sillier advertisements of other Australian universities. One point ACU glosses over is its origins in religious education: although the Vatican is briefly shown.

One of the more entertaining parts of higher education are the advertisements universities use to attract students. However, students have high rates of mental health problems. Depicting study as something fun, social, and easy, with instructors always to hand, may contribute to the problem.

University study is not fun, easy or pleasant: it is hard work, frustrating and lonely. Instructors cannot be as available, or helpful, as students would wish, due to resource constraints and the need for students to learn though their own efforts. As a result students may think there is something wrong with them.

ACU's approach is not just a matter of marketing. When studying education I made use of ACU's Canberra campus library and sat in on some graduate student sessions (one day I accidentally also sat in on an undergraduate teacher training class). There is a sense of caring and sharing which pervades the campus and the approach of the staff, different from a typical university. This may be just a matter of size, with a small campus able to be more personal, or it may be due to the caring disciplines the institution teaches.

Friday, June 2, 2017

ANU Science Teaching and Learning Colloquium

Greetings from the ANU Science Teaching & Learning Colloquium, where Dr Peter Anderson, from Monash University is speaking on "Indigenous students, indigenous perspectives". He suggests a right based approach to teaching to all students. I understood the rationale for this, but teachers would need more detailed guidance on how to apply this to STEM university courses.

One of the points Dr Anderson made was on access to education for indigenous students in remote areas. His solution appeared to be to send the students away to boarding school in the cities. Last year at mLearn 2016 in Sydney, Philip Townsend talked on Mobile Learning indigenous student teachers in remote areas. This provides an alternative approach, where at least some of the education can be provided where the student is.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cyber Kill Chain

There is a demand for Cyber Security IT professionals, so I am updating my knowledge of the area to help teach this. Last year I presented a "Cyberwar: Hypothetical for Teaching ICT Ethics", about a confrontation in the South China Sea.

Cyber Kill Chain

Lockheed Martin offer a Cyber Kill Chain® framework for cyber security. For those not familiar with the aggressive terminology  of the military, such terms can sound confronting, but the "kill chain" from which Lockheed Martin's propitiatory framework is derived is simply the military version of a decision making loop: first investigate the problem, then select a course of action, act and then assess the results before going around the loop again.

Some of the research carried out by the military is in the public domain. Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO ) produce occasional papers on cyber security. One is McNally, Yiu, Groveand Gerhardy's "Fuzzing: the state of the art" (2012). As the authors explain, fuzzing is a software testing technique which uses test data generated by one program to test  another program. This can be used, for example, for penetration testing, where many tests of passwords could be used to see if access is gained to a system.

 This paper starts with the origins of the technique for testing UNIX utilities at University of Wisconsin-Maddison by  Professor Barton Miller’s students. The paper provides a detailed discussion of more recent techniques. This is perhaps a little too detailed. Like many DSTO papers, at 55 pages, this is more than you need for a brief overview, so the casual reader might want just the introduction and conclusion.


McNally, R., Yiu, K., Grove, D., & Gerhardy, D. (2012). Fuzzing: the state of the art (No. DSTO-TN-1043). DEFENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ORGANISATION EDINBURGH (AUSTRALIA). Retrieved from

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