Monday, April 24, 2017

Replace Lectures with a Flipped Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While only 10 hours of tutor time are needed in the face-to-face class, there will be extra work in the preceding on-line classes making up another five hours.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

UNESCO Policy Recommendations for Equitable and Affordable Higher Education

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

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

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

EDUCATION: It's a science!

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


It's a science!

Higher Education

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

School Students Expectations of Higher Education

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What is a Webinar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Australian Student Experience

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Simplifying a course web page

Pictographs by
Carlos Sarmento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 Version

ICT Sustainability

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

    Week 1: Introduction to Green ICT Strategies

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

    22 February - 28 February

    Week 6: Methods and tools

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

2016 Version

ICT Sustainability

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

22 February - 28 February

Week 1: Politics, Science and Business of Sustainability

  • Week 1 Discussion
  • Week 1 Quiz

Week 6: Methods and Tools

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Four Steps to Digital Teaching

Pictographs by
Carlos Sarmento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Digital Literacy for New Teachers

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Online Bitcoin Masters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Australian University City

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Speed Dating for University Students and Employers

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Guidelines for Improving Student Success in Higher Education

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

ANU Physics Studio

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rethinking Teaching at ANU

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Australian Higher Education at E-Learning Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromasters offered:

University of Adelaide

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Education System for Rural and Regional Students

Senator Bridget McKenzie, Chair of the Senate Education and Employment Standing Committee writes that "The education system has failed students in rural and regional areas" (The Australian,"... regional and remote students suffer significant disadvantage simply because of where they live". 

For the last five years, I have been a graduate student of education, looking into the question of how to provide quality higher education in regional areas. I found that Australia was a pioneer in this field, providing a form of Distance Education at regional universities which was later adopted by the UK for its Open University. More recently Australia produced the Moodle free open source learning management system, used around the world.

What I suggest is to "blend" and "flip" the delivery of education for upper secondary, vocational and university students in Australia. In this way all Australian students can be given a high quality education which also happens to be accessible to regional and remote students. Students would study on-line, supported by real time on-line and, where possible, classroom based education.

Rather than design courses and curricular for city campuses and then think how to adapt this for regional students, flip the approach. Design courses and curricular for on-line delivery, wherever the students happen to be. The on-line courses can then be supplemented with classroom activities for those students who can get to a campus regularly. For those students can't get to a campus, or who don't have a specialist teacher for their subject, a combination of real time on-line classes and short intensive sessions can be provided.

What is needed is for policy makers to get over the idea that quality education requires a teacher standing out the front of a class talking at students. Quality education is provided where students work with each other, learning to solve real world problems, with the help of a teacher. We have the technology and the educational techniques to do this, backed up by decades of research to show it works, as detailed in my book "digital teaching".

Teleconference on the Future of Athabasca University

Today I took part in a one hour teleconference run by Dr. Ken Coates, who is conducting a Review into Athabasca University (AU). Eleven students took part (I am a recent AU graduate). There are further teleconferences scheduled with students.

AU were a pioneer of on-line open and distance education. However, city based universities are increasingly offering this option. This is also an issue in Australia, where Emeritus Professor John Halsey, of Flinders University is conducting a Review of Regional, Rural and Remote Education in Australia for the government.

ps: It was good to be consulted, but this is something the university administration should have done years ago, not waiting until they were forced to do so by the provincial government.

Media Plan for an Open University

Athabasca University's advertising and media buying Request for Proposals was released on-line, providing a rare insight into how universities and open universities in particular, see themselves and their students. Based on my experience as a recent AU graduate, the analysis seems accurate. The female skew was particularly pronounced for the MEd, and the students were a little older as this was a graduate program. Reading other student's profiles, I wondered if to fit in I had to acquire a husband, two children, a dog and an alpine sport. ;-)
"Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University has issued an advertising and media buying RFP. The school is dedicated to the removal of barriers that restrict access to and success in university-level studies and to increasing equality of educational opportunity for adult learners worldwide. They are committed to excellence in teaching, research and scholarship and to being of service to the general public.
Athabasca University (AU or University) has been a leader in distance and online learning since its inception in 1970. Today, the University serves 40,000 students throughout Alberta, across Canada and in 80 countries around the world. With a focus on liberal arts, science and professional education, the University offers more than 850 courses in nearly 80 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and undergraduate and graduate certificate and diploma programs.
The University’s online and distance approach to university learning makes it possible for people to take courses and earn degrees regardless of their location or their family, career or community commitments. Individualized study courses may incorporate both print materials, e-texts and a variety of multimedia tools, allowing students to learn when and where they choose and at their own pace.
Athabasca University is a full member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the International Council of Open and Distance Education, the Canadian Association of Distance Education, and the Canadian Association for Graduate studies. Athabasca University was also the first and just one of two Canadian universities accredited with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in the United States. In 2006, it became the first public post-secondary institution to be fully authorized to operate in both Alberta and British Columbia.

Media Advertising Target Audience

  • National campaign with a primary market of Alberta, secondary markets of Ontario and British Columbia, and tertiary markets throughout the rest of Canada.
  • Primary: Individuals currently in the workforce who are looking to expand their educational options; this segment of the population would benefit from being able to fit studies within their existing busy schedules. The goal: increase program enrolments.
  • Secondary: Individuals currently enrolled in post-secondary studies elsewhere who are looking to take certain transferable courses offered by Athabasca University (i.e.: visiting students). The goal: maintain number of course enrolments.
  • Prospective students, female skew; ages 25-34.
  • Indigenous, rural and northern population (with the goal of increasing program enrolments).
  • This does not limit the target audience, only provides a general guideline for existing targets within Canada."
From Athabasca University advertising and media buying Request for Proposals

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

University for the Future

Consulting company Lee Hecht Harrison have released "University for the Future: Evolutions, Revolutions and Transformations" (March 2017). This does not say anything new, but provides a well researched and readable summary of issues facing Australian universities. With higher education being a global industry, and Australia taking a significant share of the international student market, the report is also of relevance to those outside Australia.

The report is really six papers by different consultants:
  1. The Higher Education Sector: Where Have We Been and Where are We Now?, Yana Halets 
  2. The View From the Top: Findings From Interviews Conducted with Australian University Vice-Chancellors and Human Resources Directors, Dr Rod Gutierrez
  3. Community Impact and External Partnerships: From Transactions to Partnerships in Innovation Systems, Dr John Howard.
  4. The Student of the Future, Dr Onnida Thongpravati
  5. An Opinion on Leadership in the New World, Brad Griffiths
  6. Human Resources Transformation: People, Process, Structure and Systems, Peter Watson
One problem with the report is that it discusses on-line learning from the point of view of Massive
Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, MOOCs are just an adaption of long developed on-line learning techniques for university extension programs and marketing of for-fee courses. MOOCs are a distraction from the real significance of e-learning.

The report does go on to make the case for blended or flipped learning. However, the report does not go into detail on the implications of this for universities, in terms of the new skills teaching academics require or the effect on physical infrastructure.

By the end of the decade I expect the average full time university student will need to be in a classroom for one day a week and a part time student one day a month. The distinction between campus based and on-line students will disappear as almost all students will do most of their study on-line.

Courses need to be designed to language students who are not in a physical classroom for most of their study. Academics need to learn how to teach and assess these students on-line.

Universities are already reconfiguring campuses to have more flexible learning spaces. A good example of this is the ANU Union Court Redevelopment currently underway:
"Existing teaching facilities in University Avenue and Union Court, including the Manning Clark Centre, will be replaced by a number of multi-purpose, multimodal, flexible learning spaces which will be embedded with new digital infrastructure." From "Teaching and learning", ANU, 2017
Even allowing for the incorporation of leisure facilities and accommodation for international students, an 80% drop in students on campus, due to e-learning will require Australian universities to reconfigure the size and number of campuses. With students studying primarily on-line at home or work, there will be a demand for more distributed group study facilities, particularity in city and suburban centers, close to the student (this effect was noted fifty years ago with the establishment of the UK Open University).

It would not be practical for individual universities to each have their own distributed  campuses and these will be, of necessity shared. An example of this approach is 220 Victoria Square, Adelaide. The building has been shared by three universities.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Australian ICT Educators Program

The Australian Computer Society has proposed an "Australian ICT Educators Program" ("A new paradigm: Why our education system needs an overhaul", Anthony Wong, 7March 2017). This would provide professional development for those teaching ICT in schools. The program would be modeled on the UK Chartered Institute for IT (CaS), from the British Computer Society.

 The Australian program, I suggest, could build on the good work already done by the University of Adelaide, with their on-line Digital Technologies Education Programs for teachers. I suggest using the same "on-line" first approach: first building on-line professional development modules for teachers and the supplementing these with face-to-face classes.

Also I suggest that ACS should not confine the initiative to school teachers. Teaching ICT in the workplace and in higher education is a neglected field. Previously I proposed the ICT discipline Introduce Teaching as a Specialization for Computer Professionals. One role for such teaching-qualified computer professionals would be to design and deliver professional development courses to school teachers.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Athabasca University Third Party Review

Athabasca University (AU) and the Government of Alberta have appointed Dr. Ken Coates (University of Saskatchewan), to lead a review into how to make the university financially viable. This follows a report in 2015, which warned of insolvency by 2016/2017. Students are to be consulted and Dr. Coates is to report by 30 April 2017. The Terms of Reference for Independent Third Party Review (TOR, January 2017) state the review is to:
"Examine and assess possible options to improve the sustainability of the institution, including but not limited to:
  • The institution’s place within Campus Alberta – this involves exploring the appropriateness of the institution continuing its current capacity, and if the institution’s sustainability would improve if it became primarily a teaching university with a greater focus on ensuring access for Albertans;
  • Developing a new business model – this involves examining the appropriateness of the current delivery model as an open and distance university, and exploring alternative delivery methods that would improve sustainability;
  • Partnering with another Campus Alberta Institution –this involves exploring the feasibility and implications of partnering with another institution, including examining the costs, impact on staffing and implications to students of such a partnership; and,
  • Amalgamating with another entity or Campus Alberta institution – this involves exploring the feasibility and implications of the institution becoming a part of another entity, while maintaining the campus in Athabasca."

I designed one of AU's graduate courses and recently graduated from AU with a MEd in Distance Education. So I have some suggestions:
  1. "Some issues" in "Athabasca University Review",
  2. "Lessons from the Report for Athabasca University" in "Online College Students Preferences",
  3. "Suggestions for Improving the MEd" in "Master of Education in Distance Education by Distance Education",
  4. Australia's University of New England (UNE) is a regional university with challenges similar to AU. UNE has had several unsuccessful attempts to innovate, which AU might do well to avoid,
  5. "Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment". This is a book based on my MEd DE studies and may be of interest.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Improving Student Success

Greetings from the National Convention Center in Canberra, where I am attending an "Improving Student Success" workshop, hosted by the  Learning and Teaching Support Unit, of the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. This is held in conjunction with the Universities Australia national conference.

The first speaker, Professor Deborah West, Charles Darwin University (CDU), discussed "Learning Analytics" (LA), that is carrying out an analysis of data about how students learn, usually from the learning management system. One issue was concern that the results of the LA would be used to replace staff with recommender systems, which automatically provide students with advice. It seemed to me that LA is only a small part of recommender systems, artificial intelligence (AI) can provide such systems using other techniques. Also many of the insights claimed for LA are already known by educators and part of routine teacher training. The problem is that academics are not trained to teach.

If conventional courses are being delivered, then there is little scope for use of LA after the course has been designed. As an example, if a problem with literacy is identified, then a course can be redesigned, and the prerequisites can be changed. However, once the course has started there is little that can be done.

One interesting point was that about 70% of CDU's student load is on-line, with 30% classroom based. This is close to my prediction for Australian universities generally, being 80% on-line by the end of the decade. Current Australasian universities are about 40% to 50% online (as most students not attending lectures for supposed face-to-face courses).

Professor West cited: Siemens, G., & Long, P. (2011). Penetrating the fog: Analytics in learning and education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(5), 30. Retrieved from

Next was Professor Sally Varnham, UTS, chaired a panel of students on the "Student Engagement Partnership" (TSEP) project. What I found lacking from th discussion was on-line student representation and integration into the curriculum. For the last five years I have been a part-time on-line postgraduate student. I felt disenfranchised as most actives and representation structures assumed I was on campus and had spare time to be engaged in extra-curricular activities. I was more than a thousand kilometers from the campus and when not studying I had paid work to do.

Next was Professor Karen Nelson, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Professor Nelson pointed out that research shows that even those students who do not complete a degree receive significant benefit from higher education. However, I suggest that those students would benefit more if the institution was to award them a sub-degree qualification.  Professor Nelson also pointed out that the usual parameters for students (full/part time, age, previous education and so on) accounts for only about 12% of the variation in student outcomes.

Professor Nelson pointed out that regional students are moving to capital city universities.  Yesterday an review into regional, rural and remote education was announced by the Australian Government. One way regional universities can compete, I suggest, is to provide quality on-line, vocationally relevant, VET articulated, nested programs.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) announced yesterday the first advanced professional accreditation for an ICT degree, awarded to the University of Wollongong (UOW) Master of Information and Communication Technology (Advanced). The accreditation requires students to have skills in leadership and management,beyond what is expected in the usual degree. I suggest this will aid completion and engagement of students, as they will be working on work-relevant skills and realistic projects.

Associate Professor Sarah O'Shea, University of Wollongong, talked on first-in-family students. She pointed out this is an imprecise measure, however the research literature did have some useful pointers. Professor O'Shea, cited her research indicating that a large proportion of first in family students consider withdrawing. However, I would like to a statistical analysis to check that this is not a correlation, rather than a causal relationship. That is, it may be that first-in-family students have difficulties for the same reasons of disadvantage which prevented others in their family. If a family has not been wealthy enough in the past to support a university student, they are not likely to be able to do so in the future. Also it would seem that the Vocational Education and Training sector should provide a useful transition from school to university.

Professor O'Shea, quoted one student how felt an impostor at university and they did not really belong. This is curious as that is how I have always felt at university, even after teaching at one for eighteen years. As a graduate student I found it interesting to read the reflective portfolios of other mature students and find they felt the same. One of the things I learned being a student again was that I still was a student with all the usual fears, uncertainties and loneliness. 

O'Shea (2016) notes the "... students reported a sense of bewilderment in the initial weeks caused by fundamental institutional processes for example, enrollment procedures, financial requirements and timetabling". These are things which I struggled with, even as an experienced student studying how to design education programs. These are problems I suggest could be addressed partly by reassuring students that these are normal concerns common to students, but also by addressing these concerns.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review of Regional, Rural and Remote Education in Australia

Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Education and Training, has announced an Independent review into regional, rural and remote education. The review will be conducted by Emeritus Professor John Halsey, Flinders University. A discussion paper will be released in  April 2017, with a  final report due at the end of the year.

Scope of the Review

  • "the gap in educational achievement between regional, rural and remote students and metropolitan students
  • the key barriers and challenges that impact on the educational outcomes of regional, rural and remote students, including aspirations and access issues
  • the appropriateness and effectiveness of current modes of education delivered to these students, including the use of information and communications technology and the importance of face to face regional, rural and remote education provision
  • the effectiveness of public policies and programs that have been implemented to bridge the divide
  • the gaps and opportunities to help students successfully transition from school to further study, training and employment
  • innovative approaches that support regional, rural and remote students to succeed in school and in their transition to further study, training and employment."
From: Terms of Reference of the Independent review into regional, rural and remote education, Department of Education and Training, March 2017
I suggest that e-learning and vocational education have key roles in improving regional, rural and remote education. What we need to aim to do is provide education to students in the regions, ideally while those students are also employed in a job, apprenticeship or internship. or more on this, see my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education".

Friday, February 24, 2017

Education for Innovation

Greetings from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), where the "Education for Innovation Workshop" just started. The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) organized the event to work on Australia’s approach to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This is of interest, as I just published a book on what to do: "Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment". Speakers include Dr Lachlan Blackhall, Co-founder and CEO of Reposit Power, and Dr Sarah Pearson, CEO, Canberra Innovation Network.

My worry is that this may be just another talk-fest, rather than communicating what has been shown to work and proposing new solutions. There is little point in just repeating that STEM is in demand but enrollments are declining.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Online College Students Preferences

The report "Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences" from cloud HE services provider Learning House, Inc reports on a survey of 1,500 US higher education students. There are no great surprises in the report, but it is useful to have evidence to back up intuition. Many of the findings would also apply to face-to-face education. In particular, that students expect to be able to use a mobile device for admission and expect a quick response is significant.

Key Findings

  1. An Increasing Number of Students Prefer Online
  2. Online Students Are Cost Sensitive
  3. There Are Many Paths to a Degree
  4. Mobile Is Widespread Throughout the Admissions and Education Process
  5. Students Make Decisions Quickly
  6. Schools Need to Respond Faster
  7. The Online Student Demographic Is Changing
  8. Online Students Prefer a Nearby Campus
  9. IT Is Becoming a Popular Graduate Field of Study  

Lessons from the Report for Athabasca University

Athabasca University (AU) and the Government of Alberta have commissioned a review into how to make the university financially viable. The review would do well to address the points in Learning House's report. I suggest:

1. As a distance provider, AU should take heart that online study is becoming a more popular option. However, AU need to provide all services on-line. As an example, AU only provided me with my MEd certificate and transcript in paper form. Such paper documents are easily forged and of limited practical use. In contrast, the Australian National University (ANU) provided me both paper and electronically certified documents. AU should also accept such electronic documents in preference to paper (AU refused to accept my ANU e-certificate and required a lower integrity paper copy).

2. AU should compete on price, at least for international students, who do not receive a government subsidy. AU can price its programs to suit local markets, as it does already with the MEd, offered to residents of Eastern Europe, for about one quarter the Canadian price.

3. AU should make it easier for students to obtain credit for prior study and experience (I found this impossibly difficult for my AU MEd).

4. AU should change to a desktop-comparable mobile interface for its admissions and education processes. Currently AU's web pages, LMS and e-portfolio systems are reasonably mobile compatible, but are more complex and harder to use than they need be. By placing an emphasis on a simplified mobile interface, this would make the system easier for all users.

5. AU should provide quicker responses to students. As an example, I applied to graduate from AU (having completed all program requirements) on 13 December 2016, but my degree was not awarded until 18 January the next year. This is considerably faster than many bricks and mortar university, but still could be reduced.

6. Online students are becoming younger, but are still older than the average university student. AU should continue to cater for students who are in employment or have other commitments which prevent full time enrollment and who are older than the typical university student.

7. Online university students want some form of campus experience. AU could provide this by facilitating and funding social events and study groups for and by AU students, throughout the world. AU's on-line system could automatically identify which students are in the same area and provide a way for them to arrange events. AU could also explore more collaborations with institutions around the world, as already done in Greece. In three years of on-line study I felt the lack of connection, never meeting another student face-to-face and only meeting one out of eleven instructors (at an international conference).

8. AU should offer business, education and IT skills in all programs. The three popular areas for online study are business, IT and education, but as well as offering programs in these, AU should integrate them in other programs. That is, all students should be offered some knowledge of how organizations work, how to use IT in an organization and how to mentor and teach.