Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reframing Assessment

I have registered for the University of Canberra's free workshop Monday on "Work Integrated Learning - a disciplined approach". The pre-reading is Ruge and McCormack (2017) on "reframing" assessment for employability. This is something I am comfortable with, as I teach computing and engineering students, where there are clear professional roles with defined skills.
As a computer professional I have been involved with setting national and international skills standards and the accreditation of university programs. I have then designed university courses to meet these standards.  But this would be a challenge for those from disciplines which are not so vocationally orientated. I suspect the greatest challenge for those facilitating the workshop will be the reluctance of some academics to see themselves as vocational educators, or worse "trainers". ;-)

Ruge and McCormack (2017) report on a five year Australian study of students in Building and Construction Management at the University of Canberra. This is clearly an industry related discipline and "Constructive alignment" should be easy for the construction industry. ;-) 
The researcher's suggestions are not  surprising, including linking curriculum to industry requirements and scaffolded assessment. The one suggestion I have difficulty with is the use of reflection to have student think about their own learning. Having been through several reflective writing exercises myself as a student and a HEA Fellows applicant, I find the process perplexing.
My computer and engineering students find it equally perplexing to be told to reflect on their learning. What worked well this semester was to re-frame the capstone reflective writing exercise for ANU Techlauncher students, as a job application, based on what they had learned in the course. They were still reflecting on what they learned, but in a way relevant to their short term goal: get a job.

Ruge and McCormack (2017) comment that "Unit-specific assessment items are therefore key building blocks and teaching and learning opportunities for students’ generic and early professional skills development for employability ...". However, this appears to be more for the administrative convenience of the university, than the quality of the student learning. Universities like to have a small set of standardized units which can be assembled into a large number of program offerings. However, it can be difficult to match the learning outcomes of these general purpose units to the requirements of a specific professional skills requirement. An alternative is to build units specific to the discipline, to have a project based program without units, or units plus a project capstone.

Ruge and McCormack (2017) discuss educational design principles for learning through authentic assessment. In theory this is not that difficult: simply provide assessment tasks which simulate what the graduate will have to do in the workplace. As an example, I teach students how to estimate the carbon em missions due to use of ICT in an organization, so I get the students to do that and assess the results. The terms I use to describe this assessment item comes from the learning objective for the course, which in turn comes from the skills definition of the gallivant international professional standard.

However, designing and delivering authentic assessment is a complex and time consuming process. Either the students are understanding the task in a real workplace, or a simulation of one. Having students in workplaces requires specialized supervision skills.
Students will not necessarily be interested in, or understand the alignment of assessment with
the profession's requirements. This understanding may only come years later.

Promises of "personalized" formative feedback can create unrealistic expectations in students and an unrealistic workload for staff. As with lectures, which students say they want, but do not attend, detailed feedback is something expected but not necessarily used. One a course as a student of assessment I read research results which indicated students did not read detailed feedback. I thought this nonsense: I spent a lot of time composing feedback and surely the students read it. My assignment on feedback reflected that view. The assignment came back from the assessor and I looked at the mark on the front (which was okay), then flicked it aside. At that point I stopped and realized I was a student exhibiting the behavior I said students did not have: I had not read the feedback. Since then I have adopted the practice of of very brief feedback next to the mark.


Ruge, G., & McCormack, C. (2017). Building and construction students’ skills development for employability–reframing assessment for learning in discipline-specific contexts. Architectural Engineering and Design Management, 1-19.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How quickly can a pumped hydro system be built?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the ANU Energy Update 2017 is ending. The last speaker is speaker Ms Audrey Zibelman, CEO Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). She pointed out that the world's largest battery was installed in South Australia in only a few months and a new solar farm was increased in Queensland similarly quickly. It occurred to me that there could be an opportunity for similarly fast installation of pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

While batteries are useful for storing power for a few minutes or hours, renewable energy systems need days of storage. ANU's Professor Blakers (who is at the event today) has identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro sites in Australia. However, building reservoirs, pipes, pumps, turbines and grid connection can take ten years.

It is not feasible to build a pumped hydro system in the few months it took for South Australia's battery, but it may be feasible in one or two years. This would place the option within the decision cycle of Australian governments and business.

The time to build a pumped hydro system could be shortened using modern project management and manufacturing techniques. The site could be surveyed using satellite and drones. At the same time the site's social and legal issues would be examined on-line.

The dams, pipes, and buildings could be manufactured in standardized modules which can be shipped across the world in standard container loads.

The turbines and pumps could be additive manufactured. Australian researchers produced a 3D printed a gas turbine in 2016.Multiple small units could be used, for ease of manufacture, transport and installation (at the cost of efficiency). Units could be made small enough to be transported to the site by heavy lift helicopter.

As a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, consider how many modular industrial water tanks would be needed to store as much energy as the SA 129MWh battery. Modular steel water tanks are available with a 748kl capacity (5.6m tall x 13 m diameter). Using the Simplified PHES Calculator (Andrew Blakers, Matt Stocks, Bin Lu, Kirsten Anderson and Anna Nadolny), with a 300 m head each tank will store 0.4 MWh of energy. So 323 tanks would be required to store as much energy as the SA battery. The materials for each tank would be within the capacity of a heavy lift helicopter, removing the need to build a road to the mountain top.

Pumped hydro systems could be built in stages, so they can start producing power (and revenue), with extra modules added later.

It would be tempting to focus on the engineering aspects of such a project: the 3D printed turbines and modular pipework. However, it is likely to be the planning of the land use which will create the greatest obstacles.  One technique which has been found to be effective in Europe in reducing complaints about wind turbines from the local community is to offer them a financial stake in the project. The same may work with pumped hydro.

It is very difficult to convince a politician to fund a project which will not be completed for a decade, long after the next election, or a business-person long after their bonus has been calculated. It would be very much easier if they can see progress in months and completion in a few years.

This might be a suitable project for the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) or the Renewables Innovation Hub.

Narrow Focus on Completion Rates for Australian University Students is Discriminatory

The Australian Education and Training Minister, Simon Birmingham, wants universities to have a “laser focus” on student outcomes. The minister points out that six-year completion rates for university students had dropped to their lowest levels on record. This is based on the latest Completions Rates of Higher Education Students - Cohort Analysis, 2005-2015 from the Australian Department of Education and Training (November, 2017). However, the results are not as bad as the minister suggests and implementing the Minister's advice would make the situation worse, not better.

The key messages from the department's report were that 9 years after the 2007 students commenced, 73.6% had completed, almost the same as for 2005 and 2006. For 2010 students, 66.0% of students had completed after six years. This was the lowest completion rate since statistics collection commenced in 2005. However, it is only 0.9% lower than the average for other years. There is a similar 0.9% drop from 2011 to 2012.

A 0.9% drop in student completions does not look good. However, there has been a large increase in enrollments in the last few years. Students who were unable to attend university are now able to. It is likely that the same factors which previously prevented these students from attending university are now delaying, or preventing, completion of their completion.

The difference in the students is likely to also explain the different completion rates of students at different universities and those using different instructional techniques. This is not though any fault of the university, or lack of commitment on the part of the student, but due to the same circumstances which previously stopped the student enrolling.

Were universities to follow Minister Birmingham's suggestion for a “laser focus” on student outcomes, there would be undesirable social outcomes. To increase the student completion rates, universities would be forced to exclude low income students and others from disadvantaged groups, those from regional areas and students who have families. Universities would select only wealthy city kids.

As an alternative to a discriminatory student selection policy, I suggest that the Australian Government and the Universities agree on broader outcomes targets. One way to do this would be to lengthen the target completion time for degrees from nine to twelve years. Shorter term measures could target nested qualifications, so that students receive a vocationally useful qualification after completion of the equivalent of one or two years full time study, not a three year bachelor degree. In addition universities should be encouraged, to have measures which will help students study, such as introductory study skills courses and teaching staff with teaching qualifications.

An additional measure to increase university completions would be to encourage more students to enroll in Vocational Education and Training, before, or as an alternative to, university.

Lastly, but perhaps the easiest measure to implement, would be for universities to use academics who have been trained in how to teach. Research by Bryant and Richardson (2015) found that students with a teacher having a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education did better than those who just a PHD but no teaching qualification. It may not be popular with academics, but it would be a relatively simple administrative measure to require academics who teach to have a teaching qualification.  This is already the case for the VET sector, where teachers are required to have at least a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.


Bryant, D., & Richardson, A. (2015). To be, or not to be, trained. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 37(6), 682-688. URL

ANU Energy Update 2017

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the ANU Energy Update 2017 just opened. The keynote speaker: are Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist and Ms Audrey Zibelman, CEO Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

The opening address is by Dr Mike Kelly, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Support. Dr Kelly pointed out the defence dimensions of energy policy. He also described the Snowy Hyro Scheme as the "grandfather of renewable energy". He pointed out that the renewable energy stored in the Snowy Hyrdo Scheme now comes from sources including South Australian wind farms.
ANU Energy Change Institute
2017 Energy Update and Solar Oration

8.00-8.30 Registration
8.30-9.00 Introduction: Professor Ken Baldwin, Director, ANU Energy Change Institute
Welcome: Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor, ANU
Opening Address: The Honorable Dr Mike Kelly, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Support
Keynote address: Implementing the National Electricity Market Review, Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist
10.15-11.00 Morning Tea11.00-12.30 Special Presentation on the 2017 World Energy Outlook, Mr Ian Cronshaw, International Energy Agency (IEA), Paris
12.30-13.30 Lunch13.30-15.00 WEO2017 focus theme, China’s Energy OutlookProfessor Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy,
Panel discussion and Q&A
Mr Qiang Wang, Embassy of the P.R. China in AustraliaDr Xunpeng (Roc) Shi, University of Technology Sydney
Mr Ben Jarvis, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
15.00-15.30 Afternoon Tea
15.30-17.00 WEO2017 focus theme – Making Sense of Australian Gas Policy
Presentation by Professor Quentin Grafton, Crawford School of Public PolicyPanel discussion and Q&A
17.00-17.10 Dr Ross Lambie, Department of the Environment and EnergyMr Damian Dwyer, Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association
Dr Justine Lacey, CSIRO Land and Water
Closing remarks - Professor Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute
ACT Government/ANU Solar Oration Program
(also held in the Copland Theatre)
17.15 Finger food and drinks served in the foyer
18.00 Welcome
Professor Michael Cardew-Hall, ANU Pro-Vice Chancellor (Innovation)
18.02 Update on progress towards 100% renewable energy in the ACT and
presentation of student prize.
Mr Shane Rattenbury, ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability
18.08 Introduction
Professor Andrew Blakers, Research School of Engineering
18.10 The Australian Energy Transition Ms Audrey Zibelman, CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator
19.10 Q&A
19.40 Close

Monday, November 27, 2017

Most UniversityTeaching Staff are Non-Tenured

The US Government Accountability Office has  released a detailed report finding that 70% of those employed teaching at universities are non-tenured and those part-time were paid 75% less than full-time tenure-track faculty (GAO, 2017). This is consistent with a survey by the Florida Public Services Union, which found two-thirds of university teachers have jobs without long-term security (SEIU, 2017).

The levels of the use of "contingent" teaching staff are likely to be similar in Australian higher education, but hopefully without such poor work conditions. However, advances with on-line education and AI are likely to  reduce the job opportunities and working conditions for all adjuncts.

I suggest graduate students need to be encouraged to think of academia as a supplement to a career in an outside field or profession. Those who do wish to have a part-time career in academia need to be encouraged to obtain formal qualifications in two disciplines: firstly in their chosen profession and secondly in teaching.

Teaching academics how to take a professional attitude to teaching, I suggest, can help improve their working conditions. Rather than work long unpaid hours to attempt to keep up with an unrealistic workload, academics can instead change their teaching techniques to fit the resources available.
 As an example, I have academics complain to me that they do not have enough time to do all the lecturing and marking required. So I suggest they do less lecturing, and use alternative forms of assessment, which do not take as much time. The problem is that unless they have been trained how to do this, staff are not confident to make the change. A typical response is that alternate teaching and assessment techniques will not work, or will not be approved by accreditation authorities.

Universities can offer their teaching staff training and education to improve both quality and the efficiency of the teaching. However, it is up to individual academics to take the time, and considerable effort, needed to learn their craft.


SEIU (2017, November). Life on the Edge of the Blackboard: Florida Adjunct Faculty Survey 2017, Florida Public Services Union. URL

GAO (2017, October). CONTINGENT WORKFORCE: Size, Characteristics, Compensation, and Work Experiences of Adjunct and Other Non-Tenure-Track Faculty". United States Government Accountability Office. URL

Friday, November 24, 2017

Innovation and Connectivity

 Dr. Marie-José Montpetit from MIT Media Lab
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Dr. Marie-José Montpetit from MIT Media Lab is speaking on "Innovation in the Age of Connectivity". Ironically, we were having problems getting the video projector to work and so Dr. Montpetit quipped someone should tell CBC Radio that she can give a presentation without using slides.

Dr. Montpetit pointed out that many AI and Internet of Things (IoT) applications depend on telecommunications to function, as do VR applications. She pointed out that Canada, like Australia has population centers on the coasts with good connectivity and then a parley populated interior with limited Internet access. This is a topic I investigated for my education studies in Canada and how it limited e-learning.

As Dr. Montpetit points out all the protocol issues with the Internet have not been solved. Many forget, I suggest that "internet" (small"i") means a "network of networks". The Internet (capital "i") is a global network of networks. There is therefore scope to have specialized networks as part of the public Internet for specific purposes. As an example railways use specialized digital telecommunications networks for signaling and safety. These networks are expensive to build and maintain, but the Internet is not secure and reliable enough to use. However, the railways could use a network compatible with the Internet and interconnected with it (in a controlled way).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

How small are the units in micro-learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday Night Startup Pitches in Sydney

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Start-ups in Schools

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

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

The report identifies four elements:

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Website for Finding Australian Postgraduate Courses

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

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

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

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

Dogfooding the Interactive Lecture at ANU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Professional Accreditation Needs to Move Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Developing my Philosophy of Teaching Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Derelict Campuses In Virtual Reality

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Are Bitcoin and Blockchain Bad for the Environment?

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

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

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

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

The Australian National University is offering my course "ICT Sustainability" (COMP7310) in Semester 1, 2018. I have added a reading on block-chain and bitcoin to the course, asking students to consider the energy use of this technology. The notes are available free and anyone is welcome to run their own version of the course. Athabasca University (Canada), run the course as Green ICT Strategies: COMP 635.


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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Teachers Need Tech Skills

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

Games for Education

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

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

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