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.

Education for Innovation, UTS, Sydney, 24 February 2017

The University of Technology Sydney is hosting "Education for Innovation - Creativity, Professionalism and Diversity" 24 February 2017. The program includes Dr Lachlan Blackhall, Co-founder and CEO, Reposit Power and who also set up the ANU Innovation program (now Innovation ACT) and Dr Sarah Pearson, CEO, Canberra Innovation Network.
  • "How can educators inspire creativity through the STEM curriculum?
  • What professional skills do STEM graduates need to enhance their creativity?
  • How can engaging diversity improve creativity in STEM?"
I will be interested see what senior educators think of my idea of teaching innovation and professional skills online, as well as face-to-face through programs such as ANU Techlauncher.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Digital Learning and the Future of Education

Digital Teaching In Higher Education (book cover)
I will be speaking at the ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group in Canberra, 5:30pm, 22 February 2017. The event is free, but you need to book a seat:

Topic: Digital Learning and the Future of Education

Speaker: Tom Worthington

In January Tom completed a masters in educational technology in North America, studying the design of on-line mobile courses and use of e-portfolios (Worthington, 2016). He will discuss the experience of being an international on-line student and the implications for Australian Higher Education. Tom argues that we can expect 80% of university education to be delivered on-line by 2020 and has produced a book on "Digital Teaching" available free on-line, to help get there (Worthington, 2017).


Worthington T. (2016). Capstone e-Portfolio for Master of Education in Distance Education. Athabasca University e-Lab. Retrieved from

Worthington T. (2017). Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment. Tomw Communications. Retrieved from

Presentation notes:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Free Learning to Learn Online Course

Athabasca University (Canada) are offering a free 5-week online course on "Learning to Learn Online" from 6 March 2017:
'Learn how online education differs from traditional classrooms while you explore and develop your own personal strategies for online learning success. You will be guided through an interactive investigation and self-reflection process to help you determine your learning preferences and create your own personal strategy for successful online learning. We will address common misconceptions, frustrations and fears about online learning and introduce techniques to help overcome such obstacles. Various models of online courses will be explored as well as the concept of a "personal learning space.'
Unlike the MEd courses I undertook at AU (which used Moodle), this is being run using Canvas.

Digital Infrastructure in ANU Strategic Plan 2017-2021

The ANU Strategic Plan 2017-2021, has been released by Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University. While most attention will be focused on upgrades to the physical infrastructure of the campus, the plan includes digital infrastructure:
 "ANU should be known for the quality of its research and digital infrastructure, for its collections, its contemporary educational facilities and campus amenity that befits its status as the national university." (Pages 12 to 13) 

Two of the key initiatives include digital aspects:
"1.8 Evidence of learning and satisfaction will drive a regeneration of our approaches to curriculum, teaching and digital and physical learning space design."
"1.11 We will revitalise our learning and teaching infrastructure, beginning with state-of-the-art facilities at Union Court and a major refresh of digital infrastructure."

In February 2007 a severe hailstorm damaged many of the buildings at ANU, causing closure of the campus for several days. However, this did not stop the university functioning. Like many other staff (and students) I was still able to work on-line from home.

The ANU will still benefit from having a campus in 2021, as will most of the world's great universities. However, a campus should be seen as a supplement to the primary way universities already carry out their mission: in the digital realm. This allows greater equity, with those of limited means able to work, research and study at university without having to leave their community. This also allows those with a disability, and work, family or cultural commitments to participate in university life, where the requirement for physical attendance would have previously excluded them.

The last century university, where students had to travel to a campus, is being transformed into one where the students learn primarily on-line, in the workplace, wherever they are in the world. This e-learning can be supplemented, when required and where convenient for the student, with campus based education.

By 2021, I suggest the typical Australian university student will still attend classes, but for only 20% of their program, with the other 80% on-line. These classes may not be at the campus of a university, but in a local community facility, wherever in the world the students are.

Some Australian universities have invested heavily in satellite campuses with conventional teaching rooms, in Australian cities and in Asia. ANU has not pursued this strategy and so does not have as large a stock of now obsolete lecture and tutorial rooms. ANU will be able to use modern teaching techniques to provide access to students on-line wherever they happen to be.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Australian Cities Learning from Cambridge

In "Angus Taylor says UTas Launceston can learn from Cambridge" (Julie Hare, The Australian, February 8, 2017), the Assistant Cities Minister, is quoted as saying Cambridge (England) is a good model for turning Launceston (Tasmania). However, I suggest this would take decades, not years.

In 1998 as my closing address to an Information Industry Outlook Conference in Canberra, I proposed Cambridge was a good model for  Australian cities (Silicon Fen, not Silicon Valley). For this I drew on my direct experience of visiting Cambridge and speaking to university people, research lab staff and startups. Also I cited the 1985 report Cambridge phenomenon by Segal Quince & Partners (which I wrote a summary of). Since then I have been back to Cambridge twice for conferences and to give talks to the university staff.

Canberra now has the elements of the Cambridge phenomenon happening around the Canberra Innovation Network office, on the edge of the CBD adjacent to the Australian National University campus (and a short walk from my ANU office). However, this has taken much work over many years. The most important element is not government schemes, or formal institutions, but people from academia, business and government getting to know each other, to the point where they are ready to invest.

For those interested, I have written some notes on innovation, Cambridge and Canberra.

Regional Campuses and On-line Courses to Lower Cost of University

In "University attendance: cost of living deters low-SES students" (The Australian, 8 February 2017),  Michael Spence, Vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, argues that income-support packages are needed for low-SES students to attend city universities. This is a flawed argument as it assumes students have to go to the city to attend university. Instead I suggest the university should go to the student, via on-line courses, supplemented with regional campuses. This will not only cost the taxpayer less in subsidies, but also provide a superior form of education for most students.

The Vice-chancellor rightly points out that the cost of living is a more significant factor that the cost of university fees for a student in a major city, such as Sydney. In particular regional students will need to pay for somewhere to live in the city. There will be some students who need very specialized and advanced courses which can only be provided at a few city campuses. However, most courses can be provided by on-line learning, supplemented by a regional campus. As a rule of thumb I suggest the typical student should be studying 80% on-line and 20% in a classroom.  The student would need to be in a classroom about one day a month, but could be in the local library or TAFE, not necessarily at a university campus.

By providing the education where the student is, they can live at home, or in low cost regional accommodation and also work while studying. Ideally, students should be studying while also working in a relevant job. Having students spend years studying full time and only then entering the workforce is not a good way to learn work-relevant skills and is also not good for the economy. A very few students will need intensive, full time studies, but most should be apprentices or cadets.

Australian city universities have invested heavily in new classrooms and student accommodation. This will not be needed for domestic Australian students studying on-line and at regional campuses. It may not be needed by international students either, as they will also be increasingly studying on-line. The Australian government needs to consider if the current university building boom, like the apartment boom, is sustainable.

Open Access Policy Draft from Australian Research Council

The Australian Research Council (ARC) have released a draft Open Access Policy for comment. The current policy was adopted in 1 January 2013. The policy requires researchers receiving a grant to make their research papers available in open access format within a year of publication, or tell the ARC why they can't. What is missing from the review are any statistics on how successful the current policy is. I suggest the new policy require institutions to publish a list of all publications on their web site, indicating which are open access and an annual count of the number open and closed, along with the amount of public funding received for those open and closed. The ARC should then use this information to produce statistics on openness of Australian research, in terms of numbers of publications and proportion of funding, along with the full list of institutions ranked by openness.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Training teachers for engaging students

The Grattan Institute. have released the report "Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning" (Pete Goss and Julie Sonnemann, February 2017). The headline finding from the report is that for Australian school students "... as many as 40 per cent are unproductive in a given year ... nearly one in four students are compliant but quietly disengaged." (Page 3). The authors go on to recommend strengthening university training for teachers, induction programs and regular feedback. Those are useful and uncontroversial suggestions, but the authors do not explain how these are to be achieved without increasing the length of teacher training, or the cost of it.

– engage their classes, such as student response cards
– identify triggers for student disengagement so they can adapt
and improve their approaches.

More controversially, the authors recommend government only accredit initial teacher education courses which "teach evidence-based techniques for engaging and managing students, and whose graduates can demonstrate that they can apply these approaches in practice" (Page 4). I don't think anyone is going to argues with evidence based teaching, until it comes to specifics as to which evidence supports which teaching methods.

What I find worrying about this report is its last-century approach to education. As an example, it is proposed teachers use response cards: "The teacher asks a question of the class. Each student writes their answer and holds it up. The teacher can then scan the room to see who is following and who may need help.". What we instead need to do is "flip" the class: this sort of basic feedback can be handled using a learning management system, which asks students questions, provides intimidate feedback to the student and a report to the teacher.  The class group time can be used to explore the aspects of the topic causing problems for students.

The authors als recommend "tools at scale that help teachers assess and improve engagement". But there is no mention as to what these tools might be, or how to teach students to use them. I suggest we need to introduce our teachers to blended learning during their basic education, as the primary tool they will be using. In-service teachers then need on-line support, through support groups, formal supervision and formal post-graduate on-line studies. All this is affordable, from the savings in the current antiquated education system.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cybersecurity Degree Guidelines

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) have released a draft "Cybersecurity Curricula 2017: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Cybersecurity" for comment by 14 February 2017. The security areas focused on are: Data, Software, System, Human, Organizational and Societal. Discipline areas ares: Computer Science (CS); Computer Engineering (CE); Software Engineering (SE); Information Technology (IT); Information Systems (IS); and Mixed Disciplinary majors (MD). This draft has not got to the point of setting hours for knowledge areas, but is a good start.

I have submitted this comment:
"The Cybersecurity Curricula is well thought out. The only surprise for me was section 5.1 "The Academic Myth" (p. 33). This polemic against the value of baccalaureate degrees and assessment standards is not appropriate. If the authors believe that a first degree does not provide the skills required for Cybersecurity, then they should be preparing a curriculum which includes a mandatory graduate component. If the authors truly believe that "... having a degree is not sufficient to secure employment.", then they should set down the curriculum for the additional non-degree training and education required.

Setting out to specify a baccalaureate curricula which does not meet the required need seems a pointless activity. In my view a baccalaureate degree is a vocationally useful qualification. However, no single qualification will provide everything everyone needs. The authors of the Cybersecurity Curricula should not set themselves an impossible task. Such a curricula will be useful when designing educational programs, at the sub-degree, degree and also graduate levels. I suggest deleting section  5.1."