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
ANU
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 https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1151.pdf

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".