Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Data Science Ranking Universities

In "Data science can fix ranking briar patch" (The Australian, 14 March 2018), Tim Dodd suggests that data science could be used to rank universities, but this has been done for years with the "Ranking Web of Universities".  Their methodology emphasizes the quality and quantity of information universities provide online (which I think is a good thing). This produces slightly different rankings for Australian universities, to measures emphasizing research output behind pay-walls.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Educating the Future Workforce

The Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers has invited submissions on the impact of technological change. Here are some thoughts on the subject of how well the education system suits the need for a more flexible workforce.

Australia needs an education system which is short sharp and mobile.

The Australian education system already allows for work-ready learning across schools, VET and university. Some minor adjustments are needed to make the system more flexible:

1. Strengthen the VET system and have it blended with secondary schooling at the lower end and university at the upper end. Students should be able to complete a VET qualification at secondary school, go on to further study in the VET system (while working part-time) and then to university.

2. Make the university system more flexible: Encourage universities to offer nested, standardized programs which offer sub-degree entry and exit points. Students should be able to start with a sub-degree program and then continue their studies for a degree. Most university courses are already blended, but government policy and university practice needs to recognize that most university students now, in effect, studying on-line so they can work at the same time.

Teachers computing skills should be developed as part of their normal formal education, not some ad-hoc bolt-on program. Teachers teaching computing should be fully, formally, dual qualified in computing and teaching. Australia already has better systems for doing this than the UK.

Students should be encouraged to undertake STEM subjects at school, through subjects which address real world issues of concern to students and having computer professional role models who students can identify with. This requires, for example, project based work addressing issues such as climate change.

Innovation and hacking competitions can help make make STEM look exciting for students. 

Rather than focusing on traditional campus based htree years university degrees, I suggest policy should prioritize on-line, nested, programs which offer sub-degree entry and exit points, with the flexibility to study off-campus.

Soft skills can be addressed in specific university courses and in project work. Soft skills figure prominently in the ANU's "TechLauncher" programs of groups project work, which I help teach. 

Techlauncher students undertake team building exercises and have mentors, tutors and clients with industry experience. Some of this looks like fun, where students play with Lego, but there is also a lot of hard work on team and client relationship skills. E-portfolios can also be used.

In addition, we need teachers in schools, VET and university, who have training and formal qualifications in how to teach these skills. This is particularly a problem in universities where academic staff have higher research degrees, but minimal teacher training. Academics need formal teaching qualifications.

Diversity can be improved by offering STEM subjects which address real world issues of concern to students and having computer professional role models who students can identify with. This requires, for example, female computing teachers.

As well as students fresh out of school, the same techniques can be used for re-skilling adults. On-line and blended learning, incorporating recognition of prior learning (RPL) and recognition of concurrent learning (RCL) are particularly useful. E-portfolios can be used for ensuring skills standards are met. Australia's VET system was set up with this need in mind.

For more on this, see my book  "Digital Teaching In Higher Education:  Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment".

Disclaimer: Tom Worthington is a computer professional, who advises on using technology for teaching and also does some part time teaching of computing at tertiary institutions. While an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the Australian National University and a member of the Professional Education Governance Committee of the Australian Computer Society, his views do not necessarily reflect those of either organization.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Female Students More Engaged On-line

Pye, Holt and Salzman (2018) found that female university students were significantly more engaged by on-line education than males at Australia's Deakin University. This seems counterintuitive, with males normally thought to prefer using a computer. So it might be useful to offer on-line courses in STEM disciplines which have difficulty attracting females, such as computing.
"... gender differences were identified, with females indicating overall higher perceived levels of online engagement across all constructs, with significant differences in the dimensions of assessment, relevance and contact with staff. ...

While females were seen as more disadvantaged than males at the beginning of modern ICT developments in relation to access and technical skills, this no longer seems the case, and at least some evidence sees the advantage swinging towards females in current technology-enabled environments. "

From Pye, Holt and Salzman (2018).


Pye, G., Holt, D., & Salzman, S. (2018). Investigating different patterns of student engagement with blended learning environments in Australian business education: Implications for design and practice. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 22. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3127/ajis.v22i0.1578

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Australia hidden largest university

In "Australia doesn’t have too many universities. Here’s why" (The Conversation, 15 March 2018), , Adjunct professor, RMIT University, compares enrollments of Australia, Canadian and UK universities. He concludes that the average Australian university has twice as many students as the UK and triple Canada. However, the distribution of students amongst students at Australian universities differs from Canada and the UK, and our largest institution does not appear in the lists.

Australia has an almost even spread of small, medium and large universities. Canada has many more small institutions and a few very large ones. The University of Toronto is about 50% larger than the next largest. The UK statistics are dominated by the Open University UK (OUUK). 

The closest Australian equivalent to the OUUK is Open Universities Australia (OUA). The students in the OUA consortium are usually hidden in the statistics of the member universities. If counted as a university, OUA would rival Melbourne as the largest in Australia.

As Gavin Moodie writes, a university with less than 10,000 students would have difficulty providing the range of teaching and research required. However, OUA provides an alternative model. Australia doesn't have to make a choice between small and large universities. Universities can cooperate to make better use of shared resources, while retaining an identity, local presence and brand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Powering our electricity grid with energy storage

Dr Lachlan Blackhall, will present "A vision for powering our electricity grid with energy storage" at the Australian National University, 12.30pm, 15 March 2018.

Dr Blackhall is co-founder of Reposit Power and, I suggest, Australia's answer to Elon Musk. He has worked on areas as diverse as e-learning tools (2011) and an ion drive for spacecraft (2007).


Blackhall, L. (2011). Educational content authoring tools. A report for written for the College of Engineering and Computer Science, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs, 3, 3. 

Blackhall, L., & Khachan, J. (2007). A simple electric thruster based on ion charge exchange. Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, 40(8), 2491.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Decreasing Campus Energy Use With Flexible Classrooms and e-Learning

The Australian National University is preparing an Energy Master Plan. The aim is "... to create an Australian world class energy efficient, low-carbon, least-cost campus ...". One target in the existing ANU Environmental Management Plan 2017-2021 is to "Reduce energy use per person by 20 per cent by 2021". New forms of education can help, by using the buildings more efficiently and moving some education online. I suggest these techniques can be used to reduce energy use per person. In particular, teaching staff can be trained to teach in flexible and online mods. Also, a system can be used for students to book a seat.

Use Classrooms More Intensively

One way to reduce energy use per person is by increasing the intensity of use of the buildings. Empty rooms use almost as much energy as full ones, so the more use of each room in each building, the lower per person energy use.

ANU Union Court Redevelopment
New ANU Buildings
(artists' impression).
One way to increase the use of classrooms is to make them more flexible. The ANU Union Court redevelopment is a prime example of this. Two new buildings will allow forms of education beyond conventional lectures and tutorials.

ANU Culture and Events Building
The ANU Culture and Events Building will have rooms with retractable seating. At the press of a button, the room can be changed from a flat floor for a conference, to theater format, with tiered seating for a lecture.

ANU Collaborative Learning Building
The ANU Collaborative Learning Building will have flat floor rooms with movable furniture and walls. This enables the same space to be used for different size and format classes. Walls can be folded back for a large class or moved in form more smaller ones. Desks can be in straight rows for a more conventional eyes-front classroom, or in circles for a more collaborative approach.

Flat floor classrooms are conventionally used for small groups of up to a few dozen students. However, with technology and new teaching techniques, such rooms can accommodate hundreds of students. 

Training to help make use of classrooms

A flat floor large classroom at ANU, with large mobile LCD screens used to relay presentation to the back of the room.Training can help make flexible classrooms more efficient, in terms of teaching and energy use. Academics familiar only with conventional lectures and tutorials will tend to use the new flexible teaching spaces only for old fixed teaching formats. To use the rooms flexibly requires the staff to be training in flexible formats.

As an example, an instructor used to conventional lecture driven teaching will find the idea of hundreds of students in a room working in teams a recipe for chaos. The instructor needs to be taken through the theory and practice of how this works, and ideally act as an assistant in such a class before being required to be the lead instructor.

 The ANU TechLauncher events for Team Formation and Bootcamp run in the ANU's large flat floor teaching rooms, at 7-11 Barry Drive, have demonstrated that group exercises with 300 students can work. By introducing academics to these techniques, they will be more confident to use them in courses.

Use e-Learning to Supplement Campus

E-learning can also be used to increase the intensity of campus use. Most courses at Australian universities are now, to some extent, "blended", with part of the tuition on-line. However, to make the best use of the technology course designers and instructors need to be trained in on-line techniques.

Academics who have only training and experience in face-to-face lectures and tutorials will tend to continue to rely on those techniques and be reluctant to try e-learning. There will be concern the students will not do the work, or will cheat, which can be the case if materials are not well designed and trained staff are not available to run on-line courses.

As an example, the ANU course COMP7310 "ICT Sustainability" is run entirely on-line, with no lectures and no examinations. This course runs alongside ANU's face-to-face courses, with the same status and meeting the same quality standards. However, design of this award winning course required the assistance of specialist e-leaning professionals. It also helped to have undertaken graduate education training at ANU and other institutions, focused on in e-learning.

With the appropriate level of training it is feasible to aim for the typical university program to be a 20/80 blend: 20% in a formal classroom setting and 80% on-line outside the classroom. An example of this approach is the ANU Techlauncher program, where students undertake a group project building software for a real client, in government or industry. Students are expected to undertake 10 hours of study per week, but are only required to attend a 2 hour formal session in a typical week.

Ideally students should be on campus no more than the equivalent of one day a week. Students should be out in the real world learning and practicing their skills.

Double University Per Person Intensity of Use

Less than half of students attend a typical university class. A survey at ANU found "... attendance declines over semester to around 30% of original signup ...". This is not confined to ANU and is not a new feature of universities. However, universities still tend to allocate teaching space based on the number of students enrolled in the class at the beginning of semester. As a result the classrooms tend to be less than half full after the first few weeks. This is a waste of space and also a waste of energy needed to maintain these spaces.

One way to engage students, and thus attract them to class, is with group activities, as is done with ANU Techlauncher. This ensures almost full attendance at interactive group activities. Blends of on-line and face to face activities (so called flipped classrooms) can keep students coming to class. However, not all students need to attend every class and many classes will have one third to one half attendance. This can be incorporated into space use planning.

Students can be given the opportunity to book a seat in class a few days in advance. Classrooms can then be allocated, making use of different size rooms and flexible walls and formats, to suit. A reasonable aim would be to double the intensity of use of classrooms, thus halving the per person energy use.

Reduce Staff Campus Use

Persons use of the campus includes staff as well as students. Most teaching undertaken at a university is not by full time, permanent academics, but by graduate students and part time staff from industry. E-learning is a particularly useful way to make use of part time staff skills. Industry professionals can teach students without having to leave their workplace. Researchers in the field can teach students. However, this will require the staff to be trained in techniques for e-learning. The ideal way to conduct this training is on-line.

More on:
  1. Classroom design 
  2. Digital Teaching 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Boost Unis by Teaching Academics to Teach

Professor Jenny Stewart
In "Whatever happened to the 'world's best job'?" (Canberra Times, 6 March 2017), Professor Jenny Stewart suggests "... governments should stop trying to substitute regulation for support, and acknowledge that the current system has been squeezed dry ...". However, I suggest changes in higher education are just starting and are not coming from the government, but the wider world. Academics need to skill-up to survive in this new world and in particular need to become qualified educators.

Academics have considerable freedom to develop their style of teaching. However, with this freedom comes the responsibility to become competent educators. Academics unwilling to learn to teach have only themselves to blame if other staff have to be brought in to oversee their work.

Australia does not have a mass system of higher education, with standardized curricula and courses for hundreds of thousands of students. Instead Australian universities provide for small cohorts of students. However, Australian academics can adopt some of the techniques from mass education, to improve quality and free up resources address individual student needs.

Universities don't need to operate like schools. However, academics do need to act more like school teachers in one respect: become trained, qualified teachers. Learning to teach requires hundreds of hours of study, practice and testing. Like any professional, teachers need to top up their skills every year with professional development, for their entire career.

Australia's universities were not established for pure research. From the founding of Australia's first university, the aim was to provide education, alongside research. A few students will go on to advanced studies and become academics themselves. However, the majority of students are destined for careers outside academia, and so this is where university education must focus. Universities must therefore cater for students with a wide range of abilities.

Australian universities are self-credentialing, but are not without external scrutiny. The professions accredit university degrees and so provide a level of national and international review. This external review has provided a competitive advantage for Australian universities and is helping fuel the current boom in international enrollments.

Many academics do work very hard at their teaching, but as General Patton might have said:
"The job of a teacher is not to work very hard, it is to make their students work very hard".
Many academics spend long hours writing detailed notes on essays. Unfortunately, education research shows that writing detailed notes on essays is at best ineffective, and may demoralize students. Teachers are trained in alternative techniques to provide feedback in smaller chunks, which students can accept and act on and which will motivate the student.

Academics spend long hours in class, frustrated by the lack of attendance and lack of interest shown by students. Here again, research shows there are techniques which can increase student engagement, without increasing staff workload. Teachers are trained in how to get and keep the student's attention and have them learning.
Unfortunately, some academics do not accept they are "teachers", and so continue to use techniques which research shows are not effective for student learning.

It is not just coursework where academics "teach". Supervision of research students for doctoral degrees is also a form of teaching. This is another area where academics waste their time, and hinder the development of their students, with inadequate practice.

None of this is to say that academics have to spend years in class learning to teach. Instead they can undertake basic teacher training as part of their graduate studies. The equivalent of a certificate in teaching could be provided as part of graduate degrees. This would provide the early career academic with the equivalent teacher training to a Vocational Education and Training (VET) teacher. Early career academics could then undertake a graduate program in education part-time, primarily on-line.

It should be kept in mind that most university teaching is not undertaken by full-time, tenured academics. Most teaching is by graduate students, part-time staff, adjuncts from industry and others on short term contracts. This is not a deficiency of the system, but a strength. Students have more empathy when teaching other students and visitors from industry bring a depth of real-world experience. However, these staff also need training in teaching, which is delivered in a way that it is seen as a benefit to the part time teachers, not a burden. In particular, the training provided needs to lead to a formal qualification.

Unlike commercial enterprises, universities are still run collegiately by the staff. University Vice Chancellors have limited power to make academic staff take their teaching role seriously. It is up to academics themselves to decide to skill-up and become professional educators. This would be preferable to government intervention requiring set educational qualifications for academics.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Whistle Pedagogy for the Large Flat Floor Classroom

A few weeks ago I was helping out in one of the Australian National University's large flat floor teaching spaces. There were more than three hundred students and it was difficult at times to get their attention. The students would be come very engaged in their small group activities, which is good, but it was difficult to return their focus to the instructor, for the next exercise. So for the next workshop, which was to be a whole day, I purchased a $2.50 coach's whistle, on a bright yellow lanyard.

The whistle turned out to be very useful, both to get student's attention, and to mark out who the instructor was. In the following two weeks the whistle has been used at several events, including the Canberra Innovation Network's First Wednesday pitches and ACT Government energy workshop.

The only scholarly work I could find addressing the use of a whistle in the modern classroom was for law students in the SCALE-UP classroom: Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies (Burke, p. 200, 2015):
"If the room is large, a wireless microphone is desirable because this type of learning space can become noisy. A low-tech option that this professor has used is the classic whistle."
However, I found in practice, even with a good quality public address system it is difficult to get the attention of 300 students. Playing tune from smart phone via the PA system did not work either: the echo noise cancellation function of the PA system filtered the music out.


Debra D. Burke (2015) Scale-Up! Classroom design and use can facilitate learning, The Law Teacher, 49:2, 189-205, URL https://doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2015.1014180

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Unis Already Together with TAFE

In "Unis should get together with TAFEs as a way of being more efficient says minister" (Robert Bolton, AFR, 25 February 2018), federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, is reported to have suggested universities share teachers and buildings with TAFEs. This is not as radical, or new, idea as it first sounds.

A search of the national register shows that nineteen universities, out of forty three, are also Registered Training Organizations (RTOs). These universities are able to deliver the same vocational training programs as TAFEs. Other universities are either dual registered as TAFEs, or have an arrangement with a TAFE, or a commercial RTO.

Universities also run short courses for industry. In Canberra I have helped teach such courses for government agencies. These courses are not vocationally registered (although I use vocational techniques teaching them).

The Minister is addressing the wrong area, by pointing out capital tied up in university buildings. There is little scope for more efficient use of university buildings. Most of the existing lecture theaters and small tutorial rooms at universities are rapidly becoming stranded assets, as teaching becomes blended and on-line. Conventional lecture theaters are not flexible enough for modern learning techniques and tutorial rooms are too small for large scale interactive workshops.

TAFEs will have not use for the obsolete teaching buildings at universities. ANU demolished its central lecture theater complex last year and is replacing this with flexible facilities. These facilities will be in demand for university teaching year-round.

Higher Education in Australia, both at universities and the vocational sector, is now conducted on-line more than in the classroom. The significant cost is in course design and trained staff, especially on-line course design and staff trained to teach on-line. It is here that savings could be made, particularly with the vocational sector lending their expertise in carefully scaffolded teaching to the universities, which have emphasized research skills for their staff.

Universities Trashing Their Reputations with Glib Marketing

Recently I received an e-mail with the intriguing title of "eBook: 3 Australian Universities share the secret to online learning success". I was offered a "full eBook", but was disappointed to instead get just a thirteen page pamphlet, plugging a commercial conference. The three Australian universities lending their name to promotion have a track record of excellence in on-line education, but you wouldn't know it from this booklet. Instead you would think the institutions were only concerned with shallow short term feel good marketing to students. I suggest universities should avoid trashing the reputations they have built up over decades with glib marketing exercises.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Minister for Education and Training at Tech-EX in Canberra

The Tech-EX exhibition for the Universities Australia Higher Education Conference 2018 is on in Canberra, 28 February and 1 March. The exhibition is free, so that is the bit I am going to. I normally avoid most formal sessions at a conference anyway, unless I am speaking or charing. Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training is speaking at Tech-Ex.

Wednesday 28 February.

9.45am - 10.15am IGNIA, AN INSIGHT COMPANY
See Digital innovation for Higher Education in action!

11.30pm - 12.00pm MINDHIVE
Accelerating research impact with crowdsourcing

12.15pm - 12.45pm MICROSOFT
A tale of Transformation; the Microsoft inside story

12.45pm - 1.15pm KPMG
Accelerating university transformation

Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham Minister for Education and Training


10.30am -11.00am TECHNOLOGYONE
How your graduates are shaping the next generation of
enterprise software

12.30pm - 1.00pm TRIBAL
How technology will continue to change students and
their experience

1.00pm - 1.30pm ADOBE
Shapeshifting your organisation to be a digital leader

Emerging technologies in university admissions

Monday, February 26, 2018

Internationalism and Australian Higher Education

Landscape Architecture Australia has devoted its February 2018 edition to :"Embracing the Asian Century". Other disciplines may want to follow this example and look at the education of international students in Australia and how Australian practitioners do overseas. While focused on education of landscape architects, some of the articles are about universities and students in general.

In "The Changing Demographics of Australian University" (p. 22-23), Tom Harper and Brock Hogan, provide a chart of the number of domestic and international student enrollments, from the 1950s to today, with the federal governments color coded by party. This shows a gentle steady increase for the Menzies to Gordon Coalition era, then a small jump for Whitlam Labor, smoothing off during Fraser. Curiously, the most significant jump in enrollments appears to be one third through the Howard government in 2000. In contrast the Rudd/Gillard Labor deregulation is a small bump. International enrollments appear to show the same pattern. Below this on the same time scale the major landscape programs at Australian universities are shown. This is color coded as to type of degree (Bachelor or Master and the various later models: Melbourne, Bologna and 3+2). It would be interesting to see a similar chart for other disciplines.

In "Reflections on an Australian Education" Jill Walliss and Heike Rahmann provide insightful, mostly positive, quotes from international students about the Australian education experience. This is accompanied by more excellent charts by Tom Harper and Brock Hogan. One chart tracks nine international students and where in the world they study between 1990 and 2017. The point here is that students may spend multiple periods in different countries.

I was curious that there was not mention of Canada in the articles I read, as it rivals Australia for international students. There was a brief mention that in 2014 86,000 of the 580,000 international students (15%) were at offshore campuses. However, there was no discussion as to the quality of this experience versus onshore. Also there was nothing on if this was likely to increase, or if this will result in increased completion, as local partners learn to set up their own campuses. Also there is no mention what role on-line learning may have in the future. I was an international graduate student and expect this will be the normal form of graduate education in the next decade.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

ANU Project Bootcamp with Lego and User Centered Process

Students taking part in a  Lego Serious Play exercise at the Australian National University in Canberra
On Saturday I participated in the TechLauncher "Bootcamp" at the Australian National University in Canberra. There were about three hundred students who had been formed into about fifty teams of six students each, after Thursday night's team formation exercise. Each team has a tutor and a client, plus there as some mentors to help teams in areas such as social enterprises.

Dr Stephen Dann taking students through a Lego Serious Play exercise at the Australian National University in Canberra
The students went through a series of group exercises:
Dr Stephen Dann took the students Lego Serious Play in the morning and Dr Craig Davis on User Centered Process in the afternoon. The idea is to get the students thinking as a team (not individuals) and thinking about what will be useful for the client and their users (not what the team wants to build).

Students doing a Lego Serious Play exercise at the Australian National University in CanberraThis all took place in the same large flat floor classroom as the previous exercise. One limitation of the room is that the small single person tables are arranged in straight rows. An enterprising team of students at the back rearranged their tables in to circle for better group-work. To rearrange all the tables for group work would take considerable effort, as they don't have wheels.

I have previously been a student in one of Dr Dann's Lego exercises (and recommended it for TechLauncher). It takes a little while (and some faith) to accept that this is a serious educational activity, not just playing with bricks. The students were asked to build something to represent the project and their role in it, after each build describing it and answering questions from other students.

Dr Davis took the students through exercises to verify the product to be produced would be valued by the customer. This is a small part of what is usually a much longer workshop series (which I have been a student of). There is a version of this for researchers being run from March. The exercise where team members have to get up and interview members of other teams was a little hampered by the limited space between desks. 

Apart from the limitation of non-groups desks, the flat floor large room worked well. I moved my teaching on-line in 2009. With flexible facilities becoming available for flipped/blended learning, it may be time to go back to the classroom.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Team Formation Exercise in ANU Large Flat Floor Classroom

A flat floor large classroom at ANU, with large mobile LCD screens used to relay presentation to the back of the room.
Greetings from the TechLauncher Team Formation event at the Australian National University in Canberra. There are more than three hundred students hearing 30 second pitches from potential clients. The students then select the project they prefer and form a team. They have a year to build what the client wants, which is usually software, but could be engineering hardware. 

The room used in not on campus, as the
The control console for an Australian National University flat floor classroom.ANU Collaborative Learning (CLE) Building is still under construction. The university has leased space in an office building across the road from the campus. Without the usual internal office walls, the ground floor provides a large flat floor classroom. There is a standard lectern, with audio-visual controls at one end of the room. However, rather than being built in, this is on wheels and has an umbilical to the ceiling.

The "front" wall has power operated retractable screens for three ceiling mounted video projectors. There is also a small white-board on wheels. There are small fold up desks, one for each student, along with a lightweight plastic chair. The desks are in rows with two isles. 

To one side there is a recess for storing large LCD displays on wheels. These units do not appear to be as smart as Queensland University of Technology's MOCOWS (Mobile Computers on Wheels), using 84 inch entry level LCD panels (Panasonic Model TH-84EF1U). There are power sockets around the walls for the LCD screens, which show the same display as the front projectors. The screens could be used for group work, with students using their own laptop and standing around, or  the desks and chairs rearranged to suit. However today there are only two units deployed half way down the room, on each side, to relay what is on the main screens.

This is a temporary set-up, but looks reasonably usable. It is a little untidy, as there are no storage cabinets for equipment. However, this provides a similar atmosphere to the typical startup innovation hub, suited to student project work. One problem is that the standard height office ceiling is a little low for such a large space making.

The room is almost square, as is usual for TEAL style rooms. For the pitch exercise, the clients are spaced around the walls, each standing in front of the sign-up sheet for their project. One instructor (wearing a bright yellow baseball cap, so they can be seen) is going around the room with a wireless microphone, so each client can pitch. Another instructor is at the lectern controlling the timer. Several other instructors are roving the room, dealing with problems and queries.

The room is not silent: there is a low murmur of conversation (the floor is carpeted, but the ceiling could perhaps do with more sound absorption than standard ceiling tiles provide). The sound system is working well, but as with any flat floor large room, it is not easy to see the presenter. Perhaps there should be a roving video camera relaying the presenter to the screens around the room.

The desks are lightweight and are easily moved. However, these desks appear intended for examinations, with one student per desk. Larger desks with wheels (for six to nine people each) would be be better for collaborative work.

One good feature of the room is that it is lacking in unnecessary technical gimmicks. The control console is the same as in ANU lecture theaters, so instructors are familiar with its operation. The LCD displays are not built in, so the controls and sockets are easily accessible. Apart from the umbilical for the console and four slim columns, there is nothing to obstruct vision. All the power points are around the walls, so there are no boxes in the floor to trip over.

My Teaching and Studying at the Uberversity

In "Cost-saving pressures create a place for Uberversity model", Tim Dodd, Higher Education Editor for The Australian, asked us to imagine a university with no campus. I don't have to imagine it, I have been teaching on-line for nine years and spent four years as an online graduate student. Tim suggests it "... smacks of Uber or Airbnb ...", but this educational model predates both startups by several decades. Online education grew out of paper based distance education, which was pioneered in Australia, fifty years ago.

There are a wealth of good ideas to try out with education, but they are not, as Tim suggests, new. Taking an e-learning format developed by distance and open universities and giving it an "Uber-" prefix doesn't make it new.

In 2008 the Australian Computer Society commissioned me to design a graduate level e-learning course for computer professionals. New to this format, I discovered there were well researched and proven techniques for e-learning, along with world leading Australian e-learning software. In 2013 I signed up as a graduate student of education, to further investigate these techniques. Studying on-line (obviously) at institutions 1,000 km and 13,000 km away, I discovered these techniques went back 50 years and Australian educators had made significant contributions to this work. Also I discovered that educational institutions on the other side of the planet used Australian e-learning software.

So before slapping an "Uber-" prefix on and assuming all innovation comes from Silicon Valley, I suggest a quick web search. You might find that innovation come from much closer to home.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Research to Impact Program

The Research to Impact program is on at Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), starting 14 March. This consists of four workshops, over two months, with participants undertaking exercises between. The workshops are derived from those at CBRIN for entrepreneurs to find market needs, value propositions, business models, value chain, collaboration and pitching. But the workshops have been adapted for researchers who want their work to have a real work impact and be applied. I attended these workshops when they were run in-house for ANU by Petr Adamek and Craig Davis in 2016 and they were excellent. Staff of ANU, UC, CIT, Data61, CSIRO and UNSW Canberra can attend for free.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Async-Sync Learning System

A project proposal prepared for students, which may be of interest:

Async-Sync Learning System

Modify existing free open source educational software to combine the features of Asynchronous and Synchronous learning delivery.

Current learning management software provides delivery in one of two modes: Asynchronous, where the student can use the materials in their own time (example: Moodle), or Synchronous, where the students and instructor are online at the same time (example: Big Blue Button).

An approach has been proposed combining the features of both Asynchronous and Synchronous in the one package: "... synchronization of the asynchronous learning process ..." (Worthington, p. 619, 2013). This has been investigated with a small proof-of-concept (Worthington & Wu, 2015). An attempt was made in a previous ANU group project to expand this, but difficulties were experienced integrating Moodle and Big Blue Button.
Tools have matured since 2015 and it is proposed to make another attempt to build an Async-Sync Learning System (ASLS), beginning with a simple use case:
"A teacher in the new ANU Collaborative Learning (CLE) Building gives their class a set time to complete a quiz and then discuss it. Students participating remotely via the ASLS complete the quiz at the same time and take part in the discussion with the students in the room (synchronous mode). After the class, the teacher presses "Publish" and the lesson recording is made available to students who could not take part live. A student watching the recording later (asynchronous mode) has the same amount of time to complete the quiz as one in the live class. They can't fast forward past the quiz to the discussion, until they completed the quiz (due to the synchronization feature of the software). After they complete the quiz, the student can contribute to the discussion, and access what the other students who were in the room and participating remotely live, or later, said."
Any materials produced by the project will be under an open source license available for free use. Students will have the option to enter the project in the Innovation ACT competition and set up a company to support the product.


  • Worthington, T. (2013, April). Synchronizing asynchronous learning-Combining synchronous and asynchronous techniques. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2013 8th International Conference on (pp. 618-621). IEEE. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2013.6553983
  • Worthington, T., & Wu, H. (2015, July). Time-shifted learning: Merging synchronous and asynchronous techniques for e-learning. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2015 10th International Conference on (pp. 434-437). IEEE. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2015.7250285


  1. Investigate forms of learning delivery
  2. Modify existing open source software to provide Asynchronous and Synchronous functions in the one package


Experience with, or interest in, education would be an advantage.


Worthington, T. (2017). Digital Teaching in Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment. Lulu. com. URL http://www.tomw.net.au/digital_teaching/

Higher Education in Australia: Short Sharp and Mobile

I have been asked to write a short opinion piece on the future of higher education in Australia, so I thought I would draft it here:

The future of Education: it’s the Internet stupid! 

Higher education now has more than 50% of courses delivered online, and this is increasing. Many qualifications are delivered entirely online. What are the implications for this for the professions? In the future, qualifications may be more ‘deciCredentials'.

It is an interesting time to be teaching at an Australian university. Business is booming, with international record  enrollments. However, international enrollments are subject to the vagaries of international politics. At the same time, Australian industry and government are urging universities to produce work-ready graduates. There is also concern over creeping credentialism.

Imagine a future where you can begin your higher education at secondary school, then have the choice of a government vocational institution, a private college, or a  university (public or private). Imagine if you could study online while working, or looking after the family. Imagine you only need to attend campus for hands-on instruction, which may be a few days a year, or never. Imagine if you could present evidence of your existing skills and knowledge, thus avoid unnecessary courses. Imagine if you could enroll in multiple institutions and even study overseas, without leaving home. Imagine if you could study via your smartphone.

This future is here right now. In 2011, at the urging of the institution where I was a part-time lecturer, I signed up for some teacher education. This was to take six months, on the other side of the campus. Instead, I spent the next six years, studying on-line at three institutions, 10 km, 1,000 km and 13,000 km away. I never attended a class at any of these institutions, studying via my laptop and smart phone from wherever I happened to be. From this mash-up of courses, I was able to gain a graduate certificate, a vocational certificate, and a Masters Degree. This is the new normal of higher education: on-line and global.

Australia has a higher education system which is already setup for this bespoke on-line education. The system extends from upper secondary school through trade certificates to advanced post-graduate university degrees. The system accommodates everything from apprenticeships for plumbers to research doctorates for computer professionals. The system has about one hundred government-owned universities and TAFEs, thousands of private registered training organizations and one for-profit private university. Providers are offering higher education at school, on-line and via a smart phone.

Today's students will have many careers and so need a general education, regularly topped up with short intensive training and skills recognition. But we do not need to Uberize higher education to do this. We just need to free up some of our thinking about what education is and provide the right incentives for students and institutions.

One way to a better future would be for university Professors to swallow their pride and learn from the VET sector. Australia's elite research universities could also learn from the approach already taken by Australia's on-line teaching universities.

University qualifications can be nested so that a student can complete a vocationally useful first qualification in less than the three years required for a Bachelor Degree. Students can instead start their study with a certificate or diploma, of six months to a year. They can then top this up with an advanced diploma or degree. Institutions can be given financial incentives to offer nested qualifications and students given incentives to take them.

Universities can require staff to obtain a formal educational qualification, as the VET sector does, so academics know how to teach. University academics have been reluctant to do this, and a level of compulsion may be required, with government funding and accredited being withdrawn from institutions without qualified staff.

University qualifications can be defined, as they are in the VET sector, regarding knowledge and skills required and how those skills can be demonstrated, so students can present evidence instead of undertaking a course. Knowledge and skills definitions can be standardized between programs and universities, so students need not repeat the same work, over and over.  As in the VET sector, courses can be on-line by default. Where a skill needs to be learned hands-on, students can have the option of learning on-the-job, rather than on campus. Such a system would be very complex to introduce Australia wide by regulation, and instead funding incentives could be used to promote consortia to undertake this approach.


Australia's first university, the University of Sydney, was founded in 1850, with the dual purposes of cultural enrichment and economic advancement:
"Whereas it is deemed expedient for the better advancement of religion and morality and the promotion of useful knowledge, to hold forth to all classes and denominations of Her Majesty’s subjects resident in the Colony of New South Wales, without any distinction whatsoever, an encouragement for pursuing a regular and liberal course of education ..." University of Sydney Act 1850 (UK), Public Statutes of New South Wales
Distance education commenced at the University of New England in 1955. There were misgivings over "Degrees by Correspondence", much like today's concerns over Internet degrees. However influenced the design of distance, open and on-line universities around the world:
"We had been fortunate in attracting to the Open University in 1969, for a spell of three months, Mr Howard Sheath, who had been Head of the External Division of the University of New England for many years." (Perry, p. 59,  1976).

Australia's first short vocational course was two hundred years before this, aboard the first fleet, with a Royal Navy officer teaching reading to the convicts on their way from England (Whitelock, 1974).

Tertiary education in Australia today is provided by 43 universities, 40 state government technical and further education (TAFE) institutions and more than 4,000 Registered Training Organizations (RTO). The TAFEs and mostly probate RTOs are collectively referred to as Vocational Education and Training (VET).

Australian Qualifications Framework Levels 1 to 10

In 1995 the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) was introduced to fit the education provided by government and private institutions, schools, VET and universities, into one system. The AQF has ten levels, from 1 (to prepare for a first job), to 10 (doctoral degree).

Levels 1 to 3 of the AQF are offered by VET. Universities, and VET offer the AQF middle levels, 5 to 7 awarding Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas and Bachelor Degrees. The graduate levels, 8 to 10, Graduate Certificate, Masters and Doctorate,  are offered mostly by universities.

VET institutions offer nationally standardized qualifications. There are almost 1,500 qualifications, built from 17,000 units of competency. Units of competency can be used in multiple qualifications, with the units "Lead and manage organizational change" (BSBINN601) used in 28 qualifications. Each unit of competency is defined in terms of the outcome and assessment. While the qualification and unit definitions are standardized and public, the method of instruction and course materials are up to the individual institutions. Even so, the units of competency are interchangeable between institutions, with students able to obtain credit from one institution for units completed at another.

Universities currently offer less standardized qualifications. Unlike the VET sector, each university designs its own degrees and courses. Some universities offer hundreds of different degrees, made up of thousands of courses, none of which are offered at any other institution. A student transferring between universities will be offered some credit for previous study, but will likely not be granted credit for all their work, due to the lack of standardization.

A level of degree standardization is imposed by external accreditation and professional bodies, such as the Australian Computer Society. However, the accrediting body only specifies what needs to be broadly covered in a program.

Open Universities Australia (OUA), a consortium of Australian universities, offers 61 degrees, 101 post-graduate programs and more than 1,300 courses. Students of OUA can select courses from multiple universities in the consortium and credit these to a degree from one.

Shorter Courses

A Bachelor Degree from a university requires three years full time study. This is usually assumed to require twice as long for part time study, but students typically take longer. That is a very long time between enrollment and being able to present a qualification to a prospective employer.

The VET system typically offers certificates, requiring 3 to 4 months full time study, which may be nested with a longer diploma or advanced diploma. The student completing a certificate at one institution can apply to another for further study, with all completed work being counted, due to national standardization.

VET also provides for "Recognition of Prior Learning" (RPL), where a student presents evidence of already having the knowledge and skills required. This can considerably shorten study time. As an example, I obtained 80% of a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, based on my prior university education and teaching experience.

RPL is less common in the university sector than VET. However, recognition of forms of learning outside formal courses is becoming more common. Students may be required to gain experience in a workplace, providing evidence through a journal, project report, or reports from supervisors. This apprentice or intern approach is common in VET vocational programs and some university professional degrees in health care and engineering.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

ICT Sustainability: Update for Graduate Course Starting at ANU Next Week

Changes for 2018:
  • A discussion of the sustainability of bitcoin and blockchain was added to the topic "Business process improvement".
  • The chapter "Compliance Audit" was renamed "Carbon Accounting" and updated with the latest National Carbon Offset Standard.
  • A short video introducing the course, was created.

Monday, February 12, 2018

University Advertising Failing to Make the Grade

Australian universities are currently using TV advertisements to attract on-line students.

In 2016 Swinburne University's "We're here for you" campaign,  had a tutor appear in person, seemingly out of nowhere, to help an on-line student in a cafe. This year their "Let's Do This" is less silly, apart from having a cat in it. One annoying point was when the narrator says "... lets make the grade ..." the screen shows the word "Distinction" and a tick. Universities should, I suggest, avoid giving students unrealistic expectations of how easy study is and in particular distance eduction. Students should not be given the idea that making the grade means getting a distinction. This may contribute to the high levels of stress and mental illness experienced by students.

In contrast, Open Universities Australia's 'Stop asking "What if?" and find out "What now?"' campaign focuses on ease of enrollment. This is much more low key (perhaps too low key) and doesn't set too many unrealistic expectations. While I found being an on-line student very stressful, enrolling proved relatively simple. One difficulty OUA have is explaining exactly what it is: not a university, but a consortia of universalities, offering on-line courses.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Making Videos Takes Skill and Effort

When encouraging staff, or students, to make videos, please consider the effort involved. While they may have years of instruction on how to write, how much training and practice have they had in making videos?

I was reminded of the work needed to make a video recently when I came across a VHS tape of "Bicycles". This was a student exercise for the course "Audio-Visual Video" (for training) at the ACT TAFE in 1989.

After spending one evening a week for several weeks leaning the basics of video, I spent a day recording video of cyclists around Lake Burley Griffin. It then took several hours to edit this into a 90 second video. Someone looking at this might think "I could do that!" and they could, but it takes hours of work, after learning the basics.

Note that this video used paper caption cards and analogue tape editing. The mechanical part of the process is now much quicker and easier with a digital editor. However, working out how to tell a story and assembling  the material still takes a considerable amount of time and skill. Staff and student needed to be provided assistance with how to do this and given a realistic idea of the work involved.

The ACT TAFE, where, I learned to make analog videos, is now know as the Canberra Institute of Technology. My instruction from 1989, Brian Oakes, is now running Video for Youtube courses.

ps: One thing which has not charged in the transition from analogue to video is worrying about use of copyright material.  My video was edited in time with the song "Bicycle Race" by Freddie Mercury, performed by Queen (1978). When I uploaded it to YouTube this music was automatically identified and advertising revenue assigned to the copyright holder.

Introducing the Internet into Australian Education 25 Years Ago

Recently an academic in Canberra commented that there was no Internet 25 years ago. I was surprised that they knew so little local history. By 1993, Australian universities were linked to the Internet by staff originally at ANU (Clarke, 2004).  Also in 1993, Michele Huston at ANU, ran a project to put ACT schools on the Internet (Huston, 1995).


Clarke, Roger. (2004). Origins and Nature of the Internet in Australia. Emergence, 4, 1990-1994. URL http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/OzI04.html
Huston, Michele (1995, June). Introducing the Internet into Australian Schools: A Case Study - The ACTEIN Program, INET'95 - the 5th Annual Conference of the Internet Society, Honolulu. URL http://www.isoc.org/inet95/proceedings/PAPER/202/ps/paper.ps

Monday, February 5, 2018

Non-government Student Loans for Vocational Programs

Australian startup company Study Loans Pty Ltd is offering loans to students for 6 to 48 months. Rates are 12% to 18% depending on the students credit rating and the education provider's track record. This compares to zero interest on a government VET Student Loans.

No interest is charged on government loans, but they are indexed to the CPI and so the amount to be repaid can increase, depending on inflation. Also the range of providers which students can apply for government loans for has been reduced, in response to poor performance by some providers. So there may be scope for a commercial alternative.

Study Loans Pty Ltd provide a loan calculator, so students can get an idea of the cost. However, the default settings are for 24 months repayment. Students on low incomes may have difficulty with repayments. Increasing the repayment to the maximum of 48 months considerably increases the interest to be paid.

Student Loans Pty Ltd is currently offering loans for courses at 38 education partners. Most of the partners are Registered Training Organizations, offering courses also available at other commercial RTOs and government TAFEs. As an example "Academy of Makeup" offers the  a Diploma of Screen and Media-Specialist Makeup Services (CUA51015). Other providers, such as General Assembly and The Plato Project, appear to be offering courses outside the RTO system.

By focusing on a small range of providers and carefully monitoring student progress, Study Loans Pty Ltd may be able to improve on the success rate of the government loans system, proving a better result for both the students and the company. However, there may be some downsides to the Study Loans Pty Ltd approach, in terms of cost and recognition of qualifications.

Government TAFEs generally charge lower fees than commercial VET providers for the same nationally standardized qualification. As an example, Academy of Makeup's Diploma of Screen and Media-Specialist Makeup Services (CUA51015) is $11,900. The same standardized qualification is $4,060 at TAFE NSW: just over one third the commercial provider's fee. Of course, the student may consider the extra cost for a commercial provider worthwhile, if it provides a superior education (or the student can't get into TAFE).

Student Loans Pty Ltd also partners outside the RTO system. Students may prefer a provider who offers something different to the homogenized, standardized VET programs. But the students may find their qualifications not recognized by industry, or by educational institutions.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Lessons from Victorian Government's Failed Ultranet Learning Platform

In 2006 Victoria announced the development of an online learning system "Ultranet" for all government schools. The project was abandoned in 2013, at a cost estimated to be $127M to $240M. In 2017 the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission of Victoria found corrupt conduct by pubic servants in the acquisition of Ultranet.

There are more than 150 scholarly works which mention the Ultranet project. About 100 of these, before 2013, are generally positive. Understandably, after the failure of the project in 2013, the tone of the later 50 or so papers becomes negative.

McShane and Dearman (2016) provide a brief overview of the project and suggest that in addition to design and usability flaws, the project assumed an unrealistic level of digital literacy and connectivity for both parents and teachers. Fitzgerald's thesis (2017) looks specifically at stakeholder engagement, finding teachers considered it a politically-imposed change. Interestingly, Fitzgerald found support for the idea of Ultranet from parents, but the poor implementation limited their involvement.

The history of Ultranet should be required reading for all those contemplating large scale IT based education initiatives.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Teaching Computer Professionals to Teach

Professor Elanor Huntington, Dean of the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is leading a project to reimagine the disciplines for the future. Part of this is the 3A Institute headed by Professor Genevieve Bell. Another part is the ANU Cyber Institute. In addition, I suggest Australian universities need to expand their capabilities in education and people skills: teaching technical people to teach, lead, communicate and work in groups, as well as the application of IT to education. This is too important a task to be left to the Faculty of Education and should be part of the role of university's computing department.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines have traditionally seen people skills as "soft". Computing and engineering students I teach, and many researchers, think that doing the science is the hard part and communicating the results is something easy you do afterwards. However, when they come to write up or present, these students and researchers soon discover how hard soft skills are. Those how go on to supervise staff and teach students discover that this is harder still.

The solution, I suggest, is to treat teaching, communicating and cooperating as core skills. These should be something you learn at the start of your university education and refine throughout your studies and professional life.

A change is now taking place in university, with the Facebook Generation, who have not known a time before pervasive social media, progressing through the university system. To this generation using the Internet for communication is normal and natural. This is not to say they can use it well for academic or professional purposes: most will need training. But this generation will first turn to the Internet, the web, or a video for instruction, not a teacher or a classroom. If they want advice and assistance they will turn to social media.

Teaching this generation requires skills in using the Internet for education, not because it is cheaper and more efficient than classrooms (it may not be), but because this is how the students expect to learn. This is not to say this generation does not value face-to-face interaction, but that is an expensive and rare commodity, supplemented by social media.

As part of my Master of Education studies I did a quick analysis of education skills for IT professionals.  The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) is used for defining the type and level of skills needed for IT jobs and by the Australian Computer Society for accrediting degree courses at Australian universities. The SFIA Foundation have identified education skills as being relevant to an IT professional.

Australian universities should Train Tech Professionals to Teach. This teaching should be undertaken primarily on-line, and use techniques such as e-portfolios.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

WA Government Reversed Decision to Close Schools of the Air

By Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic Unit [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Western Australia government has announced a planned closure of the WA Schools of the Air (SOTA) will not not take place. It had been planned to transfer students to the School of Isolated Distance Education (SIDE) in 2019. There was no mention of if six "camp school sites" which were also to be closed will be retained. The minister for education had characterized the closures of the SOTA as eliminating duplication. It is not clear if under the new plan there will be any integration of the regional SOTA with the metropolitan SIDE.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Higher education and Research is Canberra’s Largest Export Industry

The ACT Government is offering $750,000 for projects to develop key sector in Canberra under the Key Capability Area Grants Funding Program.

The sectors identified are: cyber security, renewable energy, space and spatial information, plant and agricultural sciences, healthy and active living and further education (HE). Curiously, while HE is listed last, the ACT Government notes that it is  Canberra largest export earner ($3 B per year) and employs 16,000 people. Such an important industry should perhaps receive higher priority.

The Government comments "The structure of the local further education market is unique with little horizontal competition". I am not sure exactly what is meant, but perhaps it is saying that the different HE institutions in Canberra are not competing with each other for students.

The two largest universities in Canberra are the Australian National University (ANU) and University of Canberra (UC), which do to a large extent cater to different students. One characteristic of the current student market they currently have in common is that both institutions are primarily catering for on-campus students. One area of capability which the ACT Government could help enhance is provision of on-line education, through better training of staff, better software and better business models.

USC Moreton Bay (Artist's impressin)
The ACT Government's investment is a relatively modest, compared to the Moreton Bay Regional Council (MBRC) in Queensland, which has spent $50.5 M on an old paper mill to be converted into a high-tech campus called "The Mill at Moreton Bay". The education services will be provided by USC.  However, unlike MBRC, the ACT already has two established universities. The city center next to ANU is seeing the growth of hi-tech startups, while the ACT Government is investing in health services adjacent to UC.