Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Top Five Things I Hate About People Complaining About Learning Management Systems

Nipun Sharma wrote about the "Top 5 Things People Hate About Learning Management Systems" (eLearning Industry, 8 March 2018). In response, here are my top five problems with people complaining about LMS:

1. Design As An Afterthought

Rather than designing their course to be easy to use, in a logical, sequential manner, course designers (or academics who think they are courses designers), just load up a mishmash of stuff and blame the LMS when the students can't make sense of it. When designing a course you have to carefully curate and sequence the experience.

2. Expectations Of Social Interactivity

Social learning is something which has to be designed into a course and students have to be trained how to work together, be it online or in a classroom. Social learning is not something you can delegate to the LMS to do for you.

Even under the best conditions, learning is a hard, mostly solitary, frustrating experience. Giving students the expectation it will be easy, fun and social, is doing them a disservice and may be dangerous to their mental wellbeing.

3. Expectations of a Fun User Experience

Learning is not fun, it is hard work. Courses which have a false send of jollity are intensely frustrating for the student.

4. Expectations Of Accessibility

The best LMS can't make up for a lack of accessibility of educational content. Most LMS will now reflow content for mobile devices. But course designers need to ensure their content fits on devices and networks students use.

5. Inadequate or Excessive Use of Tracking And Reporting Features

Most LMS now have features to allow students to track how they are doing. However, learning designers needs to switch on these features. Also this doesn't remove responsibility from the instructor to keeping track of how their students are doing and provide feedback.

Some instructors go to the other extreme and closely monitor how and when the students use the LMS. Use, or lack of use, of the LMS should not be used as a proxy form of assessment.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Who reads the Higher Education Whisperer?

Readers of the Higher Education Whisperer
The Research Whisperer published some statistics on their readership, so here are some for this blog, the Higher Education Whisperer. Since it started in June 2013, there have been 343,292 page views, with the highest number from the USA (163,036), followed by Australia (35,463) and, surprisingly, France (21,050). The most popular post was "Speed Dating for University Students and Employers..." Mar 27, 2017 (4,131), followed by "Teaching in a Digital Age", Jan 18, 2017 (3,509) and "Australian Cyber Security Courses" Jun 27, 2016 (2,077).

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How did we let the Digital Surveillance Economy come into existence?

Dr Roger Clarke
Dr Roger Clarke will speak on "How did we let the Digital Surveillance Economy come into existence? And what can we do about it?" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5.15pm 18 July 2018. Abstract and presentation available.

From a technical point of view the answer is straightforward. There is a large body of research on how to mine records of consumer's online activities to find out what products they might like to buy. This research extended into suggesting product to buy based on their social media "friends" profiles. This then extended to influencing behavior. The problem seems to be that the tech people did this research without input from policy makers or researchers.

At the moment I am taking part in the "Assessing Deliberation: Methods Workshop" at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance , University of Canberra. There appears to be a disconnect between what these researcher do to look at how decisions are made and the work by tech researchers.

Asia Pacific Hall at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue
Morris J. Wosk
Centre for Dialogue
Those who look at decision making and policy seem to still think in terms of people face-to-face, in debating chamber. In 2014 I stopped off for a look at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. This is a circular parliamentary style chamber, purpose built for involving the public in decision making. However, this is something from the steam age of decision making.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Google IT Support Professional Certificate

Google is offering a "GoogleIT Support Professional Certificate". This is similar to other IT industry certificates offered by Microsoft, Cisco, and Red Hat. However, rather than producing a book and leaving it to government and commercial education institutions offer the program, Google is offering it through Coursera. This has implications for the future of post-secondary education in Australia and elsewhere.

The program consists of five courses, each of six weeks, 8 to 10 hours a week and a series of projects. The cost of the entire program is not given, but courses cost AU $64 per month, putting the total cost at AU$480. However, this assumes the student completes everything on time, which is rarely the case and the real-world cost is likely to be significantly higher.

Media reports indicate Google will also partner with US community colleges. However, it is not clear if this will be directly with Google, or if the colleges will be supporting students studying on-line via Coursera. The latter approach could have implications for post-secondary education. In Australia this could see non-government VET institutions and government TAFEs reduced to the role of providers of tutors to assist the on-line students and invigilate assessment. This could also effect some universities which offer industry certifications as part of degree programs.

New educational startups, and more traditional VET providers, have been attempting to come up with a credible alternative to a traditional university degree. However, these have failed to gain widespread adoption. In the IT sector vendor certifications are widely accepted and some traditional degree programs incorporate these. Google's endorsement of online courses may be the step needed to make this approach widely adopted. Students may study a series of on-line certifications which are accepted by industry and based on these a formal educational qualification.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Cyber Storm Conference in Canberra

UNSW Canberra has invited papers for  “Cyber Storm”, 18-20 February 2019. The conference will focus on training for cyber warfare.
"Australia’s former Minister of Cyber Security, Hon. Dan Tehan, warned in November 2016, of the need for the country to prepare for a cyber storm, even if it was an unlikely contingency. One view of the Cyber Storm sees it as the contingencies arising from protracted and complex, multi-vector, multi-wave, multi-theatre attacks against cyber assets. Such assets can include critical civil infrastructure, military C4ISTAR, computerised systems in weapons platforms, and even other civilian targets of military or national security significance.

This conference will concentrate on the role universities and professional education institutions, such as military colleges, can play to address the unique challenges of workforce formation for the Cyber Storm.

For middle powers like Australia, immense challenges exist in framing education and training solutions for these contingencies, as the research foundations on which these policy responses depend, are very weakly developed, or even non-existent. This is especially case in the sub-field of simulations. The conventional wisdom, or at least the dominant practice, has been that the knowledge, skills and abilities needed would be acquired “on the job” in highly classified environments. There has been little space for open-source research and therefore minimal open-source education and teaching. This scholarly conference will discuss research papers on these subjects by leading specialists from universities, professional colleges, think tanks, government, and industry. The academic portion of the conference will not have any special national focus, but papers that can address the U.S. experience or that of middle powers like Australia will be highly regarded. The academic portion will be followed by a one-day invitation-only policy workshop to give strategic planners in government, the armed forces and business the opportunity to reflect on practical recommendations arising from the scholarly research."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Future of the Canberra Workforce

Professor Phil Lewis, from University of Canberra, talked last night at the Australian Computer Society/ISACA Canberra joint meeting on "The Future of the workforce: Drivers and Challenges".

Phil pointed out that in the seventies many people worked in manual labor, but now more than 80% are in the service sector. Also less than 4% of the workforce are in mining and agriculture. Most of the mining jobs are in the city, with most mine-site work done by remotely monitored machinery.

Phil pointed out that it now takes longer for university graduates to get a job, but "Don't worry, you will still get a job". However, the biggest indicator of employability is school leaving: those who did not complete grade 12 have difficulty getting any job. A TAFE diploma, university degree or higher degree results in better job prospects. An investment in a degree is still worthwhile, unless, Phil mischievously suggested, you do creative arts.;-)

Phil suggested that Australian employers, unlike those in Germany, expect university graduates to be "job ready". In contrast German employers expect to have to train their employees, after their general eduction.
One question from the audience was about small businesses empowered by the Internet. This was a good question and I have one of these businesses. However, Phil pointed out that the statistics show that the proportion of people employed in small business has decreased. He pointed out that the opportunity cost of running a business in Australia is high. There are ways around some of the costs. As an example, I get low cost indemnity insurance through the ACS.

One interesting question from the audience was what do recent international graduates of Australian universities do to get a job. The graduates get a visa to work in Australia but companies in Canberra are reluctant to hire them as they do not have permanent residency. One solution, I suggest, is to take advantage of the help provided by the ACT Government to set up a company and contract yourself out.

ps: On 27 June, the Australian Computer Society released its Digital Pulse Report, on jobs and education in the IT sector. On 4 June I talked to an Australian Senate Committee on the Future of Work and Workers.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Will open plan buildings reduce research collaboration?

Bernstein and Turban (

This study was conducted in a Fortune 500 company and it would be interesting to replicate it at a university. New university buildings, such as that at ANU for Maths, Computing and Cyber security, have an open plan for most staff and graduate students. Even the few enclosed offices in new buildings tend to be located adjacent to the open plan areas, on the assumption this improves collaboration. This may be incorrect and the layout might reduce collaboration.

However, some limitations should be noted with


Bernstein ES, Turban S. (2018, July 2). The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 373: 20170239.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Learning to Use University Spaces

Dr Jacqueline Ashby
Libraries have become "learning centers" and university buildings have cafes and bright comfy furniture in common areas, but has how students and staff use informal spaces at universities for changed? In her 2013 PhD thesis Jacqueline Grace Pizzuti-Ashby examined the use of the Peter Jones Learning Centre at the at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia (Pizzuti-Ashby, 2013). The Australian national University (ANU) is about to enter into a grand experiment in space use with multiple new buildings across the Canberra campus and may benefit from such research.

Pizzuti-Ashby looked at the effects the change of a typical university library into a "Learning Centre" had on use of the space. One observation was "... electrical outlets behaved like black holes attracting students and furniture to them ..." (Pizzuti-Ashby, p. 154, 2013). I found this surprising, as I had assumed studnets would be using mobile devices with high capacity batteries. But then I remembered hunting around the UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre at UBC looking for a power point.

Another counter intuitive observation is "... students inclination to want to work around one another even in silent spaces" (Pizzuti-Ashby, p. 154, 2013). Of course keeping the noise down has been an age old problem for librarians, although it seems to be the noisiest people in a modem university library are the librarians. ;-)

One interesting finding was gender preferences in learning spaces. It may be that the physical design of such spaces is turning female students away (Pizzuti-Ashby, p. 162, 2013):
"It was observed during this study that gender may also influence the type of learning space desired. This study found that males utilized learning space primarily designed for individual use. These areas also were noted for their fixed furnishings, access to windows and natural light, and elevation and views of the surrounding campus milieu. Females were observed utilizing areas of the PJLC that were supportive of social and collaborative learning activities. These spaces were also described as providing a flexible furniture arrangement, accommodating for both individual and group study. Investigating the factors that influence male and female students in their selection and usage of learning environments is an area worthy of further inquiry."
New ANU Maths &
Computer Science Building
The Australian National University is opening its new Mathematics and Computer Science building today. In addition to accommodating the ANU Mathematical Sciences Institute (MSI) and Research School of Computer Science, there is also and area for staff of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). One way the building design aims for collaboration is by having shared kitchens in a common area between wings adjacent to the stairs. Those going up and down stairs and into the wings will see whoever is getting a coffee and sitting in the common area. Another feature which attracted comment from the media is that as well as high-tech flat screen displays, the building has old fashioned chalkboards for the mathematicians. It will be interesting to see if these features encourage collaboration and perhaps may be worthy of a space use study similar to that of Pizzuti-Ashby.

The old ANU Computer Science and Information Technology Building has  an interesting approach to collaboration. One wing of the building was designed for the CSIRO IT researchers and the other for ANU. The architect intended a shared common room between the two wings. However, government rules required the CSIRO staff to have their own staff room. So two mirror image rooms were built side by side, each with a kitchen and with doors marked for ANU and CSIRO staff. However, the wall between the two rooms was omitted, creating one large shared space. For decades two doors side by side were marked for ANU and CSIRO staff, but entering into the same room. Recently the doors were more usefully relabeled "In" and "Out".


Pizzuti-Ashby, J. G. (2013). Designing for the future: a post-occupancy evaluation of the Peter Jones Learning Centre (Doctoral dissertation, Education: Faculty of Education). URL

Monday, July 2, 2018

Trust and cyber physical systems

Dr Philippa Ryan
workshop" at the Australian National University in Canberra. This is run by the ANU's new Autonomy, Agency and Assurance (3A) Institute. Dr. Genevieve Bell, 3A Director did an introduction and Dr Philippa Ryan is running the exercises (author of the forthcoming book "Trust and Distrust in Digital Economies"). We have a lot of post-it notes, colored pens and string.

As someone from STEM I am a little lost with the discussion of law and language. This is one of those exercises where you have to play a little. It might be interesting to use Lego Serious Play as conducted by Dr Stephen Dann.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Learning to Teach and Assess at the ANU Early Career Academic Forum

The Australian National University is holding an "Early Career Academic Forum", 24 to 25 July 2018. This is run by the ANU Network of Early Career Teachers, Academics and Researchers ("NECTAR"). This is aimed at new staff starting their career and Phd students considering a career. I will be facilitating a discussion of Improving Teaching and Learning at ANU.
"Program Highlights:
Tuesday, 24 July
  • Workshop: Indigenous perspective inclusive/sensitive pedagogy
  • World Cafe style Morning Tea with discussions around Learning to Teach and Assess, PDRs and promotions, challenges faced by Early Career Academics and many more.
  • Roundtable with Marnie Hughes-Warrington, DVC (Academic), and Grady Venville, PVC (Education).
  • Workshop: ANU Teaching and Learning Vision with Grady Venville
  • Research Presentation on ECA Employability
  • Panel: Job Security. Confirmed panel members: Sue Thomas (CEO, ARC), Mike Calford (Provost, ANU), Denise Ferris (Head, School of Art & Design) and Lyndall Strazdins (National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU).
Wednesday, 25 July:
  • Panel: Overturning the obstacles of sexual misconduct, harassment, hostility and practices of inequity within the university. Confirmed panel members: Dean of Staff, Alyssa Shaw (PARSA President), Renee Hamilton (Universities Australia) and Jamiyl Mosley (Head of Burton and Garran Hall).
  • Roundtable with VC Brian Schmidt.
  • AGM
  • Workshop: “What to do when things go wrong” with Gail Frank (Adviser to staff, ANU)."
From: Early Career Academic Forum, NECTAR, 2018
ps: An interesting future option for ANU is microcredentialing, as mentioned by the VC at a Senate inquiry recently. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review of Australian Education Qualifications Framework

The Australian government today announced a review Australia’s education qualifications framework. This will be headed by Professor Peter Noonan, Victoria University. A Contextual Research for the Australian Qualifications Framework Review paper has been prepared by PhillipsKPA. The paper compares the AQF with other nations qualifications frameworks. One positive finding was more employer engagement in accreditation, than in Europe. A point against the AQF is regulation of the use of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and micro-credentials. The authors suggest removing administrative detail from the AQF where this is covered by regulation and legislation elsewhere.

Less usefully, the authors suggest moving to "credit points" as a measure of the volume of learning rather than years of study. Apart from helping international comparisons, this would make no practical difference, as the notional years can easily be converted to notional hours.

What is ResearchOps?

Greetings from the workshop on Research Ops Hosted by Ruth Ellison at the Digital Transformation Agency in Canberra (there are other locations around the world). This is about refining the design of user interfaces for web based applications, based on user input. This overlaps with existing user interface, systems analysis and industrial designs disciplines.

Students taking part in a  Lego Serious Play exercise at the Australian National University in Canberra
One of the issues discussed was how to get a multidisciplinary team working. I mentioned a Lego Serious Play session run by Dr Stephen Dann for the ANU TechLauhcher program. In this the new student team members used Lego to help draw out issues about what they saw as their role and what their project was about. This could be useful for ResearchOps teams.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

ANU Social Enterprise Bootcamp

Greetings from the ANU Social Enterprise Bootcamp, at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. This is hosted by the ANU Technology Transfer Office. The workshop is being run by Cindy Mitchell, Social Impact Strategist at the University of Canberra and CEO of the Mill House Social Enterprise Accelerator. Cindy has adapted the tools usually used to start-up a new for-profit business to the not-for-profit sector.

There do not appear to be many formal qualifications in this area. Macquarie University has a Master of Social Entrepreneurship and LSE an MSc in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

We had to each complete a "Design for Impact for Scale Canvas".
For the purpose of the exercise I looked at how we might help early career academics and professionals  teach part time at university. The idea would be to have them see themselves as professional educators. They would be offered ways to become qualified in eduction without having to attend class or pay a lot of money. The emphasis would be on what saves time and frustration and gets them contracts, not education theory. This is a path I have been on over the last few years,but I would hope to make it a bit easier.

Monday, June 25, 2018

ANU Calls for Report on the Disappearance of Prime Minister

No,  the current Prime Minister isn't missing. The Australian National University's central library suffered a flood on in February 2018. ANU has launched a flood appeal, asking not only for money, but have listed the books they need. There are thousands of books on the list and make fascinating reading. One which caught my eye was the Report by the Commonwealth and Victoria police on the disappearance of the Prime Minister the Right Honourable Harold Holt, Cheviot Beach, Portsea, Victoria, Sunday 17 December 1967.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Online Language Learning

The Australian National University is now offering online language courses through Open Universities Australia, with , , , , and available. These are full fee, for-credit university courses. This is supported by the ANU Digital Education Services (DES) team, lead by Grazia Scotellaro.

Free online language ebooks are also available from ANU Press:

The Joy of Sanskrit: A first-year syllabus for tertiary students by McComas Taylorand Grazia Scotellaro

Modern Japanese OnlineModern Japanese Online:  The first course to mastering modern Japanese, by Naomi Ogi and Duck-Young Lee

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Online Learning is Just Learning

Vallance and Wilson-Keates have taken exception to Clow, and Kolomitro's characterization of online education. But I think they have all missed the point: online education is not very much different to campus based, especially now most university courses make use of the Internet for at least part of the delivery. It is a little like arguing an electric car is better than internal combustion, while the industry is moving to hybrids, which combine the two forms of power. There are very few students studying purely online or on-campus, most mix both formats. The educational techniques needed for each are not as different as these authors suggest.

Clow, and Kolomitro give online learning faint praise, describing its benefits "in theory": inclusivity,  reach, pace and flexibility.  Then then present the case against, with limited student-student-faculty-institution interaction, isolation and lack of community. They describe a "one-size-fits-all" online education model. Clow, and Kolomitro present a picture of an in-person classroom with collaboration, engagement.

Strangely, Vallance & Wilson-Keates start their rebuttal of the attack on online learning by disagreeing with the one thing Clow, and Kolomitro said in its favor: that it provides for those otherwise excluded from higher education. Vallance & Wilson-Keates go further to specifically claim that Athabasca University (AU) students don't enroll because they were excluded from conventional institutions. This is a odd claim to make, given that AU says on its web page "we are Canada's Open University" (an open university being one without the entry requirements of other institutions_. I know at least one AU student who felt excluded from other universities: me. It is a little odd that after making me feel so welcome, AU would want to deny this.

Vallance & Wilson-Keates provide no evidence for the claim that "The online educational context in the Canadian landscape is no longer regarded as an inferior experience...". Having read research on online education as part of my MEd in Distance Education, I consider it is very much still the case that online education is seen as a second best option, in Canada, and throughout the world. The research shows that online graduates are every bit as good as campus based ones and the students are happy with the experience, but online is still seen as second best.

Vallance & Wilson-Keates claim that interaction in an online course is up to the instructor. However, this denies that the nature of the possible interaction is limited by the technology. As an online student I did feel isolation at times. However, I also felt isolation as an on-campus student, and much more isolation when a part-time night-course student.

We need to stop this "how many angels could dance on the head of a pin" debate over online versus classroom education. The question is not if online is better than face-to-face, but what mix of the two provides the most cost effective, quality education. The students have already voted with their feet and are leaving conventional lecture theaters for on-line learning. But they will still come to class, provided they are given quality, affordable, convenient experience. I know this because I studied this topic, as a graduate student, in a classroom in Canberra, and online at Athabasca, while teaching in a classroom in Canberra and online  (also I designed one of AU's courses).


Vallance, Jeff & Wilson-Keates, Barbara.  (, 18 June). Online education in Canada provides learners with a flexible, inclusive and quality educational experience. Athabasca University. URL

Clow, Erin & Kolomitro, Klodiana. (2018, 2 May). Online learning isn’t as inclusive as you may think. University Affairs. URL

Report on Australian Vocational Education and Training Regulation

The Australian Government today released the review of  Vocational Education and Training (VET) regulation, by Professor Valerie Braithwaite (2018). Professor Braithwaite made 23 recommendations the to government on 31 January 2018. The government has announced it will progress 10 recommendations, and "support in-principle" another 11. However, is not clear what the government doesn't support, or why it has taken almost five months to release the report.

The report provides useful recommendations (collected below) for improving the legislation under which VET operates. However, what is needed is a broader review of vocational education, as an industry and as a service to the community. Also the relationship between VET and the university sector. There are calls for universities to provide more job ready skills for graduates and more responsive to industry needs, which up until now has been the role of VET.

Professor Braithwaite begins by pointing out what has been achieved with VET regulation in Australia, with national regulation introduced in 2011. A patchwork of state oversight was replaced by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). No major deficits were found preventing  ASQA from regulating VET, However, the report recommends "... a higher bar for gaining and maintaining registration as a VET provider". 
The report notes that 81.4% of VET students are part time, with business services the most popular program. Students may be at a large TAFE campus, small RTO, or online. Unfortunately the report does not detail what proportion are at each. While there have been concerns over VET quality, the report notes in 2017 that 87% of students were satisfied with their provider.
"Recommendation 1: ASQA develop and implement processes to enhance its capabilities and opportunities to proactively engage in regulatory conversations with students, teachers, RTOs, industry and other interested stakeholders. The desired outcomes are to improve the value of the student-focused regulatory approach and involve the sector in developing the regulatory culture that drives ASQA’s use of its legislative powers.

Recommendation 2: In order to enhance transparency and consistency in the use of the legislative framework, ASQA should build on its regulatory conversations and practice reflections to develop and clearly articulate to the regulatory community the principles applied to the interpretation of legislation and the use of powers.

Recommendation 3: ASQA works with RTOs to develop positive assurance flags to include in the ASQA risk matrix and develop a mutually agreed method of communicating this information publicly without increasing the compliance burden on RTOs.

Recommendation 4: The Australian Government amends the legislative framework to ensure that entrants to the registered training market be required to clearly demonstrate educational commitment and knowledge of how to provide best practice support to students. This statement of commitment should be required as a condition of registration and include quality performance objectives, which, if breached, could lead to sanctions and ultimately de‑registration.

Recommendation 5: The Australian Government strengthens the fit and proper person requirements and change notification requirements under the NVETR legislation and where appropriate aligns them with TEQSA and ESOS Act provisions and any other relevant legislation.

Recommendation 6: The Australian Government amends the legislative framework to ensure greater scrutiny of new providers to:
  • provide that where an RTO without reasonable justification does not commence providing training within 12 months of being registered, or during its registration ceases to provide training for a 12-month period, its registration automatically lapses, meaning that it would no longer be registered.
  • prevent RTOs changing the scope of the courses they deliver where an RTO has been operating for less than 12 months.

Recommendation 7: The legislative framework be revised to require an RTO to assess the quality of its teaching workforce and develop teacher quality improvement actions, which must be submitted to ASQA annually as a part of the Quality Indicator Annual Summary report.

Recommendation 8: The Training and Education Training Package be reviewed with the purpose of creating a career path for teaching excellence in vocational education and training.

Recommendation 9: The Australian Government leads a process to raise the standards of teaching and training excellence and professionalism in the sector through creation of the role of Master Assessor. A Master Assessor would be placed at the pinnacle of the VET teacher/trainer career path with the responsibility to mentor through professional development programs and assess the quality of an RTO’s next cohort of graduating students.

Recommendation 10: The legislative framework be amended to increase the frequency of data provision to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to quarterly for all RTOs.

Recommendation 11: The Australian Government prioritises the improvement of policies and systems that allow for transfer of real-time data for timely use by other agencies with regulatory responsibilities for identifying and responding to emerging sectoral and provider‑based issues.

Recommendation 12:
  1. The Australian Government and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research explore ways to increase student response rates to the Student Outcomes Survey, and
  2. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research, ASQA, and the sector identify a module of questions that directly addresses the quality of the student journey in the Student Outcomes Survey.

Recommendation 13: The legislative framework be amended to enable the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to make the RTO level data it holds publicly available and identifiable.

Recommendation 14: The Australian Government explores ways to strengthen the regulatory framework by expanding the circle of dialogue around improving the quality of the student journey pre- and post-audit to include all stakeholders who could contribute to future improvement in an RTO’s performance.

Recommendation 15: The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 be amended to require ASQA to publicly release audit reports.

Recommendation 16: The legislative framework be amended to require RTOs to publish nationally consistent consumer information that is accessible and meaningful to students and meets the basic needs for decision making (for example, course entry requirements, course length, employment outcomes, and fees, including subsidies and course cancellation fees).

Recommendation 17: The legislative framework be amended to strengthen ASQA’s ability to take action under a general prohibition against misleading or deceptive conduct which reflects Australian Consumer Law requirements.

Recommendation 18: The legislative framework be amended to require RTOs to strengthen consumer protection in student enrolment agreements through the adoption of contracts that avoid unfair terms as defined in Australian Consumer Law.

Recommendation 19: The legislative framework be amended to require RTOs to keep electronic records showing a minimum of student completions of units, courses and qualifications over the life of the RTO, preferably using an AVETMISS-compliant student management system.

Recommendation 20: The Australian Government investigates ways in which, in cases of administration and liquidation, priority is given to the timely provision of student records to ASQA and the protection of students’ investment in their education.

Recommendation 21: The legislative framework be amended to explicitly address student safety and wellbeing in alignment with the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015.

Recommendation 22: The Australian Government considers strengthening tuition assurance by assuming responsibility for the operation of all tuition assurance and protection arrangements and ensuring that the scope of these arrangements protects all VET students.

Recommendation 23: The Australian Government establishes a national Tertiary Sector Ombudsman."
From Braithwaite, 2018


Valerie Braithwaite, All eyes on quality: Review of the NationalVocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 report, (Canberra: Australian Government, 2018). URL

Thursday, June 21, 2018

AltEd: Australian Non-Accredited Education Industry Group

Six non-government training companies have formed AltEd, an Australian Non-Accredited Education Industry Group, aiming to be leading providers of quality digital skills education. Australia has a system where both government TAFEs, private not-for-profit and for profit Vocational Educaiton and Training (VET) organizations are accredited under a unified national system. However, AltEd's focus is on training outside this government regulated system.

There have been recent instances of misuse of the regulated system by accredited for-profit providers and questions over the quality of some government providers. The subsequent tightening of regulation has brought complaints from providers that this makes it difficult to provide education.

Rather than seeking a change in the regulations, AltEd is arguing that not being accredited provides more flexibility, and so better education. This is a bold move as non-accredited courses will not be eligible for subsidized government student loans or inclusion in government subsidized international education marketing.

AltEd's founding members are MasterlyPlato Project, General Assembly, QLC, Zambesi, and School of Design Thinking. Student loans are available for General Assembly and Plato Project, trough the company Study Loans. 

It should be noted there is no requirement for training institutions to be government accredited. However, it is not clear to me how not being accredited will, of itself, improve the quality of vocational courses. Admittedly, becoming accredited involves complex and time consuming processes. However, if an educational institution already has a systematic process for designing learning and assessment, with quality control and evaluation, then the additional regulatory burden should not be too high.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conference on Future Academic Workforce

The University of Technology Sydney is hosting a free one day conference on "The Future of Academic Work", 5 December 2018. This will report on research on how successful the role of "Scholarly Teaching Fellow (STF) has been at Australian universities. A quick search of LinkedIn showed fewer than 100 people with this job description. These were all at five Australian universities: Monash (11), Macquarie (8), La Trobe (6), Sydney (15), and Technology Sydney (15).
"In the changed university what is the role of academics? This one-day conference seeks to initiate a debate about the changing nature of academic work in universities, and beyond. ... the new Scholarly Teaching Fellow (STF) role was introduced into Australian universities in 2013. The positions were aimed at creating a more stable teaching workforce, while also addressing growing concerns about the injustices of academic casualisation. The STF positions aim to offer a career path for casual academics, and have had an important impact on the sector-wide debate about the relationship between teaching, scholarship and research. ... 100 in-depth interviews conducted across several universities with STFs, managers and stakeholders will be presented and debated at the conference. This research reflects on the implementation and experience of the new STF positions, and the opportunities and challenges of changing academic work. The resulting report will be pre-circulated; conference workshops will debate aspects of the report; keynotes will address wider conceptual and policy challenges."

From "The Future of Academic Work: a Deliberative Conference", UTS, 2018.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Conferences, in Sri Lanka, Malaysia or Singapore September/October?

I am scheduled to speak at the National IT Conference in Sri Lanka (NITC 2018), 2 to 4 October 2018, organized by the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL). Are there any other computer, education or environmental events I could attend in in Sri Lanka, or in the week before, or after on the way through Malaysia or Singapore?

On a previous visit to Colombo I talked about "Mobiles and e-learning for PandemicFlu Response" to members of the Sahana Software Foundation, at Virtusa's Colombo Office. In 2015 I stopped off for the Second International Conference on Open and Flexible Education (ICOFE 2015) in Hong Kong on my way to the 10th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2015) in Cambridge.

ANU Multi-purpose Halls

ANU Culture and Events Building,, multi-purpose hall floor plan, with retractable stadium seating
The Australian National University (ANU) is constructing a "Culture and Events Building", planned to be open in 2019. This building has two multi-purpose halls with retractable stadium seating for large events (500 seats) and small events (220 seats). This is can be used for example, where there is are conference presentations during the day in stadium format, then the seats retracted and tables put out on the flat floor for the conference dinner.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

University Training for Casual Academics

As one of the "permanent casuals" of Australian academia, I found Baik, Naylor and Corrin's work on how to support us of great interest (2018). I was a reluctant student of education, but when on to complete the ANU Graduate Certificate in HE. As the Authors point out, most university teaching is carried out by non-permanent staff. This has its advantages, as experts from industry can share their current experience with students. Also those with more recent experience as a student (such as graduate students) make better teachers. The Authors focus on a Framework for
sessional teachers at the University of Melbourne. 
It was not clear how much Professional Development the Baik, Naylor and Corrin had in mind for staff. There is mention of a "paid induction program as well as two hours of paid ongoing PD". However, it is not clear how extensive the induction program is, or if it is part of a formal educational qualification.
One area where I don't agree with the authors is on the role of online and face-to-face training for teaching. They suggest an online option should be provided, but only as a fall-back for those who can't come to class. I suggest this policy is outdated. Most students in Australian university courses are now blended and students don't come to class if there is an online alternative. Those teaching need experience in what it is like to be an online student, as that is what most of their students are. They best way to learn to teach online is by being an online student.

ps: In my own case, I like that as an Adjunct I am considered part of the academic staff, but I mostly don't have to go to meetings. However, the lack of permanent employment can have a corrosive effect on early career academics. When asked about postgraduate programs I suggest to prospective students they look at masters coursework programs and professional doctorates, which will qualify them for careers outside academia. With a secure job in industry they then have the option of being part time academics. However, those who instead choose the PhD path have only a very slim chance of ever getting a secure job as an academic and will not be as well qualified for industry.


Chi Baik, Ryan Naylor & Linda Corrin (2018) Developing a framework for university-wide improvement in the training and support of ‘casual’ academics, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, DOI: 10.1080/1360080X.2018.1479948

OpenCon 2018, November 2-4, Toronto, Travel Scholarships

Travel scholarships are being offered for students and early career academics to "OpenCon 2018",  November 2-4 in Toronto. Normally I don't bother applying for such things because the paperwork is so tedious. But this one requires a relatively simple web form.
"OpenCon is the conference and community for students and early career professionals interested in advancing Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. OpenCon 2018 will be held on November 2-4 in Toronto, Canada. Each year, OpenCon brings together a diverse, representative, and engaged group of participants, with travel scholarships available to most participants. For this reason, attendance at OpenCon 2018 is by application only."

On the Future of Work and Workers

On 4 June I talked to an Australian Senate Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, at Parliament House in Canberra, alongside Rob Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA). The committee had my short written submission, but here is the Question and Answer:
"Mr Worthington : I'm an honorary lecturer in computer science at the Australian National University where I teach computer professional skills, and I'm a member of the professional education governance committee of the Australian Computer Society, where I help set the education standards for computer professionals, but I'm making this submission in my own individual capacity as an educator.
You've heard from others about how technology is going to eliminate many jobs, and I would agree with the estimates of somewhere between 10 to 40 per cent of jobs. Some of my colleagues in the IT profession in Australia are effectively helping that happen. Workers will need better soft and technical skills. They will also need regular retraining because they will have multiple careers. I guess I'm an example of that. I started as a computer programmer with the government, working for the defence department. I've been retrained with a second skill as an educator, being trained in Australia and in North America.
Australia already has an education system which could provide work-ready learning across schools, vocational and higher education, and I suggest that we just need to tweak it a bit to make it more flexible. We need to strengthen the vocational education and training—VET—sector, so that it will blend between secondary education and universities. We need to fix up the conditional loans schemes so that they can be applied to the VET sector more freely.
We need to make university more flexible where the assumption isn't that someone does a three-year degree full-time and the exceptions are part-time people. The assumption should be that people will do smaller subdegree qualifications. The Vice-Chancellor of ANU mentioned microcredentials. They'll be doing those part-time and mostly online, not on campus, in response to the needs they have in the workplace. Actually most university courses are already blended. They're already mostly online and partly on campus as we speak, but that's not reflected in government policy or the rhetoric of universities mostly. 
We have a particular problem with international students. Regulations require them to be enrolled full-time all the time and that imposes a burden on people doing the education because, if a student fails or drops one subject, they have a problem. So I think we need to make that more flexible and allow them to do part of that online and allow them to do less than a full-time load.
We need to address soft skills more in our university system. I help do that at the ANU with the TechLauncher program where we have teams of students working on real problems for real clients in Canberra. These are skills that can be taught, but the problem is that the people teaching them—university academics—generally don't have the skills to do the teaching. We need to ask our university lecturers to be formally qualified in teaching I believe, which is a problem because university professors like to make other people do courses but they don't like to do them themselves. So I think that will need some encouragement via funding and perhaps some regulation in the system. That's about all I had to say. I welcome questions.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Worthington. At this point I might exit and hand over to Senator Patrick. I hope to be back before you finish up.
ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Patrick ): Thank you, Chair. Perhaps I'll start in reverse order. Mr Worthington, you describe your own situation as having changed throughout your career. I myself have managed a number of engineers over time. There is a progression we currently have in engineering where you might be a computer scientist then perhaps either go off in a different direction to management or broaden yourself from computer science to hardware to then algorithm development and some other disciplines, so you become multidisciplined. So is there really a change that is taking place or are you simply leveraging off your past knowledge and steering your career perhaps to a higher level?
Mr Worthington : I think there is a change. You need to learn new skills in a new area. The problem comes when you need to learn them relatively quickly. One of the examples given in the previous evidence was about cybersecurity. I help teach some people who are going to go into that area and that involves for technical people issues of human behaviour, international relations, the law and all sorts of things that they weren't previously familiar with. So I think this not just a matter of degree but a matter of learning new things. 
It can also be that they're not necessarily at a higher level of abstraction—for example, to teach in the Australian vocational education sector I had to go to TAFE and learn TAFE teaching, even though I was already giving lectures at universities. I had to learn a different way to approach it. I could've said: 'That's TAFE teaching. That's a low level. Why do I have to get that?' But I had to learn a different way of teaching, so I went to the appropriate place to learn those types of skills. I think we'll see people having a grab bag of little qualifications and different skills they get from different forms of institutions.
ACTING CHAIR: I guess I was suggesting that as you move along in your career and you do make changes there are, really, additional skills that you're learning which complement the next thing that you're doing. You don't end up giving away some of those past skills that you have learnt.
Mr Worthington : I wouldn't agree with that. For example, I tutor teams of students writing computer software and I have to say to them, 'The commuter programming languages I learnt stopped being used before you were born, so I can't help you with the technical aspects of your code. I can help you with how to talk to the client, how to manage the team, how to plan and strategise, but for the technical elements of this I am no longer confident in this area.' 
ACTING CHAIR: I think there is a place for people who can install a program in assembly language. It's still okay!
Mr Worthington : Yes, but they've stopped using some of the processes I used as well.
Mr Worthington : I don't think it's just a matter of adding to your skills. There'll be many skills that are no longer relevant. AI was mentioned. There'll be things that used to be seen as a very important technical skill. Now the computer does it, and what was your main bread and butter nobody really wants. 
ACTING CHAIR: I noticed you were in my line of sight when I was asking about the 10 per cent versus 40 per cent. You seemed to be nodding on the 10 per cent.
Mr Worthington : It's somewhere in between 10 and 40 per cent for jobs disappearing. Nobody really knows. I think there's a view out there that all this technological development happens in a smooth, planned way. But, having seen it from the inside, we're making it up as we go along and we don't really know, when we produce some new technology, whether it's going to take off or not, whether people will really accept automated self-driving processes or not. So, to a large extent, we don't know. 
ACTING CHAIR: That's the cruise-control example I was using: a safe way to get, eventually, to automation but it may not happen quickly, or maybe there's some point where it suddenly takes off. I guess these things are hard to predict.
Mr Worthington : Yes. I have people come up to me every week and say, 'Hey, look, we've invented a new' something. And I go, 'Yes, and what can you use it for, and will anybody want it?' They're the really hard questions. 
ACTING CHAIR: Yes. I ran an R&D cell. I had 30 ideas pop before me per week and every once in a while one of them had a market, so I know where you're coming from. You talk about the development of new technology as being something that Australians want to have happen. Noting that, from my experience, you need to do the R&D stage, then you need to move to prototyping, then to manufacturing, and get the feedback loop into the development cycle, are we in some sense handicapped because of our shrinking manufacturing sector? ..."

From: Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers 04/06/2018, Senate Hansard, Australian Parliament 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

SIGPLAN Empirical Evaluation Checklist

The ACM Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN) have provided a revised "SIGPLAN Empirical Evaluation Checklist". This provides criteria to help decides what is suitable in a research paper for publication. This might be of interest more widely, but emphasizes quantitative research, rather than qualitative.

Here are the criteria by Berger, Blackburn, Hauswirth, and Hicks (2018):
Clearly stated claims
  • Explicit Claims
  • Appropriately-Scoped Claims
  • Acknowledges Limitations 
Suitable Comparison
  • Appropriate Baseline for Comparison 
  • Fair Comparison
Principled Benchmark Choice
  •  Appropriate Suite
  • Non-Standard Suite(s) Justified
  • Applications, Not (Just) Kernels
Adequate Data Analysis
  • Sufficient Number of Trials
  • Appropriate Summary Statistics
  • Report Data Distribution
Relevant Metrics
  •  Direct or Appropriate Proxy Metric
  • Measures All Important Effects
Appropriate and Clear Experimental Design
  • Sufficient Information to Repeat
  • Reasonable Platform
  • Explores Key Design Parameters
  • Open Loop in Workload Generator
  • Cross-Validation Where Needed
Presentation of Results
  • Comprehensive Summary Results
  • Axes Include Zero
  • Ratios Plotted Correctly
  • Appropriate Level of Precision
Adapted from Berger, Blackburn, Hauswirth, and Hicks (2018).


 E. D. Berger, S. M. Blackburn, M. Hauswirth, and M. Hicks (June 2018). SIGPLAN Empirical Evaluation Checklist, ACM SIGPLAN. URL

Charles Darwin University in Top 4% Globally

Charles Darwin University claims to be "... ranked in the top two percent of universities worldwide", based on the THE World University Rankings. However, CDU is ranked 301–350 out of 1,000 institutions, placing it in the top 30%, not 2%. In 2017 the UK Advertising Standards Authority issued guidelines to stop UK universities making similar misleading claims.  Perhaps similar guidelines are needed in Australia.

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universites places CDU 1,165 out of 27,000 institutions. So it would be reasonable for CDU to claim to be ranked in the top four percent of universities worldwide, on that evidence.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Artificial Intelligence will take over most teaching

Professor Neil Selwyn,
Monash University
Professor Neil Selwyn, of Monash University, argues Artificial Intelligence (AI) will never take over from human teachers (2018). I suggest AI will never take over completely from human teachers, but it will supplement their role for many routine tasks. At the Australian Senate Committee hearing on the Future of Work and Workers last week, I was asked what proportion of jobs AI would replace. I suggested more like 40% than 10% but no one really knows.

The teaching profession doesn't "face" an impending change, that change has already started happening. University teaching has already flipped from being campus based to mostly online. However, most university lecturers will not admit this to themselves or to others. The higher levels of school will follow over the next few years. This is without AI, just using decades old e-learning technology.

Much of education can already be reliably provided by machines. This requires fewer, but more highly trained, teachers. What AI will not be able to do, at lest not well, is handle the exceptional situations.

Like human teachers, AI learns (that is why it is called "artificial intelligence"). Software is used to mimic human learning. Unlike a human, AI can learn from millions of cases very quickly. However, the results still need to be checked by a human as they can be unpredictable.

AI can minimc a human very effectively. The ELIZA natural language program of the 1960s was able to mimic a human in a conversation. It does not take much to do this, if the topic is limited to a narrow field, such as a course.

Like human teachers, some AI can explain its chain of reasoning, allowing the student to learn not just what to think, but how to.

AI can use a virtual face and body on screen, but in most cases this is not necessary. Most university students now learn online using text based materials. Where there are videos they watch them at high speed so any person visible is little more than a blur.

This is not to say AI will, or should, replace all human teachers. But AI will be used alongside other tools, such as writing and books, for teaching. It is a long time since anyone argued seriously that students should not write notes as they would then not be able to memorize, or that students should not read books, only listen to the teacher. In a few years time arguments against AI will seem as quaint as those against writing and books.


Neil Selwyn  (201, June 12). Six reasons Artificial Intelligence technology will never take over from human teachers, Edu Research Matters (Blog). Australia Association for Research in Education. URL