Saturday, May 26, 2018

Athabasca University Strategic Plan

The  "Athabasca University Strategic Plan" (March, 2018) is not so much a strategic plan, as an aspirational statement for marketing purposes. AU needs to prepare an actual plan, along the lines of "A Vision for Teaching and Learning at The Australian National University".

The ANU Plan says:

"Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities

Open, Flexible, and Everywhere

Our families, our jobs, our communities: the most important things in our lives are changing. To prepare for change, to lead it, we are driven to be more open, more flexible, and more adaptable - no matter who we are, how old we are, or where we live."
That is good to aspire to, but how does the university plan to go beyond is current distance education open university model to be "... more open, more flexible, and more adaptable ..."?

It starts to tell us something useful on page 2:
"Athabasca University was North America’s first online university. Its open and flexible environment is built on leveraging technology to enable learning. Athabasca is re-imagining its founding spirit with new investments in digital education. Athabasca University will never stop striving to perfect it."
However, the claim that AU was was "North America’s first online university" is one which may be challenged by other institutions.

AU is an open online distance university, much like University of Southern Queensland in Australia. These institutions have struggled to be accepted as equal to traditional campus based institutions on the one hand and compete with free online education on the other. At the same time they have the same pressures facing conventional universities of meeting increasing community expectations.

ps: The AU document is hard to read, as a PDF download and via the website. At 37 Megabytes the PDF document is ten times larger than it need be and contains tiny text on a landscape format page. The web versions is no easier to read, breaking the document up into tiny chunks, making it hard to follow. AU has a Centre for Distance Education with specialists in communicating educational concepts online (some of them were my instructors in the Master of Education in Distance Education). Perhaps AU could consult these experts to help design their planning documents for an online audience.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Improving Teaching and Learning at ANU

ANU has released " A Vision for Teaching and Learning at The Australian National University" prepared by consultant Diane Joseph (2017). This recommends consulting the University community on a Teaching and Learning Strategy. Teaching development and building programs were two areas to be explored.

The draft Vision for Teaching and Learning at the ANU is (p. 3):
"Our students are future ready, capable of solving problems not yet imagined to improve their lives, the lives of others and their communities."
 This is covered by four pillars (p. 4):
  1. "Determined Students
  2. Inspiring Academics 
  3. An Enriching Environment
  4. A Connected Community
  5. High quality teaching and learning is underpinned by the ANU values"
The interesting question then is how to achieve these. There are nineteen recommendations of the report (p. 4), including:
"... 4.1 Identify, encourage and support lead practitioners to model and share effective collaborative learning pedagogies in the CLE Building ...
5.1 Develop a Teaching and Learning Strategy ...
6.1 Support and encourage distinctive approaches to education, including technology-enhanced learning ...
7.1 Develop a Teaching Professional Development and Resourcing Plan ...
8.1 Identify requirements for potential building programs to enable the Vision for Teaching and Learning ..."

Suggestions for the ANU Teaching and Learning Vision

As a member of the ANU community (former student, donor and honorary lecturer) with an interest in teaching, I have six suggestions for advancing the vision:
  1. Increase teaching effectiveness with good course design
  2. Increase student engagement with real-world challenges
  3. Teach university academics to teach
  4. Give teaching staff a modern student experience
  5. Personalize the student experience without reducing the student to staff ratio
  6. Prove flexible new buildings and adapt old ones 
In detail:

1. Increase teaching effectiveness with good course design

Teaching effectiveness can be increased by designing courses and programs using project design techniques. First consult the prospective employers as to what skills and knowledge graduates will require. Then translate those requirements into learning objectives.  Design assessment to test for those objectives. Lastly provide educational materials and learning activities to prepare students for the assessment tasks. The time of the staff and students need to be carefully budgeted to achieve the required assessment results.

An example of this top-down design is the course "ICT Sustainability", offered as COMP7310 by ANU and COMP635 by Athabasca University, Canada. This is designed around the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), used for international accreditation of computer professionals. The SFIA skills are mapped to learning objectives in the course, with major assignments for each objective. There are small weekly exercises to help students build the skills and knowledge needed for the assignments.

The time needed for students to undertake readings, videos, quizzes and discussion activities where estimated for ICT Sustainability and budgeted to fit in the available study time. This included an estimate of the words in readings multiplied by the average reading time of a graduate student (from published research). The time needed for the instructor to run the course and conduct assessment was also budgeted. In this course lectures are not used and the weekly work is by automated quizzes and peer assessment, to free up the teacher's time to help students.

2. Increase student engagement with real-world challenges

Student engagement can be increased by providing real-world problems for students to solve and authentic assessment (not end of term examinations). Every task we ask students to undertake can be mapped to the problem solving exercises they will have to undertake. To keep students on task, learning skills and knowledge for this challenge, they can be given frequent small assessment tasks with rapid feedback.

The students in ANU TechLauncher have to work in teams building an engineering or software solution for a real client. Students are evaluated on their teamwork and problem solving by their peers, the tutors and the client.
Students also have the option of working on a start-up in the Innovation ACT competition. This approach has been utilized at other universities, such as UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering, with their "New Venture Design" course (APSC 486).

3. Teach University Academics to Teach

Those teaching at university need to know how to teach. However, university academics are reluctant to enroll in conventional classroom based training courses. The same approach used to improve student engagement can be applied to staff: providing real-world problems to solve in the workplace, with authentic assessment.

Education for staff can be conducted using the techniques the institution aims to use for students. In particular learning should be primarily on-line, supplemented with blended and flipped classes in flat floor classrooms. Group activities, capstone projects and e-portfolios should be used for learning and assessment. There should be a minimum of lectures and no paper based examinations.

Short courses and online tips can be provided (ACU have some good ones). However, as with school and  vocational teachers, those teaching at universities would benefit from having formal qualifications in education. The aim should be to have junior teaching staff with a graduate certificate in education (or a Certificate IV in training), mid-level academics a diploma (or graduate diploma), and senior academics a bachelors or masters degree.

Staff should also be encouraged to join learned societies, such as HEA and HERDSA, as a supplement to formal qualifications in education.

4. Give Teaching Staff a Modern Student Experience

Local workplaces should provide support and encouragement for staff to undertake study for educational qualifications. In particular staff need to do "Dog-Fooding": experience what it is like to be a university student in the modern environment, so they have an understanding of the pressures imposed on their students. Staff on education courses should be encouraged to undertake projects for their studies in the workplace and to immediately apply what they have learned in their teaching. It should be noted that academics who supervise research students are also engaged in education.

5. Personalize the student experience without reducing the student to staff ratio

Research shows that student to staff ratio is unrelated to the quality of learning. High quality education can be provided with large classes, if the learning is well designed by qualified educators using proven techniques. Providing realistic tasks for students to undertake in groups, with the use of peer feedback and assessment, supported by automated tools helps.

6. Prove Flexible New Buildings and Adapt Old Ones

Interactive group learning requires new classrooms. Tiered lectures theaters are unsuitable for interactive group activities. Large rooms with flat floors, and preferably with furniture on wheels, are required.

Multipurpose Auditorium at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge
An example of such a facility is the Auditorium at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge (UK). Electrically operated, retractable tiered searing allows rooms to be used for flat floor teaching and, and at the push of a button, convert to a lecture theater. This design is now being implemented for the ANU Kambri Development.

A flat floor large classroom at ANU, with large mobile LCD screens used to relay presentation to the back of the room.
 However, the new teaching spaces will require staff to be trained in new teaching techniques, including the on-line elements which support the classroom experience. Also this may require some minor items of equipment.

Experience with the existing temporary large flat floor classrooms at ANU shows that a room with 300 students working in groups is feasible, but requires good teaching team coordination. Some of the equipment can be low tech, such as a whistle to get student's attention when they were deep in discussion.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy
The recently opened Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy  shows that an exiting office building can be converted to attractive flexible flat floor classrooms. The Academy's impressive new premises have large rooms which can be divided for smaller classes.

See also:

  1. A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online, 2012
  2. Digital Teaching In Higher Education (e-book), 2017.
  3. Educating the Future Workforce, Submission  to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, 2018.
  4. Education for Sustainable Development, Submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), March 2018.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Secure Information Architecture for Information Warfare

Greetings from the National Pres Club In Canberra, where Dr Asif Gill is speaking on "Secure information architecture: security by design". Dr Gill is describing the strategy and architecture needed to get from the current insecure state of an IT system to the desired more secure state.

Dr Gill is describing a defensive strategy however, it occurs to me that the same approach could be used for thinking about offensive operations, where the desired state is less secure for your opponent.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy
This is my second security presentation for the day. The Minister for Foreign Affairs recently opened Australia's Diplomatic Academy. The Academy's impressive new premises are a short walk  from the Press Club. Today the Academy hosted a presentation by the Australian National University's National Security College on The New Weapons: Propaganda, Misinformation and Fake News. This is the topic of an ANU short course starting next week.

Monday, May 21, 2018

An Indo-Pacific Strategy for Australia

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Director of the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, Professor Rory Medcalf, is speaking on "Mapping our future: towards an Indo-Pacific strategy for Australia". He emphasized China's dependence on oil transported by ship through the Indian Ocean. However, China has embarked on the largest implementation of renewable energy, electrified railways and electric vehicles the world has seen. China does need oil from the middle east, for the present. But this may less important to China in the long term than it does in Australia and the USA.

Professor Medcalf suggested there is an unspoken consensus between the Australian government and opposition that Australia should participate in China's Belt and Road projects, on a case by case basis. He argues that China find the term "indo-pacific" politically loaded against it. Professor Medcalf also pointed out that France had called for an "Indo-Pacific Axis". That might be an even more unfortunate term, given the extent to which China suffered from the Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis in WWII.

Professor Medcalf mentioned soft power, including. The ANU now offeres courses in both defensive and offensive cyber-operations and teach a little on the ethics of cyber-warfare over the South-China Sea. He also mentioned aid and development. I was one of a team at ANU which prepared a proposal to provide high quality, accessible education across the Indo-Pacific: "Peace Through Superior Education".

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Everything is Interrelated

Dr Birgit Penzenstadler, California State University
Dr Birgit Penzenstadler,
California State University
One of the rewards for having written published papers is that you get cited. Google Scholar sent me an alert to say I get a mention in a paper by Birgit Penzenstadler, and others (2018), with the intriguing title "Everything is interrelated". This describes an intensive week long  course on Software Engineering for Sustainability (SE4S) at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Finland.

This report is useful as along with the theory as to why and what was planned, the authors showed what was changed in the light of experience during the week. No plan survives contact with the students (apologies to General von Moltke).

The authors are a little dismissive when referring to my green computing course (Worthington, 2012), saying such modules can be  "... plugged into the existing computing course". But what I suggest they could have done is use such on-line modules before their intensive face-to-face sessions. This way the students can be introduced to the basic concepts without using up valuable classroom time.

In the past there has been a problem in getting students to actually complete preparatory material. But this can be solved by making the material assessable with small automated quizzes and peer assessed discussions.


Penzenstadler, B., Betz, S., Venters, C. C., Chitchyan, R., Porras, J., Seyff, N., ... & Becker, C. (2018). Everything is interrelated: Teaching Software Engineering for Sustainability. Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering. URL
Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. URL

Using an ePortfolio to capture students' skill sets to align to workplace

EduTECH Australia 2018
At EduTECH, 8 June in Sydney, I be speaking on "Using an ePortfolio to capture students' skill sets to align to workplace". I would welcome corrections and comments on my draft presentation:
"Tom teaches university computing students how to undertake real projects for real clients. This has included an artifact mapping tool for the Plain of Jars in Laos and test software for the radars on Australian warships. These real-world projects require real-world assessment techniques, including e-portfolios. In this presentation he discusses:
  • Innovative education techniques to teach students how to better communicate with employers and people 
  • How to build students confidence and capture their skills set to become more job ready 
  • How to provide formal postgraduate education to students in their workplaces via mobile devices"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Makes for a Good Student Experience?

The Australian 2017 Student Experience Survey (QILT, 2018), shows three non-government universities with much higher undergraduate student satisfaction than other institutions. It would be easy to conclude that private institutions do better, but is that the case? It may be what they teach and who they teach, as much as how.

The good news is that while some Australian universities rate better than others on student satisfaction, they all rate well. Universities are tending to move more of the teaching online. This provides students with better access to learning, but may result in overall lower student satisfaction results.

Most Australian universities scored between 70% to just above 80% on educational experience for undergraduate students in 2017. Three exceptions were Bond University, The University of Notre Dame Australia, and the University of Divinity, all over 90%. However, not all non-government universities did well. Torrens University Australia, the only private for-profit university in Australia, had a score of only 77.6%, below many government universities.

Torrens is essentially an online university and these tend to rate poorly on student satisfaction. The University of Southern Queensland, which also has many online students also rated poorly at 73.6% (I have completed two online courses at USQ and thought they were good).

Absent from the QILT report is Open Universities Australia (OUA), a consortium of universities offering online courses. OUA would be likely to have a low student satisfaction score, similar to USQ and Torrens. It would be easy to conclude that these institutions are doing something wrong. But they accept students who would otherwise not be able to study at all. Given a choice, I am sure these students are more satisfied being able to study, than not.

The QILT report mention of online study in the Executive summary (page iv):
"The largest variation was that external/distance students were less likely to respond positively about their Learner Engagement, 22 per cent and 63 per cent respectively. Older students also rated Learner Engagement less positively than younger students, but this difference is most likely associated with the prevalence of external or internal study modes in these age groups.
Large differences in results by study mode for Learner Engagement continues to suggest that this scale may be performing differently for internal/mixed mode students and external mode students. The Department of Education and Training is currently considering a review
of the Learner Engagement scale. As an interim measure, the QILT website, which reports SES results at the institution by study area level, will continue to exclude external mode responses for the Learner Engagement focus area. This report, however, which reports SES results at national and aggregate levels, includes external mode responses in all Learner Engagement results. ..."
Also section 3.3 "The postgraduate coursework student experience by study area":
"The widest range in focus area results was for Learner Engagement, with 34 percentage points separating the study areas with the highest and lowest results, Rehabilitation at 72 per cent, and Nursing at 38 per cent, which may be associated with the relative proportion of online or distance learning associated with the various study areas."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Teaching Techniques for Teaching New Student Teachers

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) reports that online education is becoming more common for training new teachers, up from 13% in 2005 to 25% in 2016. The typical student is an older female with a full time job and family responsibilities. Not surprisingly, they are studying part time. This research is contained in the report  "The rise of online initial teacher education: what do we know?", AITSL May 2018.

The same problems apply to online teacher education as to any online program. It is more difficult to engage students online, they take longer to complete and fail to complete at a higher rate. Also, as with any vocational program requiring work placements, this is more difficult with remote students.

The good news is that an online program provides access to eduction which would otherwise be denied those with family responsibilities and jobs. Also the quality of such graduates is no different to that of on-campus students.

AITSL's estimate of 25% of teaching students studying off campus may be an underestimate. I suggest it is likely that more than half of all Australian university students are effectively studying off-campus. While officially enrolled on-campus, students take advantage of the online components of courses, to minimize on-campus time. The typical student is balancing study with a job and other commitments.

ps: Last year I completed a MEd online at Athabasca University. My fellow students were as described by AITSL. I felt very much in the odd one out, as I did not have a husband, two children, a dog and an alpine sport. ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Law and the Gig Economy

Greetings from the Australian National University where a panel is discussing "Law and global financial security".

Pauline Bomball started by pointing out that most gig economy workers are regraded as contractors and so do not receive employee entitlements. A court will decide if the worker is working in their own business, or that of the company.

Cameron Roles went back to when an employee was a "servant" working for a "master". He argued this did not fit today and that even those now regarded as "employees" are not adequately protected, let alone those of the gig economy. The gig economy platforms can provide cheap labor by excluding employee entitlements. Consumers have become used to the lower fees resulting. He also suggested that government reforms contribute to this, such as with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which favor outsourced services. He wants to research innovative solutions, such as casual employees having entitlements bought out in exchange for flexibility. 

Professor Peta Spender discussed crowd funding. One success was Flowhive, but Professor Spender pointed out that two third of crow funding campaigns fail to reach their funding target. Crowd funding can be for general community benefit (with ANU suggesting researchers should explore this option).  The Ukraine is crowdfunding its army. Professor Spender expressed concern over a privatized welfare system with Go-fund-me having an "accidents and emergencies" area.  Also there may be difficulties with unsophisticated investors in crowdfunding and possible fraud. Australia has laws to attempt to limit harmful outcomes but enforcement through class actions may not work (it occurs to me that class actions are a sort of crown funded legal case).

Professor Sally Wheeler, pointed out that technology had been accommodating contract law since the days of the telex (I suggest it actually goes back much further to the telegram). Despite a bad press from the dark web Professor Wheeler suggested that blockchain could be used positively for tracking a fish from catch to plate. Contracts are about trust, but are we trusting the blockchain technology or the business partner.

The question I put to the panel was how these developments will change what law academics do, in terms of research and education. Professor Spender pointed out that crowdfunding is already funding some ANU research and Professor Wheeler that teaching was already largely casualised.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Youth As Researchers

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where
Dr. Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair
Dr Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development, and Professor of Leadership and Community Development at Pennsylvania State University, isspeaking on "Opportunities for Research Innovation and Expansion through Youth-led Research". He started by pointing out that "More than one-half of the world’s population is under the age of 25 years, and over a third is under 15." He described "a youth-led research program, which engages youth in topics of concern to them and their communities.
The curriculum materials for the "Youth as Researchers" program are available free online from Pen State University (but no online course):
However, the concentrations of young people are in poorer countries in South America, the Middle East and Asia, while the curriculum materials have been developed and tested in the USA and Ireland. This appears to be as much an exercise in promoting the value of Social Science in western universities as in helping young people in developing countries.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Youth-led Research

Dr. Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair
Dr Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development, and Professor of Leadership and Community Development at Pennsylvania State University, will be speaking on "Opportunities for Research Innovation and Expansion through Youth-led Research" at the University of Canberra, 12:30 pm 14 May 2018.
"More than one-half of the world’s population is under the age of 25 years, and over a third is under 15. The need to actively engage and empower this population has been recognized by major international organizations, NGOs, and local agencies as critical to achieving social, economic, environmental, and political development. Nonetheless, a generalizable, adaptive, and sustainable framework for achieving this global youth citizenship remains elusive. In response to this need, we present a youth-led research program, which engages youth in topics of concern to them and their communities."

Inquiry into Funding Australia's Research

The Australian Parliament is holding an inquiry into funding Australia’s research. Submissions are due by 30 June 2018. I suggest government funding should be conditional on Open Access publishing of the results and researchers receiving start-up training in how to apply their results. The era where researchers did the research and did nothing with it should end. Researchers need to be trained in how to take their work to the community.

"Terms of Reference

The House Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Training will inquire into and report on the efficiency, effectiveness and coherency of Australian Government funding for research, in the following terms:
  • The diversity, fragmentation and efficiency of research investment across the Australian Government, including the range of programs, guidelines and methods of assessment of grants;
  • The process and administrative role undertaken by research institutions, in particular universities, in developing and managing applications for research funding;
  • The effectiveness and efficiency of operating a dual funding system for university research, namely competitive grants and performance-based block grants to cover systemic costs of research; and
  • Opportunities to maximise the impact of funding by ensuring optimal simplicity and efficiency for researchers and research institutions while prioritising delivery of national priorities and public benefit.
This inquiry will be focused on federally funded research agencies, their funding mechanisms and university collaborative research. The inquiry will not consider the National Health and Medical Research Council, nor non-federal research funding."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Training for Australia's Offensive Cyber Capability

In the Australian Strategic Policy Institute paper "Australia's Offensive Cyber Capability" ( May 2018), Fergus Hanson an Tom Uren, ask how to build and use the capability. Part of this is simply having trained IT professionals, in and out of uniform available. As well as running courses in "Defensive Cyber Security Operations" (COMP3701), the Australian National University also offerers "Offensive Cyber Security Operations" (COMP3702):
"Offensive Cyber Security operations introduces and exercises a complete range of reverse engineering techniques and attack patterns. Students will also learn and exercise analysis of systems based on minimal information. This is a complete course in cyber attacks which enables students on successful completion to identify and test systems for vulnerabilities without full knowledge or direct access."
As part of the ethics training for ANU IT students I offer a hypothetical on Cyber Warfare over the South China Sea.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Iimproving Health and Education outcomes for Indigenous Australians

Greetings from "Closing the Gap - What are the next steps for improving Health and Education outcomes for Indigenous Australians" at the Australian National University in Canberra. Richard Spencer, Commissioner of Social Policy, Australian Productivity Commission, was the first speaker.

Mr. Spencer discussed his commission's report "Human services in remoteIndigenous communities". The report pointed out that "Service provision in remote Indigenous communities faces challenges including isolation, time-consuming (and often costly) travel, and difficulty recruiting and retaining staff with the necessary skills and capabilities." (p. 265).

I found it disappointing that the report made only one mention of online services and it was negative: "Access to online service alternatives can also be challenging due to a lack of IT infrastructure and, in some cases, a lack of the skills required to utilise those services.". In his PHD thesis, Philip Townsend (p. 26, 2017), points out there has been rapid adoption of mobile devices in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Dr. Townsend investigated the use of mobile devices for remote education. Given the problems of isolation, travel cost, recruiting and retaining staff, the Commission could have done more than just dismiss online service alternatives in one sentence.


Townsend, Philip, 2017 Travelling together and sitting alongside: How might the use of mobile devices enhance the professional learning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pre-service teachers in remote communities?, Flinders University, School of Education.  URL

Australian Government Funding for Regional Study Hubs

One of the new measures in the Australian Government Budget for 2017/2018 is expanded funding for Regional Study Hubs. These are community-owned facilities where students studying by distance education can meet with tutors and other students. As a distance education student myself I felt a need to meet other students face to face. This was noticed decades ago shortly after the Open University UK started correspondence courses: students sought out each other and booked rooms at the nearest educational institution.

The budget has funded  500 sub‑bachelor and 500 bachelor students. It is good to see the inclusion of sub-degree programs, as these are very useful for distance education students, who tend to take longer and drop out more frequently. The regional study hubs have some similarities to the government programs supporting regional tele-centers of the 1990s.

University of WA Albany CenterIn 2000 I visited the University of WA Albany centre, where as well as the usual STEM subjects, there was a groups of students having a poetry reading via teleconference.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Universities of the Future Are Already Here

Halloran and Friday (2018) have explored four scenarios for the future of Australian universities: Champion University (government supported), Commercial University (financially independent), Disruptor University (micro-certificates for the workplace), Virtual University
(integrated universities and vocational institutes). However, this is not as radical as it might seem. Australia already has elements of all these approaches. I have been teaching into some of their programs, for more than a decade.

Computing is perhaps the discipline leading for providing vocationally relevant globally recognized education. The biggest impediment I see is the lack of education qualifications of university academic staff and government regulations. However, Australia has to be careful not to destroy the very valuable higher education brand it has with international students in any change.

I abandoned teaching face-to-face in 2008 and have been  mostly online since then.  For my own education I tried online university courses in 2011 and then switched to studying completely online internationally in 2013. The idea of turning up to a specific place at a specific time to teach or learn seems a very dated idea.


Halloran, Lucille & Friday, Catherine. (2018, April). The University of the Future: Can the universities of today lead learning for tomorrow?  Ernst & Young Australia. URL

Monday, May 7, 2018

Studying half or less of a full-time student’s study load is a major non-completion risk

Norton, Cherastidtham and Mackey (2018) found that students studying half or less of a full-time load at university are at risk of not completing. The authors estimate that about 20% of the students commencing a bachelor degree in 2018, will not get the degree. They suggest alerting those considering study of the risk factors. However, I suggest there are many other ways to improve student outcomes.

One counter-intuitive recent finding by Shea and Bidjerano (2018) is that adding some on-line courses improves the completion of otherwise face-to-face campus based students. The optimal mix is between 10% and 60% online, depending on the institution, with the average being 40%. This was for US community colleges and it would be interesting to see if the same applies in Australia. It may be that the highly scaffolded nature of online courses helps struggling students, or it may be just that they can do an online course when their only other option would have been to terminate their studies.

Another way to improve university completion is with nested programs. With this option a student earns a sub-degree qualification after the equivalent of as little as six months study. They can use that qualification to help get a better job, and come back to study more later. It doesn't matter if the student takes eight, or more, years to earn a degree, as they have useful qualifications before then. Also it is much easier to be a student, and to teach students, who are already working in the field they are studying. The students can use their workplace experience in assignments and apply what they learn immediately. This might be a way to improve university completion statistics, with those who previously were recorded as degree non-completions instead being sub-degree completions.

One option I have found useful as a student myself is online study part time, with one course at a time and three or four courses a year. By deleting the usual long university holiday breaks between courses (which are largely irrelevant to part time students), it is possible to complete three or four courses a year. This allows a student to undertake a half full-time load, without the added burden of two courses at once.

The use of scaffolding in courses and on-line support for students between courses, use of e-portfolios and non-conventional assessment helps. At the micro level the student, especially the part time student, needs to know what they need to do right now. Also it is useful to provide an option where the student can document their learning and earn credit without having to complete a formal course.


Norton, A., Cherastidtham, I., and Mackey, W. (2018).
Dropping out: the benefits and costs of trying university. Grattan Institute. URL

SHEA, Peter; BIDJERANO, Temi. Online Course Enrollment in Community College and Degree Completion: The Tipping Point. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, [S.l.], v. 19, n. 2, may. 2018. ISSN 1492-3831. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 05 May. 2018. doi:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Online Courses Improve Student Outcomes

Shea and Bidjerano (2018) found that US community college students are more likely to succeed with a mix of face-to-face and online courses. The study compared 46,000 students at 30 community colleges of the State University of New York (SUNY). The authors suggest students should "... enroll in face-to-face courses primarily and supplement these courses with online courses ...".

For the colleges overall, students had the best completion rates with 40% online courses. For institutions with higher completion rates the optimum is 60% online. Most surprisingly, students at institutions with a lower overall completion rates should still do 10% online courses.

The authors don't present an explanation as to why a mix of face-to-face and online courses improves outcomes. It may be that the highly scaffolded nature of online courses helps struggling students. However, it may be just that  students with conflicting demands on their time, an online course is the only way to keep studying. Some of my ICT Sustainability students have been in this category, where they were not able to be on campus and so their options were are an online course, or no-completion of their degree.

What the study doesn't say is what proportion of the learning for the face-to-face courses is actually online. An Australian higher education course labeled "face-to-face" is likely to have a significant proportion of online learning. This supports my rule of thumb is that about 80% of Higher Education can be done online.


SHEA, Peter; BIDJERANO, Temi. Online Course Enrollment in Community College and Degree Completion: The Tipping Point. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, [S.l.], v. 19, n. 2, may. 2018. ISSN 1492-3831. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 05 May. 2018. doi:

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Technology for a Human Future

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Australian National University in Canberra, where Lama Nachman, Director of the Intel Anticipatory Computing Lab, is speaking on "Liberating Technology: the future of human agency". Nachman has an impressive career researching specialized sensor networks. However they also argue that the sensors already in smartphones are not being used to their true potential, to help people. The key to this, they suggest, is context, if the application knows what people are doing at the time, they can provide more useful help.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Canberra into Space

Greetings from the UNSW Canberra Campus, hosting the  Canberra Innovation Network's First Wednesday event. The host told us about UNSW Canberra Space, their motto should be "It is rocket science!". There were then eleven sixty second pitches. If you have a bright idea and have thought about turning it into a product, you should come along to such a pitch night at your local startup center. The room has a positive vibe.But the most useful part of the evening are not the formal presentations (which are short), but talking to people. I am interested in how to teach innovation online to graduate students and happened to meet someone enrolled in such a course.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Training the Big Data Trainer

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where I am attending "Powering up your 2018 (data skills) training". This is provided by Australian National Data Service (ANDS), National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project (Nectar) and  Research Data Services (RDS). The idea is to help those who train researchers in using data repositories.

Data repositories are used not just by researchers, but also for teaching. The Atlas of Living Australia is also used by schools.

One of the problems with data repositories of data is motivating researchers to learn to use them and use them. The researcher tends to be focused on their PhD, or project and then getting the next grant. Making their data available for others to use may not be seen as helping with this (although researchers now get some credit for publishing data).

ps: The instructor perhaps was having a dig at me just now saying "You don't want people playing with computers and not paying attention", but obviously I am. ;-)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

ACS submission to the Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers (Number 148) has been published*. ACS recommends evaluation of existing traineeships funding programs, a focus on ‘soft’ and transferable skills, and for government to lead the way on employment retraining.

The ACS identified six key trends:
  1. "The exponential growth in device connectivity, automation and artificial intelligence technologies ...
  2. A rising bar on the minimum skills needed to enter the workforce ...
  3. A ‘virtualised,’ on-demand workforce ...
  4. The era of the entrepreneur ...
  5. The growth in the need for ‘soft’ skills ... 
  6. Divergent demographics ..."
From (ACS) submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, Number 148, 2018.

ACS Recommended:
  1. "Regular evaluation of State and Federal Existing Worker Traineeship funding programs ...
  2. A recognition of and focus on ‘soft’ and transferrable skills in funded skill training ...
  3. As the largest employer in the Australian economy, the government has an obligation to lead the way on employment retraining programs ..."
From (ACS) submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, Number 148, 2018.

* I had some input to the ACS submission, as a member of the ACS Professional Education Governance Committee (and also made an individual submission).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

STEM Industry-School Partnerships Proposed

A 103 page report on  Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships: Inspiring Australia's Next Generation has been  released by the Australian Education Council. The Forum recommended a national online toolkit on STEM partnerships. Also a dashboard of STEM educational performance. Minimum national requirements are propped for teacher professional learning for primary and secondary teachers, along with VET in schools. What is not covered in the report is how much all this will cost, or who will pay for it.


Note from the Chair     5
Executive Summary     9
Recommendations    13
Snapshot of Recommendations     17
Definitions and how we use them in this report     19
Introduction    21
Chapter 1. National and International Trends     23
Chapter 2. Teacher Professional Learning     37
Chapter 3. Solving Real World Problems     47
Chapter 4. Optimising Industry-School Partnerships     59
Chapter 5. Outcomes and Impact     69
Conclusion    77

Appendix 1 – List of Forum members    80
Appendix 2 – Existing guides and resources     81
Appendix 3 – Blueprint for a National STEM Resources Toolkit     82
Appendix 4 – STEM Education Data Dashboard metrics    83
Appendix 5 – List of Submissions     95
Appendix 6 – Acknowledgements     97

Monday, April 23, 2018

School Teaching in an Option for Science Graduates

Greetings from the Australian National university in Canberra, where Teach for Australia and the ANU Biology Society are presenting: Non-Traditional Careers in Science. This event is perhaps misnamed, as science graduates going into school teaching is a traditional career option.

As I understand it, Teach for Australia provides graduates with support and accelerated training so their can enter a classroom quickly.  But their website is so full of aspirational marketing material that it difficult to tell how the program actually works.

There is a strong demand for STEM graduates in government and industry. In the case of computing students the problem is to keep the best students at university long enough to graduate, before they are recruited by companies (or set up their own). If education departments want to attract graduates, I suggest they are going to have to offer better pay and conditions.

The way education is delivered also needs to be brought into the digital age. Students who have used, and in some cases developed, sophisticated on-line tools and techniques are not going to want to revert to chalk and talk in a school classroom. Teaching, particularly for  older students, needs to move beyond a classroom based experience. Students need to be learning out in the world, supported by teams of teachers with access to technology. The teachers need to be supported on-line as well.

Participation in VET Predicted to Drop to 1.4% by 2030

Projected participation
by Noonan and Pilcher (2018).
Participation in Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia is predicted to drop from the current 4.3% to 1.4% by 2030, while university participation is expected to remain at the current 4.9% of the population. This is in a recent study by Noonan and Pilcher (2018) from the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

The study has some limitations. One is that while noting postgraduate qualifications "are increasingly required for entry to many professions" they are not included in the study (Noonan & Pilcher, p. 4, 2018). A limitation not noted by the authors is that they have assumed other sub-degree qualifications (certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas) are only offered by the VET sector. I suggest there is likely to be increasing use of sub-degree university qualifications, as a way for government and students to stretch the education budget.

The study assumes that current government policies and practices are unchanged. This is unlikely as the current situation is unsustainable. The VET sector is in a state of near collapse, due to state and federal mismanagement. University budgets are being propped up by international student fees which could come to an end at any time.


P. Noonan and S. Pilcher, Participation in tertiary education in Australia: Modelling and scenario analysis,
Mitchell Institute, 2018. URL

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Marketing Techniques from Contract Cheating Websites Can Help Students

Rowland, Slade, Wong and Whiting (2018) looked at what attracts students to websites offering to write their assignments for them (so called contract cheating websites). The authors found that contract cheating websites had similar features to a typical website for a hotel. They found differences with the contract cheating websites emphasizing quality: qualifications of their authors, quality of the results, security, price, timeliness,  confidentiality and satisfaction. Rather than a hotel, perhaps the authors should have used a dating website for comparison, where more trust is required by the client.
The way for institutions to counter the attraction of contract cheating, I suggest, is to use similar marketing on student support websites. Institutions might want to set up, or sponsor, semi-independent help sites, so students feel it is not more of the same from the institution.

It would also be useful for institutions to design courses using on-line distance education techniques. The idea is to provide students a course in small increments, with feedback and support. This way a student sees what they have to do and receive small rewards, in the form of grades, for doing it. Students who do not do the small exercises on-time and to the required standard can be quickly identified by instructors and offered help, before a major hurdle is reached. This way a student will not be left languishing at the back of the class for most of a semester, then be tempted to cheat to pass a major assessment exercise.
The student who does try to cheat on a major assignment will be easier to identify as this will not be consistent with their past work. Students will know that their instructor knows, from the feedback they get and so they will know they are likely to be caught cheating. I use this approach in the course "ICT Sustainability".


Rowland, S., Slade, C., Wong, K. S., & Whiting, B. (2018). ‘Just turn to us’: the persuasive features of contract cheating websites. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(4), 652-665. URL

Australian University Campuses Are Not Too Large

In "Rise of the monster campus devouring uni communities" (The Australian, 18 April 2018), Geoff Hanmer, Managing Director of ARINA suggests the ideal university campus has 10,000 to 20,000 students. He cautions Australia has too many large campuses and points out the average US four-year college has less than 5,000 students, whereas the median for Australian universities is over 20,000.

I agree that large university campuses can be overwhelming.  But where the university blends with the city, as it does in Oxford, Cambridge, Melbourne and Canberra, a large university can add to a vibrant urban culture.

Australia doesn't have many small US style colleges, as government regulations and international market don't encourage them. The regulations make it difficult to set up a non-university tertiary institution and the market makes it hard to sell such an institution to an international market.

Hanmer points out that smaller campuses have higher Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) scores. However, universities use their research ranking to market to students and those rankings favor the large institutions. Students are not very interested in teaching quality when looking for an institution. After enrolling and discovering that a research reputation doesn't equate good teaching, it is too late to change.

In any case, the move to on-line education is resulting in student numbers being decoupled from campus size. My rule of thumb is that the average student needs to do 20% of their studies on campus. A university with one campus can have 50,000 to 100,000 full time equivalent students enrolled and still be in Hanmer's "sweet spot". Only one fifth of these students would be on campus at the same time.

It should be noted that one of Australia's largest universities already has 60,000 students and no campus. This is the Open Universities Australia on-line consortium of institutions.

Post-ac: Career Outside Academia for Graduate Students

The Australian National University(ANU) was awarded a Trade Mark for the word POSTAC (Number 1872576) on
19 April 2018). This comes out of research by Mewburn, Suominen and Grant (2017) on using Artificial Intelligence to read job ads and look for those requiring high level research skills.

The term post-ac is defined by Struve (2017) as an abbreviation for post-academic career: "any career outside of academia altogether" (citing Sayre, Brunner, Croxall & McGinn, 2015). Struve (2017) contrasts this with alt-ac: alternative academic careers in higher education, outside the traditional tenure-track teaching and research. Struve (p. 192, 2017) note:
"Most faculty members are ill-equipped to advise on alt-ac or post-ac career paths, assuming they are open to the possibility of their students pursuing a career other than a typical tenure-track position."
Higgins and Daniels (p. 238, 2015) attributes the popular use of the hastag "#postac" to a blog by Pan and Roberts started in 2011 (and that is the oldest reference to the term I could find in the literature). Pan and Roberts refer to "... practical ways the skills we gained as underpaid, overeducated academics might translate to other professions".

However, I suggest this, and most discussion of the relevance of a research degree to non-academic employment, suffers from a fundamental flaw. Discussion of the suitability of doctoral degrees for employment assume that the student is undertaking a research degree (commonly referred to as a "PhD"). It is also assumed that such students should reasonably expect to find long term employment in academia, or in a research position in industry.

However, not all doctoral degrees are focused on training research specialists. Australia recognizes this by having a second form of Doctoral Degree: Professional (commonly referred to as a "Doctor of discipline"). This requires research skills, but is intended for more practical application outside academia and research organizations. Also there is plenty of literature making it abundantly clear to doctoral students that, outside a few areas, their chances of employment in academia or research are minimal.

Encouraging students to undertake a Professional Degree, in preference to a PhD, would solve many of the problems around employment of graduates. The student would receive an education designed to provide skills and knowledge relevant to a job in a discipline. 

However, I suggest even those few undertaking a PhD and destined for a career in academia need more than just research training. University academics will spend a considerable part of their time teaching, supervising staff, making presentations to funders and administration. These are all skills not normally covered in a PhD, especially if the student spends their days working alone in the lab and only occasionally seeing their supervisor. I suggest that these skills should be included in the PhD curriculum, assessed by an e-portfolio and with formal coursework offered to the student. It should not be assumed the student will pick up these skills somehow thought extra-curricular activities.

This will result in a PhD looking not that much different to a professional doctorate. The PhD will learn in a group of students, not alone and have a team of instructors with qualifications in communications, teaching and project management, to work alongside the discipline supervisors. A benefit of this approach will be that the high rates of stress and mental illness amongst PhD students should be able to be addressed. It should also lessen the frustration and stress for PhD supervisors.


Higgins, S. C., & Daniels, M. (2015). Alternative Academics: Moving beyond the Academy. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies, 3(3), 238-246. URL
Mewburn, I., Suominen, H. & Grant, W. (2017, August). Tracking Trends in Industry Demand for Australia's Advanced Research Workforce, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), ANU. URL

Struve, L. E. (2017). Tenure-track, alt-ac, or post-ac: understanding career choice for women doctoral students in the social sciences (Doctoral dissertation).

Data Drives the Smart City

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Australian National University (ANU) are holding a half day event on "Data Drives the Smart City", in Melbourne 7 May, Canberra 8 May and Sydney 10 May, 2018.
"The half day conference will explore the challenges and progress made in the technology and underpinning standards framework needed to enable smart cities. You will hear from leading experts in the field on how challenges are being tackled. ...
Our world is increasingly being shaped by the vast amount of data being produced in every aspect of our lives. As more devices get connected through the Internet of Things (IoT), harnessing big data in an integrated way can offer valuable insights that can help achieve smart city goals. This comes with important and interesting challenges to solve in order to actualise the smart city vision.Challenges include data collection, integration and privacy.
Topics to be addressed include perspectives from Government, tech industry leadership, Web standards for spatial data and city sensing, technical solutions to privacy management, and smart grid futures. A panel session will discuss capacity building for smart cities.
Speakers include Dr Ian Oppermann (NSW Chief Data Scientist), Dr Ole Nielsen (ACT Chief Digital Officer), J. Alan Bird (W3C Global Business Development Lead), Dr Mukesh Mohania (IBM Distinguished Engineer in IBM Research), Dr David Hyland-Wood (Blockchain Protocol Architect, Consensys), Dr Lachlan Blackhall (Entrepreneurial Fellow and Head, Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program), Dr Kerry Taylor (Chair, W3C Spatial Data on the Web), Dr Peter Christen (Professor, Data Mining and Matching, ANU), and Dr Armin Haller (W3C Office Manager, ANU)."


Thursday, April 19, 2018

ASSURED Innovation to Remove Inequality in India

Greetings from the Australian National University, where Dr R A Mashelkar, Chairman of India's National Innovation Foundation is presenting the 2018 K.R. Narayanan Oration. Dr R A Mashelkar's topic is Dismantling Inequality Through Assured Innovation. He started by drawing parallels with K.R. Narayanan's early life, both walking barefoot to school and then receiving a Tata scholarship. He pointed out the Tata Trust dates from 1892 and predates many other such foundations.  He described this as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 1.0 and propose CSR 2.0.

Dr Mashelkar described CSR 2.0 as frugal, functional, but high quality approach and used the acronym ASSURED:
  •  A (Affordable), 
  • S (Scalable), 
  • S (Sustainable), 
  • U (User friendly), 
  • R (Rapid), 
  • E (Excellent) and 
  • D (Distinctive).
Dr Mashelkarthen showed a table assesing failed technology products assessed against each ASSURED criterion. As an example, he suggested Google Glass failed on all criteria, except Excellence and Distinctiveness.

While new technologies follow a lowering cost curve (similar to More's law), Dr Mashelkarthen pointed out that the rate needs to accelerate. He pointed out that cataract surgery had become 100 times cheaper, while maintaining quality, due to work-flow innovation in India.

Dr Mashelkarthen proposed three Mantras to accelerate innovation:
  1. Pole-vaulting: For this the example of India's increase in the use of broadband data was given. This was attributed to India's Aadhaar identity card and low cost 4g mobile broadband. I didn't quite understand how this worked, but it seems to be the provision of mobile banking to the poor.
  2. Next Practice: The example of a lead-less credit card size hearth monitor connected to a smart phone. The idea seems to be that the low cost sensor can be used by the patient at home, with their smart phone sending readings to the hospital. 
  3. Disruptive Innovation:Unlike a typical innovation presentation, Dr Mashelkar gave an example of an Indian product which failed: the Simputer. However, its American equivalent, the OLPC also failed (I purchased one of the remaindered OLPC tablet computers on
The last question to Dr Mashelkar was how to cultivate innovation in Indian education. He suggested starting with schools and pointed out this is about culture, not just new school buildings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

ePortfolios to capture students work-ready skills

I will be speaking on "Using an ePortfolio to capture students’ skill sets to align to workplace" at the Higher Education Leaders Congress, as part of Edutech 2018, in Sydney, 2pm, 8 June in Sydney:

  • "Discover innovative education techniques to teach students how to better communicate with employers and people
  • Learn how to build your students confidence and capture their skills set to become more job ready
  • Discover how to provide formal postgraduate education to students in their workplaces via mobile devices"

Teaching students to communicate with employers

There is one simple way to teach students to communicate with employers: get them to practice communicating with employers and assess them on this. Students can practice with written and face-to-face presentations. One overlooked aspect is remote communications. Recently one of my teams said their client would be overseas, so the could not have meetings only email. I pointed out that it was possible to have a "meeting", by email, providing the discussion was suitably structured and documented. The documentation is not just a copy of all the emails, but an agenda beforehand and a set of minutes with what was discussed and what was decided after.

Build your students confidence

Confidence comes from practicing a skill, under more difficult and realistic circumstances. With one team of students I had only just met I warned them they had to be ready to pitch at any time. A few minutes later a venture capitalist came up and said "tell me about your project". The team got through this encounter and that built their confidence.

Capture their skills set to become more job ready

The student has decide what would be of interest to a prospective employer. The more relevant and real-world the better.

Formal postgraduate education in the workplace

Once academics get used to the idea that they don't have to give "lectures", delivering university education on-line becomes relatively simple. Postgraduate education to students who have jobs is even easier. Graduate students have more maturity and are focused on achieving results at university. Courses can be redesigned to first identify what knowledge and skills the student has to demonstrate, then provide ways they can do that through practical exercises, ideally involving they day job. Lastly the student can be provided with course notes, videos\, quizzes and the rest of the educational paraphernalia, to support the leaning.

via mobile devices

Educational applications, including e-portfolio tools and learning management systems, now support mobile devices. The course designer doesn't have to use any special software, they just have to remember to divide the content into reasonably small chunks for the mobile user. Keep in mind the student will not be sitting in a silent room for an hour or more, they will be on a noisy bus with a few minutes to spare.

More Thoughts

The idea of a portfolio, being a collection of samples of work by an artist is not a new one. An e-portfolio is just an electronic version of this: being a collection of digital artifacts from the student to show an examiner and prospective employers.

There are specialized applications to help with producing a portfolio, such as Mahara. These are especially useful where a student uses the portfolio as part of showing evidence of skills and knowledge as part of a formal program. The software to help ensure that the student has met all requirements. This may be also useful where an employer has very detailed job requirements.

However, what is of interest to a university examiner is unlikely to be of much interest to an employer. What an employer wants to know is if the applicant can do the job. This is best demonstrated by evidence of the applicant having already done the job, or something similar.

As an example, in the ANU Techlauncher program I tutor teams of students who have to produce something (usually software) for a client. The client may be a start-up, a government agency or a company. The last assessment task for the program is an application for a job, which details how what the student did for the project is relevant to that job.