Thursday, January 25, 2018

Teaching Computer Professionals to Teach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

WA Government Reversed Decision to Close Schools of the Air

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Higher education and Research is Canberra’s Largest Export Industry

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Online Course for Fostering Student Wellbeing

A free online short course in "Fostering student wellbeing in your teaching practice" is being offered by the Australian National University. The course is lead by Alexandra Culloden, Wellbeing Project Coordinator . The course from 22 to 24 January taking only 15 minutes per day (reading, videos and on-line discussion). This is one of a series of "Coffee Courses" intended to take the student as much time as to drink a coffee each day.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Papers, papers everywhere, but not a lot to read

I spent the morning sifting though one hundred papers published in the last year on "ICT Sustainability". I found three of interest: "ICT and environmental sustainability"  (Hign, Gholami and Shirazi, 2017), "ICT Reduces National Carbon Emissions?" (Wagner, 2017) and  "Online Educaiton Reduces Carbon Emissions" (Versteijlen, Salgado, Groesbeek and Counotte, 2017).

There were about a dozen more papers which looked interesting, but I could not locate the full text of, despite having access to the library at a world leading university. There were many other papers where the grammar of the article was so hard to follow it was difficult to work out what the author was trying to say. Then there were the bulk of papers which did not seem to be saying much at all, at least nothing new.

One thing which would help such a search would be the ability to limit it to open access publications. Unfortunately, Google Scholar does not appear to have this option. Adding the phrase "open access" to the search doesn't really help: some papers are open access, but others are about open access and others are from a publisher which mentions other papers are (but no the one cited). A search using a specialized open access search tool "OAIster"  resulted in only eighteen papers on ICT sustainability for 2017. Of these eighteen papers there were five of interest, but three had no link to download and two were behind paywalls of for-profit publishers (thus not open access). The publications which appear to be most readily available are Masters theses from European open universities.


An Hign, D., Gholami, R., & Shirazi, F. (2017). ICT and environmental sustainability. Telematics and Informatics, 34(4), 85-95. URL

Versteijlen, M., Salgado, F. P., Groesbeek, M. J., & Counotte, A. (2017). Pros and cons of online education as a measure to reduce carbon emissions in higher education in the Netherlands. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 28, 80-89. URL
Wagner, K. C. (2017). Towards a Green Global Golden Age?: ICT enabled cornucopian sustainability and a suggestion for its reform. Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science. URL

ICT Reduces National Carbon Emissions?

Hign, Gholami and Shirazi (2017) found an inverted U shaped relationship between ICT and carbon emissions between countries. The researchers  used an ICT Index, made up of telephone subscribers (both fixed and mobile), PCs and Internet use. They mapped this against carbon emissions for difference countries. At first emissions increase with ICT, but this then plateaus and then reduces. The authors conclude that "... sustainable environment may be linked to greater development of ICT ...". Of course it may be that use of ICT is just a side-effect and this is not a causal relationship. That is, it may be that as people get richer they can afford to use ICT more. On the other hand it may be that the reduction in the cost of ICT, with widespread access to broadband and smart phones in developing nations can reduce energy use.

Wagner's masters thesis (2017) explores the concept of a "Green Global Golden Age", where ICT decouples development from resource use. The author poits out that, not surprisingly, it is not that simple:  ICT can address social issues, as well as simply increasing material needs. ICT may not be able to simply substitute for material goods and in some cases social means may be a better option for improving wellbeing.


An Hign, D., Gholami, R., & Shirazi, F. (2017). ICT and environmental sustainability. Telematics and Informatics, 34(4), 85-95. URL

Wagner, K. C. (2017). Towards a Green Global Golden Age?: ICT enabled cornucopian sustainability and a suggestion for its reform. Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science. URL

Online Education Reduces Carbon Emissions

Versteijlen, Salgado, Groesbeek and Counotte (2017) looked at if online education reduces carbon emissions. It may seem obvious that if students don't have to travel to a campus and don't use a classroom, then their energy use and so carbon emissions would be reduced. But as the researchers point out, energy and emissions at home may increase. Also if students still have to attend a few courses a long way from campus (in the extreme case international students fly from country to country) this can offset daily travel savings. However the analysis concluded that student travel was between 40 and 90 percent of all emissions for Dutch universities.

The authors point out that online education is not the only alternative and students can be encouraged to use public transport. Surprisingly, despite it reputation for the use of public transport, emissions from student travel in the Netherlands were much the same as the US. Another point made was that staff need training in how to provide development of online education.

Australian National University is now accepting enrollments in my course "ICT Sustainability" (COMP7310), commencing in February. Already I have a small segment to the course on "Are Bitcoin and Blockchain Bad for the Environment?". But I though I should have a look at what else has happened in the field since the course was last run.This is the first paper I looked at. More to come.


Versteijlen, M., Salgado, F. P., Groesbeek, M. J., & Counotte, A. (2017). Pros and cons of online education as a measure to reduce carbon emissions in higher education in the Netherlands. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 28, 80-89. URL

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sky-high Student Accommodation in Brisbane

Student One Wharf Street: artist's impression of common area
Student One Wharf Street is offering what is claimed to be the "... world’s tallest purpose-built student accommodation building" in Brisbane. Built for 753 residents on 41 floors, there are from single apartments, up to five bedrooms, plus communal facilities. Architect Arkhefield,  included terraces, pool,meeting rooms and laundry facilities.

Student One has three student buildings in the Brisbane CBD. If there is a reduction in demand for international student places (I expect this to drop over the next few years as China builds its university sector), these could provide low cost accommodation for non-students looking for a semi-communal lifestyle.

Being a Mature Age University Student: 2011 to 2017

Tom Worthington in academic regalia with his Master of Education in Distance Education, awarded by Athabasca University (Canada), 18 January 2017
Recently I was asked about studying as a mature age student. What inspired me was that as someone teaching at a university in 2011 I was required to undertake a short free course in how to teach. After that I enrolled in the six month follow-on certificate. I ended up completing half at my campus in a classroom and half on-line through another institution.  Seeing the benefits of learning to teach (it made teaching much easier and less stressful) and because of my interest in distance education, I enrolled in Athabasca University's on-line Masters of Education in Distance Education in 2013 and completed in late 2017.  I documented the experience, starting on day 1 in 2011, up to 2017: