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.