Monday, December 30, 2013

Students Want a Library Not a Learning Commons

A study by Nicole Kay Peterson at Iowa State University challenges the idea that students was a lively learning commons for group activities. "Role of the university library as a student learning commons: Implications to the interior spaces within" (2013), suggests students want the attributes of a traditional university library, with quiet individual study spaces, but with power points to charge their gadgets.

The study gives a useful way to think about developing student spaces and has examples of new room layouts and furniture. However, the study concentrated on residential university undergraduates and the findings may not apply to students who live off campus. On-campus students presumably have other places they can meet with fellow students. Part-time and postgraduate students may have more need for group meeting places, as they may not see fellow students outside class and also may feel more need (and be better equipped) to work in groups. Also the study asked students what they wanted, which may not necessarily be the same as what students need.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Levels of Responsibility

In "Four Stages of Contribution: How to Achieve Greater Impact and Influence on the Job", Kurt Sandholtz defines four levels of the sophistication of employee's work:
The Skills Framework for the Information Age defines seven Levels of responsibility for ICT professionals:
  1. Follow
  2. Assist
  3. Apply
  4. Enable
  5. Ensure and advise
  6. Initiate and influence
  7. Set strategy, inspire, and mobilise
The ICT courses I design are part of programs accredited using SFIA, so I have to align my assessment with these levels. As an example, "ICT Sustainability" is intended to align at SFIIA Level 5.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Higher Education and Economic Development

Eugene P. Traniand  Robert D. Holsworth's book "The Indispensable University: Higher Education, Economic Development, and the Knowledge Economy" (, American Council on Education Series on Higher Education, 2010), argues that universities can bring about economic development in the region they are located through policies to link with industry. This hardly a new idea and the authors cite numerous sources, including in their first chapter, my summary of "The Cambridge Phenomenon". As discussed in "Building Arcadia: Emulating Cambridge's High Technology Success", building a technology park beside a university, or attracting a major company R&D facility to a campus will not necessarily result in innovation.  The authors look in depth at how to bring about such innovation.

Hongyun Meng's 2001 thesis "Fostering the Digital Economy: Perspectives for Internet Clustering" looks at the sharing of resources, infrastructures and social capital around universities. Meng points out that while “The Cambridge Phenomenon” produced considerable research spin-offs, the companies around Cambridge University were less successful with transition from research to development, perhaps because the university academics were not so interested or experienced in this.

Meng summarises important factors for innovation (in this case for internet clusters) as:

Presence of Resources

  • Initial shortage of key resources in most clusters
  • Two major ways for overcoming the shortage:
  1. Local generation and accumulation
  2. Getting in from outside

Potential components of networks

  • Local presence of universities
  • Varieties of companies, especially co-existence of large and small companies
  • Intermediary organizations

 Structure of Networks

  •  Active involvement of universities in local business networks
  • Local horizontal ties of companies
  • Focal points of resources

Labor Movement

  • High labor mobility

Friday, December 20, 2013

First Australian National University Open Online Courses

The Australian National University has opened enrolments for its first two edX Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on India and astrophysics. Students can "audit" the course for free, or pay $US50 for a Verified Certificate of Achievement.
  • Engaging India (ANU-INDIA1x) with Dr McComas Taylor, 15 April 2014:
    This course offers an overview of contemporary India and explores its role as one of the dominant economic and military powers of Asia. We begin with a discussion on India as a multilingual society.  The entire course will be available in both English and Hindi. ... Watch the Engaging India Video.
  • Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe, (ANU-ASTRO1x), with Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schimdt, starts 25 March 2014 (): Despite spectacular recent progress, there is still a lot we don't know about our universe. We don't know why the Big Bang happened. We don't know what most of the universe is made of. We don't know whether there is life in space. We don't know how planets form, how black holes get so big, or where the first stars have gone. This course will take you through nine of the greatest unsolved problems of modern astrophysics. We can't promise you the answers, but we will explain what we do and don't know, and give you an up-to-date understanding of current research. This course is designed for people who would like to get a deeper understanding of these mysteries than that offered by popular science articles and shows. ... Whatch the astrophysics video.
The ANU has issued a call for expressions of interest to produce further MOOC courses. I am submitting a proposal to turn the award winning on-line course "ICT Sustainability" which I have been running at ANU since 2009 into a MOOC. My course notes are already available in an open access form online and the course already includes exercises for class discussion. I would need to add some audiovisual material and interactive quizzes. Also the method of conducting group discussions would need to be rethought to0 cope with thousands, rather than dozens of students:

Technology and Sustainability cMOOC

Computers and telecommunications have been a boon to industry and culture, but at a cost. A significant proportion of industrial pollution today is caused by making, running and scraping computers and smart phones. Learn about the problem and how you can help solve it. This is a "constructivist" cMOOC, with an emphasis on the students learning from each other, assisted by experts. The course is based on "ICT Sustainability" designed by award winning technology educator Tom Worthington and offered online at ANU since 2009.
The Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur,  Athabasca University Canada and the National Institute of Bank Management in India recently ran a successful cMOOC course on “Mobiles for Development” (which is reported to have gone well). Interesting, rather than a specialised MOOC software, they used the same Sakai open source Learning management System as used for conventional e-learning courses. Mt ICT Sustainability course is implemented in Moodle, which is similar to Sakai. Moodle and Sakai are usually used with courses having hundreds of students. It would be interesting to see if they scale to thousands or hundreds of thousands of students.
ps: For a sceptical overview of MOOCs I recommend Sir John Daniel's "Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility" (2012).

Is Torrens University Australia's First On-line Unviersity?

Professor Jim Barber, UNE Vice-Chancellor is  reported to have been advocating changes to government regulations to allow on-line universities to be established in Australia. Professor Barber announced that The University of New England will not charge on-line students a Student Services and Amenities Fee from 2014, but feels the regulations limit more changes. However, Torrens University Australia, as Australia's second private university seems to be primarly an on-line institution. An analysis of how it was able to meet the Australian university regulatory requirements could be useful for existing institutions which want to transition to on-line mode, as well as potential new universities.

Torrens University Australia was admitted to the Australian National Register of higher education providers in July 2012, as an "Australian University" and authorised to self-accredit courses.

Torrens was recognised by the South Australian parliament in the "TORRENS UNIVERSITY AUSTRALIA ACT 2013", with a campus in South Australia. The act is very short as most of the oversight of universities in Australia is now done by the Commonwealth Government. While Torrens has a campus in SA, there appear to be no requirement for the university to actually undertake administration, teaching or research at that campus, or anywhere else in Australia.

As described in their Study Assist entry, Torrens is part of Laureate International Universities, which provides "international" education online to 800,000 students. There appears to be no requirement under SA or Australian law for Torrens to employ a set number of administrative, teaching or research staff in Australia, or to conduct any of the administration, teaching or research in Australia. The SA Minister for Education's media release mentions Torres has "... plans for significant investment in higher education in Australia", but no funding amount or staffing figure is mentioned. However Torrens did advertise for a full time Associate Professor in September 2013, as well as a Lecturer in Education Project Management and a Learning Resources Coordinator., and a Student Administration Manager. A search of Torrens Staff on LinkedIn resulted in only eight: Vice-Chancellor, Assistant Professor - Business (Project Management), Academic Director, Lecturer - Business, Enrolment Advisor, Student Administration Manager and a Coordinator of IT Services. In comparison, LinkedIn lists 3,416 current staff for the University of Adelaide, which has 25,000 students. Torrens may need to employ only one hundredth the number of staff in Australia as a conventional university, for the same number of students.

As noted in the Explanatory Statement, the Minister for Education decided not to conduct any consultation before approving Torrens, as they did not think it restrict competition. This could be a useful precedent to cite for others wishing to set up on-line universities.

Torrens appears to have had some difficulty meeting the requirement that all Australian universities deliver both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in at least three fields, including Masters and Doctoral Degrees by Research and also do research in those fields. Torrens gave an undertaking to commence on undergraduate degree (in Commerce) and postgraduate research degrees in Management and Commerce, Health and Education, by January 2014 and undergraduate degrees in the other fields by 2015. There appears to be no separate undertaking to do research in those fields, but perhaps the Tertiary Education Quality and
Standards Agency (TEQSA) thought the research undertaken by the Masters and PHD students would be sufficient.

It may seem surprising that TEQSA would accredit a university which does not currently meet the standards. However it seems reasonable that a new institution should be given some time to work up its teaching and research programs.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Role of For-fee Low Cost Educational Instutions

Wired magazine has an article "Pop-Up Schools Could Radically Improve Global Education" by Dayo Olopade in its December 2013 education. Normally I don't read Wired, finding it a jumble of naive enthusiasm for "new" technology which is barely distinguishable from the advertising. But this article on the Bridge International Academies was of interest. These are, from my limited reading, are non-government schools for developing nations which use a centralised Internet based administration and course materials. It would be interesting to see how much this model of education could be extended to higher level, blended mode, vocational education, perhaps using Khan Academy materials. I was only able to find about 25 papers which mention Bridge.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What is a doctoral degree?

The European Quality Link (EQUAL) has issued a position paper to clarify what is required for a doctoral degree in management. This is due to concern that Masters level qualifications were being issued using the title "Doctor" or an abbreviation which could be confused with it. The policy also emphasises research, but does not specify how much of the three year degree this is to take up.

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) has two forms of Doctoral Degree at its highest level: Doctoral Degree (Research) and Doctoral Degree (Professional). Both forms require research, but while this makes up at least two-thirds of the research degree, it is unspecified for the professional degree.

The title "Doctor" is used for both Research and Professional Doctoral Degrees. But the AQF Qualification Issuance Policy also allows the title "Doctor" to be used for Masters Degrees in medicine, physiotherapy, dentistry, optometry and veterinary practice (the people the general public normally think of as "Doctors").

Help with ALT and HEA Teaching Certification

This is to ask if there are any on-line self help, or formal on-line asynchronous courses, to assist non-UK people with applying for Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT's CMALT) and Professional Recognition by the Higher Education Academy (HEA's A/S/P/FHEA). While ALT and HEA offer some assistance to applicants, they charge only a modest amount (£150.00 each) and so applicant's can't expect much in the way of help, particularly internationally.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lecture Capture Software Survey

Julian Prior, Learning Technologist at Southampton Solent University has reported the results of a Lecture Capture Survey of mostly UK universities. Panopto was the most popular product used, followed by Echo 360. and Camtasia Relay. Most universities have their lecture capture software hosted locally and integrated with the learning management system. One area which I suggest needs to be addressed is integration of the lecture capture software with webinar software. Lecture capture software assumes that "Lectures" are being used: that is a person is addressing a group of students in the same room. The lecture capture consists of a recording of the single speaker's voice, along with visual material presented. This does not allow for more interactive on-campus experiences, where the students provide input, nor for ones where the students are distributed across multiple locations. In theory there is no reason why the webinar software, such as Blackboard, could not be used for lecture capture. Such products have additional features to also record the remote student input. 

Australian National University, where I teach, has selected Echo360 for recording lectures in lecture theaters. This will replace a bespoke system called "Digital Lecture Delivery Service" (DLD), which has been in use since 2004. So in September I dropped in for a demonstration of the new system from Jo Williams at Echo360's Perth office (the product was originally developed at UWA in Perth and then commercialized).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Increased Risk of Aircraft Collision Due to Poor RPL

An Australian Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)  report has found that the use of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) increased the risk of collisions between aircraft by having Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) who were not properly trained. RPL allows a student to be certified based on past experience or studies. This saves time and money by not requiring the student to undertake courses where they are already competent. However, this needs to be a carefully documented process to ensure the prior learning is equivalent and this can be shown later.  In this example, a Boeing 737 airliner was not kept the required distance from an aircraft dropping army paratroops. Fortunately in this case there was no collision and no injuries, however the ATSB report found fault with the RPL process used to certify Australian Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs). RPL was also mentioned in a previous loss of separation report concerning an Airbus A330-300, B-HLV and Boeing B737-800 in 2009. The ATSB was unable to find evidence that the controller in question had completed the required written examinations, or passed simulator testing:
Airservices’ recognition of prior learning processes did not adequately consider the variances between the ATC operating systems, traffic complexities and airspace design in the trainee’s previous overseas unit with those in Australia. In addition, the consideration of the trainee’s skill and knowledge levels relative to the Sydney operational environment could have been considered more effectively.

The trainee had not had used a computer-based ATC system before and, on return to the Sydney TCU after a 14-year absence, found the non-standard training program challenging. Their training had been interrupted due to a period of illness but there was no documented review of the training plan following the trainee’s absence due sickness, or of the occurrences in which the trainee was involved in August and November 2011. Though an OJTI is directly responsible for the safe and effective provision of ATC services when conducting training, consideration must be given to the performance of the trainee, particularly when they are involved in an incident.

Ultimately the Airservices’ checking system determined that the trainee should neither be endorsed, nor rated in the Sydney TCU. Whether the trainee might have successfully completed the training had the Airservices recognition of prior learning processes been more effective could not be established.
From page 28 of "Loss of separation involving CASA C212-CC, VH-MQD, operating in the Richmond parachuting area, and Boeing 737-7BX, VH VBP, near Richmond Aerodrome, NSW, 5 November 2011" ATSB, Investigation number: AO-2011-142, 16 December 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

UK Group Looking at Technology for Further Education

The UK Further Education Learning Technology Action Group" (FELTAG) have produced draft recommendations for comment, on the use of technology for Further Education and Skills in the UK. The term "Further Education" (FE) is used in the UK for post secondary non-university studies. This is the equivalent to Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia.

One difference between the UK and Australian systems, is that the Australian VET system is more closely aligned with university Higher Education. Also the UK seems to lack anything comparable to Australia's National VET E-learning Strategy, which provides a centrally funded pool of training, tools and content for e-learning, which can be used by all public and private VET providers. The UK could look at adopting something similar, with a Learning Design Tool (LDT), packaged e-learning content "Toolboxes", e-learning software and events for educators.

The FELTAG recommendations are grouped under "work-streams":
  1. Horizon Scanning and Context
  2. Regulation
  3. Funding
  4. Investment and Capital Infrastructure
  5. Providers Capacity & Capability
  6. Learners
  7. Employers
  8. Wildcard!
  9. Online English, Maths & ESOL
FELTAG have requested comment on:
  1. Which workstream(s) do you think are the most important to focus on to effect the agile evolution of the FE sector in anticipation of disruptive technology, for the benefit of learners, employers & the UK economy as a whole?
  2. Which recommendations would you change and how?
  3. Building on the draft recommendations, or proposed revisions that you have made, what single change would make the biggest difference to you or your organisation?
  4. Are there examples, issues or evidence that you feel FELTAG has overlooked and should consider in its recommendations?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Do Students Select a Unviersity Based on Rankings?

Last week I attended a conference in Sydney on the "Student Experience". Many Pro and Deputy Vice Chancellors spent two days discussing how to have happier students and increase experience rankings. But does any of this have an effect on which university the student chooses?

Torben Drewes and Christopher Michael, found that Canadan domestic students choose a university which is close to home, has scholarships and good teaching, extra-curricular student services and small classes. The found research activity put off students. But it is not clear if these also apply to international students.

Rahul Choudaha suggests that international students select which country to study in based on income of destination country.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Optus SydEduTech Pitchfest

Greetings from the "Optus SydEduTech Pitchfest" at the UTS Business School in Sydney. This is being streamed live. In his welcome, Professor Roy Green, head of the Business School at UTS, commented on the announcement of the end of Holden car making in Australia. He called for work on micro-national startup companies. As an example, he pointed to the "creative precinct" which is growing up around UTS, in Ultimo in Sydney.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MOOCs and Science Education

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where "Teachers to the Node: Rethinking Science Education in the Digital Era" is being held. This is in conjunction with Inspiring Australia. There is a live webcast from 6pm (AEST).

Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt presented the case for MOOCs. He is preparing an ANU MOOC on astrophysics, for general release in 2014. This is intended to, in particular, give school students a useful introduction to the topic. Professor Schmidt argued that the software was superior to that used for traditional on-line learning (in the case of ANU this is Moodle). Also he explained that while he could not answer individual questions from thousands of MOOC students, in a large university course normally the graduate students tutor the undergraduates.

Professor Schmidt has previously proposed limiting tutorials to 15 students. Clearly this is not feasible for a MOOC, with hundreds of thousands of students. I assume such tutorial groups will only be available to students who enroll in a closed course, which could use some materials from the MOOC, but is not open to everyone.

The invitation for this event claimed that "Increasingly, Australian universities are rethinking the delivery of their educational programs by making the foray into MOOCs to complement existing face-to-face courses". But I don't believe this is a good strategy. Universities should concentrate on re-skilling their staff and re-equipping to deliver for-fee on-line and blended courses. A limited number of free on-line courses could be used to help to promote the for-fee courses, as ANU is doing, but this should not distract universities from the necessity to move all their courses, at least in part, on-line.

Australian universities have, perhaps at most, five years to flip their teaching to primarily on-line format, if they wish to remain in business. MOOCs may be a dangerous distraction from this harsh reality.

Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) are a form of distance education. MOOCs are an adaption of on-line education techniques, which have existed for more than a decade. The preliminary results from the MOOC Research Initiative (founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), confirm that MOOCs do not tell us anything new about how students learn on-line. As with any course, unless students are engaged, they rapidly loose interest. Few students ever finish a MOOC, in contrast to conventional on-line courses, where the completion rate is similar to face-to-face delivery. MOOCs are a distraction from the future of higher education, which is with smaller, for-fee on-line courses, supplemented by classroom tuition.

For at least one hundred years universities have offered extension programs, where the general public could have an introductory university experience at no, or low, cost. These initiatives have a checkered history, with confusion as to the aims and uncertain funding to maintain them. MOOCs are will experience the same boom and bust, with the bust likely in the next six months. Only a few of the organizations being set up to provide MOOCs will be in existence a year from now. Some universities may also go out of business as a result of betting their future on MOOCs, more will suffer from having failed to put the investment needed in conventional e-learning.

I suggest that institutions should not be distracted by the idea that somehow creating free on-line courses will attract students to conventional for-fee on-campus courses. The opposite is more likely, with students doing the free MOOC and then enrolling in a cheaper, better on-line course elsewhere.

Institutions should not assume that creating MOOCs will result in an enthusiasm for, and expertise in, on-line course creation to spread amongst their academic staff. Staff will object to resources being diverted into what they see as courses of questionable academic rigor and thus harden their resistance to any form of on-line courses. Institutions need to invest in the capability of creating on-line courses which work with the academic traditions, not against them and are both educationally and financially viable.

Education systems should not fall into the trap of assuming that someone else will create free MOOC content for them, which they can use to lower costs. Those MOOC providers who are likely to survive in the long term are putting in place revenue streams to make MOOCs profitable. While the basic MOOC make be free, to be educationally useful the student, or the educational system they are part, of will have to purchase optional "extras", such as tuition and certification. Institutions may be able to add their own tuition and certification to some one else's MOOC, but they will then be competing with the MOOC provider for the student's dollar and in a downward spiral to the lowest cost course.

There is also the danger that MOOCs will distract the Australian education industry from the need to rapidly re-tool its operations for on-line education. Otherwise, within five years, Australian university education will not be a viable industry, unable to compete for domestic or international students. The only remaining domestic universities will be a few concentrating on high level research and some satellite campuses of international on-line institutions of the minimum  size needed to meet government registration requirements.

Helping Students with Self Directed Learning

Greetings from the University of Canberra where I am workshop a seminar on self-directed learning by Maria Northcote at Avondale College. She is talking about how to foster research for academic staff who previously mainly did teaching.One tool uses is "MOOBRIC: A rubric of Moodle skills and knowledge". She mentioned heutagogy, a term from Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon, for self-directed learning, but expressed some skepticism that it is at the top a strict hierarchy with pedagogy (teaching children), androgogy (adult learning) below.

ANU to Use Specialist Company to Prepare Students for University

The Australian National University (ANU) has   partnered with company Study Group to prepare students for university. The Australian newspaper reported the sale of "ANU College" to Study Group on 25 November 2013. The College offers two programs to help students meet university requirements. Courses are offered in Academic English, Computer Applications and six academic content subjects. This is primarily intended for international students. Courses are offered on the ANU campus in Canberra. However, I suggest that this form of preparation could be equally effectively be carried out on-line. Such courses would benefit domestic as well as international students. Recently I completed a short on-line familiarization course before commencing some students at a university in North America.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lower Fees for On-line Students at University of New England

The University of New England has announced that it will not charge on-line students a Student Services and Amenities Fee from 2014. As an on-line student myself at another Australian university I found it annoying that I was paying a fee for on-campus services which I could not use. However, I don't think that such fees should be scrapped altogether, instead the university should invest in services of benefit to on-line students and charge an appropriate fee, perhaps half that for on-campus students.

Professor Jim Barber, UNE Vice-Chancellor has proposed government change regulations to allow universities to unbundle services. He argues that on-line students are currently paying for services they don't use. However, it is not clear to me why UNE what regulations are stopping UNE further unbundle its services.

According to a media report Professor Barber wants to charge students an extra fee for optional tutorials. It is not clear from the article, but I assume this is referring to face-to-face tutorials and the Professor is still proposing to provide the on-line students with an equivalent to the tutorial on-line, for no extra charge. My experience has been that if you provide a good quality on-line course, then students don't want a face-to-face tutorial. There will be a small number of students (perhaps 10% to 20%) who need extra help, but the cost of that might be better built into the course fees.

Professor Barber  also claimed that on-line students were paying for the cost of lecture halls and this was built into the government endorsed quality standards. But there is plenty of research to show that on-line education produces results at least as good as face-to-face. It seems unlikely to me that  if UNE presents evidence of the quality of their education they cannot be penalized for not investing in classroom which are not needed.

Recently I enrolled in a North American on-line university. The fees are a few hundred dollars less per subject, than for the Australian equivalent. However, I selected the institution not based on cost, but for the relevance of the program and reputation. There have been some pleasant surprises, one being that a courier delivered my textbooks several weeks before the course was due to start. I had not realized that textbooks were included. Also the university provides an informal on-line forum for students to get to know each other, as it can be very lonely being a new student (on-line or on campus).

Helping Distance Education Students Feel Part of the University

Athabasca University (AU) have an introductory course for new students, before starting their first regular course. This provides an overview of not only how the e-learning system (Moodle) works, but issues such as plagiarism. AU also have a social media platform called "The Landing" for students, which looks lively and might be worth emulating at other universities. This would help counter some of the isolation which  part time and distance students, in particular, feel. The Athabasca systesm are described in: 
Virtual Platforms at Athabasca University by Rory McGreal, Jon Dron & Evelyn Ellerman,  2012 IDRC Canadian Learning Forum on Virtual Platforms, Knowledge Management and International Development. Winnipeg, February 7-8, 2012. URL:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

University on Wheels

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney, where Professor Doug Hargreaves, Science and Engineering Faculty, QUT is speaking on "Enhancing the student experience through collaborative learning spaces".

Doug described how the new Engineering Studio and Teaching Space at Queensland University of Technology has the equipment on wheels. Gordon Howell, Manager Learning Environments Support at QUT showed me an early version of some of this equipment in 2009.

QUT has a room called "The Forum" (P419), intended for debates.This looks to me like an extravagant use of space with an inflexible design. What would be preferable is a standard, square, "TEAL room", with tables on on wheels and walls which can be projected or written on. The furniture could then be arranged to this forum format, when needed. But tables could be rearranged for group work, or a traditional lecture.

Addressing the needs of international students

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney, where Thomson Ch’ng, National President, Council of International Students Australia (CISA) is speaking on "Addressing the needs of international students to enhance their student experience". CISA was set up after in response to criticism of treatment of international students. There is a CISA Good Practice Program. One issue Thomson mentioned was the role of university agents, who help recruit international students.

Thomson pointed out that long induction presentations, with handouts, are not useful. It would seem to me obvious this should be "flipped", with the students getting the induction information on-line before they arrive and then just a question and answer when they arrive.

During this presentation it occurred to me that I am now an international student.I am enrolled in a course provided by a university in another country. Even thought I am not traveling to that country, there are some differences. One trivial difference is that my course is scheduled in what the university describes as "Winter 2014", even though for me it is high summer. While this is trivial, it would be good if the institution acknowledged its international students and used global terminology. More seriously, I don't exactly how large the course I have enrolled in is, as it is described in terms different to those used in Australian Higher Education.

Student leadership in curriculum development

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney, where Elizabeth Deane (UWS) is speaking on "Student leadership in curriculum development and reform". This is an Office of Learning and Teaching funded project, with La Trobe University, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of South Australia, University of Southern Queensland and, most interestingly, the National Union of Students.

It would seem to me that leadership skills would be part of any professional degree program. This could therefore be built into the programs. However, there would have to be a curriculum and qualified teachers.

Also before teaching university students outdated pre-Internet ways to run a university, I suggest new on-line techniques be looked at. I help organize events and run organizations with people who I hardly ever (or never) see. These use specialized on-line services and also more fluid forms of "un-conference" event.


This project addresses a key issue in Higher Education: identifying and developing valid, productive roles for student leaders, particularly important in capitalising on the capacity of the student body to contribute to strategies for improving learning, teaching and curriculum. Phase 1 will investigate institutional governance and management frameworks supporting student involvement. This will entail documenting and critiquing student roles in education-related committees, a stocktake of models of student representation and policies, processes and approaches used to gather and use student feedback. Phase 2 will involve a survey of staff and students as to the validity and effectiveness of processes used to access the student voice and act on results, particularly in relation to curriculum development and reform. This survey will identify strategies and initiatives to ensure valid student leadership roles and develop case studies for the sector. Phase 3 will workshop the findings with experienced students and staff to establish effective student leadership framework(s) and validate key recommendations.

Improving the Student Experience Online

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney. After a day and a half of presentations from university personnel, Peter Rohan from Ernst & Young, is giving a refreshing business view of higher education (E&Y issued "Universityof the future: A thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change" in 2012). He asked if investments, such as WiFi on campuses, actually is worth the cost. He suggests that providing feedback to students and taking an interest in them would better improve their experience. He also suggested the university look at what their students value.

My own experience as a student has been that at times a university may try too hard. I don;t mind a few surveys to find what I like. But at one stage I was getting a survey about every week from one university. I did not know which were important and which were not, but the surveys were detracting from my student experience, so each time I got one, I have the university a lower rating.

In my view Higher Education could usefully invest in on-line presence and in teaching skills. This not be an expensive exercise, compared to building new buildings and hiring new staff. A university is  inherently virtual, with the physical environment just to supplement the experience: it is about people and ideas.

An example of the ideas and people is when I visited Cambridge University Computer Labs. This institution is world famous for helping create the modern computer age, from building the world's second electronic computer to the world's first web cam. But when I visited the lab was in a crumbling old, cramped building (with a dinosaur skeleton in it). The old buildings are part of the Cambridge ethos (although on my next visit I found they had moved into a shiny new building next to Microsoft Research Labs). But it was the idea of the Lab which was important not the physical building.

Australasian Survey of Student Engagement

The Australian Council for Educational Research conducts the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE). This uses three surveys instruments Student Engagement Questionnaire (SEQ),  the Postgraduate Student Engagement Questionnaire (PSEQ), and Staff Student Engagement Questionnaire (SSEQ). Universities take such surveys very seriously, on the assumption that students tell the truth when filing in the survey and take notice of the results when selecting where to study.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Topping The Student Experience Survey

Greetings from the Inaugural Student Experience Conference in Sydney. Dr Richard Harvey, University of East Anglia, is speaking on his university's
Rise to the top of the The Student Experience Survey. University of East Anglia was established in the 1960s. Richard commented that the UK higher education system went wrong in the 1980s. In particular he criticized the national ranking of research, which forced some researchers into teaching. East Anglia is a center for climate changed research and was embroiled in controversy over "Climategate". He showed a university "league table" graph comparing his own university with the "Russell Group" (which appears to be the UK equivalent of Australia's Group of Eight, leading universities). He also showed the National Student Survey (NSS), Student Barometer and the Times Education Supplement Student Experience Survey. The survey I find of interest is the Webometrics, which ranks the quality of the university's web presence. The interesting point about the web rankings is that they correlate closely with other more general university rankings.

Richard looked at the NSS in detail. He pointed that that the criteria would not be welcomed by some at universities, as for example, library facilities are not a priority. He pointed out that scores for feedback on students were "remarkably poor" for UK institutions. He suggested universities needed at most a five day turnaround for student feedback.

Richard also pointed out that student satisfaction differs by discipline and nationality. He suggested that this needs to be addressed. But some effects are correlations, rather than causal relationships (such as graduate employment rate being caused by quality of courses, rather than a measure of it).

Richard commented that more attention needed to be paid to the postgraduate experience. I will speak on this a little in my presentation at 3:40pm on "MOOCs and the Student Experience" (see program for other speakers).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Two Books on Learning to Teach On-line

Recently I enrolled in a postgraduate course in on-line teaching. This does not start until early 2014, so I decided to get a head-start by reading the textbooks. One of the surprises for many is that on-line courses still have textbooks. In this case one book "The Theory and Practice of Online Learning" (Terry Anderson, second edition, AU Press, 2008) is available as a paperback, as an eBook for purchase and also as a free PDF download (under a Creative Commons license). The free PDF version is very well formatted and much easier to read that the on-page-at-a-time format which some university libraries provide it in. "Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education",  (Michael Simonson, Sharon E. Smaldino, Michael Albright, Susan Zvacek, Fifth Edition, Pearson, 2011) is only available as a paperback.

These two books cover the same topic in very different styles. Terry Anderson is a Professor in Distance Education at Athabasca University (Canada). The book is intended for postgraduate students of education and this shows in the writing, which can be at times a little too academic. The book is well formatted, with just black text on a white background and a few diagrams and photos. The look of the book is a little austere, but a benefit is that it is very usable in the free PDF version (I was even able to convert it to an audio book, using a synthetic speech program).

Michael Simonson is a Professor of Instructional Technology & Distance Education at Nova Southeastern University (USA). The book is aimed at school teachers, as well university lecturers and so the writing uses simpler language (while still covering some advanced topics). The book has numerous photos and diagrams, as well as shaded text sections. Some of the shading can be a problem as the book is monochrome and black text on a gray background can be hard to read.

Both books look a little dated, from the perspective of 2013. Neither book covers the recent development of MOOCs, which are challenging not only traditional face-to-face courses, but on-line ones. While there are numerous photos in Simonson's book, they are of very out of date technology, such as Cathode Ray Tube TVs. Also tele-medicine gets a significant mention, which does not seem relevant to the topic of the book (unless it is aimed at university medical schools). Some of graphic design advice provided by Simonson is intended for obsolete TV displays and should be updated for the web.

What both books do well is put on-line education in a historical context, pointing out it comes from a long history of paper based distance education and later adoption of technologies such as radio, TV telephone conferences. Also they point out that good on-line education follows the same principles as any education.

I found it very useful to read a chapter from each book in turn. For about the first half they seemed to be covering the same topics in the same order, but giving different perspectives. Anderson goes into more detail on the business of providing on-line courses, including how to cost them. This approach is reminiscent of the work of the UK Open University. Simonson

Simonson has photos and bios of the authors at the front of the book, Anderson has a brief bio of the authors at the end of each chapter, but no photos. I did not feel I was connecting with the authors in either case. Also there is the institutional aspect missing from both books. Teachers do not create courses in isolation, but in an institutional context. Anderson's book is in part a homage to Athabasca University, but how the institution works is never explored in detail. It would be interesting to compare the operation of USA and Canadian on-line institutions.

"The Theory and Practice of Online Learning" is clearly intended as readings to accompany an advanced university course and does this well (I remember reading a chapter of it in my USQ studies). "Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education", is more suited to a less advanced course and is more complete, in that it has discussion questions for each chapter. Each is a useful text on its own, but they also work well together. But both books need updating with the latest developments in MOOCs and need to cover institutional issues.

ps: Thanks to the Australian Defence Force Academy UNSW Canberra Library for the copy of "The Theory and Practice of Online Learning" and Australian Catholic University Library Canberra Campus for "Teaching and Learning at a Distance".

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Student Experience Conference in Sydney

My presentation notes for "MOOCs and the Student Experience" (and slides) for  the Inaugural Student Experience Conference (in Sydney, 4 December 2013 are available for comment. I would welcome suggestions for improvements, as well as comments.

Here is the latest program for the event:

Inaugural Student Experience Conference

4th and 5th December, Sydney


8.00 Registration and coffee
8.45 Welcome and speed networking session
9.00 Opening remarks from the Chair


9.05 International Keynote: The University of East Anglia’s rise to the top of the THE Student Experience Survey, Dr Richard Harvey, Academic Director of Admissions and Internationalisation, The University of East Anglia
9.45 International Keynote: Undertaking initiatives to improve the student experience, Professor Bernie Morley, Pro Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching), The University of Bath (via video link)


10.25 Case Study: ANU - Improving the quality of the student experience, Professor Richard Baker, Pro Vice Chancellor (Student Experience), ANU
11.10 Morning Tea


11.30 Students as customers: how far do we go in the name of ‘student satisfaction’?, Dr. Geoff Sharrock, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne


12.10 Case Study: University of Adelaide – The Student e-Experience Strategy, Professor Denise Kirkpatrick, Pro Vice Chancellor (Student Experience), The University of Adelaide
12.50 Lunch
2.00 Case Study: Utilising innovative techniques to capture student voices in the creation of viable learning and teaching futures, James Williams, Project Manager, Swinburne University
2.40 Keeping pace with the technological change at the student and staff level, Luce De Buitleir Andrews, Director, Residential and Campus Communities, The Australian National University
3.20 Afternoon Tea


3.40 The role of MOOCs within the concept of blended learning and their impact on the student experience, Tom Worthington, The Higher Education Whisperer


4.20 Case study: Curtin University – Chemistry Department: Placing the student learning experience at the centre of everything we do, Professor Simon Lewis, Director of Teaching and Learning, Department of Chemistry, Curtin University
5.00 Closing Remarks from the Chair
5.05 End of Day 1


8.00 Registration and coffee
8.46 Welcome and speed networking session
9.00 Opening remarks from the Chair,  Dr. Geoff Sharrock, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne


9.05 The student experience in a shared services environment. Dr Stephen Weller, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) and COO, Australian Catholic University and President, Association for Tertiary Education Management


9.45 Case Study: UTAS – Students as Change Agents 2014, Professor David Sadler, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Students and Education), University of
10.25 Case Study: USQ – Student Personalised Academic Road to Success (SPARS), Dr Megan Kek, Program Coordinator – Student Personalised Academic Road to Success, University of Southern Queensland
11.10 Morning Tea
11.30 University of the future – student of the future, Peter Rohan, Partner, Ernst & Young
12.10 Panel Discussion – Enhancing the interconnections between student services, course
delivery and technology: Peter Rohan, Partner, Ernst & Young; Professor Doug Hargreaves, Science and Engineering Faculty, QUT
12.50 Lunch
2.00 Case Study: Developing effective student leadership frameworks to greater enhance the student contribution toward the improvement learning, teaching and curriculum development, Professor Elizabeth Deane, Interim Head, Learning and Teaching Unit, University of Western Sydney


2.40 Addressing the needs of international students to enhance their student experience, Thomson Ch’ng, National President, Council of International Students Australia


3.20 Case Study: Enhancing the student experience through collaborative learning spaces, Professor Doug Hargreaves, Science and Engineering Faculty, QUT
4.00 Closing remarks from the Chair
4.10 End of Conference

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crowd Sourced Funding for University Research and Development

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where Scott Chamberlain, Chamberlains Law Firm is talking on "Is crowd funding an option in a university setting?". Crowdfunding uses the web to collect small donations from the public for projects, which usually have a social benefit. Scott pointed out that under Australian law is it very difficult to offer people equity participation. The USA is going to change its law to allow for this, but not Australia. So a share of the business can't be offered with crowd source funding in Australia. Also whatever might be offered in return for a contribution is subject to consumer protection law. Also if something is offered in return for money, then this might be considered the sale of goods, with tax due.

Scott also pointed out that as it is necessary to provide details of the project with the crowd-source appeal, it will be difficult to protect the intellectual property. This then suits requests for straight donations, appealing to the public to help with projects in the public interest. This can therefore be applied to research projects. The project can still offer those donating small gifts, such as an invitation to a preview, or a copy of a report.

An example from University of Canberra is postdoctoral fellow Clare Holleley, raising funding for marsupial research. Clare pointed out that the campaign needed daily attention while it was running. But she also mentioned a bonus in terms of a higher professional profile through the process.

It might be interesting to see if the cost of creating the video and quizzes for a MOOC could be funded with Crowdfunding. At a previous presentation, Matthew Benetti at expressed interest in hearing from universities interested in Crowdfunding a MOOC.

Conceptually crowd-funding is not much different from a university asking the community for donations to fund research and education, and then invite the donors to thank-you drinks. The crowd-funding services take a commission (of around 5%). It would be interesting to compare this overhead with the cost of running the philanthropic activities (such as ANU Alumni Relations and Philanthropy). Obviously where donations of millions of dollars are made by individuals, the university can afford to have considerable staff support. Also where there is an existing relationship with the university, such as alumni, then an internal on-line system can be used. ANU has a "Donate online" facility, which allows money for general purpose, or a specific project. An advantage of using the university system is that the donations are tax deductible for the donor.

What might be interesting is if the universities were to create their own crowd-funding functionality, rather than use a commercial service. This could be run on the university computer system, or outsourced to an external provider. The external provider could be a not-for-profit provider, rather than a commercial one.

If universities are mainly interested in  donations from alumni, then it might be worth using a social networking type system, rather than a crowd-funding system. The university is likely to want to offer the alumni an ongoing experience, rather than one off donation requests.

One way to get participation by alumni might be crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding of post-graduate coruses. The idea being that graduates would be asked to suggest what further education they feel they need. Then the alumni would be asked to help fund the development of such courses. The donors would be invited to contribute case studies to be used as part of the course and to be be beta-testers of the on-line version of the course.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Open2Study MOOCs Research Report

Open Universities Australia have been running free open source courses under the "Open2Study" brand for several months. They have released a series of reports on how the students went.  The latest is "Research Report October 2013" (actually released in November 2013). This 128 report is well worth reading for any educator or university administrator considering running a "MOOC". But it is doing the Open2Study courses a disservice to call them MOOCs.

From March to October 2013, Open2Study had 100,000 students in 32 courses, with a 24% completion rate (much higher than MOOC's 5 to 10%).

While these are free open and on-line, they are much smaller and more personal than the average "MOOC". As touched on in my talk at the Inaugural Student Experience Conference, 4 December 2013 in Sydney, OUA seem to have a good formula for introducing students to higher education.These courses have more of the flavor of a vocational education program, than university, which is not a bad thing.

However, what is not clear is how many of the students who undertake the free Open2Study courses then enroll in the fee paying OUA on-line courses, or conventional on-campus courses of the member organizations. It is not viable for OUA to give away free courses in competition with its fee paying ones.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MOOCs and the Student Experience

My presentation notes for "MOOCs and the Student Experience" (and slides) for  the Inaugural Student Experience Conference (in Sydney, 4 December 2013 are available for comment. I would welcome suggestions for improvements, as well as comments.
  • The Student Experience
  • MOOCs
  • xMOOCs
  • cMOOCs
  • Open Content and Blended Learning
  • MOOCs Challenging the Student Experience

SA Teachers Require Masters Degree

Media reports indicate that new teachers in South Australian schools will require a Masters degree from 2020. This seems particularly good timing for Torrens University Australia which has just started offering a Master of Education. While it has a campus in Adelaide, most of the study appears to be on-line, which would suit working teachers. Another program which looks interesting is the new CSU Master of Education in Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation. I looked at some of the other Education Programs available in Australia, but as I was interested in university teaching, I had to look outside Australia.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Examiner's meetings for Master Subthesis

Greetings from the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University in Canberra, where I am taking part in an examiner's meeting for the Master of Computing (Honours) sub-thesis. This is my first masters meeting, although I have taken part in the coursework examiners meeting previously. The students do some coursework, a presentation and a report of about 25,000 words. Two examiners, who did not supervise the students, each assess the thesis document separately, then try to come to a consensus. 

This can be a difficult process as the examiners come from different part of the computing discipline (some are academics and other from industry). After the two examiners have separately reported their proposed mark with a few paragraphs of comments, the academic in charge looks to see if there is consensus and where there is not, encourages the two to discuss their differences. There is then a meeting of the examiners to provide their input. 

Unlike the course-work process there are fewer statistics to help guide the process. The examiners need to avoid the temptation to base their mark on what the students got for their course-work, and just base it on the written thesis. The surprising part of this process is that even where there were divergent views at the start, a consensus between the examiners is usually achieved. 

One part of the process which works remarkably well is that all examiners are treated based on their discipline knowledge, regardless of position in the university hierarchy. As an adjunct lecturer, I can happily disagree with the Dean, provided I can back up my position.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Improving the Student Experience at University

In accepting an invitation to speak on MOOCs at the Inaugural Student Experience Conference (Sydney, 4 December 2013), I first had to work out what the "Student Experience" is. The conference announcement defines the "Student Experience" as: "Involves technology, student services and methods of course delivery.". It is suggested a good student experience can be a competitive advantage for an institution to attract students.

Enroll To Understand the Student Experience

I suggest the best way for academics and administrators to truly understand the student experience is to be a student. It is likely many years, or decades, since those making decisions at university were students themselves. Much has changed in the interim and time will have softened the memory of the student experience. It is necessary to do more than just sit in on a class, the enrollment and assessment processes are important to the student experience.

The Australian Education International (AEI) report "Enhancing the International Student Experience" provides the results of seven demonstration projects, focusing on four areas:
  1. Social engagement - effective strategies for improving the level and quality of interaction between domestic and international students both on and off campus;
  2. Career readiness – models for ensuring that the employability skills of international students are developed and improved on an ongoing basis through continuous learning and integration into the total study experience;
  3. Student support services – exploring how international students access information that affects health and lifestyle, and the relationship between self-perceived identity and social networks; and
  4. Orientation programs – innovative ways to use new technologies (such as social media) to more effectively disseminate information on the nature and availability of support services for international students.
From: Enhancing the International Student Experience, Australian Education International, 2012
While aimed at international students, I suggest these areas are also of issue for domestic students, particularly those from a different background to the traditional university student. It is not acceptable to assume that the typical student is domestic, on-campus, full time, without a disability, without family or community obligations and is a Christian.

Two Years and Three Higher Education Institutions

In 2011 the ANU strategic plan set the goal, that all new teaching staff will have completed an introductory teaching course by 2015 (ANU by 2020, Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor, ANU, August 2011). While I was not new to the ANU (or teaching), as an Adjunct I thought it prudent to take up the offer of a free course in teaching.

After completing the ANU's introductory teaching course I decided to go on and complete a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. The courses were delivered in workshop mode, on campus, supplemented by use of the Moodle Learning Management System. However, as I was interested in e-learning I substituted two on-line courses at another Australian university, more than a thousand kilometers away. These courses were also delivered via Moodle. Then I was offered the opportunity to teach a vocational course run by a Registered Training Organization (RTO), which required a certificate IV in Training and Assessment. So I enrolled at a TAFE, which also used Moodle.

Being enrolled at three Australian higher education institutions in the same subject area, at the same time, using the same learning management system, allowed me to compare the student experience. At the same time I was teaching in a classroom and on-line for one university. Also I was part of a virtual faculty, offering professional education on-line directly and through a multi-university consortium.

Registering at On-line Is Easier Than On Campus

My first surprise as a multi-institution student was that it was easier to enroll at an institution set up for distance education than enroll locally on campus. A web based system which allowed me to enter questions about enrollment and receive answers by email was very useful. An integrated telephone help desk integrated with the web queries made this far superior to going into an office to ask a question over the counter. The telephone call center had my details on the screen, including past questions asked and so did not need to ask me to repeat my circumstances. Also the use of a web based form which could be saved when partly complete was very useful. This was far superior to filling in a PDF form, or a paper form.

On-line Student Support is Superior to On-campus

The Moodle systems of the institutions looked remarkably different. The systems had been customized and integrated into other university systems. In general I found the less customized the Moodle was, the better. Customizations tended to clutter the interface and slow it down, rather than helping.

As a student, most of the time my interaction with the institution was within a course and so within Moodle. What I typically wanted to know, was "What do I need to do next?", "When is the next assessment due?". Course materials which were not laid out in this task orientated way were frustrating to use.

Links to other university systems were integrated, to a greater or lesser extent. Some institutions did not use Moodle's assignment submission or grading system, which made submitting assignments and getting marks more difficult. Most did not use Moodle for individual student-to-teacher communication, instead relying on email, which resulted in important messages being lost amongst other mail.

Links to reading materials proved difficult. I found that many links to university library holdings of e-books and copies of articles, did not work. In many cases the links which did work had electronic documents which were unreadable, being poor scanned copies of paper originals or being burdened by copy protection schemes. I developed a routine of no using the offered electronic readings and instead searching for them on the web, or obtaining the documents on paper from local Canberra university libraries.

Asynchronous E-learning Very Effective With Well Prepared Materials

The routine of studying some prepared material on-line, reading some extra readings, doing an exercise and then discussing it in an on-line forum, worked well. However, this only worked when the material was carefully prepared and checked. Where the material was missing, or incorrect, the lack of intimidate access to the teacher caused confusion. I spent a considerable amount of time reading the wrong material and doing the wrong exercises as a result.

Face-to-face exercises were not without their problems, with unclear preparation instructions and a lack of follow-up. Well designed on-line activities tended to make me less tolerant of classroom problems. As a part-time student I found the requirement to attend face-to-face activities a problem, particularly where missing any one activity could result in my not passing the course.

Synchronous E-learning Did Not Work Most of the Time

While the asynchronous on-line forums worked well, I was mostly unable to get synchronous sessions to work. Where I was able to access synchronous forums, the participants spent so much time dealing with bandwidth and microphone problems that the conversation was very stilted. In this respect, face-to-face classroom sessions were superior. However, I suggest synchronous activities, on-line or in the classroom, should only be used as an optional supplement to asynchronous learning, or where they are essential to learning. Teachers and educational institutions need to understand the very large burden which compulsory attendance imposes on students.

Lack of Integration of Courses Caused Problems But Not Between Institutions

Both face-to-face and on-line courses suffered from the self-contained nature of course based programs. Even where courses were meant to be designed as part of a program, there was considerable overlap. Also the design of courses could be out of sync, with one course having been updated, but the companion course not, resulting in inconsistencies. One surprise was how well courses from different institutions and different systems of education (university and vocational) fitted together. I found no difficulty with moving from institution to institution in the same discipline, even between university and TAFE.

Too Many Surveys

Institutions are interested in the experience their students are having, but may be diminishing the quality of that experience through excessive surveys. Each institution I was enrolled in administered one survey per course and one per program. This seems reasonable, but then there were additional surveys for external independent bodies and ones for internal marketing purposes. This became annoying.

As a student it was difficult to distinguish what was an official survey and what was just a marketing exercise I could ignore. Also as a student I was reluctant to complete a survey about a course until it had ended. The result was that I would receive reminders to complete surveys and not know what they were for. In some cases reminders arrived weeks after I had completed surveys. This became so annoying that I decided to give the institution a progressively lower rating each time I was given another a survey to fill in. Institutions need to consider reducing the number of surveys.

Teachers Still Matter Most

While the administrative and on-line systems had an effect on my student experience, what was most important were the teachers. Regardless of if it was in a classroom, or on-line, what made for a good experience was a teacher who was competent in the subject, a competent teacher, were accessible and appeared to care about the students. All my teachers appeared competent in the subject matter, but what distinguished the good from bad was their teaching ability and particular their ability to communicate through technology.

What caused most frustration was teachers not making effective use of the available technology for communication. Forum postings and emails from teachers were often full of errors, cryptic abbreviation and incorrect links to non existent documents. At times I would receive unreadable handwritten materials, when the Learning Management System could have been used to deliver a readable typed document. Rather than use the communications built into the system, email was used, which would get lost.

Like most students, assessment is very important to me. It was therefore disappointing when not enough care seemed to have been put into assessment items, which contained out of date instructions. Also there was a tendency for marking to take weeks and be returned with excessive detailed feedback (which by then was useless). This was curious given that part of the content of the material being assessed was about the importance of rapid and concise feedback.

Structure and Flexibility Needed

Studying teaching at a leading research university, a teaching university and TAFE showed more common aspects than differences. As a student I found I appreciated the scaffolding which detailed course notes provided, especially when delivered via the learning management system. This was adaptable to the more narrow focus of a vocational institution or a research university. While an experienced computer professional and educator, I still needed step by step help with what it was I was learning.

Suggestions for Improving the Student Experience

The four areas identified in the AEI report "Enhancing the International Student Experience" are useful places to concentrate on for all students, domestic and international, on and off-campus:
  1. Social engagement: Programs to encourage interaction between students outside their courses should, like the courses themselves, be flipped and blended. As a part time mostly off-campus, student, I found it frustrating to receive invitations to events I could not attend. It was especially annoying to know that the compulsory multiple Student Services and Amenities Fees I was paying to the institutions were funding events I could not attend. While there were some attempts to provide on-line forums, these were not integrated into the mainstream events, as they should be.
  2. Career readiness: Higher education is for more than just a vocation, but employability is important. Course designers could do more to provide realistic assessment tasks. For me, two assessment tasks which stood out as being closely skills aligned were:
  3. Student support services: The support services should be "flipped", that is provided on-line and then face-to-face services offered to supplement this. There should be levels of support built into each course, program and university wide. Students do not necessarily know where to turn for help and the university should have one integrated system which can be used to pass their request to the correct area, without the student having to explain the problem each time. On-line system could also be used to monitor student's progress to see none are lost in the system, between course, program and institution responsibilities. It should not be acceptable to wait until the end of semester and discover a student has failed their courses before seeing if they need help. The on-line system should be able to detect a student who needs help, within a few hours, or days of a problem occurring.
  4. Orientation programs: Caution should be used in the use of external social media services for student support. While the ‘Teach by Twitter" strategy has been shown to be educationally effective (Enhancing Undergraduate Teaching and Feedback using Social Media – an Engineering Case Study, Ben Evans, 2013), it exposes the students and staff to risk. Information should first and primarily be provided via the university's systems, so the student can be assured of privacy and that they are really communicating with the institution. As a student I felt very vulnerable if I needed to use a non-university system for communication. Where the university used systems which were hosted in other countries, I had to keep in mind that anything I said in that forum was subject to the laws of that country and was potentially discoverable by the law enforcement agencies of that country.

ps: My journey in higher education has not ended, as I have now applied to undertake a Masters of Education in Distance Education, via distance education.