Thursday, May 29, 2014

Education Technology Future Not as Predicted

The  2014 NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education: A Horizon Project Regional Report sponsored by Open Universities Australia. The report contains a list of twelve technologies the authors say will be important to Australian tertiary education over the next five years. I agree some will be important, but most are not technologies, they are business strategies. Most are not new, but have been around for years, or decades.

What I suggest could change higher education in Australia is:

1. Require formal teaching qualifications of academic staff: While the vocational education sector requires teaching staff to be trained in teaching, universities do not. The result is portly designed (or not designed at all) courses. Assuming the government's deregulation of fees occurs, this could see most Australian universities put out of business due to their inefficient teaching practices.
2. Design programs primarily for part time online students: While the vocational sector assumes their students are part time and can only rarely visit a campus, most university academics have the idea that the typical student is full time on campus. The result is that university courses do not suit the typical student who has work or home responsibilities which they need to fit their studies into. Those universities which change their programs to allow for part time online students, while retaining a quality u8nveirsity experience, can expect to do well in the deregulated environment. A few elite institutions may be able to find sufficient full time independently wealthy students to fill their campuses, but most universities will need to change to meet their student's needs, or go out of business.

The 12 technologies:

12. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

BYOD is not a technology, it is a business strategy. It is going to be very expensive, and embarrassing, for institutions which do not have good security and procedures in place.

11. Flipped Classroom

Also not a technology, or new. I would call it just ordinary good teaching practice. This contrasts with the practice of boring students rigid with "lectures", which is just a waste of time.

10. Mobile Learning

Okay, this is technology, but also not new. I suggest we should not assume that our students are connected to the Internet all the time, or that is a good way for them to learn. Instead we should make our online learning platforms mobile compatible, which is easy while we are making them accessible to the disabled. We should also make the learning materials available offline, either through the features built into HTML5, or less technical means, such as "books".

9. Online Learning

Online learning is a technology, which has been around for a decade or so (I have been teaching online at university for four years). Hopefully the MOOC nonsense will go away by the end of the year and we can concentrate on designing real online courses.

8. Badges/microcredits

Badges are fine for vocational education, but do we want it in university?

9. Games and gamification

Also not new, and better called simulation based learning.

6. Learning Analytics

Analytics is something universities need to make an investment in. As an example, I suspect it is very easy to detect "at risk" students by mining the learning management system database. Of course we would then need processes to support those students.

5. Open Content

This is a business strategy and one which conflicts with the current approach of most universities.

4. The Internet of Things

The Internet of things is highly overrated and not very relevant to universities.

3. Machine learning

I suspect that much of the routine tutoring of students could be automated with AI.

2. Natural user interfaces

An interesting area the ANU's Human Computer Interface group come up with some weird and wonderful devices, but also not very gallivant to education.

1. Wearable Technology

Google Glass is not new technology, does not work particularity well and is only relevant to a few aspects of education where you need to be hands free. More than ten years ago they tried to sell us head up displays at the Department of Defence, for mechanics fixing jet engines. That company was bought by Google and it became Google Glass.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Alignment of School Curriculum in Technologies with Vocational Education

Recently I took part in a discussion of how to introduce young people to a career in IT. One point made was that this does not need to be via the academic path of high school to university. There is the alternative path of Vocational Education. But does the new School Curriculum in Technologies, align with the Vocational Certificates in technology, such as Certificate II in Information, Digital Media and Technology (the CA20111), run by TAFEs and  Registered Training Organisations (RTOs)?

A few weeks ago I took part in a two day workshop to help implement the new technologies curriculum in Canberra schools. But there was no mention of alignment with vocational education, even though the Canberra Institute of Technology has facilities co-located with  one of Canberra's school campuses. The current school curriculum in technologies is for up to year 10 and it would make sense if the student could then undertake vocation training in years 11 and 12, either in the school or at a separate organisation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

First Year Student Expectations and Experiences

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where researchers are reporting on "First Year Student Expectations and Experiences". This was to address a problem where students have difficulty adjusting from school to university. Surveys were conducted of students at universities in South Australia. There is a detailed 77 page final report and other reports.

One of the questions the researchers asked students was if school prepared them for university. The responses were mixed on this, but there were students concerned that school did not prepare them for independent study. In my view it is not a very useful question to ask if schools prepare students for university. The question is do universities adequately cater for the students they get, whatever those student's background.

If school leavers are not ready for university, then one alternative is vocational Higher Education, at TAFEs and commercial Registered Training Organisations. These provide a more structured form of Higher Education, more like school, and  so can provide a transition to university. Interesting 4% of the survey respondents entered university from TAFE, but the researchers have not yet carried out analysis to see if these students coped better with university.

Currently I am a student of education research methods and it was interesting to hear the researchers say they were the qualitative ones and different members of the team did the quantitative analysis. Also it is good to hear terms such as "social constructivist approach to learning" used. ;-)

At the presentation we were handed a "Factsheet for New University Students" and "Factsheet for First Year University Teaching Staff", apparently produced as part of the project. I could not find these documents online and on paper they are of limited value. The Office of Learning and Teaching might like to put the documents online in an accessible format, so that they are widely available ans also so as to conform with Australian law.

The student fact sheet says students have an unrealistic expectation of the amount of work they have to do. However, perhaps this indicates an unrealistic expectation of the university teachers of the amount of work students will do. The fact sheet does not really seem to be much help, for example by saying students can expect to study 40 hours a week (they are already told this by the universities).

One comment at the workshop (I am not sure who said it) was that students could cope with 15 hours of working at a job in addition to their studies. This suggests a workload of 55 hours per week. This sounds excessive to me, being about a nine hour day, six days a week. International students are permitted to work up to 40 hours per fortnight, making a work week of 60 hours.

Under Australia law the maximum weekly hours for work are 38 and in the UK the maximum is 48. This suggest the study hours expected of a student, especially one also working, are unreasonable (and if this was a job they would be unlawful). I suggest it is time universities accept that there are very few real "full time" students, that is students who have no other commitments. Programs should be redesigned around a smaller, realistic number of hours per week. A reasonable number might be 30 hours study per week.

The teacher sheet is not a lot more useful, telling teachers that talking to university staff is important for students and that providing support to students who are struggling is important. This will already be known to any competent teacher (and is something they are told in teacher training). But these recommendations do not appear to be supported by the OLT research. Just by surveying first year students on their views will not show what effect teacher interaction has on retention.

The workshop participants were asked what a student needs to be successful at university. In my view students need study skills and literacy. We should require all students to enrol in a course to ensure they can read, write and plan work. In this we should require students to do group work, so they learn some skills and have a peer group to help them later.

One problem found was that many students had not made even on friend at university in their first year. A routine part of online courses is for students to introduce themselves. This is done due to the isolation online students can feel.  Perhaps the same needs to be done for face-to-face students.

While this research does not tell us much unexpected, it is useful to have the issue of how we can help first year students discussed more by university staff.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Helping Students Prepare Academic Plans Online

Recently the university where I am enrolled offered something called "DegreeWorks", with little explanation of what it was for. When I clicked on the link in there was a redirection, suggesting this is an externally provided service. I was then shown a list of the courses I had already competed, those in progress and what I was required to do to complete. This looked more useful than the usual separate display or useful so far and separate large handbook of rules and possible courses. However, I was not certain as to what I did next: do I start selecting courses and see if these fit the rules? Am I locked into the choices I make? Exploring further I found mention of "DegreeWorks" at North American universities and finllay found a product by the company Ellucian, offering a product called
Ellucian Degree Works., which I assume is what all these universities are using. It will be interesting to see how well software can capture and explain the complex t rules which universities have (and have imposed on them by external bodies).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Flipping Classrooms at ANU

Associate Professor Joe Hope will speak on "Theoretical Physics 3001 - a flipped classroom case study" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 9am 3 June, 2014. This is part of a "Teaching and Learning Colloquium", simialr to the one run last year, hosted by ANU Science, Medicine & Health and the ANU College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, which is open to ANU staff and students.

Australian Emergency Management Institute Moving On-line

One measure in the Australian Government's 2014/15 Budget was "Transitioning the Australian Emergency Management Institute (AEMI) into a 'virtual' institute". There has been some criticism of the change, but in the process the AEMI may be able to improve its service by providing better access to training though online courses.

The role of the AEMI is management training. It is not about how to hold a fire hose, but plan for and coordinate operations, using people, computers and telecommunications. They even have a course to "Develop and use political nous". ;-)

Most such management training is by face-to-face classes, which can be replaced with e-learning, using software such as Moodle. This is commonly done at other such Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).

Some training may be by role playing a scenario. I have been a student of such an exercise at the Australian Command and Staff College in Canberra. On a large screen we had maps of a fictional country, we each played roles as senior military and government officials and were handed "signals" to react to (low technology bits of paper).

One obvious way to do this for disaster management training is to have the trainees in their own offices around Australia and use the same telecommunications as for a real emergency, to link those to the Canberra training centre. Trainees would then play roles for the scenario (with "Exercise Only" displayed on all screens).

But such exercises only form a small part of training and most will be just normal classes, which can be delivered online (I design and deliver such courses under contract to Higher Education institutions).

AETI currently charges $13,500 for a Diploma, or $1,500 per course. It will be interesting to see if this increases with the deregulation of Higher Education fees.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) e-Examinations

Today I attended a fascinating webinar “Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) e-Examinations” hosted by Ascilite. The first speaker described Transforming Exams platform, developed with an Office for Learning and Teaching grant by University of Queensland and University of Tasmania. The system provides an off-line electronic exam environment. The examination is prepared in a format compatible with Moodle and then loaded onto USB flash drives. The drives include the Ubuntu Linux operating system and when the computer is booted it restricts the user to the examination system.

This could provide a very useful transition for institutions which have paper based examinations. It allows an environment which emulates the paper system, but provides some benefits of electronic delivery.

While the Transforming Exams system is ingenious, I found the idea of having examinations a bit dated. I design online courses for students, who may be anywhere in the world and so use of an examination venue would be cumbersome, even without the paper. From the point of view of pedagogy, I don't think an examination is a realistic way to assess real skills. As a student I would not consider enrolling in a course which had a high stakes examination.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Changes to Australian Higher Education in the 2014/2015 Federal Budget

Just about every year since the Australian Federal Budget was first put on the web, I have done a quick search though the documents to find matters of interest in information technology. This year, here are some comments on the education aspects of the budget.

Last year the Government "recommitted" to "Remote Indigenous Internet Access", but but without an explicit amount of money committed to the program. This year, apart from the NBN I could not find any similar programs, for indigenous or other communities.

NICTA’s funding, of about $40 M per year for IT research, will end after 2015–16. NICTA has a significant number of PHD students jointly with universities, who presumably continue to be funded.

In addition changes to higher education will also require new IT systems. The deregulation of tuition fees from 2016 will require minimal direct changes. However, there is likely to be a reshuffling of campuses, with some major city universities closing regional campuses (as University of Queensland has already decided to close its Ipswich Campus).

The opening financial assistance to students studying diplomas may change the way higher education is delivered in Australia. Students who would have previously enrolled in a bachelors degree at a university, may opt for a shorter and cheaper diploma at a state government TAFE or private Registered Training Organisation (RTO), then top up their education with a part-time blended or fully on-line degree. These diplomas will mostly be delivered online. This will require an expansion of IT systems to support the new education options, but more significantly require a retraining of academics to design and deliver them. IT courses are likely to be one of those disciplines most changed.

For the last few years Australian universities have been struggling with how to think about new education options, as well as how to deliver them. The system to evolve will likely see the city research universities charge a premium to their on-campus students, while regional universities concentrate on low cost blended and fully online education.  Even the typical "on-campus" student will be 80% on-line: sitting in a classroom or lab one day a week. One term used to describe this was UWA Academic Staff Association's Humboldtian model of the university.

However, certificates are not included in the new higher education funding scheme. The shortest program the student can get funding assistance for is a diploma, which normally requires one year full time study. Certificates, which require six months full time study are very useful, as they allow students to quickly get a qualification for a job. Where institutions offer four terms a year, a part time student can do a certificate in one year. I did my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education this way, mostly on-line.

Cuts to federal school funding may also see an increase in demand for new IT systems by state governments to reduce costs and increase efficiency, with new ways to teach.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Master-class in Technology Issues from Canberra's Schoolchildren

Greetings from the University of Canberra Inspire Centre where the first "Canberra Glass Meetup" is being held. I was very disappointed with the start of the event on the prototype "Google Glass" head mounted display, with not so good presentations from the USA. I then saw a Tweet from about eloquent school-kids in the parallel session in  the next room. I moved rooms and found one of the students explaining at length, what were the issues with Google Glass. This was better than any of the advertised presenters. We then heard from a local teacher. It is unfortunate the event was not built around this group in a Q&A session, then broadcast to the world. It seemed very odd to me to be invited to hear from international speakers on a topic who appeared to have less of a grasp of the issues than some kids from the local school (admittedly these are exceptional students with an exceptional school with exceptional students).

Google Glass Half Full

Greetings from the University of Canberra Inspire Centre where the first "Canberra Glass Meetup" is being held. I was very disappointed with the first session of international speakers on the prototype "Google Glass" head mounted display. This second session started better, with Professor Mark Billinghurst, from University of Canterbury, NZ. It may be that I was just more comfortable with a familiar accent than a US one, but it seemed to me that Professor Billinghurst was providing credible, useful information on the use of wearable devices, than just hype. I am not particularly interested that someone in the USA is enthusiastic about using Google Glass. I want to know what they are using it for and how this compares with the alternatives.

What I have found most frustrating about this evening is that while watching low quality videos of people across the world enthusing about Google Glass, we have people here in Canberra, in this building who are expert in computer technology and have experience of using this technology: why are we not hearing from them.

If we are going to have beamed in presentations they have to have better production values.  An approach I have seen work well in the past is to have a pre-prepared video, followed by a live question and answer session. The advantage of this approach is the pre-recorded video can be carefully prepared and sent in advance, so it will not have transmission problems. The following live Q&A does not have to be so high quality and could even be a phone hook-up.

Wearable Technology at University of Canberra

Greetings from the University of Canberra Inspire Centre where the first "Canberra Glass Meetup" is being held. There is a series of international speakers on the use of the prototype "Google Glass" head mounted display.
Speakers include Professor Mark Billinghurst, University of Canterbury, NZ and Rob Manson, CEO,

My First Impressions of Wearing Google Glass at a demonstration in Canberra in March were not good. I found the physical design of the unit bulky. While it worked well I could not see it having much use in education, apart for vocational education where the student is carrying out a physical task needing both hands.
This event did not start well for me, with my being asked to sign a complex paper form to agree to be videoed.  This asked if I agreed to have my "testimonial" used for promoting the University of Canberra. I ticked "no", but then in the introduction of the event was told that I had agreed to being recorded continuously for the whole event, by those wearing Google Glass, apart from in the bathroom. Clearly I did not agree to this. One reason for holding such events, with enthusiasts, is to work out the bugs, not just in the hardware and software, but in the legal and social issues as well, such as what expectation of privacy I have. These are difficult issues with no clear answers.

The first speaker for the event was Cecilia Abadie. Unfortunately this was via a low quality video link from somewhere. The sound was excellent, but I wondered why I had to drive across the city on a cold night to what someone on a computer screen, when I could have done this at home.

Cecilia related the experience of using the Google Glass device for an extended period.  She touched on the problem of friends worrying if they were being recorded. She also related how she was issued with a traffic violation for wearing Google Glass while driving. She argued the device was turned off. It could be argued that the device is less distracting than a conventional display in the car dashboard.

Brandon King then talked (also on video conference apparently from somewhere in the USA). The quality of the video was better this time, but I did wonder how much Brandon or Cecilia added to the evening, as they did not say much about what they did with the head-up display. I started to wonder why I was stilling here listening to what is essentially an extended advertisement for a Google product. I don't mind attending product demonstrations (I attended one last week), but prefer one with a trained salesperson and for it to be clear they are selling on behalf of a particular company.

Libby Chang explained Google Glass allowed her to "be in the moment", as if hiking she saw a flower, she did not have to fumble around to find her camera. I found this an odd observation. If hiking and I saw a flower and wanted to " be in the moment" I would stop and look at the flower: reaching for a device would ruin the moment. When using a device, such as the keyboard I am typing on, I find this does separate me from the world around me.

Libby argued that wearables can be personalised. She almost  was apologising for that she did not wear them all the time and argued they could be taken off. However, I have already tonight experienced forced use of Glass as a member of the audience. It is not a great leap of imagination to a situation where employees or students would be required to use a wearable device, as a condition of their employment or studies.

When then had "David Lee" (who I could not find on the program), talk about how to personalise Google Glass custom finishes. He gave the example of asking Goolge Glass how much air to put in a tire, while filling the tire. This could be an extremely dangerous exercise. A car tire could cause serious injury if under or overinflated. This could easily happen by misinterpreting the information provided, for example the unit of measure used for pressure. At the end David asked if Glass was a fashion problem: I think it is and a much smaller device is needed.

So far this Glass event is very much a glass half full experience for me. ;-)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Canvas Software for e-Learning

At an IT for schools conference in Canberra this week I cam across Conrad Spendlove demonstrating the Canvas learning management system. For the last couple of weeks I have been experiencing Canvas as a student of Robert Power's Dissertation Research Project "A Framework for Promoting Teacher Self-Efficacy with in Mobile Reusable Learning Objects" at the Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University, Canada Canvas seems to have been targeted at mobile devices, but works okay on a desktop web browser.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Touch Screen Projector

Dropped in on an education conference in Canberra today to try a touch screen projector. This is an Epson EB-595Wi short throw projector, which has an addition infra-red detector to turn the display into a touch screen. The clever part of this is that there are no electronics required in the display surface: it can be just a white wall, whiteboard, or whiteboard paint surface (like those of the TEAL room in University of Canberra's Inspire Centre) . You simply point at the image on the wall and the cursor appears there.
The screen size is limited to 100 inches, but as Matthew Brown pointed out when demonstrating the unit, you could not reach the top of a larger screen to operate the touch interface. This unit would be good for smaller classrooms. For very large lecture theatres, the image could be relayed to a large conventional projector (as I set up for the Multinet'95 Conference).

Like other short throw units, this has the limitation you have to bolt the projector to the wall just above where you want the image. But it has the advantage, as with other short throw projectors, that it will work with a shiny whiteboard surface. An additional requirement with the touch unit is that the infra-red detector has to be installed by a technician.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

UQ Campus Sale the Start of Australian Education Rationalisation

The University of Queensland is reported to be selling its Ipswich campus to the University of Southern Queensland (I visited the very well equipped Ipswich Campus for a ARC Funded joint project with UQ in 2002). Rather than an isolated incident, I suggest this is the start of a rationalisation of Australian Higher Education, with the top tier research universities consolidating to their capital city campuses, leaving the rest of the country to teaching universities and on-line education. Many of the satellite campuses of the regional universities will also close.

At the next level down, assuming deregulation of federal funding takes place, we may see an expansion of the TAFE and on-government Registered Training Organisation (RTO) sector. These organisations use micro-campuses, to support their primarily on-line education techniques. An example is the  Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) centre co-located with the public library and a secondary school college in Gungahlin, Canberra.

The typical higher education student will need to attend a campus for about 20% of their tuition. This would be one day a week for a full time student, although the typical student will be part time and might attend an intensive campus session for a few days each semester.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Australian Centre on China in the World in Canberra

Greetings from the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Gerald Szeto (司徒佐), architect of the center's new building, is speaking on "The architecture of education in Canberra and Beijing". The building was funded by the previous Australian Government. This was preceded by a musical performance, on a Guzheng (Chinese zither) and voice, by Wu Fei.

Curiously for a major research centre, there was no Wikipedia entry, so I have created one,  including a photo of the courtyard, as seen through a window near the front door. The building has the feeling of China, while being modern.

Gerald Szeto gave an illustrated presentation of his work in China, as part of I. M. Pei's architectural practice. He then set up his own practice in China, the first major commission was to reconstruct the Hall of Rectitude  and the Garden of the Palace of Established Happiness in the Forbidden City, Beijing. while the outside of the buildings were reconstructed using traditional building techniques to the original design,
Gerald Szeto's practice designed the interior for modern use. The interior still used traditional materials, but has much larger rooms, with modern heating and lighting. The structure of the building is visible inside, where it would be traditionally hidden by interior panels.

Gerald Szeto then described the sighting and design of the Stanford University Centre at Peking University. However, the historical significance of the site limited the area available to 600 square meters. As a result it was decided to build much of the building underground, with one level above ground and two below ground. This required overcoming concerns with light and ventilation for an underground building. The above ground part of the building is of traditional design and construction and has skylights for the underground part. There are light-wells with gardens to give a view for the underground rooms.

The above ground part of the Stanford University Centre is made of large wooden columns and beams fitted together with mortise and tendon joints (no metal fixing). After the wooden structure is erected, brick walls are added (much like an Australia brick veneer building).

Stanford University Centre at Peking University has a high immersive teaching room, equipped with large screen video-conferencing, twinned with an identical room at  Stanford University in the USA. Gerald Szeto commented that the set-up was expensive, he did not like the layout and the identical arrangement was not really necessary. I agree with all of this, a simple rectangular room with a flat floor, movable desks and a standard projection screen (or large flat panel display) would work just as well, be much more flexible and much cheaper.

Gerald Szeto then moved on to the design of the China Center at ANU in Canberra. The building runs north-south, next to an oval and is then divided into north and south wings by a courtyard. There is a large auditorium on the north side. The entry to the building has a wall with a window in it to show the courtyard. The building has windows which are reminiscent (to me) of stained glass, having an ecclesiastical feel, appropriate for a centre for quiet contemplation.

The presentation is being given in the auditorium of the building. This is well proportioned, but the seats do not have folding table-tops for students to take notes on (my laptop is overheating, sitting on my lap). Also the lectern does not appear to have been equipped with the standard ANU audio-visual system, preventing lectures from being recorded.

One excellent feature of the building is breakout spaces with tables and chairs between the offices, rather than just a narrow corridor. Such spaces are very important in a university, as it is where much of the communication and innovation happens (as well as in the coffee shop and bar).

Lastly Gerald Szeto described the recently announced Yenching Academy at Peking University. This is a new large residential college for the university. Currently there are US designed two story buildings fronting onto a "gymnasium" (that is outdoor recreation space). As with the Stanford centre, the existing buildings will be restored and retained for accommodation, but with two new stores of teaching space added underneath.

Gerald Szeto pointed out that the academy had to have a bomb shelter included in the design, complete with all survival equipment. This space can be used for storage, but is not suitable as a teaching space. But I suspect that as space at university is always in short supply, the bomb shelter will be turned into offices for junior staff. One way such spaces could be made more comfortable would be to use of low cost Ultra High Definition flat screen displays. The pixels on these screens are not visible from for than a few meters away and would give a reasonable facsimile of a window view. The screens could display scenes from the surface when not in use for education.

The overall concept for Yenching Academy the circulation spaces, offices and accommodation are impressive and I would like to be a visiting scholar staying there (Yenching Academy is currently looking for English speaking staff members). Yenching Academy is looking for staff members. However, the designs shown for the library, lecture theatres and tutorial rooms showed a similar inflexible layout to the Stanford University Centre. I would suggest having a more flexible layout, with flat floor and movable furniture.

The approach of new underground buildings maybe applicable to Australian university campuses with limited space. It would be feasible to add new space under existing historic buildings on cramped city campuses. Something like this exists at University of Melbourne, under  University Square, but unfortunately this remarkable structure (used as a set for the film  film Mad Max) is just used as a car-park.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Aligning the new Australian School Technologies Curriculum with Higher Education

At the "Byte Sized Digital Technologies", work-shop I am discussing aspects of the "Australian Curriculum: Technologies" with primary teachers from the public and private school sectors. We are looking at project based activities which could be used in schools for teaching the new curriculum. It occurred to me that it would be useful to align the school curriculum with the teaching of technology in higher education. At present universities are looking to develop new educational materials to deliver in new ways, not only online but using techniques such as project based work. It may be possible to provide versions of the university materials for schools to use. Universities are likely to see providing materials to schools as a useful activity for encouraging enrolments at their institution. Universities would normally concentrate on upper secondary school (Year 11 & 12), being just before university. However, research by Macpherson (2013) indicates that student's interest in IT declines after the age of 12-13 years, so it might be better to start with Year 7.

Curriculum Documents

In addition to these there is the US "CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards" from the ACM. CSTA have also released mappings of the Computer science curriculum to US school education standards, but I could not find a mapping to the university curriculum.

The Australian School Technologies Curriculum Year 7 and 8 Content Descriptions are:

Digital Technologies knowledge and understanding
Investigate how data are transmitted and secured in wired, wireless and mobile networks, and how the specifications of hardware components impact on network activities (ACTDIK023)

Investigate how digital systems represent text, image and audio data in binary (ACTDIK024)
Digital Technologies processes and production skills
Acquire data from a range of sources and evaluate authenticity, accuracy and timeliness (ACTDIP025)

Analyse and visualise data using a range of software to create information, and use structured data to model objects or events (ACTDIP026)
Define and decompose real-world problems taking into account functional requirements and economic, environmental, social, technical and usability constraints (ACTDIP027)

Design the user experience of a digital system, generating, evaluating and communicating alternative designs (ACTDIP028)

Design algorithms represented diagrammatically and in English, and trace algorithms to predict output for a given input and to identify errors (ACTDIP029)

Implement and modify programs with user interfaces involving branching, iteration and functions in a general-purpose programming language (ACTDIP030)

Evaluate how well developed solutions and existing information systems meet needs, are innovative and take account of future risks and sustainability (ACTDIP031)

Create and communicate interactive ideas and information collaboratively online, taking into account social contexts (ACTDIP032)
Plan and manage projects, including tasks, time and other resources required, considering safety and sustainability (ACTDIP033)


Macpherson, K. (2013). Digital technology and Australian teenagers: consumption, study and careers. The Education Institute. Retrieved, 19. From

Technology Projects for the Australian School Curriculum

At the "Byte Sized Digital Technologies", work-shop I am discussing aspects of the "Australian Curriculum: Technologies" with primary teachers from the public and private school sectors. We are in the TEAL room of the Inspire Centre of the University of Canberra.  Steve Blackburn from ANU is describing the Angry Birds Bootcamp run at ANU, teaching programming to school students.

I will be demonstrating "How Green is My Computer?", a version of which has been run live at ANU for school students. After introducing students to concepts of energy use and e-waste, I got them to use a power meter to measure the energy use of different computers and calculate carbon emissions. This exercise would fit with the sustainability topic in the technology curriculum. Also as this is designed to be aligned with the skills framework used for designing university IT curriculum, this should fit in with universities.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Architecture for Education in Beijing and Canberra

Gerald Szeto from Mo Atelier Szeto Architects, will speak on "The architecture of education in Canberra and Beijing" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 6pm, 5 May 2014. The ANU Australian Centre on China in the World's building was designed by Gerald Szeto.
This illustrated CIW Annual Lecture by the Beijing-based architect Gerald Szeto will discuss the design concepts and practical issues encountered during the creation of the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) Building, as well as in the development of his earlier design of the Stanford Center at Peking University.

Gerald is presently engaged in a major new project in Beijing, the creation of the Yenching Academy, an undertaking that will revitalise the heart of the campus of Peking University campus, the old Yenching University designed and built in the 1920s. In his talk Gerald will preview elements of this landmark design.

First Year Student Expectations of University

An Office for Learning & Teaching funded project has reported some results on "First Year Student Expectations and Experiences". The results are much as I would expect: students have to do more work and get less help from lecturers than they were expecting. However, the researchers have phrased these results in terms of unrealistic expectations by students. But in other industries if you are not meeting your customer's expectations, then you are doing something wrong: you don't blame the customers. Perhaps universities should improve the service they provide so they meet the students expectations. As an example the research shows only 51.5% of students received their work back within three weeks of submitting it. That seems to me unacceptable performance by the university.

Religions Wars: Chrome-books versus iPads for Schools

At the "Byte Sized Digital Technologies", work-shop I am discussing aspects of the "Australian Curriculum: Technologies" with primary teachers from the public and private school sectors. One surprise for me was that students don't have ready access to computers. The computers handed out by the federal government are now obsolete and there is not the money to replace them. Some schools are implementing "Bring Your Own Device" with Apple iPads and others providing Google Chrome-books.

It seems to me that if teachers and students do not have reliable and available computers then a lot of money must be wasted in the school system on manual work. Implementing the technology curriculum would be a good way to start "flipping" Australian schools.

It is a waste and time and effort if each teacher in each school is teaching their class of students alone. As part of my studies in distance education I looked at the blended approach used in some remote Queensland and NT indigenous schools. The teachers at these schools teach students with the support of remote specialist teachers, using online materials. This blended approach would, I suggest, be a suitable model for all schools.

Making the Technologies Curriculum Attractive to Australian Students

At the "Byte Sized Digital Technologies", workshop James Curran from University of Sydney, suggested the new "Australian Curriculum: Technologies" was an opportunity to make computing in schools attractive to more students, particularly girls. As well not being popular with the students, universities do not have it as a prerequisite (unlike maths). One issue was how immature a discipline computing is, with the essentials not having been distilled into something to teach.

However, I suggest that there have been some attempts to distil what computing is, both as a discipline and as a essential set of skills. Examples are the bodies of knowledge of the ACS, ACM/IEEE and the European Computer Driving Licence.

James pointed out that there is less involvement by practitioners in professional associations and the members are getting older. Also he pointed out the minimal budget provided education departments for teachers. He criticised education department for leaving most teacher professional development to teacher's associations, but this seemed to me a positive. If teachers claim to be professionals, then they must take responsibility for their own professional development. Even if their employer does not provide resources, the professional has to ensure they keep their stills up (at their own expense).

James proposes a two day workshop for teachers followed by online PD. In my view this is the wrong approach, instead this should be "flipped" with the online PD first, followed by optional face-to-face workshop, if the resources allow. James aims for a $22M budget, which seems unrealistic. A lower cost online course would be much more achievable.

The ACS provides PD events for its members. Also the obvious way to do PD for technology is online with technology.

Implementing the National Technologies Curriculum in Australian Schools

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where I am taking part in a two day workshop to help implement the new "Australian Curriculum: Technologies" in Canberra's schools. This event, "Byte Sized Digital Technologies", is run by Information Technology Educators ACT (InTEACT). It is
sponsored by Google and appropriately enough, the agenda is on Google Docs.The consultation on the curriculum was run by  "Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority" (ACRA).

The Technologies Australian Curriculum covers both Design and Technologies (using the technology) and Digital Technologies (creating the technology, including computer programming). Interesting the student are educated in a number of areas which up to know have only been covered in advanced university courses: Project Management, Design thinking, Computational Thinking and Systems Thinking.

Implementing this curriculum is an extremely challenging task. Before teachers can teach the material, they need to learn it themselves. One approach I suggest would be useful would be to provide online learning, for the teachers and the students. It makes little sense to me to teach digital technology using analogue teaching techniques. At the same time the teachers can be connected together online to support each other and they can teach the students how to also support each other online. The University of Adelaide are running a free online course "Digital Technologies: Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area". 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can Research Rescue Distance Education from the Coming MOOC Crash?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a hot topic at the moment, but I suspect the bubble will burst within the next six months. Research coming out now indicates MOOCs are not delivering the claimed benefits. There is a risk that governments, universities and students may conclude that because MOOCs did not work, therefore online Distance Education (DE) in general does not work. Perhaps DE research can help work out what went wrong with MOOCs, salvage something useful from them and at the same time prevent the MOOC crash setting back progress with online education.

Some of the claims made for MOOCs are that they are free and open. It should be reasonably simple to use a survey techniques, to find out what costs students have in relation to MOOCs. As an example, do students purchase additional computer equipment, or networking, to be able to undertake MOOCs? Do they purchase additional study materials or equipment? Is there any difference between these costs and those for conventional online courses? Does the low completion rate of MOOCs increase their real cost to the students? Jordan 2014) looked at the low completion rates of MOOCs. Lane (2013) looks at the policy objectives of MOOCs and relates these to past open education, in particular UK Open University.

In terms of openness, why aren't the expected students signing up? The proponents of MOOCs emphasise the value for those who have not had access to education, particularly in developing nations. However, the "MOOCs @ Edinburgh Report #1"(2013) suggests students tend to already have degrees and are from developed countries. Why aren't those without university qualifications in developing nations taking up these courses? Is it because the courses are in a language they do not speak, because the topics will not help with their employment, or because they do not have time to study?

Glance, Forsey & Riley (2013) looked at the educational design claims made for MOOCs and the reality. They note that the use of shortLane, A. (2013). The potential of MOOCs to widen access to, and success in, higher education study. From videos, popularised by the Khan Academy, is an adaptation of the technique of tutoring with formative feedback, found to be effective by Bloom (1984). However, some other of the approaches found effective in research have yet to be incorporated into MOOCs. For example, it was suggested by Bloom (1984):
"If students develop good study habits, devote more time to the learning, improve their reading skills, and so on, they will be better able to learn from a particular teacher and course—even though neither the course nor the teacher has undergone a change process."
The study habits, time spent and reading skills do not appear to be directly addressed in current MOOCs.
Conventional universities, and their online equivalents, do address study skills, through optional training available to the student. The same might be incorporated in the MOOC by some form of quiz, which would asses the student’s needs and refer them to a preparatory course.


Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational researcher, 4-16. From

Glance, D., Forsey, M., & Riley, M. (2013). The pedagogical foundations of massive open online courses. First Monday, 18(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i5.4350 From

Jordan, K. (2014). Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(1). From

Lane, A. (2013). The potential of MOOCs to widen access to, and success in, higher education study. From
MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013: Report #1. (2013). From