Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where does a UNSW Verified Certificate fit in the AQF?

Coursera says I can "... earn an official Verified Certificate from UNSW Australia". But where is the "Verified Certificate" in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)? TAFEs and RTOs usually issue Certificates I to IV and universities issue Postgraduate Certificates.

If a "Verified Certificate" is not a recognised Australian qualification, should UNSW be issuing these? Even if Australians understand that these are not real qualifications, overseas students may not. This could damage Australia’s reputation for well managed education, if students think they can get an Australian university qualification for $49.

Re-engineered Higher Education

Universities are changing the way they provide higher education, though the use of information technology. Technological revolutions look rapid and inevitable, but only in retrospect. This revolution has been building for at least a decade, but is the radical changes happening to education are not that apparent to the public, the government or to many academics and administrators.

In 1998 I presented a seminar on "Re-engineering IT Education" in the famous Room N101 Computer Science and IT Building at the Australian National University. At the time I was Special Adviser for Internet/Intranet Policy at the Australian Department of Defence and Immediate Past President of the Australian Computer Society (ACS). For several years I had been working on Internet policy for Australia and watching what had been a radical idea become accepted.  The ACS had just released a Communiqué on IT higher education, I had prepared, on the future for IT education in Australia. This  envisioned expanding post graduate programs and shorter industry training to maintain a globally competitive, skilled work-force. Computer equipment for all students and university networking to support this was considered key to students formal education and learning online work techniques.

In the seminar I proposed universities should design programs for distance education delivery and then adapt for on-campus delivery. Also I suggested communication skills in courses be emphasised, as an important work skill.

The ACS Communiqué said: "Information technology and telecommunications will profoundly alter social interaction, work and education over the next 20 years." Those 20 years are now almost up and those profound changes has already happened to social interaction (with social networking) and changes to jobs. The changes to education have taken longer to become apparent, but will become much more visible in the next five years.

The 20th Century university had been likened to a "factory making graduates" ("Extreme Innovation: Lessons Learned at MIT", JFDI.Asia, 2013). The lecture theatre could be seen as the stamping press of the university factory, which for hundreds of years has provided an efficient way for one lecturer to impart knowledge on a large class.

Just as the  Internet has challenged the way things are done in many industries, it is changing education. A student can watch a video of a lecture, interact with educational programs, with fellow students and teachers online, much more efficiently and continently. This will not entirely replace the classroom and campus, but I suggest about 80% of a typical university program can now be undertaken on-line away from the campus. Along with four academic quarters, in place of two semesters per year, e-leanring will make university campuses ten times as productive.

In 1998 on-line education was cutting edge technology, but in 2014 it is now routine. Free open source software is available to support education. Those institutions which do not want the bother of running the software themselves can buy a service with support, without the students realising that the service is not coming from the university.

What is harder to implement that educational software are the new skills academic staff require to design and deliver online education. While these techniques have been researched for decades and formal education programs for staff run, this have tended to be at specialist "open" universities previously supported paper based distance education and naturally moved into on-line education. A handful of Australian universities teach on-line teaching techniques (and teach it on-line), along with TAFEs and RTOs. More traditional universities have tended to teach e-learning as a adjunct to classroom techniques and teach it in a classroom. Many professors never having experienced an on-line course, let alone been certified to design one.

Australian universities are now in a transition phase, having provided a Learning Management System (LMS) to allow for on-line courses (many using the Australian designed Moodle open source LMS and New Zeeland open source Mahara e-portfolio), but primarily using this as a supplement for face-to-face courses. This is usually called "blended mode" but more accurately could be described as "ad-hoc". Universities are not sure of the business model for e-learning, or the pedagogical implications of on-line education. Some universities are dabbling with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), with no clear idea of why.

The automotive industry may have lessons for the education industry. The production line made cars cheaper and, for a time, the North American and European auto industry dominated the world. But then Japanese, and later Korean, companies learned how to use quality control processes to produce better, cheaper cars. Something similar may now be happening with education. E-learning provides the opportunity to use quality control processes for high value, ow cost courses. This approach may not be suitable for creative arts subjects, but perfectly adequate for vocational professional courses, which make up the bulk of revenue which universities receive.

Australia may have only a few years in which to "retool" its education industry to compete in the new global online education industry, or suffer the fate of the Australian automotive industry. With a tradition of western education, but connections to the markets in Asia, Australia could be well positioned for this market. I will be discussing this at the 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2014), at UBC, in Vancouver in late August and at ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group, ANU 3 September.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Re-engineering Education

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a panel of academics and a student are discussing "Blow up the lecture?". The event is being streamed live. It happens today in a web search I found "Re-engineering IT Education" a seminar from 1998, where I outlined Recommendations for Improving Education. Then I wrote "Information technology and telecommunications will profoundly alter social interaction, work and education over the next 20 years.". What I did not realise was that I would then spend the next 15 years working out how to implement ICT for education. Having done that, I now hope to teach how to do this to my academic colleagues and do it internationally).

Professor Sarma,  used the term "magic time" for informal discussion, but perhaps "organised serendipity" would be better. He also estimated the cost of developing an online course to be about twice the cost of delivering a conventional face to face course. Using the ANU Academic casual sessional rates, I estimate the cost of a course with
100 students works out to about $100,000 (or about $1,000 per student). This sounds far too low for the cost of creating a MOOC. One of the others on the panel estimated a MOOC costs about four times as much as running a face-to-face course, which would be about $400,000. This sound more reasonable, but perhaps a little high.
What if the traditional lecture became a thing of the past? Are there some forms of learning that are better suited to computers than the classroom?
Do students want to be talked at or talked to?
Technology is opening up new ways to teach and learn and we want your opinion on what the classrooms of the future might look like.

Featuring panellists:
Professor Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning, MIT
Dr Joe Hope,  Physics Education Centre, ANU
Ms Laura Wey, Education Officer, ANUSA
Chaired by ABC 666 Mornings Presenter Ms Genevieve Jacobs

Head of MIT edX on Internet of Things

Greetings from the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Sanjay Sarma from MIT is speaking on "The Internet of Things". In his other role of Director of Digital Learning at MIT covering  MITx and EdX), Professor Sarma will be speaking at the unfortunately named "Blow up the lecture?" event at 6pm (free seats still available).

But this morning Professor Sarma is speaking to an engineering and computer science audience on how to make the Internet less virtual by being able to track and interact with many devices at low cost. There is a video "2014 Capitalizing on the Internet of Things" featuring Professor Sarma.

Unfortunately Professor Sarma is providing a very basic introduction to RFID tags and the use of sensors for applications such as agriculture. These applications are well known to staff and students at ANU and CSIRO IT Research (co-located at ANU) who have been building such applications for many years. It would have been useful to hear about what new work MIT might be doing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Inaugural Humanitarian Computing Prize

Students in the Master of Energy Change program and other postgraduate programs at the Australian national University who enrol in the course COMP7310 "ICT Sustainability" are eligible for the $5,000 Humanitarian Computing Prize. The inaugural award to Kenta Hiraoka was made today.

ANU adjunct lecturer and researcher Tom Worthington wants students to start thinking about how computing can change the world.

“Computing is normally thought of as part science and part commerce. I want to inspire students to look at how they can better the world through the application of technology,” he said.

To do this, Tom has established the Humanitarian
Computing Prize to reward students who excel in the
Information Computer Technology Sustainability course.

“The world needs graduates who have the skills and
ambition to make a better world. As an educator I have learned that prizes can be a powerful motivator of students.”
Tom explained that humanitarian computing is about helping people through the use of information technology.

“Humanitarian computing promotes human welfare
through the appropriate application of information
technology. Some areas I have worked in use computers to assist people with disability, coordinate relief operations during natural disasters and reduce carbon emissions to combat global warming.”

Tom hopes that his support of humanitarian computing will attract the attention of others with the ability to make a difference.

“My hope is the Prize will inspire business and government to make contributions to ANU to help further the work by students in the area of humanitarian computing.”
From: Computing Changing the World, 2013 ANU Report to Donors.

Climate and Energy Research

Greetings from the "2014 ANU Climate and Energy Research Student Expo" at the Australian National University in Canberra. The event goes until 5pm and there is plenty of room, if you would like to join in.

Dr. Margi Böhm (CSIRO) started by talking on post PhD career pathways. But so far she has just been repeating some of the professional lessons which students should learn when they first arrive at university. Hopefully we will get on to climate and energy research soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ANU Reporter Electronic Edition

Last night I attended the launch of the Australian national University’s ANU Reporter app. Available for Apple iPad and Google Tablets, this is a new electronic edition of the university publication first published on paper in 1970. However, I was disappointed in the print and electronic editions of the magazine, both in terms of design and content. This is essentially a dull print publication converted to a dull downloadable format. I suggest ANU should flip its publishing process, producing for the web first, with downloadable (Apps) as a second priority and then providing print editions last of all. ANU can then target readers with content they are likely to want to read.

The first paper edition of the new ANU Reporter has a grey cover and mostly grey interior, with a few pages with some muted colours. The paper edition is on heavy matt paper. The overall effect is of a dull, serious, scholarly work, perhaps worthy, but not interesting.

The App edition of the new ANU Reporter mimics the paper edition, with the same grey tones and page based layout, with just a few videos added. Unfortunately this is essentially a dull paper magazine format converted to an electronic edition, not taking advantage of the electronic features.

ANU Reporter does not appear to be available online as ordinary web pages. As a result it will be difficult to find the content with a web search and to read it on an ordinary web browser.

The layout of the magazine seems to change from article to article. This reminds me of some student produced publications, where a committee could not agree on a style.

ANU Reporter is trying to be someone thing for everyone, with articles for students, Alumni, donors and others. However, as a result it is likely to appeal to no one. When the ANU Reporter was produced on paper it was necessary to limit the size and make difficult decisions on what should be in each edition to appeal to a wide audience. But this is not necessary in the electronic age: ANU can produce any number of different electronic publications for different readers and publish them as often as needed (from every few months, to every few hours). Excerpts from those publications can be published on paper, for the few people who do not read online publications (and to impress high-net-worth donors).

Providing online and then adapting for other delivery methods is also a technique ANU is yet to adopt for teaching.I will be discussing this in "Teaching Students to Work Together Online", at ANU, 3rd September 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Australia Seventeenth in Global Innovation Index Rankings

Australia is ranked seventeenth in the Global Innovation Index Rankings 2014, scoring  55.01 out of 100. Within South East Asia and Oceania it ranked fourth. It was given an efficiency ratio of 0.70 which is 81 out of the countries listed.

Standards for Academic Gowns Developed in the Cafe

Tom Worthington receiving a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education from Professor Gareth Evans, Chancellor of the Australian National University, 19 July 2013. The ANU now uses the Pantone colour standard for its Academic and Cermonial Dress Order. At the mid-year graduation ceremonies this week, one student was sent back at the door to get a new gown, as they one they had was last year's model and not exactly the right colour. This is partly my fault. ANU was previously using a British colour standard for specifying the colours of the academics gowns in the different disciplines. This made the gowns expensive:
"In relation to the Academic and Ceremonial Dress Order, the Vice-Chancellor informed Council that ...  High gown hire costs are due in part to the plethora of hood colours tied to those in the Dictionary of Colour Standards of the British Colour Council. ..." From ANU Council Minutes, 22 March 2013
During a conversation in the cafe, I suggested using Pantone, as this was already being used by the marketing department for colour coding printed and online publications:
ColourPantone Colour Reference*
BlackPantone Black C
Gold lace1255C
Old gold871C
Union Jack blue285C
Union Jack red200C
WhitePantone White C
*Derived from Pantone Formula Guide Solid Coated & Solid Uncoated, ISBN 978-159065268-8
From: Table 1: Colours, ANU Academic and Ceremonial Dress Order 2014,16 June 2014
My suggestion that the student's identity number be embroidered onto their hood or sash (or they have a badge), with a QR code, was not adapted. This would allow the students to be scanned as they approach the podium to collect their certificate, to verify it is the right person. Also anyone could later verify the person in a graduation photo was entitled to wear the gown they have. This would combat the problem which universities have with persons falsely claiming degrees.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

End of Lectures at ANU

Professor Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning, MIT will speak at "Blow up the lecture?",  at the Australian National University in Canberra,  29 July 2014.5:30 PM. This will be a panel discussion on the role of traditional lectures in the digital age. 

I gave my "Last Lecture at ANU" in 2008. Since then I have provided online courses to students. I still give occasional lectures, but as a supplement, not the primary method of teaching.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Silicon Canberra

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where three former students, now working in the USA are speaking on "Silicon Valley Alumni Career Forum". In introducing the speakers, Professor Mick CARDEW-HALL,
  • Eoin McMillan BA, BComm (2009). Founder and CEO of software development consultancy SF Dev Labs. Eoin commented he took a course at ANU on Entrepreneurship and Innovation which was very useful (I see Anu now has other innovation related courses). Also he commented that Australian graduates could get an E1 visa for the USA. He also also commented on the value of the Entry 29 Co-working space as some the wished had been open when he was at ANU.
  • Tim Sears PhD (Computer Science and Machine Learning) (2008). Founder and CEO of Pingwell. Tim commented that setting up a company was now much easier, with $500 a month of online services would have cost thousands a few years ago. He also mentioned Hacker DoJo.Tim mentioned that the US now allows raising funds on the web (which I believe it is called "Equity crowdfunding". 
  • Peter Buckingham, BSc (Hons) (2000), Senior Director of Xyratex. Peter commented that Silicon Valley has a concentration of talent. He commented that obtaining venture capital in Australia was "challenging" and that Atlassian was initially funded by credit cards. Professor CARDEW-HALL responded that ANU has its own funds for ventures (Discovery Translation Fund, and Seed Investment Fund). 
ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor (Innovation & Advancement), commented that when people think of innovation, they think Silicon Valley. However, I suggest a better model for ANU and Canberra to emulate would be Silicon Fen (aka the Cambridge Phenomenon). 

Obvious areas for Canberra start-ups would be public administration, defence and education. All students could be offered a course in the skills needed to set up a business. Students could then be offered the chance to go through the process of taking an idea through to implementation in a business incubator. Students could take part in a start-up competition an d then submit their work for assessment via an e-portfolio.

However, we need to make it clear to students that only about one in one hundred thousand will be successful in this innovation role and they need to also equip themselves with the more traditional skills for a regular job. The innovations will need a team of people top provide services and to follow up with industrial scale implementation of their ideas. In a gold rush it is those who sell the shovels to the prospectors who make the real money. ;-)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Improving the Education Experience

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where three former studnets, now working in the USA are speaking on "ANU Education Experience – lessons from notable ANU alumni". They will be speaking again 6:00 PM tomorrow at the ANU Silicon Valley Alumni Career Forum. They are also visiting the Entry 29 Co-working space (which hosted GovHack yesterday). It strikes me that these alumni are presenting an East Coast USA approach and it would be interesting to talk to alumni from Bangalore (India) to present a different view.

Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills

The "Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills" (ATC21STM) is a project between Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Singapore, the Netherlands, Finland, USA, Costa Rica and, in Australia, the University of Melbourne (Care, 2014). The ATC21S website says they are "... developing methods to assess skills that will form the basis for 21st-century curricula". That sounded interesting, but I could not find details of how this was being done.

In terms of assessing skills, I found the approach used for Australian Computer Society's postgraduate students most useful. With this you get the student to do whatever it is you are assessing, preferably in their workplace. This is much the same as the approach which I was trained in for assessment in the VET sector. I have applied this approach with masters students and it would seem applicable to fixing a light switch or developing a corporate strategy.

As an example, the assessment for my ICT Sustainability course, includes: "Write a report on the carbon footprint and materials use of the ICT operations of your organisation (or an organisation you are familiar with)".


Care, E., (21 January 2014), Assessing 21st century skills. Perspective Paper for the Centre for Education Research and Practice. Retrieved from

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teaching Students to Work Together Online

I will be speaking on "Teaching Students to Work Together Online" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5:30pm, 3 September 2014. The talk is free (sponsored by the ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group), but bookings are required.

ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group

Teaching Students to Work Together Online

Can higher education institutions teach Australian and international students online together? Can students relate on-line, as they do on-campus? Join us to discuss the issues, after a brief talk by Tom Worthington.

Tom Worthington FACS CP

Tom Worthington is an independent computer consultant and educator. He is an Adjunct lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University and a tutor for the Australian Computer Society Virtual College. Tom is also studying for a Masters of Education (Distance Education), by distance education, at a North American university.
Tom is presenting a paper titled "Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online" at the 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE) in Vancouver.

Open Badges No Answer to Australian Research Skills

The Insignia Project is researching the use of open badges to overcome the lack of basic courses for Australian research students. It seems to me there is a much simpler solution: provide courses for Australian research students, as is done in other countries. This can incorporate Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) using e-Portfolios.

As described on the Insignia blog, Australian research students are only required to produce a document (thesis or dissertation) to get their degree, they are not required to undertake any formal courses. As a result it can be difficult to ensure that all students have the required skills in research methods, ethics and literacy.

The Insignia project aims to solve this problem by awarding  "badges" to students for undertaking informal education. Instead of doing a formal course run by the university at which they are enrolled, the student undertakes some informal learning and for this they are awarded a "badge" by the university.

Research Methods Courses

The universities of other nations address this issue of basic skills by requiring all students to undertake formal courses. Given that universities are already step up to run courses, that would seem the obvious solution to the Australian problem.

Currently I am a postgraduate student of education at a North American university. I am required to undertake core courses, regardless of if I am doing coursework or research. In addition, as I plan to do research I am required to undertake a course in research methods, before I can commence research. Apart from ensuring I have the required skills for research, this allows me to try it out. If I, or my supervisor, decide research doesn't suit me, I can continue on as a coursework student (doing a smaller "project" rather than a thesis).

I can apply for credit for courses I have already undertaken at other universities. Also I can have skills learned outside a formal course recognised by RPL. As well as undertaking courses, both coursework and research students are required to reflect on their studies in an e-portfolio (I am using Mahara for this).

This process would seem to be suitable for adoption in Australia, to ensure all students have the required skills. It could be build on the current coursework processes already in place and would not need a new  "badges" system to be developed.

RPL in Australian VET Sector

The part of Australian Higher Education which has the most experience with RPL is the Vocation Education and Training sector (VET), both government TAFEs and private Registered Training Organisations. To teach in a VET institution, formal qualifications are required. To obtain the necessary Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110) I went through RPL at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT). My university qualifications in teaching and experience allowed me to obtain 80% of the certificate by RPL and I did online courses (using Moodle) for the other 20%.

The VET system uses "Units of Competency", equivalent to about one day's training, as its building blocks, which could be seen as "badges". There are very detailed specifications for each unit, which are standardised across Australia. Also the RPL process requires trained assessors.

If Australian universities want to create a system of "badges" then it would need to create something like the VET system. This would require standardised definitions of units and also require training of staff to assess these (the training which university lecturers get is not adequate). A system where universities each create their own incompatible badges and where these is no quality standard and no accredited training of assessors would not solve the skills problem and would lower the quality of Australian research degrees.

See also, "Proposal for Incorporating an ePortfolio in the ANU Master of Computing".

Friday, July 4, 2014

Science Speaking to Politicians

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Aidan Byrne (Australian Research Council Chief Executive), Senator Kate Lundy, Catriona Jackson (CEO Science & Technology Australia) and Dr Will Grant on "Science and Politics – Oil and Water?". This is part of the EMBL Australia PhD Course.

Recipes for PhD

Greetings from the Australian National University where Milad Shokouhi, Microsoft Research Cambridge, is speaking on "Recipes for PhD" (slides available). He suggested potential PHD students think about why they want to do this and if they are interested in research. Also he pointed out that PHDs is not a fast path to a very high salary.

Unfortunately what Milad went through were the routine and obvious steps of being a PHD students, which research students learn in their introductory training. I would have liked to hear about some advanced concepts and some of what is done at Microsoft Research Cambridge

Milad is in Australia for SIGIT2014 on the Gold Coast, 6 to 11 July 2014.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How Many Universities in Torrens Building Adelaide?

Torrens Building Adelaide, 
Photo by Bahudhara
CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Recently I had a request from UCL Australia for a reference from one of my former students, who was applying to do a  PhD. I had never heard of "UCL Australia", and in checking I found it is the Australia arm of University College London (a highly respected institution). However, the Australian operation is based in the Torrens Building, 220 Victoria Square, Adelaide. UCL have a photo of this building with their flag out the front,  but I was sure the building was associated with another university.

A web search found the Carnegie Mellon University Australia is also located in the Torrens Building, as is Torrens University Australia. All three of these institutions feature photos of the Torrens Building on their websites. Both UCL and CMU have photos of the building, each with only their own flag out the front. CMU Australia also show photos of teaching facilities and a video.

It is not clear if each institution has its own teaching facilities in the building, or are sharing them. Having shared facilities would be good for the students, but would be a little misleading if each institution to fails to mention that and so implies they have the building to themselves.

Of course, universities are not the only ones which recycle buildings in this way. The Australian government has an impressive looking military command centre, which appears in the media with different names and functions attached to it.