Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blow up the MOOC

Yesterday the Australian National University hosted the last of this year's series of events about the future of education, focusing on Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs). A Podcast of the event is available. The event was called "Blow up the lecture?", but it is MOOCs have outlived their usefulness.

The panel was made up of and experienced MOOC maker from the USA,  Professor Armando Fox, Faculty Advisor to the UC Berkeley MOOCLab; an ANU professor developing a new MOOC at ANU, Gabriele Bammer from the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health; an ANU student who has taken some MOOCs
Benjamin Niles, President of the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA); and Year 8 student from a local school who has studied some MOOCs.

All the panelists were enthusiastic about the potential of large scale low cost or free courses to broaden education. While I am equally enthusiastic about making education broadly available, MOOCs are not the way to do it. Decades of experience in developing on-line courses, with hard lessons as to what works and what does not, are being ignored by MOOC enthusiasts. Also the recent evidence that MOOCs are not delivering claimed benefits is being ignored.

Fortunately most universities have only made a modest investment in MOOCs. There will be little financial or reputation loss if MOOCs fall out of favor over the next few months. Universities can, and should, continue to provide free and low cost extension courses, as they have done for hundreds of years. However, universities should not be distracted from their main role in degree education.

The idea that developing MOOCs will some how improve the overall quality of education at universities is flawed. This thinking needs to be flipped back to the traditional university approach, where materials from degree courses are adapted for short and extension courses. University degree programs are changing from a face-to-face mode to blended and on-line. Some of the materials and techniques used for teaching degree students on-line could be  adapted for the broader population. This is essentially the approach one of the panelists, Professor Armando Fox, . He did not get the chance to speak at length but discussed it in a previous presentation "How MOOCs Can Reinvigorate Classroom Teaching". Note that Professor Fox uses the term "Residential Education" to refer to face-to-face teaching in this presentation (not students living in dormitories),

In addition, universities need to keep in mind that there are other educational institutions tasked, and better equipped, to provide broad, low cost education for the community. The most enthusiastic proponents of MOOCs have tended to be prestigious western research universities. These institutions tend to have the least experience in on-line education. The less prestigious teaching universities, which have developed expertise in on-line education over decades, have tended to be sidelined in the MOOC hype, but continue to turn out well educated graduates each year.  Australia's TAFEs and Registered Training Organizations are set up to deliver unglamorous, but educationally sound, low cost on-line education.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Attrition and Completion in Doctoral Education: A Wicked Problem?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Nigel Palmer, honorary research fellow with the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne is speaking on "Attrition and Completion in Doctoral Education: A Wicked Problem?". He has been researching completion rates for doctoral candidates by international/domestic status and gender (and produced papers on education). He is looking at how to better support candidates, to improve completion times and rates completion of their degree.

Nigel argued that even if universities are full fee paying, students dropping out is still a problem. He then discussed if it was a wicked problem. He suggests it is because of the difficulty of measuring attrition as well as the management of attrition itself.

One reason for worrying about attrition is equity of access to education.  Nigel showed a graph showed the increasing number of women commencing a doctoral program over time. However, he then had a second graph showing that women were over represented in educaiton and helath, but many fewer in IT and Engineering.  One interesting trend was that in education and health participation was higher in undergraduate degrees than postgraduate ones, while it was revered in IT and engineering.

Nigel then showed a series of graphs showing international versus domestic students for the group of eight universities. Unfortunately all the colored likes look blue to me, so I could not see what the graphs were showing.

Nigel suggested that some measures to lessen attrition, such as research methods courses,  will also improve the graduate outcomes (courses for doctoral students is a hot topic at ANU at present). 

Nigel described a "crude" research doctoral degree completion rates, stupid statistic. This is calculated from the number of students completing in one year divided by the number there were the year before. This is not a very useful statistic because students normally take longer than a year to complete a degree. There have been attempts to come up with better measures, using longer periods and techniques such as a three year moving average (three years being more typical for degree completion). Unfortunately as Nigel points out such calculations are skewed by recent growth of international enrolments in Australia, which makes the relative competion rate look low.

The US PHD  Completion project found completion rates of 49% for humanities to 65% for engineering. Similar studies for ANU showed a completion rate of about 80% for full time students. Niegl's research is showing a similar high completion rate, but it is too early to report definitive results. The figures show an interesting S curve, with the rate of completions increasing rapidly for about the first five years and then tapering off. Nigel pointed out that there were a significant number of completions from five to ten years.

It is surprising how difficult it is to get an agreed measure and then actual statistics for completion rates for degrees. Universities are in the business of producing graduates (and this is a very large export industry for Australia). It would seem reasonable to have agreed measures for university output.

If there were more reliable statistics, it would be possible to consider measures to aid completion rates. But will this really have a useful effect on measures. As an example, if domestic male students complete at a lower rate than international female students, would it be appropriate to set a higher entry standard, or resources provided, on the basis of gender?

Nigel concluded that doctoral attrition was not a wicked problem and this this might engender a sense of helplessness.

I suggest some easy measures to address attrition would be to provide more flexible programs. As an example, Australian postgraduate students could be offered programs which allow for a mix of coursework and research. As is usual in North America, students would start with coursework and then, depending on their interests and aptitudes, focus on coursework or research. Also the option of the student completing a qualification lower than a doctorate, without feeling they have in some way failed, would be useful. In addition it would be useful to have accessible support services, which are available on and off campus, would be useful. Also services for monitoring supervisors in the way teachers are, would be useful.

Sample size risks in experiments with users

Diane Kelly, University of North Carolina, will speak on "Statistical power analysis for sample size estimation and understanding risks in experiments with users" at CSIRO IR & Friends at the Australian National University in Canberra, 4pm, 1 December 2014.

One critical decision that researchers must make when designing experiments with users is how many participants to study. In our field, the determination of sample size is often based on heuristics and limited by practical constraints such as time and finances. As a result, many studies are underpowered and it is common to see researchers make statements like "With more participants significance might have been detected," but what does this mean? What does it mean for a study to be underpowered? How does this effect what we are able to discover about information search behavior, how we interpret study results and how we make choices about what to study next? How does one determine an appropriate sample size? What does it even mean for a sample size to be appropriate? In this talk, I will discuss the use of statistical power analysis for sample size estimation in experiments. Statistical power analysis does not necessarily give researchers a magic number, but rather allows researchers to understand the risks of Type I and Type II errors given an expected effect size. In discussing this topic, the issues of effect size, Type I and Type II errors and experimental design, including choice of statistical procedures, will also be addressed. I hope this talk will function as a conversation starter about issues related to sample size in experimental interactive information retrieval.

Innovations in Teaching Innovation

From January 2015 I am taking over teaching of the Australian Computer Society's "New Technology Alignment" (NTA) on-line postgraduate course. This is offered directly by ACS as part of its postgraduate certificate (register now for courses starting 19 January 2015) and through Open Universities Australia. The course was designed by

Professor Doug Grant and I will be just making some minor updates to the material. But suggestions would be welcome.

In August I met Philippe Kruchten at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Universality of British Colombia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. UBC's  "New Venture Design" course (APSC 486),  has engineering and business students learn to produce a business plan for a product. The students are encouraged to enter a innovation competition or program as part of the course. After looking at courses on innovation in Canberra, I created "Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in Technology" which can be undertaken by students as a special topic.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Selling Social Science Impact

Greetings from the Australian National University where Professor Peter Davis, University of Auckland, is speaking on “Valuing the social sciences: An agenda for hard times". He argues that social sciences needs to makes its case as a useful field better and also apply more quantitative measures. He gave the example of driver education in schools, where the common suggests this is useful, but research shows it is not.
Professor Davis made the point that social scientists made a bigger impact that hard science, but outside scholarly publications.

This all seems very sensible and makes me wonder what social scientists normally spend their time doing. Peter commented that many social science students do not undertake any research methods course, which I found difficult to believe. The reason was that staff worry the statistic could drive students away from social science completely (which I can believe).  One quarter of the Master of Education I am doing is research methods, with courses on general, quantitative and qualitative methods (another chunk of the program is devoted to applying and communicating the results). Despite having a mathematics and computing background, I found statistics a very difficult subject and likely would have given up studies all together if that was what I first encountered. As it was, the statistics was something I knew I had to do.

I asked Professor Davis if social scientists could work more with the hard sciences, giving the example of climate change, where there is overwhelming evidence that global warming is real, but little action has been taken. He replied that the "nudge" theory, used in public health, could be applied. The idea is that people could be helped to make small changes to their behavior, rather than large, difficult,  lifestyle changes.

One recently example of where social science can help is the evaluation of social welfare policy. The Australian government introduced "income management", initially targeting aboriginal communities. The idea was that government payments would be made in a way which prevented the recipient from buying alcohol. Also requirements for recipients sending their children to school were made. However, a review of the program shows that it does not reduce alcohol consumption or increase school attendance. Unfortunately, it seems likely the government will ignore the evidence and expand the program anyway, for reasons of political ideology.

Making Stealth Paint for Aircraft

Greetings from the Australian National University where Alan W. Weimer from the Colorado Centre for Biorefining and Biofuels,, University of Colorado  is speaking on "Lab Curiosity to Commercial Process- what it takes". He started by talking about his experience of working on how to create boron carbide in industrial quantities. Alan commented on the problem of working with "white glove scientists" who concentrated on the purity of the final product, not the cost of the production process. The key to an efficient process was rapid heating. The problem was to produce a reactor vessel which could tolerate the high temperature. The solution was a transport flow, where the particles fall through a gas. However, the problem then was to find a market large enough to justify using the process. A new market was found in cutting tools for electronics production. Alan then changed topics and discussed the coating of particles with anti-corrosion materials for use on stealth aircraft.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ICT Sustainability Australia Briefing
I will be on a panel at the "Fujitsu ICT Sustainability Executive Breakfast Briefing" in Canberra, 4 December 2014. This is for the release of the Fujitsu Australia  "ICT Sustainability: Australian Benchmark 2014" report. Also speaking will be Lee Stewart, Head of Sustainability, Fujitsu Australia, William Ehmcke, CEO, Connection Research & Director of Foundation for IT Sustainability and Neale Rowe, Distinguished Services Engineer, Cisco. You can register for this free event.

It is an interesting time to be looking at computers and energy saving, with the G20 Energy Efficiency Action Plan, released last week, includes a strategy to reduce energy consumption for networked devices. How to progress the G20's energy efficiency plans would be a good project for my "ICT Sustainability" students.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Benchmarking with the Sessional Staff Standards Framework

Greetings from a workshop on "Benchmarking with the Sessional Staff Standards Framework", presented by Marina Harvey, of Macquarie University. This is part of the BLASST Project, which has produced a Sessional Staff Standards Framework, BLASST Guide. and an accompanying interactive tool (B-BIT).

Sessional staff are casual, non-perminat university teachers (called "Hourly Paid Lecturers" or "HPL" in the UK). Marina cited the work by May, Peetz, and Strachan (2013) on the numbers of sessional staff in Australia, doing about 50% of the teaching. This is of great interest in the higher education system, with a fear that teaching is becoming "casualised", with full time tenured staff being replaced with those employed for a few hours at a time. The worry is that students will receive a lower quality education as a result, as these staff may not receive training or be involved in the activities of the university.

Teach Students to Teach

As part of the BLASST workshop we were asked to come up with initiatives to further sessional staff development. An initiative I suggested was for universities to offer students a course in teaching, as part of their degree. This could be an expanded version of the type of tutor training students normally receive. This could be aligned with the VET Training and Assessment curriculum, so students could obtain a qualification (especially where the university has a RTO associated with it).

As an example, the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) runs a CECS Teaching Quality Program (TQP). Tutors are paid to attend the training, as well as for tutoring. An alternative approach would be to offer students teacher education as part of their program. Students would undertake a semester of tutoring as part of their education. Students would not be paid for this, as it would be part of their education. However, as well as normal course credit, students could be awarded a vocational qualification through ANU College, allowing students to teach in Registered Training Organizations. Such an initiative would likely be cost neutral: the money saved by not paying the students would likely cover the increased cost of the more extensive education and certification.

Some sessional staff could be offered multi-year year contracts, so they maintain their access to university resources between teaching periods. These staff could also be offered a process to obtain the same teaching qualifications offered to students in their degrees, as part of this (most likely by Recognition of Prior Learning). As an example the staff member could have an e-portfolio which was suitable for submission for certification.

Professors Do Not Make the Best Teachers

Universities like to promote the image of the tenured full time professor who conducts research and then passes on their decades of wisdom to the students. There are some such people,  but researchers do not necessarily make good teachers. Advanced students make very good tutors for less advanced students. The design of courses also requires specialist skills which are not part of academic training.

Students undertaking a degree, even the highest level doctoral degrees, need to understand that they have little chance of a full time career in academia. Universities turn out many times as many PHDs as needed for academia. Most graduates will be working outside the university and can hope for, at best, a part time casual role at university. Casual staff in any field have to take responsibility for their own training and development, including paying the cost of courses themselves and doing the training on their own time.

While the Blasst Project has produced useful material, the emphasis on sessional staff is not useful. If standards for teaching at universities are required, these should apply to all staff, regardless of their employment status. To say that sessional staff must meet teaching standards, while permanent staff do not, makes little sense. The Blasst Project materials would work just as well with the word "sessional" changed to "teaching".

A Plan for Teaching in The Internet Age

The BLAST project seems to be using a pre-Internet paradigm, with the assumption that teaching will be undertaken on campus, with staff and students physically present at the same time on the campus. With university teaching transitioning to the on-line environment, academic thinking needs to get past this last century paradigm. Most teaching will be done with students and their teachers not physically on campus. My rule of thumb is that a typical student will need to spend about 20% of their time on campus (one day a week for a full time student). Arrangements for staff, including training and "meetings" need to take account that most of them will not be on campus much of the time.


May, R., Peetz, D., & Strachan, G. (2013). The casual academic workforce and labour market segmentation in Australia. Labour & Industry: a journal of the social and economic relations of work, 23(3), 258-275.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Australian Government Open Data Repository Focusing on Real Data

Greetings from  the "Big data, big opportunity" conference, at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Pia Waugh, Director of Coordination and Gov 2.0, Australian Government is explaining the open data strategy. She emphasized that real data for is needed, not electronic copies of government documents. A good example is that the budget data was provided as computer readable files, as well as human readable documents. Not all government data can be made public as it contains confidential information about people and organizations. I noticed Pia is the only one of the presenters talking about information access how actually has a computer in front of them.

ps: Recently the Australian Prime Minister said "Coal is good for humanity ...", perhaps we can get Malcolm Turnbull , Minister for Communications to say: "Data is good for humanity, data is good for prosperity, data is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world". ;-)

Climate Governance

Greetings from  the "Big data, big opportunity" conference, at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Eliza Murray is speaking on "Could order and ambition emerge from the fragmented climate governance complex?". She is using network analysis and demonstrated this using Gephi software. The idea is to look at the connections between national and international institutions involved with climate change. She estimates there are about 1,000 institutions to research, which therefore requires automated analysis. She intends to mine the website of climate change organizations and look at the overlapping memberships. She expects to find that the organizations have become decentralized by not fragmented.

Eliza commented that she initially stated her research on Australian organizations, but found these were not indicative of the international situation. When interviewing people in other countries she is asked "Why are these weird things going on in Australia with climate change?

I suggested Eliza contact Paul Thomas and the people at CSIRO researching information retrieval.

Citizen Mapping in Indonesia

Greetings from  the "Big data, big opportunity" conference, at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Christina Griffin is speaking on "Open access spatial data for effective disaster risk reduction". She is emphasizing the use of open street map for dealing with disasters in developing nations. While crowd sourced mapping data has limitations, it is better than no data at all. She is studying vulnerability to disasters in central Java, Indonesia. It happens I helped with the deployment of Sahana open source software for the 2006 Yogjakarta Earthquake in Indonesia.

New Zealand Educational Entrepreneurs

Greetings from the Griffin Room, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Steve Thomas is speaking on ‘Putting a Value On It’. The value that New Zealand educational entrepreneurs plan to create. He started by defining social entrepreneurship, in terms of innovation, revenue generation for improving welfare. He said there was not much research on this.

He is studying "Partnership Schools" (Kura Hourua)  (PSKH). These allow more flexibility in teaching, with different teaching hours and unregistered teachers. Examples included military style schools, farm based and Mauri and pacific inland culture orientated schools. Some schools plan to use Wraparound Services to address health and low socio-economic status.

Steve pointed out that some of these services are not new, but are being delivered in new ways. But it is too early to show this works.

I asked Steve about use of e-learning in NZ schools, given the NZ Education Department developed the Mahara e-portfolio software. He commented that several of the people interviewed had commented they were looking at IT use, but did not seem to be clear on how to do this.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scholarships for Study in Beijing

Greeting from the Australian National University where I am attending a presentation on "Schwarzman Scholarship".  This is a new program intended to be the Chinese equivalent of the Rhodes Scholarship at University of Oxford, England. The Schwarzman Scholarship funds a one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The student doesn't need to have any prior Chinese language skills, but will be required to study basic Mandarin. Applications will be open from April 2015, with studies starting in June 2016.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Improve Student Writing with Teaching and Testing

Dr McComas Taylor, is reported to have said that some international students were "functionally illiterate" ("Higher education caught between integrity and fees", Amy

In my paper "A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online" for the 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (2012), I noted written reports can be difficult for students, particularly those with English as a second language. One option I considered was increasing the English Language Competency score required for enrolling students. But this would then deny students the opportunity to improve their English while undertaking a course. Instead one approach I use in teaching "ICT Sustainability" (ANU COMP7310) is to give the students small writing tasks each week. This builds their confidence. Also it allows me to build a picture of the student's writing style and makes it harder for them to have someone else write an assignment for them undetected.

In the first two weeks of the course I have the students have use formal referencing, so I can identify those who need help with this. Some students, even graduate students, don't know how to cite sources and so are at risk of being accused of plagiarism. When faced with having to write, some students withdraw from the course (without penalty), but after some extra tuition most can meet the required standard.

One useful initiative is that students of the ANU Master of Computing now have to undertake two courses in professional communications (COMP8701 & COMP8705). Rather than just have subject matter tutors in each course dealing with writing problems, it makes sense to have specialist educators teaching communication.


Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. DOI 10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070

Big Data Policy Conference in Canberra

There are still some free tickets left for the "Big data, big opportunity" conference, at the Australian National University in Canberra, 19 November 2014. This features Pia Waugh, Director of Coordination and Gov 2.0, Australian Government. This is a PHD conference, where the program is mostly research students presenting their work in short snappy presentations (along with some keynotes by celebrities).
The Big Data, Big Opportunity conference will examine opportunities presented by effectively harnessing big data, and in particular will look at how open data (across the Academy, government and industry) can enhance research, shape policy development, and impact on innovation. The conference will provide a forum for PhD students, academics, policymakers, and industry to jointly discuss the implications and challenges of moving towards open access data.
The conference will run the following topic streams:
• Economics/economic policy
• Public policy and governance
• Environment, development and resource management

My picks for the day

Time Session
0845 Registration
0915 Welcome: Arjuna Mohottala, President, Crawford PhD Conference 2014 Organising Committee, Molonglo Theatre
0920 Keynote: John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner, Molonglo Theatre
1010 Morning tea.
1030 Griffin Room: ‘Putting a Value On It’. The value that New Zealand educational entrepreneurs plan to create, Steve Thomas
1100 Lennox Room: Applying reinforcement learning to single and multi-agent economic problems, Neal Hughes
Discussant: Akshay Shanker
1130 Griffin Room: Where big data meets no data, Belinda Thompson
1200 Griffin Room: Facing our demons: Do mindfulness skills help people deal with failure at work? James Donald
1230 Lunch.
1300 Griffin Room: Giving rights to nature: A new institutional approach for overcoming social dilemmas? Julia Talbot-Jones
1330 Molonglo Theatre: Small states, big effects? Oil price shocks and economic growth in small island developing states, Alrick Campbell. Discussant: Arjuna Mohottala
1400 Griffin Room: Open access spatial data for effective disaster risk reduction, Christina Griffin
1430 Lennox Room: Could order and ambition emerge from the fragmented climate governance complex? Eliza Murray
1500 Afternoon tea.
1520 Panel session: The successes, challenges, and future potential of big data, Molonglo Theatre
Chair: Jenny Gordon, Principal Adviser Research Canberra, Productivity Commission
• Andy Heys, Software Architect, IBM Australia
• Greg Laughlin, Principal Policy Adviser, Australian National Data Service
• Duncan Stone, Senior Manager, Open Innovation, Price waterhouse Coopers
• Pia Waugh, Director of Coordination and Gov 2.0, Australian Government
1645 Wrap-up: Arjuna Mohottala, President, Crawford PhD Conference 2014 Organising Committee
1700 Close

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Twenty Five Students in a Class Says Brain Research

At the moment I am studying educational psychology. Alongside the set readings, I have been studying "Towards a Theoretical Neuroscience: from Cell Chemistry to Cognition" by a Canadian, Andrew Coward (2013). This is an easier read the textbook I have been assigned.

It happens I have known Andrew for years. I caught up with him on a recent visit to Vancouver and he mentioned the book. Andrew is a retired telephone engineer, who decided to apply his knowledge of engineering complex telecommunication systems to explain the working of the human brain. I thought this nuts (and told him so), but the medical researchers he has been collaborating with seem to think there is something in it.

One of Andrew's concepts is that the brain uses multiple levels of abstraction for understanding. This is something directly applicable to learning, which you can present students with a broad concept and then teach more detailed ideas (or alternatively present details first and the big picture later).

One point I cam across was a discussion of the  maximum size of a group of people. Andrew quotes sources to say that the maximum size of a group of Pleistocene hunters was 25. But later settlements had 200 people. It is interesting that 25 is about the maximum size of a tutorial group in an Australian university (with one teacher per 24 students at Australian universities).

La Trobe University's Teaching and Learning Sapces Design Guidelines define a "Medium" Large Tiered Lecture Theatre as having 150 to 250 seats and being the largest size which can "facilitate an engagement between the lecturer and the assembled student audience through strategically positioned aisle ways". Andrew comments in his book that settlements 12,000 years ago had 200 residents. The lecture theatre with its aisle ways might be seen as a modern knowledge village.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

APEC Education Mobility Data Collection Survey

The "APEC Education Mobility Data Collection Survey" was announced at the meeting in Chin. I was not able to find any more detail, but Richardson (2014) provided a Discussion Paper on "Promoting Regional Education Services Integration: APEC University Associations" at a Cross-Border Education Cooperation Workshop in May 2014.

The obvious way to provide students with access to education in other countries is by distance education with on-line courses via the Internet.  Richardson (2014) discusses Distance Education, Open Educational Resources (OER), Coursera and edX Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, the free and low cost online courses have been seen as a second class form of education and this has been further confused with the advent of free and low cost MOOCs. At the the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2014) in Vancouver a few mo ths ago I preed a paper on "Chinese and Australian Students Learning to Work Together Online - Proposal to Expand the New Colombo Plan to the Online Environment". I was surprised this was not enthusiastically received by my Chinese colleagues, but this may be because of the perception that high quality courses have to be face-to-face.
In support of APEC’s student mobility target, the United States, with support from Australia, launched the first phase of a five-year project, APEC Education Mobility Data Collection Survey and Report, in July 2014.  For each member economy, the survey responses will be compiled into economy-level reports that will 1) identify key stakeholders in international education mobility, 2) document domestic data collection methodologies and indicators, and 3) show current trends in in-bound and out-bound education mobility.  Furthermore, the information collected will be used to establish a baseline of APEC economies’ current education data collection efforts, which could then inform potential capacity building efforts to support APEC economies in tracking mobility.  Many economies have national data collection organizations, but the data collection process currently varies widely from economy to economy in terms of methodology, frequency of data collection, key definitions, and scope.  By aligning regional data collection methodologies and practices, APEC members can utilize that foundation to identify gaps in student mobility and opportunities to further promote regional educational exchanges in the lead up to 2020.  From "Fulfilling Leaders’ Instructions on Quality in Higher Education", The White House, USA,

Innovation in Oral History

Greetings from the National Library of Australia where Michael H. Frisch of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York is speaking on "Managing Oral History Collections in the Digital Age: Towards a Post-Archival Sensibility". Professor Frisch is in Australia for two weeks, as part of an ARC funded study into oral history.  Half of NLA's oral history collection is already available online. I noticed that Professor Frisch is also President of the University at Buffalo Tech Incubator (a new Canberra incubator opened last week).

Professor Frisch discussed how to move beyond a cooking process with oral history. In the past the audio recording would be transcribed and then discarded, whereas now the digital audio can be retained and indexed in a fine grained way. He said this "changed everything, but not really" and mentioned the Oral History in the Digital Age (OHDA) project.

He suggested some trends in oral history duration were short summaries, rather than full transcripts and multi-dimensional indexing. It struck me that the way the demonstrated archival video was indexed looked much like a shot list in video editing.

ps: One disappointment is that the excellent NLA Bookplate and Paperplate Cafes are closed due to the commercial provider ceasing trading this week. In particular I miss the Wombok salad.  I suggest NLA get in a coffee cart in the interim. But I can recommend the Malaysian vegetable curry at the Treasury Cafe opposite the NLA.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Measuring the Value of Australian Research

Greetings from "Measuring the Value of ERA" at the University of Canberra. ERA is "Excellence in Research for Australia" is an attempt to rate the quality of research carried out in Australia. This is important to universities. This is a very complex process, with 60 pages of ERA 2015 Submission Guidelines.

The last ERA process cost somewhere between $8M and $100M to carry out.  What makes this more confusing (and expensive) is that the Australian Government also conducts a Higher Education Research Data Collection. In my view these processes could be simplified by undertaking an on-line search of what the people at each university have done and get their peers to quickly rate it on-line. At present each university has to go though a laborious process of creating a repository of research output, which is mostly published papers. The relevant government agency then needs to versify this information. This process is a waste of time and money and I suggest they could simply identify where their material is published. There would then be no need to verify a document has been published as it would be obtained from the place it is published. The Ranking Web of Universities is an example of a process for ranking universities using on-line information which gives a result comparable (or perhaps superior) to more labor-intensive measures. Also there may nt be much point in carrying out such an analysis at a university level, as researchers do their work in tams, which usually have people from multiple institutions and the university has little to do with this. In my view it would be reasonable to reduce the cost to one tenth the current amount.
Ranking Web of Universities
Excellence in Research for Australia is now into its third round. In 2011, following the release of ERA 2010 outcomes, it was speculated that the cumulative cost of the exercise was at least $100M. This topic was revisited after the 2012 ERA round, with further questions raised about the time and expenses associated with the exercise, both on the part of institutions and the ARC. As part of the 2015 submission, institutions will be required to report to the ARC the time they have spent on the preparation of their submission. What are the costs of an ERA submission, and how are universities dealing with the challenges of preparing their submissions? What does ERA mean for the changing nature of research management? And how are the benefits of evaluating the quality of the research effort across Australian universities to be reconciled with the costs to the research budget?
This symposium will consider these challenges from the point of view of research office management staff, university executive, and research policy specialists, while at the same time pondering the benefits gained from of an exercise that aims to identify and promote research excellence in Australia.
Facilitator: Mark Bazzacco (Executive Manager, Performance and Analysis, CSIRO)
  • Prof Aidan Byrne (CEO, ARC),
  • Prof Tony Peacock (CEO, CRCA),
  • Prof Frances Shannon (DVCR, UC),
  • Prof Margaret Harding (DVCR, ANU),
  • Dr Ksenia Sawczak (Director of Research Services, UC),
  • Dr Douglas Robertson (Director of Research Services, ANU).
Date:  Tuesday, 11 November 2014
Time: 3-5pm

IT Support for University Education

Recently I was asked what were the hot issues with ICT and university education. In my view they are: supporting teacher education, mobile devices, e-portfolios, e-learning and bandwidth. The impediment to better use of ICT for education is not really a computer issue at all, it is training in how to teach for university lecturers and tutors. Most receive minimal training in classroom teaching and almost none in how to teach on-line. Universities rum some courses on how to use new educational software, but stop short of teaching the teaching techniques the software can support. Academics therefore try to implement their old classroom teaching online and wonder why the students are unhappy. The way out of this is to use the technology to teach technology based teaching. Academics can then experience the techniques while learning teaching.

In terms of real technology issues the major one is how to support mobile devices. The mainstream Learning management Systems (Blackboard and Moodle) were designed for desktop computers and their attempts at a mobile interface have been less than successful. The question then is if to persist with this or switch to new software, which likely will not support desktop devices well.

So far e-portfolios have been underused and under integrated in education at universities. Theses packages provide continuity between courses and can bridge course and thesis based forms of learning. But at present the link between the LMS and the e-portfolio packages are limited. Also universities need to change their program design to provide the flexibility they claim but do not deliver.

The basics of e-learning: formatting documents for online delivery and designing good assessment can tend to get forgot then. The LMS needs to be linked to an e-lrnarary which delivers electronic readings materials and videos.

Bandwidth needs to be conspired for students. New interactive web software is tending to use ten times as much bandwidth as older "classic" web screens. This can prevent access for students in remote locations (or just in some suburbs of Australian cities). The low bandwidth option needs to be retained.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mastery and Modularization of Learning

Weise and Christensen's "Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution" seems to be advocating for universities, what in Australia is called Vocational Education and Training (VET). With VET, the student does very job-orientated, modularized, competency (pass/fail), self-paced courses. I have undertaken such a Certificate in Training and Assessment and the university equivalent Graduate Certificate in Higher Education: while they cover much the same content they have a very different approach.

The University of British Colombia released a Flexible Learning Strategy, where they look at what students need and how to supply it. They seem to be moving towards this vocational approach, but are rightly worried about what this might do to the traditional university's role.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Difference Between Distance and On-line Education

E-learning (or on-line learning) is now the dominant form of Distance Education. However, there are legal distinctions between the two. The Australian Department of Education limits Distance Education to the use of hard copy materials:
"Distance learning is study in which the teacher and overseas student are separated in time or space throughout the duration of the unit of study. Distance learning differs from online learning in that the study may be undertaken through written correspondence and exchange of hard copy materials." From "Education Services for Overseas Students", Explanatory guide for Standard 9,
Australian institutions can't register purely on-line programs for international students. The programs and students must be at most 25% on-line.
"Providers must monitor each student’s enrolment to ensure they:
a. take no more than 25 per cent of their course online or by distance education; and
b. are enrolled in at least one face-to-face subject in each compulsory teaching period." From:"Education Services for Overseas Students", National Code Part C: Mode and place of study
Even if the student is on-campus, a course may still be considered on-line: "...  if the student is solely communicating with the teacher through electronic means then this will be an online unit, regardless of where the student is physically situated. " (from:"Education Services for Overseas Students", National Code Part C: Mode and place of study).

Even real time (synchronous) communication with a human teacher is considered both distance and online learning: "This unit may be considered to be both online and distance learning. The teacher and student are separated in time or space throughout the duration of the course and the communication is through electronic technologies." (from:"Education Services for Overseas Students", National Code Part C: Mode and place of study).

No explanation is provided for these exclusions of distance and online learning. There is no educational justification for this: students learn at least as well with on-line courses.

There can be very poor quality face to face courses, where the student has almost no interaction with a human teacher. Consider the case where the student is at the back of a large lecture hall, seeing the lecturer as a postage stamp size figure at the front of the room. For this student their experience will be largely electronic: they will hear the lecturer's voice through the room's loudspeakers and be looking at the electronic projection screen. With a class of one hundred or more students there is very limited opportunity for student interaction and this may well be by an electronic device, such as a "clicker". In contrast the on-line student can see the speaker more clearly on screen and interact more.

In my view a more reasonable rule of thumb would be that the average university student will need to be on-campus for about 20% of their studies (one day a week for a full time student), with the other 80% on-line. The quality of the education should be measured by the results produced, not by the mode of instruction.

By unnecessarily restricting Australian universities from e-learning, the Australian Department of Education is placing at risk the future of the Australian Higher Education system. Australian and international students will not want to undertake poor quality face-to-face courses offered in Australia if they can study superior, lower cost, on-line courses provided internationally.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ebooks for education

Dr McComas Taylor, talked to the ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group last night at the Australian National University on role and nature of the "textbook" in the technology age. McComas described how he created a free open access multimedia electronic textbook: "The Joy of Sanskrit: A first-year syllabus for tertiary students".

The book is the first e-textbook available free for download from the ANU Press. The Joy of Sanskrit is available for iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, open The Joy of Sanskrit by McComas Taylor and Grazia Scotellaro was published in 2014 and is available in a version for Apple computers, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, plus a separate version for  Microsoft Windows computers. 

Dr Taylor expressed frustration at the need for separate versions of the ebook for Apple and Microsoft computers and hoped that this could be overcome in the future. One of the audience members suggested use of HTML 5 could overcome these problems and make for a more interactive electronic book, with products such as Educanon. The EPUB 3 standard also offer more interactivity.

Dr. Taylor also talked of the frustrations with the process of producing ePub format e-books, where the rendering of the format took a long time even after small corrections to the content. He commented there were good tools for Apple format e-books but not for multiple platform development. 

For reading ePub ebooks, Android tablets, the App epubreader can be used, for Macs,  Bookreader Lite and  Windows, Azardi. I found that Calibre worked well for reading an epub ebook in the Linux operating system (although it is intended for creating ebooks).

Dr Taylor compared the use of  an "off-line" ebook for education, with  an on-line learning management system (LMS), such as the  Moodle system used by ANU (branded "Wattle" at ANU). He pointed out the ebook had the advantage that it needed to only be downloaded once at the start of a course, whereas the student needed a continual Internet connection to use the LMS. The disadvantage was that the ebook could not be as easily updated. The two could be used together with the ebook providing content and the LMS used for interactive exercises and for students to submit work. But Dr Taylor looked forward to advances in the technology which would allow interactive "formative" exercises in the ebook, with the LMS used for "summative" assessment.

Dr Taylor demonstrated an application on an Apple iPhone which allowed the language student to listen to a sample of speech, record their own and the play it back for comparison. He contrasted this with  the Wimba Voice Tools module for Moodle, which while function, was more cumbersome to use.

ps: Another epub ebook used at ANU is my own "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future", used for the course Comp7310. But unlike Dr Taylor's ebook, this has no multimedia, just text.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Future of Education in Canberra in an Online World in Canberra

Professor Armando Fox, Faculty Advisor to the UC Berkeley MOOCLab will speak on the future of education in an online world, at the Australian National University in Canberra, 5pm, 26 November 2014
In today’s classrooms academics and teachers are increasingly expected to incorporate new communication technologies into their curriculum. However, by adopting these new mediums are we reducing the quality of students’ educational experience or is this just the way of the classrooms of tomorrow? ...
  • What digital resources can we harness to enhance our massive open online courses (MOOCs)?  Are there any resources that need rapid development?
  • What is our single most relevant hurdle to fully harnessing digital education
  • What are the key target populations for ANU in online learning?
  • What do you think are the measures of success for MOOCs?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Education for the Real World

Last Friday was Halloween and walking down to a tram stop in Sydney's inner west I saw many children in costumes (I was jealous of the small boy dressed as an astronaut, as I always wanted on of those NASA uniforms). Some of the parents were also dressed as witches, goblins and, in one case, a Hawaiian skirt. But one person wearing a high viability work shirt looked happier than everyone else. When asked if this was a trick-or-treat outfit he said "no", he had just got his riggers certificate at the nearby Annandale Campus of Petersham TAFE College. Asked what a "rigger" did, he proudly pointed to the scaffolding around the building site next to the tram stop and said: "that".

On the tram, the student could not resist proudly showing off his certificates. After months of practical work on campus and study at night, the student explained his qualifications would allow him to work at the mines in Western Australia, at least doubling his income (needed for a large family, he explained). As well as working at heights outdoors, his training included working in enclosed space, such as a lift shaft.

This reminded me of how important to the real world education is. The mining industry is dependent on this form of training, to provide much of Australia's export economy and keeping the workers, and the community, safe. Esoteric discussions of educational theory are one thing, but an education system which facilities billions of dollars in export income and protects workers where one slip can be fatal, is another.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

MOOCs and Bar Camps

The feature "MOOCs: Mass Learning in the Age of the Individual" (Linux User & Developer magazine, issue 142, which I picked up in a newsagent), points to the pioneering work on Massive Open On-line Courses by George Siemens at Athabasca University and Stephen Downes at the Canadian National Research Council. The article also mentions Coursera and Udacity and as it is a UK publication Open University's FutureLearn and Edinburgh University's research on MOOCs. Most of this will be familiar with those interested in MOOCs, but a sidebar on "Happy (bar) campers" drew parallels between cooperative learning in cMOOCs and face to face physical events popularly known as Barcamps and Hackdays (such as Random Hacks of Kindnes). With these people get together over one or two days to work on a computer applications, web site, app or other technological solution to some problem. As the article points out, those taking part may be there to learn, as well use their skills. There may be scope for combining the on-line MOOC with such events, as part of formal education.

Events such as Gov Hack and Random Hacks of Kindness have used the format of live face-to-face events at multiple locations, with the participants networked together. These events can make use of a "follow the sun" format, where the events runs continuously for 24 hours or longer, with each venue in an appropriate time-zone taking over the administration during their working hours. This might be used for an intensive live (synchronous) educational activity to complement an asynchronous event. Students would attend in person if there is a venue nearly (or set one up) or link into the event online.