Wednesday, December 31, 2014

University Ranking

The Global Employability University Survey 2014 has ANU as the top ranking Australian university (20 in the world), followed by Monash University (33), UNSW (55) and University of Melbourne (50).

This compares with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015 with the top Australian institution, University of Melbourne (33), then ANU (45), Sydney University (60), University of Queensland (65), Monash University (83), UNSW (109).

The university ranking system I find most interesting  is Webometrics. This is based on an analysis of the university's web pages. With measures for presence, impact, openness and excellence. On these measures, Australia has first the University of Melbourne (82), then University of New South Wales (96), University of Queensland (98),  Australian National University (101) and Monash University (114).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Demonstrating the Value of Education

Geoff Irvine writes in "The Walking Dead in Higher Ed" (Inside Higher Ed, December 19, 201) that universities  "are struggling to meaningfully demonstrate the true value of their institution for students, educators and the greater community because they can't really prove that students are learning". The suggested solutions are to "Disrupt" by demanding short term change, "Get Expertise" to help with staff development outcomes/competency-based assessment. While I would benefit personally from such a move (having sent the last few years skilling myself to provide e-learning advice to universities), I urge caution: any attempt at a quick fix may risk an institution's reputation.

Irvine also suggests to "Rally the Movers and Shakers", by this he means the "innovators and the early adopters" I suggest this would be a better approach than being in outside consultants: have those already on the campus who can demonstrate how the new techniques they use produce results.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Technology Course for New Entrepreneurs

The Australian Computer Society has an on-line course which might be of interest to new entrepreneurs with a technical background: "New Technology Alignment", starting 19 January 2015 (I am the tutor). This may be of interest to  former public servants taking part in the Public Sector Landing Pad program (PSLP) at Entry 29 co-working space in Canberra, and those in other co-working spaces around the world.

Course content

New Technology Alignment has an emphasis on opening your mind to new technical trends, and how they align with business today.

It includes four modules, which explore:
  1. Frameworks for measuring the impacts of technology on business performance
  2. Fostering innovation and encouraging adoption
  3. Technology assessment and integration
  4. Promotion and realising benefits.

Learning outcomes

  • Knowledge and understanding of emerging technologies.
  • Ability to identify new and emerging information technology trends and assess their relevance and potential value to the organisation.
  • Ability to strategise for and promote emerging technology awareness among staff and management. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stopping Cheating in Higher Education

"An Australian guide to the risk management of VET online e-assessment"  has been released, this followed an enquiry ., which included a survey of stakeholders. This work is aimed at the VET sector but is also applicable to universities. This takes a very practical and systematic look at assessment. One important point is that plagiarism detection software is not a solution.


  1. Morris, T. (2014). An Australian guide to the risk management of VET online e-assessment: a companion document to the research report into the veracity and authenticity concerns of stakeholders. from
  2. Morris, T. (2014). An Australian enquiry into the veracity and authenticity of VET online e-assessment: a risk management approach to stakeholder concerns. from
  3. Morris, T. (2014). Assessment e-Risk Survey of key stakeholders 2014: an Australian enquiry into VET online e-assessment: support document. from

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Australia Research Information Network

Greetings from an Australia Open Data Teleconference about the
the Australia Research Information Network (AURIN). The meeting was called by Steven Adler from IBM in NY. AURIN provides access to research data about the urban environment, such as demography, housing, transport, energy and water.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Knowledge super corridors in Southeast Asia

Professor Chun Kwong Han, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU talked on "Knowledge super corridors in Southeast Asia". He recommended
the "Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice" (by Damon Golsorkhi, Linda Rouleau, David SeidlEero Vaara, 2010). Also I see he has published the paper "Economic Transformation in a Southeast Asian Country: Being Critical for Success", 2011. However, the presentation only briefly touched on knowledge super corridors and was a general theoretical analysis of the governance of government and non-government projects. He also mentioned Australia was a leader in e-commerce and noted the work of Pia Waugh at the Australian Department of Finance. As far as I could work out the "Knowledge super corridor" is similar to the Australia/Japan Multi Function Polis (MFP) of 1987, which did not live up to initial expectations.
Developing countries in Asia are in the process of transitioning from a production economy to a knowledge-based economy (k-economy). Various new knowledge and information communications technology (ICT) mega-projects are being designed and executed at the international, national, state and industry levels to sustain competitiveness. The structures and processes by which these so-called ‘knowledge super corridors’ are developed and implemented are complex economic-social-political decisions.
A sophisticated model is developed from critical and practice theories, whereby the new critical practice lens generates knowledge for understanding, evaluation and action. In this talk, Professor Han will illustrate the value of the model with two case studies on a k-economy blueprint and a knowledge portal in emerging k-economies in Southeast Asia.
He will also highlight the digital economy and ICT initiatives currently transforming Australia.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Your future is Australia's future

The Australian Government is running a TV advertising campaign asking the public to search for "Your future is Australia's future: The facts about higher education". This is the title of a web page, discussing the share of of course fees paid by the federal government, the quality standards from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the HECS student loans scheme. This then links to a "Changes to Higher Education" page, which says "The Australian Government wants to reform our higher education system, opening more pathways, providing more support and offering more choices.". Curiously this does not appear to mention the key aspect of the government's HE reform, which is to allow universities to set their own fees. It will be interesting to see if this advertising campaign will change the views of cross-bench Senators, who up until now have declined to support the government's proposals. However, in my view the proposed reforms and much of the public debate is missing the most important question which needs to be addressed: Will Higher Education Reforms Position Australian Universities to Compete On-line? 

ps: The Your future web page has some technical problems: 65 HTML Errors, a MobileOK Rating of only 19 out of 100 and 24 Accessibility problems.

The graphic for the Your future web page, is similar to that showing two people at

Innovations in Teaching Innovation in Canberra

I will be speaking on "Innovations in Teaching Innovation" at the first Australian Computer Society e-Learning Special Interest Group meeting in Canberra for 2015, on Wednesday, 11 February:
Tom takes over teaching the Australian Computer Society's "New Technology Alignment" (NTA) postgraduate course from January 2015. This offered on-line directly by the ACS Virtual College and through Open Universities Australia. Earlier in the year he attended a conference in Canada on computer science education and met with Canadian academics to discuss flexible learning and teaching innovation. Tom discusses how this might be done in Australia, by blending on-line formal courses with face-to-face competitions. 
Topics and speakers for the next four meetings are needed:
  • Wednesday, 6 May
  • Wednesday, 5 August
  • Wednesday, 11 November
All will be held in the Graduate Lounge of University House, Australian National University, from 5pm for 5:30pm.

The meetings for 2014 were:
  1. Brenda Aynsley, President of the Australian Computer Society,  on "Teaching with Technology", 16 July 2014.
  2. Tom Worthington,Tutor at the ACS Virtual College and Adjunct Lecturer at ANU Research School of Computer Science, on "Teaching Students to Work Together Online", 3 September 2014.
  3. Jill Andrew, Future Learning Team, on "Integrating Technology into the Australian School Curriculum", 8 October 2014
  4. Dr McComas Taylor, Head, South Asia Program, ANU,  "The Joy of ePub", 5 November 2014

US Energy Expert Awarded Honorary Doctorate by ANU

Greetings from the Great Hall of the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr. Steven Chu, Professor of Physics and Molecular & Cellular Physiology and former U.S. Secretary of Energy was just awarded an honorary Doctorate for "Science in the Service of Society". Dr. Chu was the first energy secretary who was a scientist and was charged with increasing renewable energy use. Last week he addressed the Light, Energy and the Environment Congress and I was impressed with the way he combined knowledge of the science and politics of climate change. ANU's conferring of this award could be seen as a subtle criticism of the Australian Government's "direct action" climate change policy, as he oversaw a very different policy as part of the US Obama administration. Dr. Chu is also be speaking at the ANU ECI Energy Update, tomorrow, 9 December 2014.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Economic Impact of Canberra's Universities

The report "Higher learning:Economic and social impact of the major universities in the ACT" (Deloitte Access Economics, July 2014), provides a detailed, if flawed, analysis of Canberra's students and the benefits they bring to the city. The report was commissioned by the ANU and University of Canberra and so concentrates on their students, but nevertheless brings together very useful information about the students.

According to the report, Education and Training makes up $2.3B, or 7.7%, of Canberra's GDP. This is the fourth biggest area of the local economy, after Public Administration and Safety (34%), Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (11%) and Construction (11%).

An interesting chart on page 14 of the report shows employment rates and wages for those with different qualifications (Sourced from the Productivity Commission). Not surprisingly, those with higher education qualifications have a higher chance of being employed and get paid more. But surprisingly, there is little difference between a VET Certificate and a university degree.

Table 5.2 on page 45 shows Education (Tertiary, Preschool and School Education) is the third highest category of employment for ANU graduates (10% domestic students and 15% International). However, Table A.3 (Page 53), shows that only 1% of ANU students are studying Education, compared to 10.9% at University of Canberra. This suggests ANU could expand its Education program and acquire about another 2,000 students as a result.

The report discusses possible future expansion of university's contribution to the Canberra economy. However, the report fails to mention the changes taking place in the way universities teach students. Teaching is moving from lecture based, to on-line and blended modes. I could not find the word "Internet" in the report at all. The only mention of "online" was for tools for treating mental disorders. The report points out "online programs are scalable and can be used en masse", but does not make the link between this and education generally, just for mental health treatment.

Education is changing so that students will not need to be on-campus for most of their studies. As a result, students will not need to be in the same city (or country) as their institution, most of the time. While this may sound far fetched, the newspaper and retail industries have been radically altered by the Internet. That change is now occurring in education. Canberra's universities could choose not to offer an on-line education option, in an attempt to keep the students on campus, but this is likely to instead result in students choosing a more flexible institution in another city (or country). Canberra needs to provide something for the students to do, such as a job, or working on a start-up company, to keep them in Canberra, while they are studying.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Will Higher Education Reforms Position Australian Universities to Compete On-line?

The debate over changes to Australian Higher Education has failed to address the major challenges which Australian universities face. Australian higher education policy needs to change to accept the reality that Australian students need vocationally orientated education and this can be delivered most effectively on-line.

The 2014-15Australian Federal Budget included reforms to the funding of higher education, most significantly, from 2016, the removal of the government imposed limit on the fees universities could charge domestic students (Australian Department of Education, 2014). The intention was to introduce this change from 2016, but the measures have been held held up in the Australia Senate, where the government does not have a majority. Negotiations with minor parties might see some form of legislation pass during 2015 (Knott,2014). 

However, proposals for universities to set their own fees, structural adjustment fund to help universities with the change and a scholarship scheme for regional students will not address the needs of Australian students. This policy misdirection is similar to ineffective government efforts to restructure the Australian motor vehicle industry, with all manufacturers announcing they will cease production by the end of 2017.

Hannah Forsyth's "A History of the Modern Australian University" pointed out that Australian universities were created to deliver practically orientated education in areas important to the nation, such as mining. The most effective and efficient to provide vocationally orientated education now is on-line. This opens the Australian education market to international competition, as happened with the motor vehicle industry.

The debate which needs to take place is over how to optimize higher education, using a combination of universities and vocational education institutions. Providing subsidies to prop up obsolete university campuses will not assist the students and will condemn the Australian education industry to a similar fate as the  motor vehicle industry (although the collapse of the education industry will be much quicker).

Apart from courses where students travel to another country, or study on-line at an overseas instution, Australian universities now face competition from an international on-line university in Australia.  Laureate International Universities, is an international for-profit provider of on-line university education. It is now accredited to deliver courses from its international network, through an Australian arm, Torrens University Australia (TEQSA, 2012). In addition, Australia has signed a number of free trade agreements with other nations, which cover services. Education providers in those countries can argue that Australian students studying at their campuses must receive the same Australian government funding support as students at Australian campuses.

The Australian organization which seems to have the best idea of what is happening with Higher Education, and has positioned itself for the change, is not a university. Open Universities Australia (OUA) is a consortium of universities delivering on-line education. This started as a brokering service where OUA got the students, who then studied at the member universities. But in the last few years OUA has acquired companies and set up new initiatives to deliver learning services and courses directly, including in the VET sector.

Earlier in the year I discussed the issue of the future of higher education with academics in Vancouver, but have not seen a similar discussion happening in Australia. It would be unfortunate if the the "reforms" to Australian Higher Education failed to address the important questions.

The debate over universities setting their own fees is reminiscent of the Australian Wool Reserve Price Scheme. This scheme put a floor under the price Australian wool producers were paid and was designed to smooth out fluctuations. However, when the price of wool dropped for an extended period, the only buyer was the scheme, until it ran out of funds. Similarly universities are deluding themselves if they think they can set the prices for courses. The price for courses will be set by the world market. A few Australian universities with a prestigious reputation will be able to charge a premium, but most universities will not.

Canberra Computing Education Conventicle

Greetings from the famous room N101 at the Australian National University where the "Canberra Computing Education Conventicle" just started. This is a small, informal conference (Conventicle) where new work, not ready for publication is presented. There was such an event in Melbourne last year. As this is new work I can't point to published papers on these specific topics, but will refer to previous work:
  • Chair's welcome by Chris Johnson ANU
  • Curriculum drift, Lynette Johns-Boast, ANU. Lynette suggested a mechanism for more frequent adjustment of th curriculum. One of the participants suggested assessment be at a program level, not course by course. This then lead to a discussion of external examination systems in India and in OxBridge.
  • Stumbling Around Trying to Attract the Attention of Millennials, Tim Turner, UNSW Canberra. Dr. Turner pointed out many of todays university students have never known a time without a computer. He is concerned that computers are therefore not as inherently interesting to these students and constant exposure to the Internet has reduced their attention span (I am not sure this is true). He pointed out that making video takes new skills which academics may not have (I did a course in training video production, but am an exception). In my view the idea that today's students have a shorter attention span and are not really interested in learning for its own sake is nonsense (and something which academics all the way back to Aristotle). We now have about 50 years of experience in teaching vocationally orientated students and several decades of teaching students on-line. There are techniques for designing courses which have been tested and proven to work. The solution is for academics to enroll in training courses to learn how to teach. 
  • The Three Faces of Quality, Craig Macdonald, Canberra
  • Multiple-choice vs free=text code-explaining examination questions, Simon,    Newcastle 
  • ANU Measuring Success: Varying Intention and Participation, Kim Blackmore,  ANU. Kim commented that the with Understanding India edX MOOC, the most popular topic was the role of mobile phones in story telling. The course had the same drop off in student numbers as other MOOCs, but what struck me was that about 70% of the students who were still participating at week three completed the course. This is about the same as for conventional 12 to 13 week courses, where students can drop out without penalty. Perhaps the ration of completions to the number participating one quarter of the way through the course would be a useful metric for comparison with conventional courses. One interesting result was that the Understating India course was popular with the Indian diaspora. What worries me about MOOCs is that this is a very expensive way to teach university academics how to design and deliver on-line courses. It would be much quicker, cheaper and more reliable to have academics who have to teach on-line to be formally qualified to do so (there are many good courses available to learn to teach on-line). It is not difficult to get academic to do training, if they are suitably rewarded.
  • Computer Science Curriculum and Schools: Opportunities and Obstacles, Bruce Fuda, Gungahlin College/InTEACT. Bruce poitned out that Canberra's school based curriculum allowed them to have already been implementing the national Digital Technologies curriculum. University can expect to see Canberra students who have undertaken the school program within two years and NSW students within four years. Bruce pointed out that there were few ICT qualified teachers in schools and so those who are teaching the digital technologies program could benefit from external assistance. Bruce pointed out the curriculum included vocational skills in multimedia (which I don't think is a bad thing, I studied that at TAFE), but revision of the curriculum could have more ICT. Given the course topic is ICT and there is a shortage of trained teachers, it occurs to me that these courses could be run on-line with remote expert tutors, to assist local teachers, as well as the students. Teaching materials could also be shared with the VET sector for the advanced courses.
  • Mobile Learning in Context, Chris Johnson ANU. Chris proposes to instrument mobile devices to see how students use them for learning. This sounds a useful idea, but it would be useful to first ask teachers and students how they use the technology. As an example, I envision that students would use a small mobile device for the discussion forums of courses I run: the posts are short enough for a small screen and can be read in small chunks. I would expect, at the other extreme, the student would need a larger device and more time, to write a 2,000 word assignment. Also I suggest the research needs to take into account that students are likely to be using multiple devices at the same time. It seems to me that school teachersare the most advanced in the use of mobile devices for learning and it would be better to look at what they are doing than school teachers.
  • Flipping introduction to Computer Systems, Eric McCreath, ANU. Eric described how he converted a conventional course into a flipped one. What was most impressive about this was that it was not done with large amounts of additional resources. Eric recoded presentations with a web-cam in their own time and a weekly quiz to get them to watch the videos. Interestingly Eric used paper based multiple choice quizzes scanned with the standard university Multi-Function Unit, rather than requiring specialized "clicker" devices, or the student's mobile devices. The flipped format receives similar student feedback to the non-flipped version of the course.
The 2015 Canberra Computing Education Conventicle will be hosted by Tim Turner, at UNSW Canberra.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Experiments with users and sample size

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Diane Kelly, University of North Carolina, is speaking on "Statistical power analysis for sample size estimation and understanding risks in experiments with users". Having struggled through a course in research methods, I was relieved to hear that there is no perfect sample size. Diane looked at some of the constraints on sample size, such as budget and time.

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.