Tuesday, December 2, 2014

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.

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