Thursday, February 26, 2015

Digital Students at the Australian Defence Academy

Greetings from the "Red Room" at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra (aka UNSW Canberra), where Dr Jason Mazanov is speaking on "The Digital Student: Insights from Building an On-line Masters Course". He described how ADFA moved from paper based correspondence courses to their own bespoke on-line system "Olive" and then to Moodle. More importantly he described the path from just using message boards to more sophisticated use of social media to build an on-line community of inquiry (Garrison & Anderson, 2010). He pointed out that the military on-line learning culture is didactic with completely self contained materials and students who will look after each other.

Dr. Mazanov showed one of his Moodle course designs on screen. He uses peer feedback for students and some live online (synchronous) sessions. He also uses Twitter for "come and do stuff".

Dr. Mazanov has 75 to 86 students in his masters course. One problem found from student feedback surveys  was that students though they had to get 15/15 for their online engagement. It seems to me that this part of the assessment should perhaps be competency based. He found some improvement in learning for digitally literate and non-literate students.

Some other stud net feedback was they liked discussions, but not Wikis or Twitter. Students liked on-line pre-recorded videos. Students preferred asynchronous formats. Twitter was too short for an academic discussion and they were not skilled at threading. One interesting comments from a student was that they wanted a distance eduction course, not one which replicated a campus experience (a military student cannot necessarily connect regularly when deployed).

Dr. Mazanov provided very useful examples of how to use on-line leaning for a course and credible research to back this up. However, the bigger questions remain of how universities incorporate on-line leaning in their programs and their right balance of teaching and research skills for their staff.

Dr. Mazanov pointed out the typical ADFA masters student is a middle aged male military officer, who is not a "digital native". The same might apply to other masters students from middle management positions in the public service and private industry. These students need training in how to use the Internet.

The lack of digital literacy by Australia's middle management should be of concern to their organizations. Apart from lowering the ability of these staff to educate themselves, they are  vulnerable to Phishing attacks, placing their companies, government agencies and the ADF at risk.

I suggest that improving the digital skills of officers is the cheapest way to improve the effectiveness of Australia's military forces. Western forces are, at best, halting the advance of ISIS in the Middle East. While they have superior weapons and conventional military training, the western forces, including the ADF, are deficient in digital skills and as a result are losing the information war. Training by UNSW Canberra/ADFA could help win that war and those to come, which will be fought on-line.

ps: The Red Room looks like a TEAM learning room to me with an almost square room with screens around the walls and round tables for students and the presenter walking around (Cabaret style).  One problem is that LCDs screens are used, which I found too small to read. These are also in front of windows with light coming though from behind (ADFA has much better seminar rooms).


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1), 5-9. Retrieved from

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