Friday, March 20, 2015

E-learning in developing countries

Dr Tim Turner and Dr Ahmed Imran will speak on "E-learning in developing countries" at the ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group, 5pm 6th May 2015, Australian National University in Canberra.

ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group

E-learning in developing countries

Unlike 1st world countries, e-learning in developing country has a different connotation, which is not readily understood without in depth research and experience of the context. We would like to share two cases: a study of a Regional Public University in the Philippines, and an e-learning portal on E-government management for public sector officials of developing countries. More at:


Dr Tim Turner is Director of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Engineering and Information Technology, UNSW Canberra. Dr Turner has been involved in the IT industry for over 20 years, with the focus on e-commerce, and particularly e-government, for over 15 years.

Dr Ahmed Imran is an Information System (IS) researcher at UNSW Canberra, whose research interest largely emerged from his personal experience that includes ICT adoption in public sector, e-government and ICT in developing countries.

Computer Science Education Conference in Cambridge

The Call for Papers for the 10th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2015) closes on 1 April 2015. The conference will be at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, UK, 22 to 24 July 2015. I hope to be there, having attended ICCSE 2014 in Vancouver, ICCSE 2013 in Colombo and ICCSE 2012 in Melbourne.

Call for Papers: ICCSE 2015, July 22-24, 2015. Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, UK.

The 10th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2015) 

July 22-24, 2015. Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, UK. (IEEE Conf.# 35092; Catalog # CFP1589F; ISBN 978-1-4799-6600-4)

Keynote Speakers

  • Prof. Clarence W. de Silva, The University of British Columbia, Canada 
  • Prof. Ben M. Chen, National University of Singapore, Singapore 
  • Prof. Houman Owhadi, California Institute of Technology, USA

General Chairmen

  • Dr. Farbod Khoshnoud, Brunel University London, UK 
  • Dr. Tal Li, Florida International University, USA

Important Dates

  1. Submission Deadline: April 1, 2015
  2. Decision Notification: May 15, 2015
  3. Final Versions and Author Registration: June 1, 2015
  4. Conference Dates: July 22-24, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Online education in solar cell manufacturing

Greetings from the Australian national University in Canberra, where Keith McIntosh, from company PV Lighthouse, is speaking on "PV Factory: Online education and research in solar cell manufacturing". He demonstrated  "PV Factory", an on-line application used at UNSW which students can use to design solar cells and see how they would perform, using a "Virtual Production Line" (VPL).

UNSW and QESST (at Arizona State University) and PV Lighthouse are working to make the UNSW Virtual Production Line generally available:

The project wil create a software platform called the Virtual Production Environment (VPE). The VPE will be a free online resource for the PV industry that will facilitate education and R&D by allowing users to (i) simulate the steps of a solar cell production line, (ii) access libraries of PV information, (iii) contribute to an integrated model of solar cell manufacturing, and (iv) evaluate innovation in terms of manufacturing cost. It will initially incorporate UNSW's Virtual Production Line for screen-printed crystalline silicon solar cells, used for several years in the UNSW undergraduate and postgraduate courses, SOLA3020, PV Technology & Manufacturing and SOLA9006, Solar Cell Technology and Manufacturing.

Interestingly Keith said that their server software generates text which is sent to the student's web browser and turned into graphics using Javascript. Also he showed some statistics as to how often the students access the system during their course, which shows, not surprisingly, that use increases just before assignments are due.

Keith is now working on how to have new research in solar cell making integrated into software which can be quickly made available to students and the industry. I suggest this could significantly reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of solar cells. This is very important to combating global warming and making energy available to developing nations. This could also be applied beyond the PV industry, to computer chip fabrication.

How Small Can Student Accommodation Be?

Universities have the perennial problem of providing enough affordable accommodation for the students. There are examples of high quality on-campus accommodation, such as the new wing of St Catherine’s College at UWA and the University of Canberra UniLodge. But in a way these are a little too glossy for real living, a but like up-market hotel.

Perhaps some of the grunge shipping container look of ‘Westside @ Acton Park’ could be used. This might be done somewhat like Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall, with a conventional base to the building and shipping containers stacked on top. This could have more industrial aesthetic than Laurus Wing which hides its shipping container origins.

Also perhaps universities should look at more affordable accommodation. While the apartments and rooms of the current accommodation are conformable, they are not necessarily affordable for students. The students then end up stacked in bunk beds in run down homes.

Universities could have some rooms which are more like a capsule hotel. The most generously sized of these would still be only be just big enough to fit a single bed, with room to stand. Storage would be provided above the bed, which would fold up to make room for the student to sit. Four such rooms would fit in one 20ft shipping container. However, this may require a change to legislation. For example Victoria requires rooming house rooms to be at least 7.5m2 and only two of these could be accommodated in one shipping container. It could be argued that students have extensive additional space in their accommodation and so such rules could be relaxed.

Assessment Quality in Higher Education

Greetings from the Inspire Center at the University of Canberra where Professor Geoff Scott is conducting a "Valid Assessment and Assuring Assessment Quality in Higher Education" workshop, sponsored by the Office of Learning and Teaching. But so far what he seems to be telling us is assessment 101: have assessment aligned to the learning outcomes and tell the students all this at the start of the course. This is something I learned in USQ Assessment, Evaluation and Learning (EDU5713) and discussed some of in "Australian University Education in 2025". Hopefully we will get into the promised high level policy matters soon.

Professor Scott went on to say that there should be peer review, multiple reference points to validate program reference outcomes. He used engineering as an example, but I suggest that like computer science, these disciplines have clear vocational requirements and there has been close cooperation between education institutions and the industry for decades. What I would like to know is what to do in the other discipline areas which are not so vocationally focused.

Professor Scott also recommended the book "Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)" by Chade-Meng Tan. He characterized this as a mindfulness program developed by Google, but it was not clear to me what this had to do with the topic of assessment quality in Higher Education. Also I am not sure that this program is central to Google (not one I have talked to at Google has mentioned it).

Professor Scott is a dynamic speaker and he has an interesting project. But I had assumed we would hear about the results of his work and something new an innovative. So far this seems to be a moderately useful summary of the issues and challenges, but any competent senior academic will know this already (or could could find and read it in a few minutes on-line).

Professor Scott's workshop was promoted as being for "... particularly, Heads of School, Associate Deans (L&T) and Heads of Program (or Course)", but so far he seems to have only defined the problem (which is already well known from many studies) and has not yet started work on the solution. In conversation Professor Scott mentioned he had published research on the topic but did not cite this in his presentation. It may be that he needs to modify his presentation to suit a more research orientated audience.

At one point Professor Scott mentioned there was material from a book and the reference was in the notes. Unfortunately the references on screen and in the notes handed out are illegible, being in very small multi-colored text.

The Office of Learning and Teaching funds some excellent initiatives, but perhaps they need to set some standards for the way the results of the work are communicated. An example of a well run event was the IMSITE (Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education) Dissemination forum.

While I can't recommend Professor Scott's workshop, he will be speaking again at University of Adelaide (23 April),  Victoria University (24 April) and Queensland University of Technology (27 April).

ps: One of the most useful outcomes of the event was to remind me of how good the Inspire Centre's teaching facilities are.  We are in the TEAL room which allows a blend of lecture and group style work seamlessly.

pps, 24 March: I found a copy of Professor Scott's slides from a 2014 workshop "Assuring the quality of achievement standards in H.E. - Educating capable graduates not just for today but for tomorrow". Here is the further reading and resources which had hypertext links (without the red text on a blue background, which makes the original unreadable):
  1. AAHE (1996); AAHE principles of good practice in assessing student learning
  2. Campbell. S (2008): Assessment reform as a stimulus for quality improvement in universityL&T: an Australian case study Outcomes of HE conference
  3. Hanover Research (2013): Best and innovative practices in HE Assessment, April 2013
  4. HEA (2012): A marked improvement: transforming assessment in HE, HEA, Newcastle, UK
  5. Krause, K.L & Scott, G (2014): A sector-wide model for assuring final year subject andprogram achievement standards through inter-university moderation, Office of Learning &
    Teaching, Australian Government, Sydney.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Environmental impact e-learning much lower than campus

In looking for some papers for my ICT Sustainability students to read, I came across "Designing low carbon higher education systems: Environmental impacts of campus and distance learning systems" by Roy, Potter and Yarrow at Open University UK (2007). They, not surprisingly, found that Distance Education uses about 65% less energy (and correspondingly lower carbon emissions) than campus-based courses. But they found e-learning only produced a modest 20% energy reduction over print-based courses, as students tended to print out the e-learning materials. It would be interesting to see if this still applies in 2015, with student more used to electronic documents and having mode potable devices to read them on.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Australian University Education in 2025

Recently I was asked what university education would look like in 2025. I don't think it will look much different to some of the courses I teach (and am a student of) now: on-line with no attendance required and no end-of-semester examinations.

Since 2009, I have been primarily teaching on-line, with individual support to the students, supplemented by face to face activities as needed. Assessment is partly progressive, to provide an incentive for the student to do the basic learning needed and to provide them with feedback, but the majority of assessment is by projects based on real world problems (Worthington, 2012).

By 2025 this blended approach will be applied to all students, with the distinction between "coursework" and "research" students all but eliminated. Students will enroll in a general degree program, start with some coursework and end with research or project based work. Students will be able to choose the mix of coursework and research which suits their interested and abilities, as they progress. Undergraduate students will be required to do at least a one semester project and postgraduate students twice that.

All students will use an e-portfolio to document graduate skills not covered by coursework (a "Thesis" will be an especially large entry in an e-portfolio). Staff will be formally trained and tested to advise on, supervise and assess these e-portfolios. E-portfolios will also be used for professionally accredited qualifications (such as for the Australian Computer Society). This will allow accreditation requirements to be met while not confining students to a limited set of courses.

By 2025 Australia could have more universities in the top 50 world rankings (research and for education quality), with institutions having hundreds of thousands of degree students enrolled.

There will still be some free and low cost courses for the community (previously called "MOOCs") but these will not be seen as part of the core university teaching.

The typical university student will be part time, with a job and family commitments. The primary way the student will interact with the university, their teachers and fellow students, will be on-line. An important part of this will be students learning to work with those of other cultures (Worthington, 2014). The interface to the students will look like those of the better on-line universities of today, such as USQ and Athabasca University (Canada).

Universities will have four terms a year, allowing a part time student to do just one course at a time (the maximum workload feasible for someone with full time job and family commitments). All degree programs will have "checkpoints" where the student can obtain an intermediate qualification useful for their career and still continue on. Typically a student would be awarded a Certificate, Diploma, and then Degree (or graduate equivalents).

Most education programs, and research collaborations, will use an asynchronous on-line mode. This will allow study and research to fit between work and family commitments. It will also allow for time zone differences around the world, as only about 10% of students enrolled at Australian universities will be in Australia. Most importantly, asynchronous mode will give students time to contemplate important topics and not just dash off an instant answer (Worthington, 2013).

The emphasis on on-line part time distanced education is not to say that campus based courses for full time students will disappear. Most students will be doing on-line and on-campuses courses for part of their studies, depending on their needs. The constraints of on-line delivery make these courses much harder to design well. So universities will find the strategy of designing on-line cruses and training their staff for this mode, then adapting some courses for on campus use, as required. The opposite does not work so well: face-to-face courses cannot easily be adapted for on-line use and classroom teachers simply do not know what to do on-line.

By 2025 at least one of the teaching team of each university course will be required to have a formal Australian higher education teaching qualification. The minimum will be a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, usually obtained through a Registered Training Organization (RTO) associated with the university. Staff will also be encouraged to join Australian professional teaching societies, which have international affiliations.

By 2025, RTOs will have been expanded to become an important part of the university, with most degree students expected to undertake at least one vocational course, to complement their university studies. Graduates will have the option to obtain vocational qualifications required by industry alongside their degrees. This will replace the current practice where some graduates have to attend a vocational institution elsewhere, in order to be qualified to work.

By 2025 most post-graduate students will undertake teaching as part of their degree and be expected to tutor junior students (although it will be called "professional leadership skills" rather than teaching). Introductory teacher training will be by the university's RTO, with the option of obtaining a recognized vocational qualification. Students will also be able to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, or an education degree, from the university's Education Faculty.

Before embarking on a 2025 strategy, a university should first look at some of those already in preparation, or released, including those by the universities of Melbourne, UNSW, Newcastle, and Monash. Also last year I discussed UWA's strategy in Perth. But it is not just Australian universities considering strategies, I attended a Flexible Learning Strategy Workshop at University of British Colombia's Vancouver campus.


Worthington, T. (2012). 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. URL:

Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing asynchronous learning - Combining synchronous and asynchronous techniques. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2013 8th International Conference on (pp. 618-621). IEEE. URL:

Worthington, T. (2014). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online - proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2014 9th International Conference on (pp. 164-168). IEEE. URL:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

STEMing the Decline in Science and Maths Teaching

Greetings from the Shine Dome in Canberra, where I am taking part in an IMSITE (Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education) Dissemination forum. This is sponsored by the Office of Learning and Teaching to reverse the decline in science and maths teaching in schools. This adversely effects student's interest in, and ability to undertake, technology and engineering programs at university. This is an area being researched in Australia, as well as other countries.

The event is is being chaired by the always enthusiastic, Dr Judy-Anne Osborn, Lecturer, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Newcastle. She described the "online-ificaiton" of some of their MATH2910 course and MATH2920 invited other institution to collaborate in the teaching of this.

University of Wollongong is part of IMSITE. They offer a teaching minor for science degree students and are hosting a STEM Teachers Conference 25 July 2015

It occurs to me that there are some obvious ways to  foster teaching and learning maths and science. One would be to use the link to the exciting careers, which are the other two letters in the STEM acronym: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is the areas of technology and engineering which have the career prospects.

A way to improve the teaching would be to use on-line education, both for teacher training and, for direct student education. It seems to me that teacher educators are making their job harder than it needs to be, by not using e-learning techniques. It seems that educators don't think computers can be used for teaching in schools and so should not be used for teaching teachers. I suggest "flipping" the approach to place e-learning at the center of education. As I explained to one of the attendees, you can make your on-line materials backward compatible with paper and classroom teaching, whereas it is much more difficult to design for paper and the classroom, then adapt for on-line.

My rule of thumb is that the average university student needs to spend about 20% of their time in class (one day a week), with the rest on-line. Extending this to school, might see the youngest students starting at 80% in class, 50% for primary students, and about 30% for high school students.

This is not to say students will not be actively engaged in learning, just that this need not be in a formal classroom setting. The least useful activity is to have students sitting passively listening to a teacher, they should be doing something, mostly with other students. Where students are required to "attend" school, they can spend most of their time in a learning center (what used to be called a "library"). Only a few teacher-librarians are needed to watch over several hundred students.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Online Degrees Are Official

Edmon de Haro writes in the New York Times that "... information technology is poised to transform college degrees" ("Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official", 5 March 2015). However, this happened about twenty years ago, when paper-based correspondence distance education evolved into e-learning, at places such as Open University UK (OU) and University of New England Australia. Up until recently the teaching institutions which offered on-line degrees  posed no threat to prestige research universities, but the likes of Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. are now scrambling to catch up by offering "MOOCs" (which is a Canadian term).

Walter Perry, first Vice-Chancellor of OU detailed  the struggle for acceptance, lessons learned in supporting remote students and the transformation to on-line education in his 1976 book "The Open University: History and Evaluation of a Dynamic Innovation in Higher Education". OU also published a series of books about how to design, run and cost on-line courses.

For the last four years I have been an on-line university student at institutions in Australia and North America. The courses I am doing about how to design on-line courses are not new and in some cases have been run for more than a decade. It is at times amusing, and times frustrating, to see MOOC developers at prestige research universities learning to designed e-learning courses by trial and error, when they could simply sign up for a course and learn to do it properly.

There seems to be at times a willful ignorance, as if to read the results of decades of research on on-line education would force MOOC developers to admit that most of what they are doing is not new. In some cases this seems to be a matter of ego: a science professor at a high status research university can't bring themselves to enroll in a teaching course at a low status college (where the best on-line teaching is done).

The problem now is not how to design low cost courses, we have known that for decades, or how to assemble them into degree programs. The problem is how to market such courses, without them being seen as a cheap and second rate option. It is in this area which MOOC proponents have made some advances, by taking the on-line eduction already routinely run by teaching institutions and giving it the marketing gloss of prestige research universities.

While the USA struggles with how to produce a viable on-line education system, Australia already has a solution, combining the strengths of our two higher education systems: Vocational Education and Training (VET) and universities. Several Australian universities now have arrangements with VET. Students do bridging and introductory units at VET before transferring to university. This way VET gets students (and some of the prestige of university) and the university gets students educated at low cost and well. The university also gets the benefit of VET's nationally standardized courses and recognition of prior learning procedures. Unfortunate this system is under threat from a few rogue VET operators (not associated with universities) who are exploiting the students and threatening the reputation of the sector.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rate University Teaching Quality On-line

In "The hunt for Australia's best teaching uni" (The Age, 9 March 2015), Gary Newman asks how to rank the quality of teaching at universities. Using the measures which have been used he lists Australia's top universities for teaching as: Victoria, Griffith, Deakin, Central Queensland, Tasmania, Edith Cowan, Canberra, Federation, Bond, Notre Dame, Sunshine Coast, New England and Western Sydney. That seems a reasonable list, with the regional universities not known for research having to focus on teaching. Also many of these institutions started as technical and teachers colleges devoted to education and now have an emphasis on e-learning (which requires a more professional approach to teaching).

As he points out the current ranking systems are based largely on research quality which is not necessarily related to the quality of teaching. He says a 2013 study provides some data (this appears to be "Factors Associated with Job Satisfaction Amongst Australian University Academics and Future Workforce Implications" by Peter Bentley, Hamish Coates, Ian Dobson, Leo Goedegebuure and Lynn Meek).

One interesting variation in rankings is the Ranking Web of Universities (Webometrics Ranking), which bases it assessment on the university's web presence. This produces a result similar to other measures but is easier to compile. Perhaps that could be applied to provide a measure of teaching quality, not just for Australian institutions, but world wide.
This, of course assumes that students are interested in teaching quality. It may be that students select a university based on its research reputation, as that is how the quality of their qualification will be seen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Disability and eLearning: Opportunities and Barriers

from Curtin University writes on the accessibility of Blackboard and Moodle in "Disability and eLearning: Opportunities and Barriers". He points out that pre-LMS course material using simply formatted web pages was compatible with assistive technology. Early LMS caused problems, but this is being addressed, more so with Blackboard than Moodle. One point not mentioned is that access on mobile devices (which is also a proble with Moodle) can be accommodated with the same approach as for accessbility

ps: This paper must be good as it cites me*. ;-) 

* Worthington, T. (2000). Olympic Failure: A Case for Making the Web Accessible. Oxford University Computing Laboratory, October.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Debate over minimally guided instruction of minimal value

Much of the debate over minimally guided instruction is of minimal value, due to a lack of precision on what is being discussed. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) explain minimally guided instruction as "one in which learners, rather than being presented with essential information, must discover or construct essential information for themselves". This has an obvious appeal, in terms of student engagement and saving in teacher time, but without more details as to what the student has to discover and how much help the student is given, this is a pointless argument.

It would not be practical to give physics students some light spectra data and expect them to discover the special theory of relativity. Medical students, given some patient data could not be expected to discover that stomach ulcers are cased by one particular bacteria. These are discoveries which came only after years of work by people of exceptional talent.

Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) cite research to show that experts draw on their experience. However, this hardly seems a startling revelation. The obvious question, which Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) don't seem to ask, is what is the most efficient way to get beginners that experience? At the extreme you could just tell the student to learn "something" on a topic and to submit to testing when they feel they have accomplished it. This is what PHD students do and we provide even them with some help.

The way the discoverer of new knowledge expresses what they have found is rarely an efficient way to understand their discovery. Later researchers will create simpler explanations, of more practical value. It is not feasible to expect very student to undertake this work.

In addition Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) do not discuss the different aims of learning. Someone undertaking a PHD in order to be able to do fundamental research may be justified in spending years investigating their own theory in a very narrow area of a discipline. However, for someone learning to be a practitioner in industry, this is not a good way to get trained up.


Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational psychologist, 41(2), 75-86. Retrieved from