Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Will Education Stop Corruption in Developing Countries?

Dr Grant Walton will speak on "Is education a silver bullet for solving corruption in developing countries?" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 1pm, 1 October 2015.

ps: It seems to me that education is unlikely to stop corruption. In Australia there is a growing scandal over higher eduction providers selling unsuitable courses knowing that the Federal Government will foot the bill through the VET FEE-HELP scheme. Before Australia suggests that education can be used to combat corruption in other countries, I suggest it needs to clean up this corruption in its own education system.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Teaching and Researching Innovation at UTS in Sydney

Building 15 is a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship, known informally as UTS's 'knowledge hub' at 632 Harris St, Ultimo, NSW 2007.
Greetings from the UTS Innovation Building (UTS's 'knowledge hub', Building 15,  632 Harris St, Ultimo, NSW 2007) in Sydney, where I am attending a seminar on innovation in vocational education.

Earlier I sat in on a UTS Hatchery Pre-Incubator session (which is similar to Canberra's Innovation ACT program, without the competitive element). Students undertake a semester long extra-curricular activity to learn about design thinking and preparing business plans for a new start-up.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) also offer a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII) as part of a double degree program.

The UTS Innovation Building also has the Designing Out Crime research centre and the UTS Design Innovation research centre.

The question which the UTS innovation initiatives, and the similar ones I have seen in Canberra, Perth, Vancouver, Colombo and Cambridge raises is how can we make this mainstream? These innovation programs fight for recognition in their conventional university, government and corporate environments.

ps: The UTS Innovation Building is adjacent to the new Frank Gehry designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, with the UTS Business school. The architecture of the two reflects opposite approaches to success in business. The Gehry building has a flamboyant exterior, with curved brick walls, an extravagant foyer with mirrored staircase, but relatively conventional classrooms. The Innovation building looks like the old nondescript factory/office building it was. Inside the industrial aesthetic of a New York loft apartment has been applied, with polished concrete floors, exposed pipework on the ceiling pained white and cardboard flexible dividers. The Hatchery itself in the basement has white desks on wheels, white-board paint walls and an open plan kitchen.The rooms upstairs have open plan co-working space style offices combined with a seminar room. Unlike a conventional university building, the "offices" are not divided off from the teaching area.

Low Cost Tablet Computer for Kids

I am a masters of education student, investigating mobile learning, but was embarrassed to have to tell my professor that I did not have a smart phone or tablet device (just an old fashioned laptop with wireless modem). So I purchased an Onix Kids 7" Tablet (Model Number: ATK1-815) from Aldi for AU$69.95. If I am going to try and to design educational apps for mobile learning, I thought I should do it with a low-end device, so there is a reasonable chance that the students, particularly the less affluent ones, will be able to access the materials. Also the tablet is specifically aimed at "Kids".


Processor: Allwinner A23 Dual Core 1.2Ghz
Operating System: Android 4.2
Display Resolution: 800 x 480
Memory Internal Storage: 4GB
RAM: 512MB
External Storage: Micro SD Card (up to 32 GB)
Touch Screen: 5 point multi touch
Camera: Front 0.3MP
3.5 mm Headphone: Yes
Micro USB: Yes
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n Yes
Bluetooth: No
Battery: 1800mAh
Kids software: MoFing launcher

The tablet came in a small box, with the black tablet itself, a bright yellow protective rubber cover, a slim 24 page manual, USB cable and mains charger. The tablet looks reasonably robust. The rubber cover is impressive, making the tablet much easier to hold and having four bumps on the back which act as feet as well as hand-holds.

Out of the box the tablet has a transparent protective film on the screen. This has arrows pointing to the power button and slots. This is very useful, but once peeled off, the user is confronted with a featureless slab of black shiny plastic, without even a hint of which way up it is to be held. For a kids computer (as well as one for older people) it would be useful if the controls were printed on the unit. The sleeve makes the camera and slots easier to see as they stand out black against the bright yellow plastic. It would be useful to have the controls printed on the rubber sleeve, both for kids and for those with limited eyesight.

The unit came charged and so it was just a matter of pressing the on button (when I could find it), swiping to unlock and up came a kid-friendly interface. The interface has rows of cartoon like icons. However, I quickly found there was little that these actually did, without first registering the unit. It appears that the unit comes with none of the claimed games or educational applications installed, these are all downloaded, requiring WiFi access.

Page 21 of the manual says "The Android Launcher icon allows you to use this device as a normal Android tablet.". However, so far I have not been able to find this icon. The unit has a Chromium browser which works well. The screen is not high resolution, but is adequate. Similarly the sensitivity of the touch screen is adequate, rather than good.

So far the Onix Kids 7" Tablet is a disappointment, as I can't install any Android Apps. Unless someone can suggest how to do this, I will be returning the unit to Aldi for a refund (Aldi provide no on-line support for this products at all).

There are hundreds of models of 7 Inch Kid Android Tablet Computer offered on Amazon (and silicone cases for computers), with little to distinguish them. One which looks more interesting, and perhaps I should try is the XO 7-Inch Kids Tablet XO-880 (8GB). This has much the same hardware (from Vivitar) as the Aldi Kids Tablet and protective, but in addition to the usual Android operating system it has the OLPC educational software. This unit effectively signaled the end of the Open Laptop Per Child' project in its attempt to make custom hardware for educational computers. As an Engadget review indicates, it is another generic 7 inch tablet in a colorful plastic sleeve, but has the XO educational applications.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ANU Needs an Educational Design Manager

The Australian National University in Canberra had advertised for a "Manager, Educational Design".
"ANU Online has an exciting opportunity for an experienced and organised individual to lead a team of education design and technology specialists brought together by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) in order to further the University's digital learning strategy.
Reporting to the ANU Online Lead, the Manager, Educational Design plays a critical role in engaging a wide range of stakeholders to transform the University's approach to teaching and learning.
As the successful candidate, you will play a lead role in developing, reviewing, improving and implementing professional development opportunities in pedagogy and educational technology for academic and professional support staff.
Suitable candidates will possess a relevant post graduate qualification, preferably in educational design, education or information communication technologies, with demonstrated skills and experience as an educator including classroom instruction, curriculum design or incorporating educational technologies into teaching and course management."

Monday, September 21, 2015

The e-Learning Sausage Factory

Willems (2015) argues that tertiary institutions have neglected the human aspects in implementing on-line learning. They argue that academics need to  “adapt themselves” with human communication skills for the online medium. The paper relates the experience of the "REdelivery" team at Queensland University of
Technology, which helps academics adapt their courses for e-learning.

While I agree that academics need different skills for designing and delivering on-line courses, I suggest this should not be a special "adaption", just part of normal teacher training. There will need to be advanced courses for e-learning specialists, but anyone who teaches at a university will need to know the basics of how to design and deliver an on-line course.

While it is useful to have specialized teams to help academics adapt courses, this is just a stop-gap measure. In the longer term those who develop courses need basic training in how to do this from scratch. My preference would be to "flip" the current training: teach academics how to design and deliver on-line courses first and then add the little extra they need to adapt this for face to face (F2F).

Within the next five to ten years almost all tertiary courses will be delivered on-line, with some F2F components (typically in a 80:20 mix). Academics will spend most of their teaching time involved with e-learning and so this is the primary teaching skill they need to learn.

It is much easier to covert an on-line course for F2F delivery than the other way around.Courses will therefore be routinely designed for e-learning, with any necessary, or desirable, F2F components then added.

There is too much emphasis in e-learning design on the academic as a video performer. Video makes no difference to student's learning outcomes, so we should not waste too much time on production values. Students certainly like video, but a good video, a bad video, or no video at all, makes no difference to how well the student learns.

Showcase open courses ("MOOCs") will need high production values as a marking tool for institutions (just as public lectures have always involved showmanship). But this should not be confused with real courses, for real learning.


Willems, C. (2015). The 'Gourmet' Sausage Factory: Keeping It Human. Journal Of Learning Design, 8(1), 79-94. doi:10.5204/jld.v8i1.197

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Technologies Curriculum for Australian Schools Endorsed by Education Ministers

The "Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: Technologies" was endorsed on Friday 18 September 2015 by all Australian State and Territory Ministers for Education for use in schools. The ministers met as the "Education Council" and appropriately the meeting was held by video conference. Unfortunately the Federal Government is providing a minimal $3.5M over four years to support teaching coding in schools. It also appears that state governments are unlikely to make the coordinated investment needed to introduce the new curriculum (training teachers, providing on-line materials and support). As a result schools will have to rely on voluntary work by groups such as Information Technology Educators ACT who recently held an excellent workshop in Canberra. Despite this volunteer work, it is likely Australia will slip further behind in its supply of STEM qualified workforce. This will result in a drop in exports in five to ten years time, when the qualified people needed to create new hi-tech companies and products will not be available. In addition Australia will have to pay to import technology curriculum materials.

Deadly Mob Learning

The Australia's "National Broadband Network" (NBN) will cost more than $30B, but may may increase inequity of access, particularly for education in remote indigenous communities.

The NBN is planned to use fibre optic and hybrid cable to households in the city, fixed terrestrial wireless in regional areas and satellite broadband in remote areas.  But if applications are developed for the higher speed urban part of the network, they may not work as well (or at all) on the remote satellite service, or on wireless mobile devices.

Education was envisaged as one use for the NBN. But the NBN was designed on the assumption that the primary use of the Internet would be in the home (even the wireless part of the NBN is fixed, not mobile). If users are mobile, then the network may be of little use. In particular this will disadvantage remote indigenous communities, which already have limited access to services, including education.

Philip Townsend at Flinders University of South Australia, is researching connecting remote groups of teachers together for education with mobile devices, or deadly mob learning ("high quality group learning" iAustralian Aboriginal English):
  1. Guenther, J., McRae-Williams, E., & Townsend, P. (2012). Can m-and e-learning support pathways for meaningful vocation in remote communities?. AVETRA 15th Annual Conference. The Value and Voice of VET Research for individuals, industry, community and the nation, Rydges Capital Hill, ACT Retrieved July. Retrieved from http://www.crc-rep.com.au/resource/AVETRA2012_GuentherAndMcRae-Williams_Paper59.pdf
  2. Townsend, P. (2014). Deadly Remote Teacher Education by Mobile Devices. Retrieved from https://acec2014.acce.edu.au/sites/2014/files/attachments/ACEC2014%20Philip%20Townsend,%20Deadly%20remote%20teacher%20education%20by%20mobile%20devices_0.docx
  3. Townsend, P. (2014). Mobile Learning Engagement is Location Neutral. Transactions on Mobile Learning, 5. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Philip_Townsend2/publication/269932389_Mobile_Learning_Engagement_is_Location_Neutral/links/549a273e0cf2fedbc30cb24e.pdf
  4. Townsend, P. B. (2015). Mob learning-digital communities for remote aboriginal and Torres strait islander tertiary students. Journal of Economic & Social Policy, 17(2), 20. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/13856418/Mob_Learning_-_Digital_Communities_for_Remote_Aboriginal_and_Torres_Strait_Islander_Tertiary_Students

Australian Education City Proposed for Victoria

An organization called "Australian Education City" has proposed an education, R&D and residential development, most likely to be near Melbourne.

The education component would have precincts, each with a campus shared by Australian, Chinese and UK universities. No universities are mentioned in the education campus outline, only the Beijing based Education International Corporation (EIC) Group, student recruitment company.

Residential development is a component of the "Australian Education City" and perhaps the key to financing the project.  The Melbourne contact address and telephone number given for the project are that of the offices of "Investors Direct Financial Group", a residential property investment company

This combination of residential, hi-tech and education are common to smart city proposals and smaller developments (many so called smart cities are really towns). As an example, the Australian Education City references an IBM infor-graphic about the Indian township of Palava. Also the IBM "A vision of smarter cities" is referenced (although there does not appear to be any IBM involvement in the Australian proposal).

Not all such smart city and tech-campus proposals are successful. Malaysia's Cyberjaya has required government investment to survive. Australia has its own attempt at a high tech city with the Multi-Function Polis (MFP), a Japanese 1980s proposal for a city of the future to concentrate on IT, education and environmental management. What resulted was a modest suburb in Adelaide and the renaming of an existing technology park.

On a smaller scale the ANU recently unveiled proposals for redevelopment of "Union Court" in the center of its Canberra campus, with provision for accommodation. The ANU has released a "Plan for Reimagined ANU Union Court and University Avenue" and is seeking investors, but the project might need to be changed to make it financially viable. Currently the project is envisaged with buildings far below even the current modest height limit set for this part of Canberra. With taller buildings, an investment at Australia's leading university (19th in the world) could be attractive to developers.

Another brown-field site available is the Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Sydney. This is located adjacent to a major rail corridor and close to the Sydney CBD, but has limited space. The ATP started with considerable promise, but failed, perhaps due to the lack of a residential and retail component.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Still Problems with Video Conferences for Education

This week I took part in an hour long video conference for a course I am a student in. I have been taking part in such events for more than a decade and little progress seems to have been made in the technology, or its application.

The event used Adobe Connect, which does not work quite as well as Blackboard Collaborate. I was using a very high bandwidth fibre optic connection, but even so the quality of the service was not that good. The audio was clipped (I suspect because the presenter had their microphone turned up too loud) the service dropped out every ten minutes or so and I had to reconnect.

However, the major problem was that the tutor spent most of the time talking, making it a monologue, like a badly done, old fashioned lecture. This was because it was too hard for the students to speak. It might have been improved if the tutor got the studnets to each pratice raising their hand and taking over speaking. Of the students I did most of the talking, perhaps because I had the best connection and am used to video-conferences.

Five minutes of the event was taken up discussing when the later events were to be held. The problem is that the particular educational instuion has a policy of using their local time zone for scheduling events, even though their students spread across the world. With the change of seasons, students have to take into account not only the usual time difference between the campus and their location, but also daylight saving. It would be so much simpler if events were scheduled in UTC.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Australian Diploma in IT Offered Online in India

Education Centre of Australia (ECA) and the Australian Computer Society (ACS) have announced an on-line Australian Diploma in Information Technology (ICT50115) for students in India. ECA provides Australian higher education programs through Australian universities and Registered Training Organizations (including the ACS). ACS were previously only offering the diploma at ECA's Sydney center, with 20 hours per week in the classroom.

The IT Diploma program has three streams for the student to choose from:
  1. Software Development: Programming, Web Design
  2. Information Systems:  Emerging Technologies, Business Analysis 
  3. Computer Network: Network Design, Network Control
Students then have a pathway to a bachelor degree at one of the Australian ECA universities.

This approach of an introductory on-line course and then advanced studies abroad I suggest will become the norm within five years.

It should be noted that there are Australian visa restrictions on the proportion of on-line courses an international student can undertake:
"Students can study up to 25 per cent of their course by online and/or distance learning, but in each compulsory study period each student must be studying at least one unit that is not by distance or online."

From "Online and distance", National Code Part D, Standard 9 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act), Australian Department of Education and Training.
These restrictions do not apply to students studying on-line from abroad. Students on-line do not need to be in Australia and so do not need an Australian visa.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sixty Malaysian MOOCs

Sydney based Australian company Open Learning Global Pty., Ltd. has its on-line platform openlearning.com  is being used by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) to provide Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) from Malaysian universities. There are an initial sixty Malaysian MOOCs provided.

According to a media report, the aim is to have 15% of Malaysian public university courses as on-line MOOCs by the end of this year and 30% by 2020. What is not clear is the aim of this ambitious target: will these MOOCs be accepted by Malaysian universities as the equivalent of face-to-face classes? Who will fund these courses, some of which have tends of thousands of students?
The government aims to teach 15 per cent of all public university courses online as MOOCs by the end of 2015. This will increase to 30 per cent of all university courses by the year 2020.

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/60-massive-open-online-courses-public-universities-launched
The government aims to teach 15 per cent of all public university courses online as MOOCs by the end of 2015. This will increase to 30 per cent of all university courses by the year 2020.

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/60-massive-open-online-courses-public-universities-launched
The government aims to teach 15 per cent of all public university courses online as MOOCs by the end of 2015. This will increase to 30 per cent of all university courses by the year 2020.

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/60-massive-open-online-courses-public-universities-launched
The government aims to teach 15 per cent of all public university courses online as MOOCs by the end of 2015. This will increase to 30 per cent of all university courses by the year 2020.

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/60-massive-open-online-courses-public-universities-launched

I had a quick look at one of the courses offered, Introduction to Entrepreneurship from UiTM. The course was easy and quick to enroll in. The home page has an easy to read format, with one menu and a introduction video. "About the Course" provided a brief well structured and written overview. Two appropriate recommended texts are listed, however these are conventional textbooks, not available free on-line. There is an impressive list of instructors for the course.

The course requires 3 hours study per week, over five weeks, 15 hours in total. This is about one eighth of a typical Australian university course: ten hours a week for twelve weeks, 120 hours total. The sixty Malaysian MOOCs would therefore equate to only about eight Australian university courses.

The course website itself responded quickly and did not appear to require large amounts of computer or network resoruces. However, the Padlet wall "Entrepreneurs Padlet Wall" web based service used for student discussions appeared to use considerable amounts of networking.

The course has twelve relatively conventional topics:
1.   Theories and Concepts of Entrepreneurship
2.   Importance of Entrepreneurship
3.   Creativity and Innovation
4.   Entrepreneurial Opportunities
5.   Business Plan
6.   Forms of Business Entity
7.   Business Support System
8.   Marketing Fundamentals
9.   Management of Small Business : Operations Management
10. Management of Small Business : Human Resource Management
11. Financial Management for SMEs
12. Business Ethics, Professional and Social Responsibilities

Video lectures are provided. These are high quality videos, provided via YouTube (an example is "Introduction to Entrepreneurship"). There are no closed captions provided for the videos. Discussion questions are provided for each section. There are quizzes implemented with SWF. Overall this appears to be well designed on-line course.

Some courses of interest:
  1. UiTM MOOC, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, 15075 Students
  2. UNIMAS-MOOC, ICT Competency, 7999 Students
  3. Mohamed Amin Embi, Rethinking Teaching; Redesigning Learning, 453 Students
  6. UTeM MOOC, Critical & Creative Thinking, 145 Students

Entrepreneurship on the Increase in Australia

The OECD report "Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2015" was released 5 August 2015. This reports start-ups increasing in Australia and UK.
"Start-up rates have been on an upward trend since the crisis in many countries, particularly in Australia and the United Kingdom, and more recently in Denmark, Portugal and Sweden. In many Euro area economies, start-up rates nonetheless remain below pre-crisis levels."
From  Forward, Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2015, OECD, 5 August 2015.

Table of contents


Executive summary

Reader's guide

1 Recent developments in entrepreneurship

New enterprise creations



2 Structure and performance of the enterprise population

Enterprises by size

Employment by enterprise size

Value added by enterprise size

Turnover by enterprise size

Compensation of employees by enterprise size

Productivity by enterprise size

3 Enterprise birth, death and survival

Birth rate of employer enterprises

Death rate of employer enterprises

Churn rate of employer enterprises

Survival of employer enterprises

4 Enterprise growth and employment creation

Employment creation and destruction by employer enterprise births and deaths

Employment creation and destruction in surviving enterprises

High-growth enterprises rate

5 SMEs and International trade

Trade concentration

Trade by enterprise size

Trade with emerging economies

Trade by enterprise ownership

6 The profile of the entrepreneur

Gender differences in self-employment rates

Self-employment among the youth

Earnings from self-employment

7 Determinants of entrepreneurship: Selected indicators

Access to finance: Venture capital

Market access: Trade barriers

Culture: Entrepreneurial perceptions and attitudes


A. Sources of data on timely indicators of entrepreneurship

B. List of indicators of entrepreneurial determinants

C. International comparability of venture capital data

OECD Report on Students, Computers and Learning

The OECD has released the report "Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection" (2.3 Mbytes, 204 pages, PISA, OECD, 15 September 2015). The research finds no clear evidence that computers in the classroom improve education. This is not a surprising for those familiar with computers and education: computers need to be part of a program of education.

The report makes the point that exposure to the Internet does not improve digital literacy and it is teaching which makes the difference. This is a reassuring finding for teachers: computers are not a substitute for an educational program.

The report suggests that providing subsidized computer access to ICT does not reduce inequity in education. The effective use of the technology requires improved education, otherwise the ICT investment is wasted.

It should be noted that the OECD report only considers ICT as a supplement to conventional classroom education. There is no mention of e-learning or of distance education. This is understandable as most investment by OECD countries, including Australia, have focused on providing computers in schools, or computers for students, not on using computers for education. The assumption has been that providing computer access will in, of itself, help students with their education. Some countries have supplementary programs for providing training of teachers and some course content development. This approach is clearly a waste of time and money, but understandable in terms of the politics of governments being seen providing tangible help for students. The obvious policy to peruse: to first provide training and equipment for teachers and ICT course materials would not be politically popular.

The Australian education ministers are expected to approve the "Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: Technologies" this week. This would be an obvious area in which to introduce effective use of ICT for education. Clearly what is needed is to train teachers the technology curriculum and provide on-line curriculum materials for it. It seems blindingly obvious that e-learning should be used for teacher training in the technology curriculum.  However, apart from the CSER Digital Technologies courses, nothing appears to have been done for teacher training. Apart from a few company sponsored materials, nothing has been done to provide course content. It will not be surprising if an OECD report finds in five years time that the introduction of the Australian Technologies Curriculum was a failure, because the needed investment in teacher training and course-ware had not been made.

Unfortunately, Australian governments are no making the needed investment for effective use of ICT in schools. As a result this investment will happen in an ad-hoc way, at higher cost and mostly using imported services and skills. Australian schools will become places where local teachers will be reduced to the role of child minders, while the students' education is carried out using on-line materials purchased from overseas, supervised by on-line teachers who are overseas.
"These findings, based on an analysis of PISA data, tell us that, despite the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICT) in our daily lives, these technologies have not yet been as widely adopted in formal education. But where they are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed, at best. In fact, PISA results show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education."
From Executive Summary, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD, p. 15, 15 September 2015).
"Korea and Singapore, the two highest-performing countries in digital reading, and among those countries whose students are the most proficient in navigating through the web, have excellent broadband infrastructure,  and their 15-year-old students use computers with ease in their daily lives. Yet students in these countries are not more exposed to the Internet at school than are students in other OECD countries. This suggests that many of the evaluation and task-management skills that are essential for online navigation may also be taught and learned with conventional, analogue pedagogies and tools."
From Executive Summary, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD, p. 15, 15 September 2015).
"Ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services." 
From Executive Summary, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD, p. 16, 15 September 2015).

Table of Contents from the Report

Students’ access to ICT at home 33
 • Access to a home computer 35
 • Home Internet access 35
 • Students’ experience using computers 37
Students’ use of computers and the Internet outside of school 39
 • How much time students spend on line 39
 • Students’ ICT-related activities outside of school 41
How students’ use of the Internet outside of school is related to their social well-being
and engagement with school 43

Students’ use of computers at school 51
 • Internet use at school 55
 • Computer use during mathematics instruction 56
 • Use of home computers for schoolwork 58
Drivers and barriers to integrating ICT into teaching and learning 61
 • The school ICT infrastructure 62
 • How school infrastructure trends are related to the use of ICT 67
 • Curricula and the use of ICT at school for instruction 67
How ICT use is related to pedagogical practices in mathematics 73
Similarities and differences between paper-based and computer-based assessments 82
 • Differences between digital and print reading 83
 • Differences between computer-based and paper-based mathematics 84
 • Differences in test design and operational characteristics
of computer- and paper-based assessments 84
Student performance in digital reading 85 • Average performance in digital reading 85
 • Trends in average digital reading performance 87
 • Students at the different levels of proficiency in digital reading 89
 • Trends at the top and bottom of the performance distribution in digital reading 92
Differences in performance between print and digital reading 94
 • Top performers in digital and print reading 95
 • Low performers in digital and print reading 96
Student performance in the computer-based assessment of mathematics 97
 • Average performance in the computer-based assessment of mathematics 98
Differences in performance related to the use of ICT tools for solving mathematics problems 100
Successful and unsuccessful navigation 108
 • How navigation is related to success in digital reading tasks 109
The navigation behaviour of students in the PISA assessment of digital reading 112
 • Student-level indices used to describe navigation behaviour 112
 • The typical navigation behaviour of students across countries/economies 112
The relationship between performance in digital reading
and students’ navigation behaviour 119
One divide or many divides? Digital access, digital use and digital production 124
Access and experience gaps related to socio-economic status 125
 • Socio-economic differences in access to computers and the Internet 125
 • Socio-economic and gender differences in early exposure to computers 129
 • Rural/urban gaps in Internet access 132
 • The role of schools as providers of access to computers and the Internet 132
Differences in computer use related to socio-economic status 135
 • Computer use at home 135
 • Computer use at school 137
How performance on computer-based tests is related to socio-economic status
and familiarity with computers 137
 • Disparities in performance related to socio-economic status 137
 • Trends in the relationship between digital reading performance
and socio-economic status 140
Technology investments and trade-offs 146
How learning outcomes are related to countries’/economies’ investments
in school ICT resources 149
How performance is associated with students’ use of ICT for school 152 • Use of computers at school 153
 • Use of computers in mathematics lessons 154
 • Use of computers outside of school for schoolwork 156
Use of computers at home for leisure and digital reading performance 160
Research evidence on the impact of computer use on student performance 16
Description of the unit SERAING 167
How fluently can students read? 170
How do students allocate effort and time to tasks? 173
How do students navigate a simple website? 175
 • Successful and unsuccessful navigation in Task 2 in the unit SERAING 176
Implications of the case study for computer-based assessments 181
Digital tools are often complementary to skills, both basic and advanced 186
Teach the foundation skills that are needed in a digital environment 187
Invest in skills to promote equal opportunities in a digital world 188
Raise awareness of the possible harmful aspects of Internet use 189
Develop coherent plans, including teacher training, for using ICT in the classroom 189
Learn from past experience to improve the effectiveness of future investments
in technology 190


OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Microgrids Powering Australia and Indonesia

Greetings from the ANU University House at the Australian National University in Canberra, where I am taking part in a workshop with researchers from Indonesia on micro-grids to power our nations. The workshop is run by the AIC Energy Research Cluster of the Australia-Indonesia Centre.

A microgrid has small electricity generators connected to a local load. The microgrid can be connected to a larger national grid, or operate autonomously. In my graduate course "ICT Sustainability" I teach how to estimate the energy used by computers and telecommunication and, more importantly for micro-grids, how to reduce energy consumption by using ICT. Micro-grids depend on having computer systems to ensure the production and consumption of power are balanced. I will be looking at how to keep and analyze the large amounts of data needed to do this for Indonesia and Australia.

One option I have suggested is displaying energy data using mobile phone compatible web pages. Some buildings have flat screen displays dedicated to energy monitoring, but these are rarely looked at and themselves consume energy (and cost money).   A small simple web page can be displayed on a smart phone. To check it is compatible you can use the
W3C mobileOK Checker (the Australian W3C Office is at ANU).   

Some work has been done in the USA on energy data analysis:
One I idea I suggested to the workshop was to clone the ANU TechLauncher program and the Canberra Innovation Network for energy start-ups in Indonesia.

ps: It is an interesting time to be doing this, as Australia has a new government today, which may have new policies on climate change and energy use.


Khamphanchai, W., Saha, A., Rathinavel, K., Kuzlu, M., Pipattanasomporn, M., Rahman, S., ... & Haack, J. (2014, October). Conceptual architecture of building energy management open source software (BEMOSS). In Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference Europe (ISGT-Europe), 2014 IEEE PES (pp. 1-6). IEEE. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ISGTEurope.2014.7028784

Friday, September 11, 2015

Techniques for Teaching the Technologies Curriculum in Australian Schools

The Technologies Curriculum for Foundation to Year 10 in Australian Schools is expected to be formally approved on 18 September 2015. On Thursday I attended the Information Technology Educators ACT (InTEACT) workshop on how to teach the new curriculum. I attended presentations by CISCO and Intel and then hands-on exercise with Grok Learning's programming teaching materials.

CISCO emphasized that the courses at their "CISCO Networking Academy" were not just for training network engineers. As an example they have a course on "Entrepreneurship". What was not clear was how applicable these courses are to the new Technologies Curriculum, given it is for younger students. Also it was not clear if these were aligned with Australian educational requirements.

The Intel presentation did not start well with some claims in the corporate slides at the start lacking credibility. As an example a claim that less than 10% of the world's population had Internet access (the Intel figure I think was 2%) did not seem to match estimates of 40%.

Also a description of the Arduino compatible  Intel Galileo single board computer was a little confusing. Also what was not clear was that a Teacher’s guide to  the Intel Galileo was developed with Macquarie University (and so should me more than just a sales brochure). The guide is designed for the Australian Curriculum, with projects which also suit other Arduino compatible hardware. Unfortunately the PDF version of the guide is 15 Mbytes (a bit big). What was good was that there were several Intel education kits to try out.

Lastly I took part in a workshop run with Australian company, Grok Learning. We ran through two of their one hour coding exercises on "Frozen Fractals" (Python Turtle and Blockly Turtle). These are designed for an iPad, although I used them on a laptop. The exercise was to use "turtle graphics" to draw a snowflake, to learn about geometry and iteration. The two versions of the exercise used a visual programming language (Blockly) and one using Python.

The programming environment used will be familiar to those who have done one of the newer introduction to programming exercises at a university, based on the "Snap!" programming environment and UC Berkeley's "Beauty and Joy of Computing" (Harvey, 2012). The use of turtle graphics for teaching extends much further back, at least to the mid 1970s (Solomon & Papert, 1976). It is interesting to see that it has taken more than 40 years for the hardware to catch up with teaching ideas.

Grok's lesson screen shows a progress bar along the top, with circles representing information for the students and diamonds for tasks. About half the screen is devoted to lesson content, the other half has a window for entering code at the top and a window for results below. When I started the lesson the code window was only large enough for one line, but I found I could drag to make it larger.

Tasks in the progress bar are gray at the start, then turn amber when attempted and green when completed successfully. One minor problem is that it would be difficult to distinguish green and amber if the user can't distinguish color (or has a monochrome screen). However, it would not be difficult for Grok to provide a non-color indicator, to meet accessibility requirements.

To see how they went, a student first runs their code and then submits it for marking. The system shows the required behavior of the turtle and then overlays what the student's code does. One problem is, as with any automated test, the student's result must be identical to the expected result, even for irrelevant details. As an example, when asked to draw a square I left the turtle pointing a different direction to the model answer and so this was not marked as correct by the system. Also there were no helpful hints as what to do next, if your result was not correct.

Grok's implementation is only a few weeks old and they were still making some improvements. Overall the exercises worked well for teaching programming fundamentals. However, these exercises would only really be useful where the student was able to obtain help from a human tutor, such as in a classroom. On its own, for a distance education student, the exercises would be very frustrating. Even a certified computer professional, such as myself, would find it difficult. ;-)

The workshop was held in the Inspire Centre at the University of Canberra. This building was purpose built to teach teachers how technology can be incorporated into education and is the best expression of the hight tech classroom I have seen, anywhere in the world. The event started with seating arranged in theater mode (rows of chairs facing the front). I went out for a coffee in the foyer and by the time I came back the room had been rearranged: a folding wall had divided the room in two and one half was changed to group work around tables.

The Inspire Centre illustrates the sort of investment which needs to be made by Australian governments (and the non-government schools sector) to implement the Technologies Curriculum in Australian schools. While InTEACT's initiative in holding this workshop (and the contribution by companies involved) is to be commended, an investment of many hundreds of millions of dollars is needed for teacher training, equipment and curriculum development. That may sound a lot of money, but is minor compared to that spent on the previous "Building the Education Revolution" and laptops for schools programs. Unfortunately while it is relatively easy to get money for tangible hardware and buildings, it is more difficult to resources the more useful teacher training and course content which is needed for a real education revolution.


Harvey, B. (2012). The Beauty and Joy of Computing: Computer Science for Everyone. Proceedings of Constructionism 2012, 33-39. http://ftp.cs.berkeley.edu/~bh/BJC.pdf
Solomon, C. J., & Papert, S. (1976, June). A case study of a young child doing Turtle Graphics in LOGO. In Proceedings of the June 7-10, 1976, national computer conference and exposition (pp. 1049-1056). ACM. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/1499799.1499945

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Technologies Curriculum for Australian Schools Next Week

At the ACS Canberra Conference, Julie King, Curriculum Lead, Technology at ACRA, said she was expecting approval of the "Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: Technologies" by Australian education ministers on 18 September 2015. This is significant as these are the school years when students decide what they will do after school. I suggest that by directly supporting the implementation of the Technologies Curriculum, professional bodies, VET and university sectors can best encourage students to go on to ICT study and careers. One way to do that is for professions and HE to create on-line course content for use by schools. These materials would be best created in a way they can be used by teachers in the classroom, as well as being packaged for direct study by the students.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fund Research Not PhDs

A media report suggests that the leading Group of Eight Universities in Australia has proposed that funding of PHD students be limited to the world ranked universities: "Fund PhDs at the best unis and forget the rest, say elite universities" (Tim Dodd, AFR, 5 September 2015). I suggest instead that universities charge student fees for PHDs, as for other postgraduate degrees. Universities can then compete for research grants to cover the extra cost of any research facilities the PHDs need.

The Go8's proposal would cut funding in some disciplines from Macquarie, Flinders, La Trobe, Newcastle, Western Sydney, Curtin, James Cook, Bond, Murdoch,  Griffith, Tasmania, Murdoch and RMIT universities. Instead I propose abolishing the Research Training Scheme, Australian Postgraduate Awards and the International Postgraduate Research Scholarships. The funds from these schemes should instead be awarded to universities on a competitive basis for research.

The current system conflates funding of research training and research. I suggest these be separated.  University and departmental rankings are not a good way to select the best research to fund. A better alternative would be to have the tuition costs of research students covered by fees and the research paid for by competitive research grants. Those universities with a good research track record, and good research proposals, would be able to attract more research funding and so be able to have more PHD students. Those universities unable to attract research funding could still offer PHDs in fields which do not require expensive equipment and offer "professional" doctorates, paid for by fees.

Also I suggest "flipping" the approach to research training. The Go8 submission assumes there should be a few PHDs and everyone else has to have an inferior "professional" degree. I suggest reversing this and assume a professional degree is normal and a PHD is a specialized subset of this. All doctoral candidates would be required to start with a professional style program, where they have to take courses in communication and innovation, as well as research techniques. These courses would be paid for by the student through fees (with the usual government loans and subsidies available for domestic students). A small proportion (perhaps 10%) of those students who show the greatest aptitude for research would go on to a research degree (partly funded by research grants), most would complete a professional doctorate (paid for by the student fees).

The current PHD funding scheme is flawed in that it pays universities to produce far more research graduates than there are jobs for (about ten times as many) and does not fund the best research. If funds were moved from these unnecessary PHDs, there would be more for quality research and more graduates with useful skills.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Digital Learning is the Present and the Future

In reviewing Clare Howell Major's book "Teaching Online", Sandra Leaton Gray writes "Digital learning may be the future, but the present is more uncertain" (Times Higher Education, 3 September 2015). No, e-learning is not the future, it is the here and now. It may be called flipped, or blended, or just "the notes are on the web", but having an on-line component in a university course is now commonplace. Within five years I expect it will be 80% of all education at the upper secondary and higher education.

I have not read Clare Howell Major's book, but this review seems to be, at least in part, about the reviewer's  skepticism of e-learning than the book itself. It may be uncertain in some UK universities (more about that later), but in Australia at least digital learning is now routine.

Courses which are entirely on-line are rarer than blended, but even Australia's leading research institution, the Australian National University, is offering 125 on-line courses for 2016 (19 undergraduate and 106 graduate), plus a new on-line Law degree.

Sandra Leaton Gray comments "... you sit at home and converse on a forum with other committed students and a leading lecturer at a world-class university ...". That is not a vision of the future, I have been teaching postgraduates on-line at a world class university (and lesser institutions)  for six years. This was after an epiphany in 2008, when I announced to a class of ANU students it would be my last lecture (ever).  It has taken years to learn how to teach on-line, but it now seems very routine.

There are problems with the quality of some on-line courses. This is more of a problem at the undergraduate level, where students need more hand-holding. The more mature the students and more real-world work experience they have, the easier they are to teach (especially on-line).

It helps if the staff are trained and qualified to design and deliver on-line courses. There are decades of research and practical experience, on what to do and how to do it, what works and what doesn't work. Higher Education institutions have been offering specialized qualifications in on-line learning (previously called "Distance Education") for at least twenty years.

On-line learning is not that different to other teaching, or at least that is what I told the staff at University of Cambridge a few weeks ago, when they asked me for some tips to teach their graduates on-line (Cambridge has adopted the Moodle free open source learning management system, from Australia).

And this is what I will be telling teachers at the IT education stream of the Australian Computer Society Annual Canberra Conference next week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Makerspace in a Shipping Container

Australia needs more "Makerspace" for its budding maker culture and recently I was asked to look over an old classroom to see if it would be suitable. One problem is that any renovations on a campus have to be done to the institution's standards, which are high. It might be more cost effective to buy a new modular building than refurbish an old one. University of Washington have some useful "Makerspace: Guidelines for Accessibility and Universal Design".

A makerspace would suit an industrial aesthetic and perhaps a shipping container would do (ANU had Australia's first shipping container apartment building in 2009 ).

A web search found I was far from the first to have this idea and "Makerspace Shipping Container" is a thing, particularly in China. More notable examples are "MakerCamp Shenzhen" and "Xinchejian builds a Makerspace in a shipping container", the "Marymount University  Accessible Makerspace Concept for People with Disabilities".

Also there are academic papers which touch on the topic, such as  Osayimwese Rifkind (2014) and Artiles and Wallace (2010).


Artiles, J. A., & Wallace, D. R. (2010). Methods for Innovation: Observations from the Education DesignShop. Retrieved from http://fablearn.stanford.edu/2014/wp-content/uploads/fl2014_submission_69.pdf
Osayimwese, I., & Rifkind, D. (2014). Building Modern Africa: Theme Editors' Introduction. Journal of Architectural Education, 68(2), 156-158. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10464883.2014.943631