Saturday, October 31, 2015

Moodle Interests Tag Cloud for Team Building Exercise

The Innovation ACT competition ends this evening with the announcement of the winners. It seemed a good opportunity to think about how to use mobile technology to improve such start-up competitions.

Innovation ACT has a PARTICIPANT HANDBOOK, which lists the activities the students do. One explicitly involves the use of social media (on page 8 of the handbook). Teams get one point per week for a post in each of the five weekly workshops:
"Social  Media  Posts

Points  can  be  earned  for  sharing  particular  learnings or experiences  to our InnovationACT Facebook group.  Details will be given throughout the program."
However, there may be scope for on-line activities in the 5 workshops and also the other events:
  • Workshop 1: Initial ideas
  • Workshop 2: Vision, Brand & pitch
  • Mentor Matching
  • Workshop 3: User Journey
  • Freedom to Operate: IP  For Start-­ups TBC
  • Workshop 4: Returns & Rewards
  • Continuation Avenues: Innovation Ecosystem TBC
  • Workshop 5: Finishing Business Models Civic.
  • Journey as Reward: Learning from Experience TBC
  • Pitch Night: Shortlisted teams pitch
  • Awards Night: Announcement of grants
There are also "download packs" which are handouts used in the live exercises. Some of these might be transacted to on-line activities:
  4. User Journey
  5. Returns and Rewards
As an example, the first activity is "Team Hunting". Currently what the students do is answer three questions on a card and then walk around seeing what others have written, looking for team mates:

"IACT Toolkit: Team Hunting:

1. List 3 things you are passionate about or interested in.
2. List Some of Your Personal Strengths. EG. Skills, Experience, networks.
3. What are you looking for in potential team mates."
Instead, I suggest they could enter this into an on-line system, which would then show the possible matches visually. A very simple way to do this would be to use Moodle, which has provision for students to enter "Interests". The system will then show a photo of all students who share an interest. You don't have to program anything to do this, it comes standard:  There is also a "Tag Block" (aka Tag Cloud): 

So the live exercise might become:
  1. Enter three things you are passionate about or interested in, your Skills, Experience and networks into Moodle as "Interests",
  2. Select an interest from the Tag Cloud. Hold up your phone and use it to help find the people who share your interest.
Something more sophisticated might be possible with Social Media systems, but Moodle has the advantage that the information is limited to the participants.

Live webinar on a mobile device

A few months ago I enrolled in a course about how to design courses to be delivered via mobile devices. I did not have a "mobile" device, so I purchased a 7inch Android Tablet (an XO Tablet) and a 4 inch Android phone. This week I decided to try the tablet for the Adobe Connect webinar.

I downloaded the Connect App, which was not difficult (the hard part was learning how to download Apps). The tablet has a microphone and speaker, but webinars work much better with a headset, so I plugged in the same surveillance style headset, I use for my mobile phone.

The Connect App presents an interface similar to the desktop, but simplified. There is a column of buttons on the left, a column of text chat and then a large window for presentations (there was a video window but it disappeared when the webinar started, presumably because no video was being sent).

On the 7 inch screen the slides were about 4.5 inches and are very clear and readable. On a smart phone it might be necessary to have the slides full screen.

While I could walk around with the tablet and headset, it was quickly evident I could not take part in the webinar from anywhere. I had to be in range of WiFi, somewhere quiet and where I could sit down and put the device on a desk. The tablet is too heavy to hold still for more than a few minutes. As a result I had to use an office, with a desk, even with a "mobile" device

The tablet was fine for listening and reading text messages, but was difficult to use more actively. Typing a short text message was okay, but I could not easily flip to a web search and paste the results in. Switching to talk mode was surprisingly difficult. I put my virtual "hand" up to have a turn to talk, but found that I could never put it down. Clicking on the button to activate the microphone was difficult. What I found more useful was leave the soft microphone switch on and use the Push-to-Talk button on my headset.

At present a mobile device is a novelty for me. I might become more proficient, but to take notes during the webinar I got out my laptop and typed on its real keyboard and 11.6 inch screen. So the tablet provided little benefit over using a laptop (which is transportable, rather than mobile). A better option might be a smart phone, plus a large tablet or laptop. The smart phone would be used for the consuming information and the laptop for producing. This arrangement might also work well when the presenter in a webinar, as it can be useful to have a second device to see what the presentation looks like.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Defining the ICT Curriculum

Teaching Innovation in Canberra

Greetings from the UNSW Canberra (at ADFA) where Richa Awasthy, from ANU is speaking on "TechLauncher: A university course creating industry-ready graduates and entrepreneurship". I have been the "client" for one of the teams of students doing the TechLauncher Program at ANU (building webinar software to plug into Moodle). Richa described the complexities of having IT students do a real group project where they have to produce a product (and optionally do a company start-up). May institutions now have some sort of project course and possibly a start-up, but the interesting thing about TechLauncher is that it links together existing project and start-up programs.

Looking for Graduate Outcomes

Greetings from the UNSW Canberra (at ADFA) where Tim Turner just opened the "Conveticle on Computing Education". This is a free, informal one day conference where researchers and practitioners can present and discuss.  The first speaker is Chris Johnson from ANU on "Academic Peer Assessment for Learning Standards". The issue is how you compare the educational product which different universities produce.  Interesting, while universities compare a lot of time and resources assessing their students, they do not like to be assessed themselves. ;-)

Chris went through some of the reasons for learning standards: for the university, government and employers (one not mentioned was the community). He suggested that the final capstone project which ICT students do would be one option for benchmarking.

I suggest that university, government and employers may have different priorities for what graduates should be able to do. Hamilton, Carbone, Gonsalvez, and Jollands (2015) have looked at what ICT employers want. In terms of the public interest I suggest that competence is sufficient: that is graduates should be able to do what they are supposed to do without accidentally killing anyone. Universities and employers might want some form of ranking above competent. Also, I suggest, that universities and employers may have different priorities.

One issue for employers have been the professional skills of the graduates. That is can they work in teams, deliver on time, understand business processes and communicate with non-specialists. Universities have responded by claiming students have these skills, by having them in extra-curricular activities, as separate courses or integrated. The latter two approaches I suggest could be implemented using e-portfolios.

Coming up are:
9:40 Evolving Content and Assessment for an International Moodle Course, Tom Worthington, ANU
10:20 Morning tea
10:40 Teaching Human Computer Interaction to International Students, Jennyfer Taylor, ANU
11:20 Teaching Technical Subjects on Moodle, Michael de Raadt, Moodle
12:00 Lunch
1:00 TechLauncher: A university course creating industry-ready graduates and entrepreneurship, Richa Awasthy, ANU
1:40 A Definitional Framework for curriculum
Lynette Johns-Boast, ANU
2:20 Afternoon tea
2:40 Potential for Secondary and Tertiary IT Pathways in the light of the Digital Technologies Curriculum, Bruce Fuda, Gunghalin College
3:20 Computing Ethics Education, Richard Lucas, UC
4:00 Close


Hamilton, M., Carbone, A., Gonsalvez, C., & Jollands, M. (2015, January). Breakfast with ICT Employers: What do they want to see in our graduates?. In Proceedings of the 17th Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2015) (Vol. 27, p. 30). Retrieved from

ps: Most of the time the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)  campus looks like any other university (except the students are in uniform). But today I noticed a sign pointing to a cyber-security course and there are helicopters landing on the playing field.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Use a Smart Phone for Better Presentations

Recently I have been looking at how to use smart phones and tablet computers for education. I am unimpressed by claims of such as those from Berking, Archibald, Haag and Birtwhistle (2012) that m-learning is not just a new delivery mechanism, but is a "paradigm shift". One unexpected use for a mobile device I have found is for face-to-face presentations. My XO Tablet, like many tablets and a few smart phones, has a video out socket. A min-HDMI (male) to HDMI (female) adapter cost AU$9.95 (micro-HDMI adapters are available for smart phones). This allows the tablet to be plugged into a projection screen for a presentation. No special software is needed.

Apart from something smaller to carry around, the tablet or smart phone has the advantage of a small screen. This may well improve the readability of presentations, as if the presenter can see the details on their small device it will likely be readable to the audience on the big screen. I attend many presentations which must have looked good on a desktop monitor, but have too much small detail for a large screen.

Something else I have found works well on the tablet computer is Skype with a headset plugged in for audio conferences. I use a surveillance style headset, which rests over one ear and has a lapel microphone. I have also installed the Adobe Connect App, but have not yet tried it with a conference. One concern is that there appears to be no way to change the video and audio settings to reduce data use  (in Skype I set the video to low quality).


Berking, P., Archibald, T., Haag, J., & Birtwhistle, M. (2012, January). Mobile learning: Not just another delivery method. In The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation & Education Conference (I/ITSEC) (Vol. 2012, No. 1). National Training Systems Association.

ANU Science/CECS Teaching and Learning Colloquium 4 Nov

ANU is holding a free Science, Engineering and IT Teaching and Learning Colloquium, 9am to 1pm, 4 November 2015. While primarily intended for ANU staff, others interested in STEM teaching are welcome to attend (register online).


9:00 Coffee
9:15 Welcome: Professor Barbara van Leeuwen, Deputy Dean (Education) Colleges of Science
Dr Jochen Trumpf, Associate Dean Education, College of Engineering & Computer Science
9:20– 10:20 Keynote Presentation: Professor Wageeh Boles, Director, Learning and Teaching, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science School, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

This interactive presentation will address the interrelated teaching challenges of engaging students and improving attendance at lectures. It will also explore the use the flipped classroom approach for teaching. ... Attendees are invited to bring their Smart Phones, Tablets, or Laptops to participate.

10:20 – 10:50 – Intensive Delivery of a Humanitarian Engineering Course: Jeremy Smith, CECS

Developed in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders this project developed a dedicated later year intensive humanitarian engineering blended course, the first of its kind in Australia.  This was delivered in two parallel modes, one based entirely in Canberra the other incorporating a two-week immersive experience in Cambodia.

10.50 – 11:20 Morning tea
11:20 – 11:30 National agenda on work-integrated learning
Professor Barbara van Leeuwen
11:30 - 12:00 Medical Science in the Workplace: A coursework alternative to work placements
Dr Isabelle Ferru, RSB
Student placements in workplaces are highly valued educational activities for university medical science students, but have multiple shortcomings and limitations. To overcome the latter while still giving medical science students a meaningful understanding of work settings, we created a coursework alternative to work placements. Isabelle will demonstrate that this course has helped students make highly informed choices regarding future studies/careers and built a strong relationship between the ANU and relevant professional communities.

12:00 – 12:30  Science Communication School Internships
Mr Sean Perera, CPAS
The School Internships offer science undergraduates a real-world setting in which to extend science communication theory and practice beyond ANU. Consistent with the educational advantages listed in ANU by 2020, the Internships address the absence of an experientially informed learning trajectory, that has impeded ANU science undergraduates from making evidence-based decisions about secondary science teaching as a profession.
12:30 – 1:00 30, 300, 3000: Scaling first-year Engineering
Assoc Prof Kylie Catchpole, Mr Ben Nizette – CECS
A growing awareness of STEM careers amongst High School students has lead to ANU Engineering extending its outreach programs in local schools. Ben and Kylie will talk about the redevelopment of the first-year "Discovering Engineering" course and how Jigsaw Method techniques have been used to modularise it. These modules, delivered in different ways, have been shown to engage students from a range of University degrees as well as gifted college students.
1:00  Light Lunch

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Open University Enrollments

Bainbridge and Ally (2015) cataloged and categorized the world's open universities. They listed the universities by size, starting with the three having a million, or more students:
  1. Indira Gandhi National Open University (founded 1985, 4 million students)
  2. Open University of China (in Chinese 国家开放大学 literally "China Central Radio and TV University", 1979,  3.5 million students),
  3. Allama Iqbal Open University (1974, 1 Million Students),
The university sizes drop rapidly after this, with Athabasca having 40,000 students:
There seem to be three classes of open universities,  large, medium and small, with millions, hundreds of thousands and tens of thousands of students:

Open University Enrollments
University Enrollments (Millions)
Indira Gandhi National Open University 4.00
Open University of China 3.50
Allama Iqbal Open University 1.00
Ramkhamhaeng University 0.60
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University 0.45
Bangladesh Open University 0.40
University of South Africa 0.35
Al-Quds Open University 0.06
Open University of Israel 0.04
Athabasca University 0.04

Bainbridge and Ally (2015) then list a number of distance, e-learning and virtual university. Interestingly, the authors do not list the Open University UK (founded 1969, 168,000 students) as an open university, although it is one of the oldest and best know of the institutions with "open" in its name.

Australia has no open universities, that is institutions which have  no entry requirements. There is Open Universities Australia (established 1993, 60,000 students), but this is a consortium of conventional universities, offering distance education.


Bainbridge, S., & Ally, M. (2015). Open and Virtual Universities Worldwide. International Handbook of E-Learning Volume 2: Implementation and Case Studies, 167.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Emergency Communications Plans for Educational Institutions

What procedures does your institution have in place for emergency communications? A search of Australian educational websites produced more than six thousand results. The University of Newcastle Emergency Communications Plan is particularly useful as it has templates for SMS and email messages for a range of scenarios and standardized terminology to be used.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Moodle Responsive Theme Works Okay on Mobile Devices

"Responsive" themes for Moodle are now available. These use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to adjust the display of content to suit the size and proportions of the display device. The default "clean" theme provided with Moodle Version 2.9.2+ displays the traditional three column format in landscape mode, but in portrait mode on a mobile device switches to a single column more compact display. This is magical to watch if you have not seen it before: simply rotate the device 90 degrees and watch the format of Moodle pages magically change, then rotate another 90 degrees and they change back.

Green course home page in landscape mode on a mobile device
Moodle Portrait Mode
Green course home page in landscape mode on a mobile device
Moodle Landscape Mode
Screen-shots are shown of landscape and portrait screens on the 7 Inch XO Tablet running Google Android, using the Online Demonstration of Moodle (Version 2.9.2+ with default theme).

However, this responsive design can't fix a badly design course. For a typical week of a course I have one link for notes, one forum and one quiz. All this will fit on a smart phone screen. Some courses I have seen have a dozen links for one week: this will not fit on a small screen (how is a student is supposed to follow it all anyway?). Similarly, I use simple web pages (using the Moodle book module) for notes, with just one column of text, which wraps to fit on the small screen. If you have multiple columns of text in a document, this will not display well on a phone (but why would you ever design an electronic document with  multiple columns of text?).

At the moment I am a student of mobile learning: that is learning how to design courses delivered using smart phones and tablet computers. I did not actually own a mobile device  when I enrolled in the course (just a laptop with a wireless modem). So I purchased a 7 inch Google Android Tablet: first I tried an a Onix Kids 7" Tablet from Aldi which did not work well (so I sent it back) and then an a XO Tablet which does work well. I have a smart phone on order (Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone).

Existing course materials work on a mobile device. Students can read course notes, take part in a forum discussion and do a quiz in Moodle. The question then is what ways could a mobile device be used to go beyond this traditional e-learning?

Low Cost On-line Master of eEducation from Germany

Germany offers free university education, not only to its citizens, but to others in Germany as well. The University of Hagen (FernUniversität in Hagen) also offer on-line university degree programs at low cost to German speakers around the world. One which looks interesting is a Masters Degree in Education and Media - eEducation (M.A. Bildung und Medien: eEducation).  The full program costs 1,200 Euro (about AU$1,900), which is about one tenth the cost of an on-line Masters program from Australia or Canada. The catch is, of course, the tuition is in German.

Computing Education Conference in Canberra

UNSW Canberra (at ADFA) is hosting the "Conveticle on Computing Education", 27 October 2015 in Canberra. This is a free, informal one day conference where researchers and practitioners can present and discuss. Contact Tim Turner, for more details.

Draft Program

8:30 Arrival tea and coffee
9:00 Academic Peer Assessment for Learning Standards, Chris Johnson, ANU
9:40 Evolving Content and Assessment for an International Moodle Course, Tom Worthington, ANU
10:20 Morning tea
10:40 Teaching Human Computer Interaction to International Students, Jennyfer Taylor, ANU
11:20 Teaching Technical Subjects on Moodle, Michael de Raadt, Moodle
12:00 Lunch
1:00 TechLauncher: A university course creating industry-ready graduates and entrepreneurship, Richa Awasthy, ANU
1:40 A Definitional Framework for curriculum
Lynette Johns-Boast, ANU
2:20 Afternoon tea
2:40 Potential for Secondary and Tertiary IT Pathways in the light of the Digital Technologies Curriculum, Bruce Fuda, Gunghalin College
3:20 Computing Ethics Education, Richard Lucas, UC
4:00 Close

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Innovation ACT Pitch Night

The Innovation ACT Pitch Night (Innovation Noir) was held this evening at the Shine dome in Canberra. It was "Back to the Future" day but this setting was more "The day The Earth Stood Still" being in a building like a 1960s flying saucer.

Innovation ACT is a start-up business planning competition for university students in Canberra, created by ANU, but now backed by the ACT government with participants from other universities.

This evening a shortlist of teams presented their products. Each team has only a five minutes to impress a panel of judges, in front of hundreds of people, with a video camera recording. This is a high stress situation with the time limit for presentations tightly controlled.

The presentations were:

 1. Eternabooks: indestructible books for children.
 2. Recomeal "Shop Smarter. Eat Better" smart grocery list.
 3. Workhorse Finance: A website to help young people invest in the share market.
 4. HF Games Studio, with a game called "For King and Coinage".
 5. Project Cleopatra: Forex market.

 -  90 Day House*: Polystyrene core plywood wall low cost DIY house* Open house 2pm this Sunday.
 -  Sustainable Packaging Design*: "N-G"
 -  Team Mude Creative Agency*: Photography, Music, Video, Graphic Design.

 6. BringTeam+: Bringing like-minded students together for group work.
 7. Tutora#: Educational assistance for international students.
 8. Gradlife: Find rental accommodation for graduate students.
 9. Popular Choice: Help for consumers choosing products.
10. Certified Renewable: Certify businesses as using renewable energy.

The presenters have to get their message across is a clear and engaging way, without looking like a clone of Steve Jobs. Also the teams have to overcome the skepticism of the judges who have seen any number of web based business proposals before. The problem is that really good new business ideas either sound simple and obvious, or weird and impossible. The teams this evening did well. It is interesting that several of the teams are proposing products and services for postgraduate international students.

The winners will be announced at the Innovation ACT Awards Night, 31 October.

Events like this are taking place around the world every day, to help university students make the transition from study and research to business. Canberra has a unique advantage in that it has a government supported competition integrated with a co-working space and incubator (the "Canberra Innovation Network"). I am mentoring one team in the competition, am the customer for another and one team this year I mentored last year. In past years my teams have won the pitch. Also I have been a presenter, a competitor and am currently designing on-line learning materials to help.

This same approach can be used inside large companies and government organizations, to encourage innovation.


* Three presentations were not part of the competition.
+ I mentored some of the BringTeam last year on an earlier version of this idea and it is interesting to see it refined.
# I mentored Tutora this year. I am be biased, but I thought they had the best presentation, if not the best product.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Global Green Computing On-line in Canberra

I will be speaking on "Global Green Computing On-line: Evolving Content and Assessment for an International Moodle Course" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 3pm, 22 October 2015. This is a free seminar, no need to book, just turn up.
In 2008 Tom Worthington was commissioned by the Australian Computer Society to design the world's first on-line postgraduate course in Green Computing. He will describe how the course was designed, first run in 2009 for ACS then adapted for three university programs on two continents, using Australian developed software. Tom will discuss how ICT sustainability can be integrated into the workplace and provided on-line globally. See:
Tom Worthington is an computer professional and designer of higher education courses. He consults to government and teaches for the Australian National University and ACS Virtual College. Tom is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the ANU Research School of Computer Science, a member of the ANU Climate Change and Energy Change Institutes. He was Canberra ICT Educator of the Year for 2010. Tom blogs on education issues as "The Higher Education Whisperer" and more generally as "The Net Traveler". He is a Fellow, Honorary Life Member, Certified Computer Professional and Past President of the Australian Computer Society, a Voting member of the ACM and member of the IEEE-CS. See:
The presentation will be repeated for the ACS ICT Sustainability SIG, 6:30pm, 4 November 2015, in Sydney.

Monday, October 12, 2015

One Education Infinity Kids Laptop

One Education is a Sydney based organization planning to build a low cost laptop computer called the Infinity Kids Laptop/Tablet for education, costing US $249 to US $299. As One Education point out, this is not a new idea and is essentially a reboot of the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC) concept, but with newer technology. Like the OLPC XO-1, "Children's Machine", the Infinity is has a brightly colored case designated to appeal to kids and be robust for them to use.

The Infinity has a conventional 8.9" LCD screen. The XO-1 had a 7.5 inch dual-mode screen which was designed to be readable in monochrome mode outdoors and color indoors, but always looked dull and hard to see. The Infinity is a tablet device which docs with a keyboard. The XO-1 had a permanently  attached keyboard, but with a screen which could rotate and fold over the keyboard to make it an e-book.


Display: 8.9 inch Resolution: 2560 x 1600
Storage: 8GB Processor:1.4GHz Quad Core
Size & Weight: Height: 188.5mm Width: 264.5mm Length: 245mm Thickness: 40.8mm Weight: 1.5kg
Camera: VGA Front & 2MP Rear
Audio: Dual Mode Audio In/Out (External)
Touch Technology: Multitouch Capacitive
Operating System: Android Lollipop,
Windows & Linux Coming Soon
Battery & Power: 7000MAh USB-C Connector

The Infinity uses USB-C to connect together hardware modules, allowing upgrading. I have owned several computers which had a modular upgrade feature. But I have never purchased an upgrade for any of these. There either were no upgrades available, or they were so expensive that it was cheaper to buy a whole new computer. Perhaps the Infinity will be different. Exactly what modules the Infitiy has I have not been able to work out, as the highly "responsive" web page for the project keeps jumping about.

Another aspect of the project I have been unable to work out is if this is a for-profit, or not-for-profit project. I suggest it would be better as a for-profit project as this would impose some commercial disciplines on the team. But in either case, it would be good if One Eduction's legal status was clearly and prominently displayed on the web site.

The biggest question for One Education is how this device help children's education. Research shows that the OLPC made minimal improvements in children's education in developing nations. The OLPC well have been harmful, by diverting resource from more useful conventional educational facilities, such as books and teachers.

Having spent the last seven years as a student of on-line pedagogy, one clear finding from the literature is that hardware makes very little difference to education. What is important is educational content relevant to the needs of the student, peers for them to study with and, ideally, a teacher. My preference would be to create educational content which uses web based formats and can be provided as responsive web pages, as off-line e-books (call them "apps" if you want), and can also be delivered on paper and used in a conventional classroom.

What it might be useful for One Education to do is consider modular educational content to complement their modular hardware. One group to target would be students in remote Australia. This could include both remote indigenous communities and students on remote cattle stations. Currently these students are supported (or not supported) by a plethora of uncoordinated state and federal schemes. One Education could aim to deliver a consistent student experience for all Australia students. At the same time this could be used to overcome problems with the NBN Interim Salivate Service.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

XO Tablet Computer for Kids

The XO Tablet (XO-880) is a 7 Inch Android tablet computer with extra software designed for children. There are hundreds of models of 7 Inch Kid Android Tablet Computer offered on Amazon, with little to distinguish them, apart from the color of the protective cases they come with. As an Engadget review indicates, the XO Tablet has much the same hardware (from Vivitar) as other generic 7 inch tablets, but with the addition of the XO educational applications from the Open Laptop Per Child project. The OLPC previously produced custom hardware for educational computers. The OX Tablet's sleeve and screen icons echo that OLPC heritage.

Previously I tried a Onix Kids 7" Tablet (Model Number: ATK1-815) from Aldi for AUD$69.95. The XO feels much heavier than the Onix for around the same price (AUD$73.37 including shipping). That is an advantage as it feels more solid, but the Onix may be easier for small children to hold. Like the Onix the XO has a colorful rubber sleeve. This makes the unit easier to hold and protects it. There is a carry loop on one corner which is useful for orientating the unit. However, the power button is hard to see and it would have been useful if some of the bright blue contrasting rubber used on the back for an XO logo had instead been used to label the power and volume buttons and the ports.

The unit has front and back cameras, an audio socket, micro-USB and, interestingly a mini-HDMI socket. At the MoodlePosium yesterday I was impressed by the use of a mobile device plugged into a large screen. This worked well, as the icons and text of the mobile device were easy to see (the presentations from laptops tended to have small text). The battery is described as high capacity, but only 6 hours is quoted, which is not long for a tablet and may not make it through a day of use (especially in a village relying on solar power).

The XO provides both a kids and full Android interface. Parents can use a password to limit their child's access. Unlike the Onix, I was easily able to access the Android system.

Unlike the Onix, most of the kids applications are stored on the unit and do not require WiFi access to download. But even so, the kids applications do not look extensive, all that exciting, or educationally useful. This is disappointing for a product which is supposedly the end point of a multi-million dollar, multi year project initiated by people at MIT, and endorsed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, for revolutionizing education in developing nations.

The XO appears to have been slightly upgraded since the Engadget review. At half the previous price, it is worth the small premium over the cost of a generic 7 inch tablet. However, is the 7 inch tablet a good size: or is it too big for small kids and too small for big ones? I assume that this size comes from the availability of low cost 7 inch screens made to fit car dashboards, not fit kids hands. A kids computer might be better with a smaller six inch screen, or a larger eight inch one.

Technical Details

Screen Size7 inches
Max Screen Resolution1024x600 pixels
Processor1.2 GHz Tablet Processor
Wireless Type802.11bgn
Average Battery Life (in hours) 6 hours
Operating SystemAndroid 4.4
Item Weight1.8 pounds
Item Dimensions L x W x H7.60 x 0.39 x 4.65 inches
Rear Webcam Resolution5 MP
Flash Memory Size8.0

Forum on Computing Education in Canberra

UNSW Canberra (ADFA) is hosting the "Conveticle on Computing Education", 27 October 2015 in Canberra. This is a free, informal one day conference where researchers and practitioners can present and discuss. Tim Turner, has asked for presenters:
"I am writing to invite you to attend this year’s Conventicle on Computing Education. UNSW Canberra agreed to host the event in Canberra this year. ... Please feel free to forward this invitation to other peers with a similar interest. The conventicle is a free one-day forum where computing education practitioners and researchers share their innovations, ideas, and findings with like-minded people working in the same geographic region.
The conventicle is often used to pre-present or re-present recently accepted papers, but it is also a venue for presentation and discussion of hot topics or work in progress. Proposals are not formally reviewed, as they would be for a conference or journal, but are considered by a local organising committee.
No publication ensues, as many of the conventicle papers have been or are soon to be published elsewhere. Please respond to me with your interest in attending and your willingness to make a presentation at the conventicle.
I’ve scheduled the whole day (9:00am to 4:00pm) and would assume that we can have between 8 and 10 presentations (30 – 45mins each) separated by relevant breaks for tea/coffee/lunch/etc. ... I’m happy to discuss the day and expectations on participants in more detail with you, as required.
Please send along proposals for a presentation as soon as practical so that I can build a program. I look forward to seeing you all on 27 October. "
Dr Tim Turner, FACS Director, Undergraduate Studies School of Engineering and IT UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy Chair ACS Canberra Branch

Mobile Learning With Moodle for Higher Education in Australia and China

Matthew Burley from Mobile Learning Pty Ltd. will speak on Mobile Learning With Moodle for Higher Education in Australia and China at the ACS e-Learning Special Interest Group, 5pm, 11 November 2015, Australian National University, Canberra.
At this event, Matthew Burley will outline how Sydney startup company, Mobile Learning, is working with the Higher Education and Vocational Education Training (VET) sectors to assist with mobile strategy. He will describe how they focus on the role of mobile devices for students and teachers to engage using the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) via a mobile App.
In addition, Matthew will discuss the range of strategies Mobile Learning has to address low mobile digital literacy and entrenched teacher practices in Australian HE and VET. He will also briefly mention how an Australian education startup can target the different learning environments in China.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Better Online Assesment

Graeme Salter
Greetings from the Woden Campus of the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), where I am attending Moodle Posium 2015. The conference has a good mix of industry, vocational, TAFE and university people, discussing the details of Moodle and also education with technology in general. At the moment Graeme Salter is giving the last plenary talk of the day.  He is showing how on-line assessment can be improved with some simple techniques (such as multiple choice questions which do not just test recall).

I am speaking 11am Friday morning on "Evolving Content and Assessment for an International Moodle Course".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Learning Data Analytics

Data Analytics is the search for meaningful patters in data. This has become a skill in demand with large amounts of data on the behavior of users of the Internet becoming available as a byproduct of online system. This is referred to as "Information analysis" (INAN) in the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) Category: Strategy and architecture, Subcategory: Information Strategy at skill levels 3 to 7 :
"The validation and analysis of information, including the ability to discover and quantify patterns in data of any kind, including numbers, symbols, text, sound and image. The relevant techniques include statistical and data mining or machine learning methods such as rule induction, artificial neural networks, genetic algorithms and automated indexing systems." From SFIA Skill Descriptions, BCS, 2011
SAS sponsored a UK report on "Big Data Analytics: Assessment of Demand for Labour and Skills, 2013-2020" (November 2014). Some universities have assembled whole degrees around analytics, but these are largely repackaging of existing university IT courses (Voorhis, Trovati, & Self, 2014). Deakin, La Trobe and other universities are offering Masters and diplomas in data analytics (mostly "business analytics").

Many university courses involve the analysis of large amounts of data, but usually not using the term "Data Analytics". The R Programming Language is popular for these. There are specialized courses and packages for specific disciplines (I attending a short course today on the analysis of learning management system data from Moodle).

UCSD offer an online "Introduction to Big Data Analytics" as part of their Big Data Certificate, through Coursera.

ANU offers "Engineering Data Analytics" (ENGN8535), as a full semester masters course. There is also a two day Professional Development short course "How to communicate your data story.


Voorhis, D., Trovati, M., & Self, R. (2014). Designing Big Data Analytics Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programmes for Employability.

Monday, October 5, 2015

M-learning to Speed Up NBN Interim Satellite Service

This is to propose using mobile learning techniques (m-learning) to improve the delivery of on-line education via the NBN Interim Satellite Service (NBN-ISS). At the same time the same materials can be provided to students in the city.

ABC TV's Landline's "Data Drought" segment (4/10/2015) indicated that students have had difficulty with e-learning via the NBN-ISS, due to limited bandwidth. A new satellite next year will increase capacity, but the satellite service will always be limited, compared to cable services in cities (due to physics and geography).

It is possible to design courses, content and software for use over satellite service. But this may not be feasible for the relatively small number of remote students in Australia. However, city students are increasingly using mobile devices (smart phones, tablets) for education. Use of mobile devices requires the redesign of  courses, content and software.  Mobile devices have more limited communications, in much the same way as remote satellite users. Therefore it should be possible to take into account the needs of satellite users while designing mobile learning.

Responsive web design allows the same educational content to adapt to smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers, automatically. This eliminates the need to design separate mobile and a desktop versions of course materials and software: the one version can be used for both.

Course materials can be implemented in efficient formats which minimize download time Caching can be used so the material can be used off-line, without a constant Internet connection. Courses can be carefully designed and tested, so students don;t need to download amendments to course materials. Optional material can have its meta-data provided separately, so students can decide if they need to download it at all.

Materials can be provided in text, audio and video formats, so students can choose the format which suits their needs and network access. Budgets can be set for each course, so the amount of material to be downloaded will be known.

Students can be provided with short text based "nudges" to remind them what they need to do and when. The use of live synchronized video can be minimized, both to mqaximise the student's productive time and minimise network use. Where live events are required, these can have an audio with limited video option.

These techniques can be used to improve the executional experience for all students, but will particularly help remote students.

Currently I am a student of Mobile Learning, as part of a Masters of Education. For my next assignment, I am required to take an existing on-line course and convert it for mobile learning. Is there an example of open access course material currently used via the NBN I could try converting?

NBN Data Drought

ABC TV's Landline program featured "Data Drought" (Pip Courtney, 4/10/2015 1:22:26 PM). This concerned problems with the NBN Interim Satellite service. Internet speeds in rural and regional Australia were reported to be "... so slow it's impossible to do online banking or email a small photograph". One example cited was five students of the School of the Air who have to share 20 GB per month. The report appears to have been prompted by a recent meeting of the Isolated Children's Parents' Association. Also mentioned in the program is the Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia Facebook page started by Kristy Sparrow.

One claim in the ABC program is that the NBN service has been sized for 48,000 customers, not the 200,000 it has. As a result there is only capacity for 10 gigabytes a month, not even the 20 GB currently allocated.

The NBN interim satellite users are now limited to 20 GB a a month, after which the service is shaped to 128 kbps, then further reduced by an unspecified amount for an unspecified level of use:
"If you exceed your Normal Data Allowance during a Billing Period, your Peak Information Rate will be reduced to 128/128 kbps for the remainder of that Billing Period. If you then increase your Excess Data Usage by placing a continuous load on the service, your Peak Information Rate will be progressively reduced. " From "SkyMesh NBN Interim Satellite Plans
But what is not clear is why this is effecting users in the ways described in the ABC program. The speed of 128 kbps should be more than enough for on-line banking, emailing photos and for e-learning (half that, 64 kbps, should be sufficient).

I use a wireless modem with a 10GB a month allocation, which then gets "shaped". This is fine for on-line banking, email, podcasts and low resolution video (as well as for tutoring and being a student of on-line university courses using Moodle).

E-learning should work well at 64 kbps. This should be more than enough for downloading documents, engaging in on-line text based discussion forums and uploading assignments. It should also be sufficient for limited podcasts and low resolution video. It also should be enough for webinars using audio and limited video (I have successfully used Blackboard Collaborate for webinars at 32 kbps). Applications which assume low latency and high bandwidth will not work well, but then these should not being used in this application.

Unfortunately the ABC TV program does not provide technical details of exactly what speeds remote NBn users are experiencing. However, "The shape of bush disconnection…" (Amanda, July 29, 2015) provides no only a first hand personal account of the problems, but also speed test results. These indicate speeds of 50, 65, 72, 95 kbps which Amanda describes as "Unrelentingly awful.". Then the unshaped speed of 2.16 Mbps as "our internet returned".

The problem may be that users who exceed the 20 GB limit and are then reduced to 128 kbps then attempt to squeeze the maximum amount of data from this and are then penalized with a further reduction in speed. The solution might be to reduce the data allocation further (for example to 10 GB) and reduce the speed after this to 128 kbps, but then not reduce it further. This should be sufficient for e-learning.

Also the applications used for e-learning may need to be checked to see if they are designed and configured for e-learning. As an example, webinar software is normally configured assuming a high speed link. The settings can be changed to suit a slower line. I generally set the system to 64kbps and for 8khz sound, even when I am using a high speed link. This gives slower video and sound like a telephone, rather than a hi-fi, but it works more reliably. Also some software works better than others (and some can;t be configured at all). I have sound Blackboard collaborate works well.

However, this is also a matter of perception. Someone used to 2.16 Mbps will find 95 kbps to be slow. The perception that city users are receiving much more data will decrease satisfaction with the remote service. There is no technical means to correct the relative imbalance between city and remote users, the remote Internet service will be tens or hundreds of times slower, even with new satellites, due to physics and geography.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

New NBN Satellite for Education

Bandwidth for education is an issue in the national press in Australia this week. The first of two satellites (the first named "Sky Muster"), costing the government $500M each, has been launched to supply broadband to remote communities. But already there is worry the system will become quickly overloaded. The government had considered adding third satellite, but a 2014 review determined it would not be used to capacity.

Two satellites will provide 135 Gbps down and 40 Gbps up, shared by about 200,000 ground-stations (Gregory, 2015).

The current interim satellite system has become overloaded, with each customer reduced from 100 gigabytes (GB) a month to 45 gigabytes. As a news item points out (Courtney, 2015) this has to be shared by all students at one location. So five students would only get 9 GB each.

The Australian Government estimates that "... a typical distance education student will download 15 to 20 gigabytes (GB) of data in a month" (Fletcher, 2015). I was not able to find the original research this figure was based on.

I suggest there are many similarities between the bandwidth issue for satellite and mobile users. Also some of the satellite users will be using a mobile device for access, with the signal relayed from the satellite ground station to a mobile device, using WiFi or a mobile phone base station (as far as I know this satellite is not designed for hand-held sat-phones).

Providing efficiently encoded educational materials and services might suit both mobile and satellite users. Rather than have three versions of the interface and content: one for satellite users, one for mobile and one for desktop, it should be possible to use the one for all.

Has anyone estimated what bandwidth is needed for a typical Australian distance education university student? I suspect it is much less than the 15 GB estimate.

Perhaps the NBN system needs a way the consumer can reserve capacity for different uses.  For example, an amount could be reserved per month for educational purposes.

Where bandwidth is limited or access intermittent, technical means, such as caching, can be used to reduce dependence on the network. Also the educational material can be designed to reduce dependence on the network. As an example, a classic distance education design can be used. With this the student receives a package of materials at the start of a course (traditionally a "reading brick" but now an e-book, or SCORM package). This provides all the materials the student needs for an entire semester. The course materials also include a study plan for the student to work through. The student completes exercises and sends in their work for assessment.

This Distance Education approach did not have a high completion rate in the days of paper mail. But with e-learning the student can be sent short nudges to help them work. These consist of short postings every week or few days from a human tutor (or from automated reminders programmed into the course). Where bandwidth is limited these postings can be a few hundred characters of text sent by the Learning Management System (or an SMS message, or email), with a link to the relevant section of the course notes. Students are prompted to respond. This greatly increases the sense of involvement by the students.

If there is sufficient capacity, students can have an on-line discussion of the course by text forum. If there is sufficient capacity, this can be supplemented by audio and video. However, audio and video place much higher demands on the network and research shows that they do not greatly increase student educational outcomes, over text based communication.


Courtney, P. (2015, October 1). Rural communities fear 'data drought' for 18 months despite launch of NBN satellite Sky Muster. Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved from

Fletcher, P. (2015, May 19). CommsDay Satellite Summit: 'Putting satellite to its highest value uses'. Office of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications. Retrieved from

Gregory, M. (2015, October 2). Sky Muster a small step forward for NBN, Australian Business Review. Retrieved from

Correction (4 October 2015):

As originally posted, I wrote that there were to be three NBN satellites all named 'Sky Muster'. Tailgator pointed out (October 3, 2015 at 12:40 PM) "... there are only two satellites being launched... the name - is not generic for both Satellites ...". I have corrected both errors.

Plans for a third satellite were dropped after a 2014 review. It was not expected a third satellite would be fully used (which I think will turn out to have not been a good decision):
"The Review estimates that only of the capacity of a third satellite would be utilised. The remaining capacity could then be commercialised, either by NBN Co or a third party. However, there are limited opportunities for NBN Co to monetise the spare capacity in its third satellite, as the majority of bandwidth supply is unlikely to be met with significant market demand from potential corporate end-users. This scenario also reduces the need for base stations and therefore reduces long term operating expenditure". From page 90, NBN Fixed Wireless and Satellite Review Report, NBN Co, May 2014
Of course some user education and custom browser configuration should be able to at least double the effective capacity of the two satellites, for a fraction of the cost of the third.