Friday, February 5, 2016

Benchmarking Computing Degrees

Greetings from Australasian Computer Science Week (ACSW 2016) at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where Professor Chris Johnson, Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Deans of Information and Communication Technology (ACDICT) is presenting on "Benchmarking and Curriculum Improvement for the Computing Disciplines".

Chris then handed over to Steve Drew, who discussed the Consultation Draft "Information and Communication Technology Academic Standards Statement" this attempts to translate the what to teach in curriculum standards into what graduates should be able to do.

Dr Sara Booth from University of Tasmania, then talked about "Peer Review of Assessment". Sara has been working with approaches developed for the school sector and applying them in higher education through an "Online Peer Review Tool" (OPRT). The tool is being tested. The OPRT User Manual is publicly available, but the tool itself is proprietary. This publicly funded project might have more impact, I suggest, if it was to release the results under an open access license, in accordance with Australian Government policy.

Overall the workshop was useful. However, it highlights the challenges for Australian universities in meeting employer's expectations, while maintaining academic norms. There is an  tension between maintaining diversity between Australian universities and meeting national and international standards. Developing an Australian standard and benchmarking IT degrees seems to me to be of limited value, as Australian universities need to meet international standards.

The benchmarking processes described seemed to be for an form of university education from a past era. Program and courses should be designed in a systematic way, by people with training and qualifications in educational design. The use of standards and benchmarking is then routine. It is the distance education universities and vocational sector, which excel at this, as without a systematic process they would not be able to operate at all. Traditional face-to-face institutions need to learn these processes. A simple way to implement this is to have staff trained using the techniques and courses already developed for distance education.

For the last three years I have been learning how to design and deliver education using the techniques developed for vocational and distance education, which I find are equally applicable to the face-to-face classroom. It seems wasteful for universities and bodies such as the OLT to commission research into how to solve educational problems which have already been solved decades ago.

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