Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Minority of Universities Have On-line Content Plan

Greetings from EduTech in Brisbane where I am chairing day two of the Tertiary Education IT Leaders stream. Bec McSwiney, Associate Director (Online Marketing), University of Southern Queensland pointed out that less than half of Australian organizations have an on-line content plan. A show of hands in the room indicates the numbers are even lower for tertiary institutions, perhaps 4%.

At the conference yesterday I talked on "IT and the Future of Tertiary Education".

Monday, May 23, 2016

IT and the Future of Tertiary Education

I will be speaking on "IT and the Future of Tertiary Education" at the Australian Computer Society meeting in Canberra, 5:00pm, 7 June 2016 (register now):
"Education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry. However, higher education needs to move on-line to remain competitive. Campuses are evolving into networked places to live and be entertained, with learning spaces more like an airport business lounge than a classroom.
Tom will talk about developments with mobile learning and teaching innovation in Canberra."
Draft slides for the talk are available. I would welcome comments, corrections and suggestions.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Study and the Single Student

Moser (p. 5, 2016) investigates the question "How do real-time interactions between academic support departments and online graduate students impact student interaction with the course content?", concluding that synchronous web conferencing between staff and distance education students improves graduate student's views of the course. The idea is to use the web conferencing to reduce the student's sense of isolation. The research was carried out using eight on-line US graduate social science students at one institution in 2015. The students had undertaken four or more synchronous sessions.

Moser does not precisely define "web conferencing": is audio sufficient, or is video required? Is this predominately staff talking and students just listening, or truly interactive? Is it one-to-one or with a group of students? In addition, the value of text based chat, as an alternative to audio or video was not considered. Moser provides no evaluation of web conferencing in terms of improving student outcomes, such as by increasing completion rates: it is assumed that a happier student is a better student.

The cost and inconvenience of web conferencing is not considered in Moser's study. One reason for the use of on-line education is to reduce the cost of tuition. A one-to-one live chat imposes a very high cost, compared to asynchronous communication. The amount of time an instructor is typically given to run a course equates to about seven minutes per student per week*. I have found it preferable to use some of this time providing group and individual feedback asynchronously and to reserve synchronous individual chat for the few students who need additional help.

A live chat requires the student to be available at one of the times offered by the staff member. This can be a problem for working students and those in different time zones. As an international distance student myself, I have found that the problems of getting web conferencing to work and of scheduling outweighed the benefits. Most events are scheduled at what is in my time zone the early hours of the morning before dawn. There are frequent problems with the technology, so much of a session is spent saying "Can you hear me now?". Also most of the sessions are taken up with administrative matters, which could be better handled via text. When the course is addressed, the web conference tends to turn into a mini-lecture by the instructor, which could have been better provided pre-recorded.

What I have found far more useful and rewarding than web conferencing with the instructor is audio voice chat with fellow students, while working on group projects. With this three or four students have a document open for group editing and discuss changes as these are made. This also provides an opportunity to also gossip about the course and grumble about the instructor and the administration, which is a healthy way to release the frustrations of being a student.

* Australian university academics have 15 to 25 students each to teach (Gallagher, p. 16, 2011) and work about 38 hours per week. Assuming an academic spends half their time teaching (19 hours) to 20 students, that is 57 minutes of staff time for each student each week. Note that this is to undertake all activities for a course and it could be expected that course design, administration and assessment would take proportion, leaving perhaps seven minutes for individual student interaction.


Gallagher, M. (2011). Academic Staffing Trends in Go8 and Other Australian Universities, 2000-2010. Go8 Backgrounder 25. Group of Eight (NJ1). Retrieved from https://go8.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/go8backgrounder25_staffingtrends-1.pdf
Moser, H. J. (2016). Online Learning And Academic Support Centers: How Synchronous Support Opportunities Affect Graduate Students’ Interaction With The Content. Retrieved from http://dune.une.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=theses

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Technology Alignment On-line Course

The Australian Computer Society's "New Technology Alignment" (NTA) on-line postgraduate course, starts 19 June. This is offered directly by ACS as part of its certificate (register now) and through Open Universities Australia. The course is being run much as designed by Professor Doug Grant, with some minor updates I have made as the instructor for this year.

Course content

New Technology Alignment has an emphasis on
opening your mind to new technical trends, and how they align with business today.

It includes four modules, which explore:
  1. Frameworks for measuring the impacts of technology on business performance
  2. Fostering innovation and encouraging adoption
  3. Technology assessment and integration
  4. Promotion and realising benefits.

Learning outcomes

  • Knowledge and understanding of emerging technologies.
  • Ability to identify new and emerging information technology trends and assess their relevance and potential value to the organisation.
  • Ability to strategise for and promote emerging technology awareness among staff and management.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Usable and accessible online courses

Greetings from the seminar room of Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW)at the Australian National University where I am taking part in "How usable and accessible are your on-line courses?" by Professor Denise Wood, Central Queensland University, and Dr Sheila Scutter, University of South Australia. We were first introduced to the principles of accessible web design and the more general Universal Design for Learning. They are designing a MOOC for teaching this. Jeremy Smith from ANU received an acknowledgement for his contribution.

The project is not just about making course materials readable for people with a disability, it is also  about accessibility more broadly. Also it is about making course accessible on-line for completely remote delivery, or in blended mode.

Some of these are issues of basic course design, which will benefit all students. For example, how to how to contact the instructor and what course materials are available are issues which are not well addressed in traditional classroom based courses and can be improved with on-line support.

One tool mentioned was the Student Usability Scale (SUS). Also the use of software installed on the user's computer to record a test session for the usability of a course was discussed. The Flexible Learning for Open Eduction (FLOE)  tool was demonstrated.

I am familiar with some of these accessibility issues having been an expert witness in the Sydney Olympics 2000 Accessibility case and invited to advise the Beijing Olympics.

Wood and Scutter gave an excellent seminar on well run research into teaching. Unfortunately, this appears to be another of the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) funded research projects which is addressing the wrong question. There are decades of research on on-line course design and accessibility. There are tools and training courses based on this research in routine use in the vocational education and training (VET) sector for developing accessible courses. The question is why Australian universities do not implement what has been shown to work in the VET sector.

For anyone teaching across the vocational and university sectors (as I do), the differences are obvious. In the vocational sector (and in distance/open universities) the courses are designed by a team and then delivered by instructors. All the courses for a program use the same template, with course components laid out in the same way. The instructor has limited, or no, ability to change the template or the course materials (even to correct spelling errors or broken links). As a result, accessibility is designed in to the program, at the cost of flexibility.

Universities, particularly research orientated universities, allow their academics more freedom in course design and delivery than the vocational sector. The academic can teach what they want, how they want. But researchers are trained to conduct research and are understandably reluctant to take the extra time needed to learn how to design courses and teach. This problem is not unique to Australia. Last year I talked to staff at Cambridge University about how to help the graduate students with on-line courses. One option would be to incorporate basic teaching skills in postgraduate research programs, bringing early career academics up to the standard of VET teachers. Bryant and Richardson (2015) found that university lecturers with teacher training tended to have fewer failing students.

Academics producing a course content need to only work on the content, using the skills of specialists to worry about how it is presented. As an example text can be written using the default formatting features of a word-processor, so that it will inherent the style set up for the institution's template. I have used this approach for the course "ICT Sustainability", enabling the course content to restyle automatically when the institution's template is updated. This has also allowed the course to be ported between three very different higher education institutions (vocational, open and research orientated) and also adapted for mobile devices with minimal additional work required.

Scriven describes how from the 1970s he became increasingly disenchanted with evaluating US education programs based on the goals of the programs, leading to Goal-Free Evaluation (GFE)  (p. 56, 1991). A program designed to improve the usability and accessibility of courses is likely to be successful by its own internal logic: those academics who are motivated to take part are likely to produce better courses. However, using GFE, the bigger question becomes apparent: how do we motivate Australian university academics to improve courses? I suggest this is the area needing research.


Bryant, D., & Richardson, A. (2015). To be, or not to be, trained. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 37(6), 682-688. DOI: 10.1080/1360080X.2015.1102818

Scriven, M. (1991). Prose and cons about goal-free evaluation. Evaluation Practice, 12(1), 55-63. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0886-1633(91)90024-R

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Future of Tertiary Education in Australia

I am speaking on "How CIOs are vital to the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia" day one of the "Tertiary Education IT Leaders" stream of EduTECH 2016 (also chairing day two). I would welcome comments, corrections and suggestions for the presentation:

How CIOs are vital to the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia

Education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry. However, higher education needs on-line to remain competitive. Meantime campuses are evolving into networked places to live and be entertained, with learning spaces more like an airport business lounge than a classroom.
  • Blended Learning: E-learning by stealth has taken over,
  • Wireless Campus: Lecture theaters replaced by wifi learning spaces,
  • Education as Entertainment: Students demand a full bandwidth experience,
  • Education as a business: Move on-line or go under. 
Draft slides for the talk are available. I would welcome comments, corrections and suggestions.

ps: The event is 30 to 31 May in Brisbane and there also streams on K-12, workplace and VET education and libraries. Registrations are open.

EduTECH 2016: Tertiary Education IT Leaders in Brisbane 30-31 May

I am chairing day two of the "Tertiary Education IT Leaders" stream at EduTECH 2016 and speaking on "How CIOs are vital to the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia". The event is 30 to 31 May in Brisbane and there aloe also streams on K-12, workplace and VET education and libraries. Registrations are open.

Tertiary Education IT Leaders


DAY ONE Monday May 30th 2016

8:30 Opening remarks from the Chair

Adam Spencer, Comedian, Author, University of Sydney's Mathematics and Science Ambassador

8:40 How the Digital World Will Change the Way We Think and Learn, Baroness Susan Greenfield, Neuroscientist, author and broadcaster (UK)

9:20 Creating Future XYZ, John M. Vamvakitis, Director International, Google for Education

9:50 Discovering Authentic Learning in the Makers Playground, Anita L’Enfant, Learning Manager, Datacom

10:05 Morning tea and exhibition viewing

10.45 Chair for Stream, room M2, Gerrit Bahlman, Director of IT, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


10.55 From Good to Great: Essentials of Uncommon Technological Leadership, Larry Johnson, CEO, New Media Consortium

11.25 The Anywhere Classroom: Limitless Learning Experience, Andrew Fox, Director of End User Computing and Mobility, VMware


11.45 Building customer centric IT strategies at AUT. A case study from NZ fastest growing university, Liz Gosling, Chief Information Officer, AUT

12:15 Lunch and exhibition viewing


1.40 PANEL DISCUSSION - Tertiary CIO the next generation

Gerrit Bahlman, Director of IT, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Peter Nikoletatos, Executive Director & Chief Information Officer, Information & Communications Technology, La Trobe University
Liz Gosling, Chief Information Officer, AUT


2.10 OPEN SOURCE: Opportunities for collaboration, Sharyn Clarkson, Assistant Secretary, Online Services Branch, Department of Finance


2.40 Disrupting from within: the story of iQualify, Shanan Holm, Executive Director, Education Technology, Open Polytechnic / iQualify
3:10| Afternoon tea and exhibition viewing


3:50 Evolution of Knowledge Management System and the Cloud , Professor Eric Tsui and Associate Director of the Knowledge Management Research Centre, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

4:10 Panel Discussion

5:45 Networking drinks

7.00 Dinner

DAY TWO Tuesday May 31st 2016

8:40 Opening remarks from the Chair
Tom Worthington, IT consultant, Adjunct Lecturer at ANU and HigherEducationWhisperer


8.50 Award winning Content Strategy How USQ engages, empowers, entertains and educates, Bec McSwiney, Associate Director (Online Marketing), Marketing & Student Attraction Students & Communities Division, University of Southern Queensland


9.20 Game changing innovation, how a Video Augmented Virtual World is transforming social interactions, Sasha Nikolic, Lecturer Engineering & Information Sciences Education, Engineering & Information Sciences, University of Wollongong

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Data Management Body of Knowledge

DAMA International and the Australian Computer Society held a joint meeting last night on the Data Management Body of Knowledge (DMBoK). A new version two of DMBoK is due out later this year with more on management and cultural issues.  There is a useful free 27 page DMBOK2 Functional Framework document.

DAMA also have a Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP) qualification, based on the DMBoK. There are some Self-Study materials for the certification and DAMA conducts examinations in Canberra. ACS Canberra are running two one day training courses: Data Management Overview and Practical Data Governance.

The Open University (UK) had an online course in Data management based on the DMBoK. There would appear to be scope for higher education institutions in Australia to offer courses aligned with DMBoK.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Unknown Knowns Knowable With Tech and Training?

In a brief presentation at IR & Friends yesterday, Tom Gideon described research from his team which showed that measurements of physiological responses from subjects indicated they knew the correct answers to questions which they could not consciously articulate. Tom extended former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld's famous  "There are known knowns" statement to cover an additional case: unknown knowns. This creates the interesting possibility that subjects could be trained, through a combination of technology and meditation into mindfulness, where they can consciously access knowledge and skills they did not know they had.

11th International Conference on Computer Science & Education: CFP Extended

The Call for Papers for the 11th International Conference on Computer Science & Education has been extended to June 1, 2016. Proceedings are to be published by IEEE. The conference is to be at Nagoya University, Japan, August 23-25, 2016. 

I hope to be there, having attended ICCSE 2015 in Cambridge,  ICCSE 2014 in Vancouver, ICCSE 2013 in Colombo and ICCSE 2012 in Melbourne.
ICCSE 2016 Annual Selected Topics
  • Big Data and Time Series
  • Mobile Information Technology
  • Disaster Prevention
  • Displays 4k/8k, 3D, e-paper
  • Informatics in Social Medicine
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Information Security
  • Forms and Fundamental Fields
  • Mechatronics
  • Automation & Robotics
  • Bio-inspired Engineering
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Uncertainty Quantification
  • Biomedical engineering
Engineering Education
  • Education Reform and Innovation
  • Engineering Education Mode
  • Curricula and Courseware Design
  • Engineering Training
  • Life-long education
  • Computer Education for Special Groups
Computer Science
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Software Engineering
  • Database Technology
  • Computer Graphics
  • Computer Application
  • Control Technology
  • Systems Engineering
  • Communication Technology

Reduce Number of Australian Universities to Improve Rankings

The latest Times Higher Education's World Reputation Rankings has only three Australian universities in the top 100:  University of Melbourne, Australian National University and University of Sydney. These rankings are based on the opinions of academics. As Asian countries increase in wealth they can afford to spend more on their universities and so their rankings will increase and those of other countries will continue to decline.

The rankings are not very meaningful for academics, as it is the team for a particular sub-discipline which is important, not the institution overall. However, the university reputation is important in terms of attracting students and funding.

One way Australia could improve its rankings is to have fewer universities. Currently Australia has 43 universities for 1.3 million students, which is about 30,000 students per university.  Research by Garrett (2016) indicates that larger institutions (100,000 to 500,000 students) were growing, whereas smaller ones were declining. This suggests Australia should have about 10 universities, each with about 130,000 students. This need not require a radical restructuring or closing of campuses, just merging of university brands.

Garrett's study was of on-line universities and it might be argued that this is not applicable to Australia's campus based institutions. However, a radical restructuring of universities is happening in Australia, brought on by adoption of e-learning. This will happen regardless of the size of Australian universities and will happen regardless of what they do. Currently this restructuring is being largely undertaken by stealth under the label of "blended learning". However, whatever it is called, if Australian universities don't restructure for e-learning and have a sufficient size to make them viable, they will be put out of business by overseas institutions offering education on-line to Australian students.


Garrett, R. (2016). The State of Open Universities in the Commonwealth: A perspective on performance, competition and innovation. Retrieved from: http://dspace.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/2048/2016_Garrett_State-of-Open-Universities.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Monday, May 9, 2016

Evolution of Traditional Teaching Spaces

The era of the traditional university "computer lab" is over, along with the "lecture theater" and the "library": these are merging into common learning spaces. The Inspire Center at University of Canberra is a model for this, with flexible spaces and a minimalist TEAL room.

In 2007 I attended a talk by Philip Long and Mark Schulz on TEAL rooms. For the next five years I looked at how to optimize the space in TEAL inspired computer labs, with false floors for cable and desks with built in cabling. But by 2012 the technology had moved on, to the point where we just needed rooms with technology on the walls and wifi. The problem of how to accommodate fixed furniture and the technology on it could be solved, by not having any. Desks on wheels can be arranged as required and students bring their own equipment.

 Data visualization can be done using the screens on all walls to display the same image, active learning through the student's individual BYOD devices using the room's wifi and team-based collaboration by allocating a screen and some of the white-board wall, to each team.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Evaluating Training for Young Job Seekers

The Australian Government announced a "Youth Jobs PaTH" as part of the 2016/17 Budget. This has three stages to get young people into work: Employability skills training, Internship placement, and a Youth Bonus wage subsidy. The difficulty will be in administering the scheme to see that participants get real training, given the problems with administering previous training schemes, particularly VET-HELP. There are no details as to the formal qualifications which participants in Youth Jobs PaTH will receive. In particular, to comply with Australian employment law, the interns in Stage Two would need to be enrolled in a vocational training program. With this short time scale, and trainees spread across Australia, it would seem useful to apply on-line distance learning (ODL) to the Youth Jobs PaTH program. Sochowski (2013) used activity theory to evaluate the applicability of ODL to apprenticeship training in Canada. The same might be done in Australia, with the need to understand the complex relationships between government and industry.

Stage 1: Employability skills training

In the first stage, young job seekers will be required to undertake six weeks of "intensive pre-employment skills training". The first three weeks will be on teamwork, presentation and IT use, then  three weeks on job preparation and "job hunting" skills. There is no mention of a qualification for the job seeker, or of what accreditation those providing the training will be required to have.

Stage 2: Internship placement

Those completing stage 1 may be offered an "Internship" of 4 to 12 weeks, where they work 15 to 25 hours per week for an business. The job seeker receives an additional $200 per fortnight from the government and the business $1,000. There is no mention of formal skills training or a qualification for the job seeker, just "hands on experience in a workplace". There is no mention of what trainer accreditation the business will be required to have.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has advised that:
"Unpaid work experience and unpaid internships that are not vocational placements are okay as long as the person isn’t in an employment relationship. People in employment relationships are employees of a business and entitled to: a minimum wage ..."
From "Work experience & internships", Fair Work Ombudsman, 2014
The Youth Jobs PaTH internship does not appear to be part of a formal vocational qualification and so is not a vocational placement, exempt from employment conditions.

The Australian Government says:
"Businesses ... will also benefit from the opportunity to see what a young worker can do and how they fit in to the team before deciding whether to offer them ongoing employment.". 

This is similar to an example given by the Ombudsman, where an intern works unpaid in the expectation of a job later and which the Ombudsman concludes they should be paid as an employee for. This indicates the Youth Jobs PaTH interns are employees and so must be paid at least the minimum wage, meet National Employment Standards and any applicable award or registered agreement.

One way to overcome this difficulty would be to have a VET qualification as part of the program. This would then make it a vocational placement, exempt from employment conditions. However, this would require the skills of the intern to be formally assessed by a qualified assessor, with for example a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (which I have). This is not such an onerous task, but the process might cost more than the $1,000 per person the government is offering businesses.

Stage 3: Youth Bonus wage subsidy

Stage three provides a wage subsidy of $6,500 or $10,000 to employers of a young job seeker. Stage three of this program appears to have no relationship to the preceding two stages and to be a completely unrelated initiative. There is no requirement for the job seeker in Stage 3 to have undertaken employability skills training (Stage 1) or for the employer to have participated in the intern scheme (Stage 2).


Kennedy, M. F., & Kettle, B. W. (1995). Using a Transactionist Model in Evaluating Distance Education Programs. Canadian journal of educational communication, 24(2), 159-70. Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/download/265/199#page=69

Sochowski, R. W. (2013). Applying Activity Theory: Instructor Design and Development Experiences with Online Distance Learning in the Electrical Apprenticeship Trades Programs (Doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary). Retrieved from: http://theses.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/11023/1028/2/ucalgary_2013_sochowski_robert.pdf

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Designing an Undergraduate Course on ICT Sustainability: Part 6 - Course Page

This is the third in a series of posts on producing an undergraduate version of an on-line masters course on green ICT. In part 5 I provided a course description. Here I look at the design of the course home page. This will be almost identical to the existing one for postgraduates:
The course page is designed to present an outline of the course, in a format compatible with mobile devices. Each line has a hypertext link to where the student can find the details of what to do. The page starts with the course communications: a forum for announcements, a forum for student discussion and a one-to-one message system for students to communicate with instructors. Then there are the course notes consolidated into one e-book and the list of assignments. Last there are the units of the course listed (in this case one per week).

Most course units consist of just three lines: the topic (with a link to the relevant chapter in the e-book), a quiz and a forum. Some units have reminders about assignments (which are only visible for the period they are relevant) and assignment links are in the week the assignment is due.

Note that when installed in the institution's LMS, this would be accompanied by standard blocks, with the instructor's photo, CV and contact details, course outline, assessment, calendar and institutional rules. The text will automatically inherit the font and color set by the institution and the bullets will disappear. Also the LMS would be configured to display the student's progress to them, indicating which readings, forums postings, quizzes and assignments had been completed.