Thursday, August 25, 2016

Publish and prosper: Boldly Publish Where No Students Have Before

Roxanne Missingham, ANU Librarian, opened a face to face session on "Publish and prosper" with: "Its a flipped Classroom World". The ANU Library is creating a Small Private Online Course (SPOC), to help students with publishing. The module "Finding my publisher" I found very useful. It is very easy to be tricked into submitting to a non-reputable publisher.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mapping Skills Between Frameworks

Loise Smith from ACS is talking about Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) at the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch Conference. She mentioned in passing that SFIA Level 3 corresponds to the skills level expected of a university graduate in the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). A Bachelor Degree is at AQF Level 7. This was good to hear, as I assumed this for Designing an Undergraduate Course on ICT Sustainability. Also I had assumed that SFIA Level 5, corresponds to a Masters Degree (AQF Level 9). Obviously these are approximate alignments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Students as Partners?

Yesterday I attended a workshop and planning session on "Students as Partners" at University of Canberra. These were run by Kelly Matthews and Jarred Turner from the Students as Partners Project at University of Queensland. As it says on the project about page: "Partnership is a mindset that positions students as respected and trusted adults with active responsibility for their learning.".

The project website provides  resources on students as partners and an "Australian Students as Partners Network" which those interested in this area can join (I have). The project is also seeking more case studies.

One aspect the project I suggest needs more work is defining the limits to partnerships with students. It must not be forgotten that teachers have a duty of care for students. A true partnership requires shared risks and benefits, but the student/teacher relationship cannot be of that nature.

While the students as partners project is well researched and the aims well thought out, this project suffers similar implementation problems to many seeking to change the way education is provided in Australian universities. The project assumes that if university educators are presented with a new approach and the benefits to the student and the university are explained, then this will be implemented. However, learning a new teaching  technique requires considerable effort from each individual academic and they need a strong personal motivation to do this.

For Australian academics to adopt Students as Partners, they first need to be convinced this will be of benefit to their own individual career. Once convinced it is a good career move, academics will need formal training in how to apply the technique.

This is not to say that academics are motivated purely by self interest, they also have to consider if techniques can be implemented with the resources available. For a student to be a true "partner", the academic would have to devote hours per week to that one student, not the few minutes of staff time available to each student in a class. There are techniques which can allow large numbers of students to have some of the experience of being a researcher, for example though peer based activities. However, to label this as "Students as Partners" would be misleading.

One interesting aspect is how on-line techniques can be applied to give students a more collegiate experience. For the last four years I have been learning distance education course design and delivery techniques. These are normally assumed to be about very narrow, scripted learning. However, Lindley (2007), adapted the DE approach to professional education of graduate students, using  individual project based work. I have been applying that approach to graduate students (and some undergraduates) for seven years on-line at the Australian National University (Worthington, 2012).

ps: One way to translate the Students as Partners idea into action would be to use the approach of CSER with their Digital Technologies MOOC (Falkner, Vivian & Falkner, 2015). Academics could learn the technique in an on-line course which applies it.


Falkner, K., Vivian, R., & Falkner, N. (2015, January). Teaching Computational Thinking in K-6: The CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. In Proceedings of the 17th Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2015) (Vol. 27, p. 30). Retrieved from

Lindley, D. (2007, November). Computer professional education using mentored and collaborative online learning. In SEARCC 2007, Proceedings of the South East Asia Regional Computer Conference (pp. 18-19). Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on (pp. 263-266). IEEE. Retrieved from

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Changing Attitudes to On-line Learning

Lowe, Mestel and  Williams (2016) report on attitudes of staff and students to on-line mathematics and computing courses at the UK Open University.  What makes this study unusual and useful, is that it was conducted over five years, to see how attitudes have changed.
The researchers conclude that what has not changed is students  prefer face-to-face classes, if these available.  On-line tutorials are an acceptable alternative, but "... could be made more engaging and more interaction could be encouraged" and  better training for tutors is suggested. Text-chat has become less popular, as have webcams. The researchers suggest that Skype and Facetime have increased student expectations as to what is provided.
However, the researchers caution that live webinars "often becomes more of a one-way lecture". But students also wanted access to recording of live sessions. The recordings are obviously not interactive (until someone builds a time shifted learning system). 

The researchers recommend:
  1. "Distance-learning courses should include the use of eSessions to support students; however, they should be used as a supplement to, not as a replacement for, face-to-face sessions.
  2. Developers of virtual classrooms should include better support for the communication of mathematics and other symbolically-rich disciplines.
  3. Developers of virtual classrooms should better consider the needs of disabled users in future designs of their software.
  4. Future studies of this nature should consider the demographics and the backgrounds of students surveyed, including prior experiences of synchronous Internet communication tools.
  5. Where appropriate to the content, eSessions should be recorded, subject to obtaining the permission of all participants. In general such recordings should be kept for a maximum of 2 years. Participants should be given advanced notice of the possible uses to which the recordings might be put.
  6. For large student groups, it may be more effective to record shorter eSessions without students present rather than to record a live tutorial.
  7. Tutors leading eSessions should share best practice in the use of virtual classrooms."
Many of these are familiar from introductory courses on how to design e-learning. The use of live sessions to support courses is what distance education has been doing for a hundred years. The support of non-text disciplines, such as mathematics is still a work in progress. Disabled users should be considered in educational software design, not the least because this is the law, but regrettably are not.

Providing short pre-recorded studio sessions is a form of flipped classroom. The idea being the student watches the recording and then participates in live group work.

The background of students is an issue not just for researchers, but also for educational institutions, for both on-line and face-to-face courses. One approach has been to offer short, free or low cost, study preparation courses. One example is North Shore Community College's "Online Learning 101". Some Australian courses are: "Preparing for University Learning" (OUA), "Learning Online" (UTAS) and "Preparing for Success" (SCU).  However, do such courses better prepare students, or just filter out students before they can enroll in a full program? This would improve the institution's completion statistics, but not necessarly help the students.


Lowe, T., Mestel, B., & Williams, G. (2016). Perceptions of online tutorials for distance learning in mathematics and computing. Research In Learning Technology, 24. doi:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Improve Student Retention in Australian On-line Higher education

Dr Cathy Stone, a Fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, dropped in this week to talk about how student retention could be improved for on-line students. On-line courses provide access to education for students who would otherwise be excluded. However, like paper-based distance education courses which preceded them, on-line courses have a lower completion rate than face-to-face courses.

Cathy is and is undertaking research for "
improving student transition, participation and success in online higher education". She has visited Open University UK (OUUK), as well as University of New England (UNE),  and other Australian on-line institutions.  I pointed out to Cathy that some of the techniques later used by OUUK were developed in Australia at UNE.

While focusing on students from specific backgrounds undertaking on-line education the same techniques for helping these students can help students more generally. Some techniques suggested in Cathy's latest bulletin are to welcome the students, post regular bulletins and follow up missing students. These and other techniques are now incorporated into training for educators, but regrettably many academics do not receive this training and fewer implement it.

Cahty is currently in Canberra and is keen to talk to educators about improving on-line education.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

ICT Sustainability Courses Available in 2017

The ICT Sustainability on-line course (COMP7310) will not be offered at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2017. The course is being revised and it is planned to offer new versions, for undergraduates and postgraduates, from 2018. In the interim, students, can enroll in a version of the course, Green ICT Strategies (COMP 635), at Athabasca University (Canada).

Also, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) will run their version of the course Green Technology Strategies, for groups of eight or more students. Other institutions are welcome to make use of the open access course materials, to offer their own version of the course. Open Universities Australia are also offering "Green Technology Strategies", however this is also run by ACS and depends on receiving sufficient students to be run.

The course was originally designed for ACS in 2008 and then adapted for ANU and Athabasca. It has been offered each year since then by ACS, OUA, ANU and/or Athabasca. Suggestions and contributions for the new courses would be welcome.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Social Networks Reducing Student Achievement?

Posso (2016) in a study of Australian adolescent school students concludes that online social
networks reduce their maths results, whereas online games increases results. However, I suggest this may be a correlation, not a causal relationship. Students who are better at maths may prefer games to social media.


Posso, A. (2016). Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year Old Australian Students. International Journal of Communication, 10, 26. Retrieved from

Monday, August 8, 2016

Australian Government Backing Sub-degree Pathways

Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, mentioned Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) in his speech to the Australian Council for Educational Research Conference this morning in in Brisbane. With this approach school students can combine vocational education with their Senior Secondary Certificate. The student can then apply this to a diploma, advanced diploma or associate degree:
"For example, we have committed funding to the expansion of the existing Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) pilot, which is already operating at two sites in Ballarat and Geelong, as part of the broader strategy to improve Australia’s STEM capability. The expanded pilot will see an additional 12 P-TECH pilot sites established across Australia.

As many of you may know, the P-TECH model is based on a partnership between industry and education that offers students from the middle years of high school pathways to supported education to a STEM related diploma, advanced diploma or associate degree.

Rather than a student go from school to university and undertake a three year full time degree, the student would do some vocational study at school, then work while studying in the VET sector and receive a qualification. The student could then go on to university (receiving credit for previous studies)." From speech to the Australian Council for Educational Research Conference, Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training,  8 August 2016

This follows an earlier government discussion paper, which raised the issue of sub-bachelor programs. This could address a number of problems for the government with VET and university funding. It would also address problems for students of non-completion of programs and a lack of jobs even if they do complete.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

EdTech Overload

Recently I agreed to tutor some student groups in an innovative new program. The catch is that as well as the usual tools (Moodle and Mahara), this is also using for student communications and  a Bitnami based Wiki for course materials. It is taking some time to work out how to use each tool and work out what goes where.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Assessing Competencies with Mahara and Moodle

The Annotation tools in the Mahara ePortfolio is being developed to allow students to easily indicate which evidence supports particular competencies and then have an assessor verify this. There is a video “SmartEvidence: Why did it come about, and what is it?”  (and slides) by Shane Nuessler (University of Canberra) and Kristina Hoeppner (Catalyst IT) from 16 April 2015.

When I undertook the  Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110) in 2013, the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) used a multi-page paper based form, with a long list of competences. For each competency there would be a page or two of evidence required. Where multiple competences were from the same evidence, there was a cross reference notation needed and much flipping back and forwards between pages. This resulted in a folder full of paper, which is presumably stored in a basement at CIT.

At the moment I am preparing my own e-Portfolio for my Master of Education in Distance Education, using Mahara. I was going to list the competences on the front page and then provide the assessor with a hypertext link to the page with the evidence. But this will require me to manually hypertext each competency to the relevant artifact page. This will be tedious to do and to maintain. The  annotation feature seems to be intended to do this automatically. But I am not sure there is enough implemented yet to be usable.

Mahara Version 15 implemented basic annotations. You add an annotation box to each artificat. This is just a text box, where you type in what competencies you are claiming. The assesor then comments and when it is approved the page is locked. There are also tags, which might be useful. More features are planned for release in October.

As it is the annotation tool might be used by tagging each annotation with the relevant competencies. The tag cloud generated by Mahara would then supply a cross reference of which pieces of evidence are relevant to which competences.

Moodle 3 Competencies

Moodle 3's Competencies may help. But appear more suited to Vocational Education and Training (VET) than university assessment. With the VET approach the student is presented with a long list of small tests: do a quiz, or submit some evidence. The assessor then gives each a tick, one after another in sequence (I had to do this for the Cert IV in Training and Assessment).

But what you will typically have with university is a small number of large pieces of evidence to support a large number of competences. As an example the capstone for the Master of Education I am doing requires 5 artifacts to support 47 competencies.

Taking the VET approach I would end up with 47 competences to fill in, submitting the same 5 artifacts on average 10 times each. The alternative is that I list the 5 artifacts, then each competency it covers. But then I have to manually provide a cross-reference table to show all competences in order and where they are covered in the e-portfolio.

What it would be useful for Mahara/Moodle to do that cross reference automatically. The student would put the e-portfolio in Mahara, with competences claimed for each artifact. A tool would then scan the eportfolio and place the cross-referenced list of competences in Moodle.

Learning reflective writing

As well as the mechanics of using an e-portfolio, there is the larger problem of learning what to write. Many courses and programs just seem to give the students a tool like Mahara, perhaps with some training on how to use the tool, but no training in reflective writing. This is something which students need to practice all the way through a course or program.

Zawacki-Richter, Baecker and Hanft (2010) divide a sample of e-portfolios into four competence classes:
  1. SCC (socio-communicative competence),
  2. MPC (methods and professional competence),
  3. PLC (personal competence), and
  4. AAC (activity and action competence).
I suspect I fall into the MPC class and was a little offended, on behalf of my class, by the way we are described.

MPCs are characterized as seeing group work as a “means to an end” and not crediting other group members in their e-portfolio. These comments appear to be meant as criticisms. However, group work is a means to an end, otherwise why would any rational person do it? Also I avoid mentioning others by name in e-portfolio entries (using *fellow student* and *instructor*), as otherwise it would be a breech of privacy.


Zawacki-Richter, O., Baecker, E., & Hanft, A. (2010). Validation of competencies in e-portfolios: A qualitative analysis. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 12(1), 42-60. Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Measuring and Improving Retention of University Students

The Doubters' Dilemma
The Doubters' Dilemma:Exploring student attrition and retention in university language and culture programs, by Mario Daniel Martín, Louise Jansen and Elizabeth Beckmann (August 2016) is available free on-line from ANU Press. While based on a study of student retention specifically in  Language & Culture programs at the Australian National University (ANU), this work provides a useful analysis of the prob elms with measuring student retention in general and possible alternatives. It also argues that it is not just beginning students universities have to worry about retaining, but those in later years.

One issue which the study does not address is structuring programs to fit with student's working and family lives. A student who has to leave a three year degree program after six months, a year, or two years receives no degree. These students could be awarded a certificate, diploma or advanced diploma.