Canberra goes to the polls in a few weeks
time to elect a local government. If reelected, the governing Labor
Party has promised a tablet computer
for each of 6,000 Canberra high school students, at a cost of AU $17.2 M,
over four years. There are better alternatives.
The tablet proposal works out to about AU $2,800 per student, which appears expensive. There are now folding touchscreen
laptops about the size of an A4 pad, for under $500. These are suitable for older students.
However, is issuing standard devices to students educationally
useful? There was a previous Australian national program to provide a
computer for every high school student and have been laptop and tablet
programs for students in other countries. The best known of these
programs was the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC). Such programs have
not been shown to significantly benefit education and may have done
some harm, by diverting resources from other educational
Last Friday, I attended a meeting in Canberra discussing how new features
in Moodle and Mahara might be used for assessing the competencies of
university students. As discussed in the previous post, Mahara SmartEvidence seems to be more suited to the reflective
development of higher-order skills, while Moodle Competencies may be
useful for low level skills.
Competencies were introduced in Moodle Version 3.1, 23 May 2016. As
with Mahara SmartEvidence, Moodle Competencies allows a "framework" to
be used to manage the assessment of a student against a large number of
"competencies". As with Mahara only administrators can set up the
frameworks in Moodle, not teachers. Unlike Mahara, Moodle has the
concept of a "Learning plan",
which can be designed and then applied to one student or a group of
students. Teachers can also add competencies to whole and activities
within courses activities.
What is unclear to me, at this stage, is the relationship between
competences, learning plans, courses and frameworks. In particular what is a "learning plan": is it a collection, or sequence, of tasks with associated competencies? Is this the VET equivalent of a course?
Moodle is a course orientated system, but competencies will typically
be at a finer level of detail, with perhaps six to twenty-four
competencies per course (and hundreds for a program). Also students may
only need a few of the competences from each course.
One interesting point is that students can also (if authorized) add
evidence of prior learning, to provide evidence of competency. This
practice is common in the Australian VET sector called "Recognition of
Prior Learning" (RPL), but has not been so popular at universities.
However, with the demand for university graduates to have more
vocationally relevant skills, RPL is finding favor.
The competency tool might be used for Work Integrated Learning (WIL), where the student
receives credit for practical work during their studies. However, with
RPL and WIL, there is the problem of how this is assessed and verified.
It is hard enough checking that a student really did a task
at the institution, let alone one undertaken elsewhere.
There is provision in Moodle for manually assessing competencies,
which is similar to the process for process in Mahara
SmartEvidence. One difference is that students in Moodle can be rated on
a scale (so they are more than competent), rather than just partly or
completely competent in Mahara.
In Mahara all the competencies are
manually assessed: that is an assessor looks at the evidence the student
provided on a page and decides if this partly or fully meets the
requirement. In contrast, the emphasis in Moodle is on automated
assessment of the competency. Typically, the student will be
considered competent when they gain a specific grade in a quiz or some
other form of assessment. This follows the practice used by VET, where
students do many small tests.
Last week I attended a meeting in Canberra discussing how new
features in Moodle and Mahara might be used for assessing the
competencies of university students. Mahara is introducing SmartEvidence later in the year and Moodle already has "Competencies".
Mahara SmartEvidence seems to be more suited to the reflective
development of higher-order skills, while Moodle Competencies may be
useful for low level skills. SmartEvidence might be used across a program), while Competencies would be used within
SmartEvidence is being introduced in Mahara version 16.10 (due for release 31 October 2016). There is a brief overview of Mahara SmartEvidence in the manual and detailed technical specification.
The tool is intended to allow a "competency framework" with prescribed
"competencies" (also called "skills" or "attributes") to be defined. A
student can then nominate which pages in their e-portfolio they believe
provides evidence of the competences. An assessor can then record if the
evidence partly or fully meets the requirements. Without SmartEvidence a student
can use Mahara to present their e-portfolio, but they and the assessor
then has to manually tabulate the competencies.
SmartEvidence emulates the paper based process traditionally used for
competency based evaluation. Competencies can be grouped into clusters
of competences to make it easier to deal with a large assessment
process. As an example, Athabasca University's MEd has six clusters, with a total of 47
competencies (Hoven, 2015).
SmartEvidence may not provide all the features needed to replace the
on-line processes now used with Mahara and Moodle. As an example,
SmartEvidence allows a student to nominate a page to support multiple
competences. However, there is no way to point to a specific part of the
page and the assessor is left to manually look though material seeing
what may match.
SmartEvidence appears to have no provision for
multiple levels of assessment. In particular there is no provision for
peer review of e-portfolios by other students, which I have found to be a
very useful part of a program Capstone (both as a reviewer and someone
In addition the competency frameworks for SmartEvidence are assumed
to be centrally managed and fixed. The assessor cannot make up their own
framework and cannot modify a provided framework. This makes sense
where there is a centralized approach used, with a division between
assessment designers and implementors, however, it limits flexibility.
Richard Hill and Kristen Lyons wrote, "Academics are unhappy – it’s time to transform our troubled university system" (The Conversation, ). However, I suggest instead, it is time to transform our academics into independent, professional educators and impresarios.
Australian academics will be happy, when they skill-up to face the challenges of 21st century education. Universities need a mix of full-time academics, plus part-time professionals with current real-world experience. Casual teaching is set to continue and academics need to learn how to work in this global on-line education environment.
School and VET teachers are required to have formal education to help them cope with student demands, teaching and administrative workloads. In contrast, university academics suffer frustration in the workplace, because they are not trained teachers.
Higher-degree graduates are disappointed when they find that there are few long term and permanent positions for them. The solution to this is to change the selection, training and therefore the expectations of HD students. It should be made clear to those applying to undertake post-graduate studies that this is not a ticket to a university appointment, more like a lottery.
The training for graduates needs to emphasize coursework and vocational training for jobs in industry. Those aiming for the small number of jobs in academia will require formal training in how to teach and administer, as that is what they will be spending more than half their time doing.
Researchers spend much of their time applying for grants to obtain funding, so training in business skills will also be required. This training is much the same as that provided for budding entrepreneurs.
Australian universities are currently experience a boom, with international students providing funds to subsidize research. Just as the mining boom ended with a sudden crash, it is likely that this education boom will end suddenly, in the next five to ten years.
The nations which Australia provides education services for are building their own higher education industries. Not only will these countries have less need to send students to Australia, they will be able to offer low cost education to Australian students.
Australia domestic car industry was protected for decades behind a tariff barrier, but collapsed when that barrier was removed. In a similar way Australia's education industry is protected behind a barrier which will disappear in the next five to ten years. The Australian eduction industry will collapse, if it does not prepare now for increased global competition.
Australian governments will find it increasingly difficult to provide subsidies to the local education industry. International trade agreements have exemptions from free trade for education. However, as countries see they can compete in this industry, there will be pressure to remove these barriers.
Even now, an international for-profit university can set up a campus in Australia and receive Australian government education funding. Multi-national universities do not need to employ more than a handful of staff in Australia to qualify as an "Australian" university, with the bulk of the teaching and administration done on-line, offshore. Australian students will find the option of studying on-line with an overseas university increasingly attractive.
Australian academics need to gain the skills necessary to compete in this international environment, providing reasonably priced education, which is both academically sound and vocationally relevant.
Three Australian universities: ANU, Curtin and Queensland, are offering masters level blended courses as part ofEdX MicroMasters Programs. Students can obtain credit towards up to one-quarter of a Masters (six months of the two years full-time study) for completing a series of EdX courses:
However, it should be noted that these course are not free and are not pure on-line courses, requiring attendance for a capstone examination. Also the completion rates for such on-line courses is lower than for conventional on-line distance education and campus-based courses.
The completion rate for the EdX MicroMasters could be expected to be less than 1%. Rather than a low cost university program, the MicroMasters could be seen as a form of extended for-fee university entrance examination. Rafael Reif, MIT President, is quoted as saying EdX MicroMasters is "an experiment in what I call inverted admissions. Anybody anywhere can try to take those courses online."
The "Digital Indonesia" conference concluded today at the Australian National University in Canberra. The standout presentation today was Nava Nuraniyah from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict on "Online extremism: the advent of private chat groups and its policy implications". Terrorism is a serious business, but those frequenting extremist chat groups also share interests with the rest of us, including gossip, recipes and shopping.
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the Vice Chancellor opened the "Digital Indonesia" conference (being live streamed). The first presentation byEve Warburton (ANU) is giving a detailed
forensic analysis of corruption and incompetence of Indonesia's
politicians. It will be interesting to see how the Indonesian delegates
react to this.
Program Day 1, Friday 16 September
8.30am Registration 9am Welcoming remarks: Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, The Australian National University
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC UPDATE
9.05am Political update Chair: Greg Fealy, The Australian National University Eve Warburton, The Australian National University Discussant: Bayu Dardias, The Australian National University
10.20am Morning tea 10.40am Economic update Chair: Paul Burke, The Australian National University Günther Schulze, University of Freiburg Discussant: Muhamad Chatib Basri, University of Indonesia
12pm Lunch 1pm DIGITAL POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE Chair: Edward Aspinall, The Australian National University E-governance under the Jokowi administration: political promise or technocratic vision?, Yanuar Nugroho Executive Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia Digital transparency: the Kawal Pemilu story, Ainun Najib (via video recording), Kawal Pemilu Digital Indonesia in comparison, John Postill, RMIT University
2pm COMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE Chair: Eleanor Lawson, Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Mobile telephony, Emma Baulch, Queensland University of Technology Bridging ‘the digital divide’, Onno W Purbo, Surya University Harnessing new data sources for policy development in Indonesia, Diastika Rahwidiati, Pulse Lab Jakarta
3.30pm Afternoon tea 3.50pm DIGITAL HUMANITIES Chair: Amrih Widodo, The Australian National University Social media and Islamic practice online/offline Martin Slama, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Digitalising knowledge: education, libraries, archives Kathleen Azali, ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, Hacking culture: between art, technology and science, Edwin Jurriëns, University of Melbourne
5.20pm Close of sessions, day one
6.30pm Conference dinner
Day 2, Saturday 17 September 9am THE DIGITAL ECONOMY Chair: Stephen Howes, The Australian National University Digital economy and Indonesia: a look at the potential of creative destruction and the emerging opportunities, Mari Pangestu, University of Indonesia The digital economy: a start-up approach, Bede Moore, Lazada Indonesia The Go-Jek effect, Michele Ford, University of Sydney
10.30am Morning tea 11am DIGITAL MEDIA Chair: Marcus Mietzner, The Australian National University The media industry, Ross Tapsell, The Australian National University State crackdowns online, Usman Hamid, The Australian National University 12pm SECURITY Chair: Ken Setiawan, University of Melbourne Online extremism: the advent of private chat groups and its policy implications, Nava Nuraniyah, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict Cybersecurity, Budi Rahardjo, Bandung Institute of Technology
Bates (2015, Chapter 6) uses a rock concert as an example of an
event were everyone is at the same place. However electronic audio
amplification is used for rock concerts, along with large video screens.
Without this electronic assistance it is unlikely the performers could
be heard or seen by most of the audience at a rock concert. The sense of
all being in the one place is an illusion created by the technology
used. We can use this illusion in education.
One example demonstrating the use of technology intermediating to
create multiple places is a "silent disco": several channels of music
are broadcast simultaneously and each patron chooses which to listen to
on their headphones.
The silent disco technique is used in the X-lab at the Charles Perkins Centre,
University of Sydney. Directional loudspeakers deliver audio to
selected parts of the lab, while video is directed to the student's
workstations, allowing up to four classes simultaneously in one room of
A lower cost alternative for a "silent lab" would be to have
students use their mobile device to receive video and listen through a
headphones, using the same webinar software as for remote access. There
would be no need for any specific technology in the room used and others
could remain undisturbed by the students and instructors. Classes could
be held in very noisy places, without the students in a class
disturbing, or being disturbed by, those not in the class.
I will be giving a short talk on "Digital Service Standard for eLearning" at the Canberra User Experience Meetup on Thursday, September 15, 2016. Also speaking are
Ross Stephan on "Usability of the Employment Services System, Ingrid Kimber on "Safe Work Australia Website Redesign Project", and Emma Walker on "Industry exemplar from the first wave".
Athabasca University (Canada) have released the preliminary results from their latest Learning to Learn Online course. This is a five week free "MOOC" about study skills, with an optional certificate of completion. As with other free courses, only a very small proportion of the students who enroll go on to complete (8% in 2016). However, it is easy to enroll in such a course and there is no penalty for non-completion and so this completion rate is not a useful measure. Just over half (52%) of the students who enrolled signed into the course. If only those students are considered, the completion rate doubles to 16%. A further indication of students who are actively involved is those who posted to course forums, of whom 40% completed the course, which is a typical figure for conventional small group, for-fee, distanced education courses. However, this course had five staff supporting only 265 active students (53 students per instructor), so is this really a Massive Open On-line Course, or just an ordinary distance education course, which happens to be free?