The first speaker, Professor Deborah West, Charles Darwin University (CDU), discussed "Learning Analytics" (LA), that is carrying out an analysis of data about how students learn, usually from the learning management system. One issue was concern that the results of the LA would be used to replace staff with recommender systems, which automatically provide students with advice. It seemed to me that LA is only a small part of recommender systems, artificial intelligence (AI) can provide such systems using other techniques. Also many of the insights claimed for LA are already known by educators and part of routine teacher training. The problem is that academics are not trained to teach.
If conventional courses are being delivered, then there is little scope for use of LA after the course has been designed. As an example, if a problem with literacy is identified, then a course can be redesigned, and the prerequisites can be changed. However, once the course has started there is little that can be done.
One interesting point was that about 70% of CDU's student load is on-line, with 30% classroom based. This is close to my prediction for Australian universities generally, being 80% on-line by the end of the decade. Current Australasian universities are about 40% to 50% online (as most students not attending lectures for supposed face-to-face courses).
Professor West cited: Siemens, G., & Long, P. (2011). Penetrating the fog: Analytics in learning and education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(5), 30. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1151.pdf
Professor Sally Varnham, UTS, chaired a panel of students on the "Student Engagement Partnership" (TSEP) project. What I found lacking from th discussion was on-line student representation and integration into the curriculum. For the last five years I have been a part-time on-line postgraduate student. I felt disenfranchised as most actives and representation structures assumed I was on campus and had spare time to be engaged in extra-curricular activities. I was more than a thousand kilometers from the campus and when not studying I had paid work to do.
Professor Karen Nelson, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Professor Nelson pointed out that research shows that even those students who do not complete a degree receive significant benefit from higher education. However, I suggest that those students would benefit more if the institution was to award them a sub-degree qualification. Professor Nelson also pointed out that the usual parameters for students (full/part time, age, previous education and so on) accounts for only about 12% of the variation in student outcomes.
Professor Nelson pointed out that regional students are moving to capital city universities. Yesterday an review into regional, rural and remote education was announced by the Australian Government. One way regional universities can compete, I suggest, is to provide quality on-line, vocationally relevant, VET articulated, nested programs.
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) announced yesterday the first advanced professional accreditation for an ICT degree, awarded to the University of Wollongong (UOW) Master of Information and Communication Technology (Advanced). The accreditation requires students to have skills in leadership and management,beyond what is expected in the usual degree. I suggest this will aid completion and engagement of students, as they will be working on work-relevant skills and realistic projects.
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