Monday, June 26, 2017

E-portfolios for Professional Certification

Today I took part in an excellent webinar on support for applying for membership of the UK's Association of Learning Technologists (ALT), Certified Membership (CMALT) . The webinar was run by Mark Northover from the Centre for Learning and Teaching, Auckland University of Technology. The first tool mentioned was the CMALT Professional Development Module from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (David Watson). The second was Mosomelt  (Thom Cochrane, AUT). Also ASCILITE run CMALT Australasia. These both provide online support for applicants.

The UK also has the Higher Education Academy's (HEA) fellowship scheme. Like CMALT this requires completion of a reflective portfolio. For those not used to this approach, the process can be daunting, thus the need for support. Late last year I completed a reflective e-portfolio for a MEd, which used a similar process.

One thing unclear is the relationship between certification and formal educational qualifications. ALT and HEA ask applicants to describe their training and experience with education (and the in the case of ALT, with technology). However, there is no requirement for formal educational qualifications and these certifications are not educational qualifications. In contrast, membership of the Australian Computer Society (ACS), and the British Computer Society, are expressed in terms of educational qualifications and relevant experience.

An ACS "Certified Technologist" would normally have a Diploma of IT (one year study) and the higher "Certified Professional" a Bachelor of IT (three years study), plus relevant experience. It would seem reasonable for the ALT and HEA to set educational requirements, but perhaps at a lower level, reflecting the lack of maturity of higher education as a profession. A certificate or graduate certificate (six months study) for entry level and an advanced diploma or masters (two years study) for full membership would be reasonable.

ps: On thing to keep in mind with certifications is how long they last and what are the ongoing obligations and costs. The annual fee for CMALT holders is £79.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

ANU Cyber Reading Group

An "ANU Cyber Reading Group" organized by Dr Shane Magrath at the Australian national University's College of Engineering & Computer Science held its first meeting 31 May 2017. The first paper discussed was on Fuzzing,  a form of automated testing. Lockheed-Martin's Cyber Kill Chain was also discussed.
"Fuzzing is an approach to software testing where the system being tested is bombarded with test cases generated by another program. The system is then monitored for any flaws exposed by the processing of this input. While the fundamental principles of fuzzing have not changed since the term was first coined, the complexity of the mechanisms used to drive the fuzzing process have undergone significant evolutionary advances. This paper is a survey of the history of fuzzing, which attempts to identify significant features of fuzzers
and recent advances in their development, in order to discern the current state of the art in fuzzing technologies, and to extrapolate them into the future." From McNally, Yiu,  Grove & Gerhardy, 2012.
Last year I presented the ANU computer science students with a students with a Hypothetical on Cyberwar Over the South China Sea. ANU also offers courses in Cyber-intelligence and Security, Cyber Warfare Law, &  Cyber-security and Cybercrime.


McNally, Richard, Yiu, Ken,  Grove, Duncan, &
Gerhardy,  Damien (2012, February). Fuzzing: The State of the Art. Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence Division, Defence Science and Technology Organisation. DSTO–TN–1043 Retrieved from

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finkel Review Explained?

Greeting from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I am one of the packed lecture theatre, to heard a panel of experts have promised to explain the Explain the Finkel Review of of the National Electricity Market. This is hosted by the 
ANU Energy Change Institute. I am a member, but my expertise is confined to ICT and energy use.  From a quick reading of the report, I was not impressed. Previously, Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, ANU Research School of Engineering, an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster".

The chair,  Professor Ken Baldwin, Director, ANU Energy Change Institute, presented the "energy trilemma": environment, security of supply and affordability. The problem is to maintain supply and contain costs, while also reducing carbon emissions, which Ken characterized as a "wicked problem" and Australia was "leading the OECD pack from the rear" on emissions. He gave a quick overview of the differences of Finkel's proposal, a Clean Energy Target, compared to Australia's previous scheme and no scheme at all. He then summarized the proposal for a mandated Generator Reliability Obligation. However, to me the central problem is not the engineering and economics, but the politics of the issue. As Ken points out Australia is in the current difficult situation due to a lack of planning. The question, I suggest, is if politics will allow this planning to happen.

Ken proposed a "Expert Foresighting Group", this sounded to me a little too much like the fictional "Nation Building Authority" in the TV comedy "Utopia". What are needed is a much smaller group of experts who are able to give government quick, politically feasible options quickly. University academics are used to having weeks, months or years to come up with a "quick" answer, whereas the political process needs answers in seconds, minutes or, at worst, "Action This Day".

Next to speak:
  1. Professor Quentin Grafton, ANU: Questioned the reliability of
  2. Honorary Associate Professor Hugh Saddler, ANU: Pointed out that land clearing changes have made dramatic reductions to emissions. Apart from that he pointed out that electricity generation is one of the few areas where reductions can be made.Also he pointed out that rooftop home solar generation is not regarded as part of the national generating system. Most interestingly, Professor Saddler suggested that state targets could result in a much larger reduction in emissions than the Finkle proposals. It may be that the policy log-jam at the federal level is irrelevant.
  3. Dr Matt Stocks, ANU: Dr Stocks stated up front he assumed the future was photovoltaics, which need storage and a network. He asserted that Australia does not have a robust national network, rather a series of state networks joined together, in a line, which increases the cost of electricity. Dr Stocks pointed out that renewable supplies generally do not provide the "inertia" which coal, gas and hydro provides. Curiously, rather than suggest that this could be provided by upgrading existing conventional generators, or creating new rotating inertia sources, he suggested batteries would be used. A battery will provide power for days, not the fractions of a second inertia will. The high tech equivalent is not a battery but a super-capacitor. Battery technology is being driven (pun intended) by the automotive industry. However, some vehicles, such as the Mazda 6 use a super-capacitor for fast, short term energy storage.
  4. Mr Dan Harding, ACT Government: Pointed out that many of the Finkle report recommendations have been included in previous expert reports, but it packages these all together into a coherent whole.
  5. Dr Nathan Steggel, Windlab: Suggested that the Finkel report overestimated the cost of wind generation. He suggested that market alternatives to a Generator Reliability Obligation should be investigated. 
Overall the panel was positive on the Finkel report recommendations. 

Open University Going Digital by Design

The Open University UK (OUUK) has announced a "root and branch review of every aspect of its operations", with  "major savings and reinvestment plan" for a university "digital by design". The  Vice-Chancellor, Peter Horrocks, gets a poetic proposing to  “... transform the University of the Air ... to a University of the Cloud ...". But the media release "The Open University outlines plans for radical reinvention" (14 June 2017) is vague as to what exactly intended.

Athabasca University, Canada's open on-line university, recently released the results of an independent report into the institution's financial viability. In 2014 UBC released a Flexible Learning Strategic Vision. These, like OUUK, discuss addressing life long learning in a flexible way, but are vague on exactly how to do this and even vaguer on how to attract students to it.

OUUK was a pioneer in how to design and deliver cost-effective higher education programs. Most of the on-line programs of other institutions (and MOOCs) are an adaption of OUUK's approach. It will be interesting to see how, and if, OUUK can improve on its current techniques. It may be that this is not so much about how to design or deliver courses, so much as identifying what the student needs and getting just that to the student, when they need it (an approach emphasized in Vocational Education).

OUUK proposes to "to enhance its reputation as a world leader in lifelong and distance learning". However, I suggest this may make the situation worse, not better, driving away students, not attracting them. As the Athabasca report notes, many conventional universities are now offering on-line distance courses.

I suggest that OUUK, Athabasca, and similar open on-line institutions, have an image problem. Open and distance universities are seen as less prestigious than traditional campus based institutions. Students do not attend an open on-line university because they prefer it, they do so because they do not have a good alternative. By emphasizing lifelong and distance learning these institutions are making themselves less attractive to students.

Perhaps OUUK needs to adopt the marketing approach traditional universities are applying to their on-line courses: emphasize high academic standards and a traditional on-campus experience. As an example, MIT have experimented with on-line courses with optional attendance. Most students will never take up the optional attendance, but will be comforted it exists. Students do benefit from interaction with other students and with an instructor, but this need not be face-to-face, or on campus.

This on-campus dream/off-campus reality is similar to the way automotive companies market off-road vehicles to consumers who never drive them off-road. The companies know that their customers would be better off with a safer, more fuel efficient, lower cost family wagon, but that this is not attractive. The buyers know they are never really going to drive along a beach or across a desert, but the dream is very powerful. Similarly, the dream of attending an ox-bridge style campus is a powerful way to sell on-line courses.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Webometrics Ranking of Ten Thousand Universities

The "Webometrics Ranking of World Universities" by Spanish researchers has advantages over the better known ranking systems and produces a few surprises. Webometrics ranks more than ten thousand universities around the world, which is many more than other measures provide. For Australia 199 institutions are listed, whereas other rankings mostly cover the 43 accredited as universities, not colleges which also issue Higher Education qualifications.

Webometrics uses four measures: Presence, Impact, Openness and Excellence. While the weighted score of these measures gives a similar result to other measures, there are some surprises. For example, many ranking system give a similar result to the the Times Higher Education University Rankings with the "Group of Eight" first:
  1. University of Melbourne
  2. Australian National University
  3. University of Queensland
  4. University of Sydney
  5. Monash University
  6. University of New South Wales
  7. University of Western Australia
  8. University of Adelaide
Webometrics lists the same top Australian universities , but in a different order:
  1. University of Melbourne
  2. University of Queensland
  3. University of New South Wales
  4. Australian National University
  5. University of Sydney
  6. University of Western Australia
  7. University of Adelaide
  8. Monash University
The ANU slips two places due to low Presence and Excellence scores. Monash drops three places to eight position, due to a very low Presence score.

The Presence measure is unusual in university ranking systems, in that it measures the quality of the university's website. Ranked by presence, the top eight Australian universities are:
  1. University of Queensland
  2. University of Melbourne
  3. University of New South Wales
  4. Australian National University
  5. RMIT University
  6. Edith Cowan University
  7. University of Western Australia
  8. Macquarie University
Sydney, Adelaide and Monash are replaced by RMIT, Edith Cowan and Macquarie. This effect of the Presence is more pronounced with world rankings, where the usual US and UK prestige institutions rank first in Webometrics, but for presence the University of São Paulo and  Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Brazil), at 6 and 7 in the world, outrank Clatech and the University of Oxford. 

Another interesting result is that universities with "open" in their names do not rate highly on the Webometrics openness scale (the Open University UK ranks highest at 403). Similarly those with "virtual" in their name do not rate highly for web presence (Tamil Virtual Academy, is highest at 1172).

The institutions I have studied at most recently rank as follows on Webometrics:

1242Athabasca University1256116913621879

This is much as I would expect, with ANU being a leading research university, USQ and Athabasca teaching universities and CIT a vocational college. However both USQ and Athabasca score poorly compared to ANU on presence and openness, despite their emphasis on e-learning and access to education. USQ claims a "commitment to open education" and Athabasca describes itself as "Canada's Open University", but neither rates in the top one thousand.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

MIT For Credit edX Course Shows How to Market e-Learning

Nick Roll reports "For-Credit MOOC: Best of Both Worlds at MIT?" (Inside Higher ED, June 15, 2017). However, the MIT paper this report is prepared from never claims that this was a massive open online course (MOOC).

Marshall (2017) reports that MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department allowed students to undertake an edX on-line course, for credit. This pilot apparently went well but it is not the revolutionary "For-Credit MOOC" portrayed in the media. This is a conventional small, closed, on-line distance education course of the type which have been routinely delivered by universities around the world for decades.

The MIT pilot used material prepared for edX, with videos, text and exercises. Added to this were two instructors (professor and tutor) and the offer of one-on-one on-campus support. With only 31 students in the pilot, is much more instructor support than is usual for an on-line course.

Marshall (2017)reports that students signed up for the on-line course because of scheduling difficulties. This is something I found with my "ICT Sustainability" course, run at ANU from 2009 (Worthington, 2012). On-campus students signed up for the on-line unit as a way around scheduling problems. As Marshall notes, I discovered that even when the students are on campus and offered face-to-face sessions, few take up the offer. Also students get similar results for on-line and on-campus courses.

The most significant and interesting result Marshall found was that students found the on-line course less stressful. On-line distance education courses are usually considered to be more stressful for students. However, like Marshall, I found my on-campus e-learning students at ANU did not find the course stressful. This may be because the MIT and ANU students had already been admitted to a campus program which excludes the non-traditional students which distance education is specifically designed for. Also on-line courses, by design, are much more scaffolded than face-to-face courses.

The approach of using preprepared standardized courseware was developed in the era before on-line education, for paper based distance education. The Open University UK refined this approach and applied it to on-line courses, which had human tutors and in some cases the option of face to face study groups. MIT have applied essentially the same techniques which OUUK pioneered, which I used at ANU from 2009 and which many other open universities have applied over the last few decades. This work has been extensively researched and reported in the literature. It is not surprising that MIT found these tried and proven techniques worked.

EdX and MIT's approach to e-learning do not offer any new approach to education. However, what they do offer is a way to market this form of education to a new generation of students, their parents and government policy makers. Distance education, and its e-learning descendant, do not have a good reputation in the academia, amongst employers or prospective students. Despite decades of research to the contrary, distance and e-learning are seen as inferior. Open and distance education institutions around the world struggle for recognition and funding.

What edX and other "MOOC" providers have done is to provide a marketing buzz around e-learning to make it appear new, exciting and high tech. If that encourages students to sign, up and governments to support e-learning, it is a good thing. I suggest that traditional open universities need to learn from MIT's approach to marketing e-learning, while MIT should look to the literature on e-learning techniques they can apply.

ps: This approach to marking e-learning is similar to that used by the tiny house movement for promoting mobile homes. Manufactured mobile homes have a poor public perception, being associated with trailer parks (or a caravan in your parent's backyard) and low socio-economic status. The tiny house movement emphasizes custom design of homes by young professionals. The designs look like miniature traditional houses, not shipping containers, and are depicted set up in idyllic rural settings. While this is far from reality, if it encourages people to think about smaller homes, it is useful. Similarly, MOOCs are depicted as cheap and easy for anyone to do on-line, which far from reality.


Marshall, A E. (April 2017). A Preliminary Assessment of an MIT Campus Experiment with an edX Online Course: The Pilot of 6.S064 Circuits and Electronics, MIT Teaching and Leanring Lab, 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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Improving retention, completion and success in higher education

The discussion paper "Improving retention, completion and success in higher education" from the Higher Education Standards Panel, was released by the Australian Department of Education and Training, 9 June 2017. This seventy nine page report provides a comprehensive overview of efforts to measure and improve the retention of students in Australian university. It points out that many strategies have had limited success and asked what more can be done.

As the paper points out, Australian university students complete at about the same rate as in comparable countries. The report discusses categories of students less likely to complete, such as those who are part time, distance students from low socio-economic groups (p. 45). In a way this reflects the success of Australian Higher Education policy. Such students would previously have been excluded from higher education. Any policy to improve retention rates should be carefully designed so it does not inadvertently exclude these students (or allow an unscrupulous provider to deliberately do so to improve their statistics).

One change the points to  is "From 1 January 2018 Commonwealth support will be available to students at public universities in approved sub-bachelor courses." (Page 14). As the paper notes, this will provide a better transition to degree programs and for shorter work related qualifications.

However, sub-degrees present challenges for universities which are not used to offering such short, practical programs. Those institutions which offer vocational and educational training (VET), through an associated TAFE or Registered Training Organization (RTO) will have an advantage in staff and procedures to suit these shorter programs.

In discussing teaching quality, the paper notes that enrollments in Graduate Certificates in Teaching (the traditional qualification a university lecturer is expected to have) has been declining (p. 50). The paper suggests this be addressed by individual universities. However, perhaps a more centralized policy is needed. VET staff have a very high rate of completion of the equivalent qualification: a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. This is because the qualification is required for VET teachers. No similar requirement exists for university lecturers.

I suggest requiring university lecturers to have a teaching qualification at least the same level as VET teachers: AQF level 4 Certificate IV, while retaining the option of a Level 8 Graduate Certificate. Those academics who also teach in the VET sector would be likely to opt for the Certificate IV and those exclusively in the university system the Graduate Certificate. In either case, this education should focus on practical aspects of teaching, with only as much theory as needed to support it. This should be offered on-line, using techniques including an e-portfolio and recognition of prior learning, both for convenience and to provide familiarity with the environment lecturers will be increasingly working in. and with the option of completion through an

Senior university academics should be expected to have completed a more extensive qualification on teaching, supervision and university administration. A Level 6 Advanced Diploma, or Level 9 Masters Degree would be appropriate.

One aspect of the paper which I find troubling, is the lack of appreciation for the change which on-line education has made, and will make, to Australian Higher Education. The assumption seems to be that most university students do, and will continue to, attend lectures on a campus regularly as full-time students. However, like the education provided by universities, this thinking needs to be flipped. University academics are well aware that only about one third of students attend the average lecture and that students have jobs and families. However, most academics have not been trained in how to provide education to this majority of students.

In March I completed a Masters of Education in Distance Education, focused on how to provide a quality education at a research orientated university catering to international students. Some of my colleagues have asked what the trick is to getting students to do the study expected of them. The trick, as I explain it, is to experience being a student so you understand what they are going through and becoming competent in your profession of teaching. It is then very much easier to teach, once you know how to do it and why.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Auto Power-board to Simplify Computer Setup

On the weekend I purchased a Master / Slave Powerboard. This is plugged into a mains power socket and then my computer and peripherals plugged in. The main item of equipment, usually the computer or TV, is plugged into a "master" socket and the peripherals into the "slave" sockets. When you turn on the computer (or TV) everything else is turned on as well. More importantly, when you turn off the computer (or it turns itself off after a set period of non-use) everything else is turned off. This works remarkably well. One use is for vod-casting studios at universities, where staff and students can record videos, such as ANU's new "One Button Studio".  The unit I purchased is an "Eco Solutions 6 Way Master / Slave Powerboard" by Mort Bay, for AU$35.04, but similar units are readily available. If buying on-line check that the unit meets local voltage and safety standards.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Athabasca University Review Report

The Independent Third-Party Review of Athabasca University (Canada), by Dr. Ken Coates, has been released. The seventy page report (1 May 2017) was prepared for AU, and Alberta's Minister for Advanced Education, on the financial viability of the university and options for its future. This is a positive report, suggesting the university has a future and how to ensure it.

As a recent graduate of the university (March 2017), I took a close interest in the review. As part of my degree I  had studied how to design and resource educational programs. I took part in a teleconference with  Dr. Coates and made some suggestions.

Many of the challenges which AU faces are common to regional universities in Australia. These include the extent to which a university can compete with institutions which specialize in vocational education, competition from city based institutions in providing distance education, competition from new forms of on-line education, and the cost of using on-campus full-time permanent staff. The Australian Government commissioned a review into regional, rural and remote education in March 2017 and a review of national vocational education in June 2017. A consolidation of Australian vocational educational institutions is already taking pace and it is likely that this will happen with universities in the next few years.

Dr. Coates recommends:
"AU should rebrand itself as the leading Canadian centre for online learning and twenty-first century educational technology. " (page 26)
I suggest AU could call itself "Canadian Open University". Dr. Coates  comments that AU lacks the ICT for this, which I suggest is overstating the case. AU already makes use of free open source software (such as Mahara, Moodle and OJS). This approach could be expanded in keeping with AU's open ethos by joining open source consortia and involving IT staff and students in development.

Other recommendations:
"1. Open Access: AU should continue, and even expand, its activities associated with population groups that are under-represented in the Albertan and Canadian post-secondary system." (Page 27)
This is something which effected me personally. I had attempted to enroll in a Masters of Education at an Australian university, but was rejected due to not having a bachelor's degree in education. AU accepted my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and experience as sufficient for entry into their masters program.
"2.  Diversity of the Student Population: While AU has a unique commitment to open access in Alberta, it should continue to take a broad approach to recruitment." (Page 27)
"3. Professional Courses, Diplomas, Undergraduate Degrees and Master’s Programs: AU should continue and expand its efforts to educate lifelong learners and should expand its career-focused and advanced educational opportunities." (Page 27)
Dr. Coates  points out opportunities for programs in business, health, educational technology and service to Indigenous Peoples.
" 4. Deployment of Faculty: While faculty members are critical to the success of a university, the standard disciplinary and faculty-centric approach to professional commitment will constrain an innovative, creative online institution." (Page 28)
This seems more an observation, than a recommendation. As a university, AU can't just shift staff around to meet teaching demand, as these staff need to have a depth of knowledge. What is not discussed is the use of remote part time staff for teaching. Being an on-line university, there is no need for the bulk of the teaching staff to be at Athabasca, or in Canada. Also AU appears to have a very low proportion of casual and part time academic staff (about one third). As a vocationally orientated institution, AU could benefit by making more use of casual and part time academics from the professions. Apart from reducing cost, this would inject current relevant experience.
"5. Mid-Career Retraining: AU has an open-ended opportunity to focus on mid-career retraining and adaptations to the new economy." (Page 28)
Re-skilling professionals is something identified in the UBC Flexible Learning Strategy in 2014. AU is likely to have considerable competition in provided programs in this area. However, its open policy and distance education expertise would provided a competitive advantage.
"6. Pedagogical Innovation: AU has an opportunity to build on its reputation for pedagogical innovation by focusing on the emergence of greater understanding of learning styles and related transformations in pedagogy, educational technology and online learning." (Page 28)
Unfortunately AU does not appear to have benefited from its reputation for pedagogical innovation so far. When looking for a masters of education to undertake AU was one of the three institutions outside Australia I considered, due to its prominence in the education literature. However, outside those who read papers about distance education pedagogy, AU is virtually unknown. There is a risk for AU in pursuing, or being see to be pursuing, every educational fad. Apart from the high cost of initiatives there is the risk of lessing of reputation as a reliable provider. However, some initiatives could be tried.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Impact through empathy

One exception to the usual fluffy kitten approach to university marketing is the Australian Catholic University (ACU), with their "ACU I Impact through empathy" campaign. This depicts the ACU's graduates, in health and education, helping people. It still shows study in a positive light, but is much more serious and sober than some of the sillier advertisements of other Australian universities. One point ACU glosses over is its origins in religious education: although the Vatican is briefly shown.

One of the more entertaining parts of higher education are the advertisements universities use to attract students. However, students have high rates of mental health problems. Depicting study as something fun, social, and easy, with instructors always to hand, may contribute to the problem.

University study is not fun, easy or pleasant: it is hard work, frustrating and lonely. Instructors cannot be as available, or helpful, as students would wish, due to resource constraints and the need for students to learn though their own efforts. As a result students may think there is something wrong with them.

ACU's approach is not just a matter of marketing. When studying education I made use of ACU's Canberra campus library and sat in on some graduate student sessions (one day I accidentally also sat in on an undergraduate teacher training class). There is a sense of caring and sharing which pervades the campus and the approach of the staff, different from a typical university. This may be just a matter of size, with a small campus able to be more personal, or it may be due to the caring disciplines the institution teaches.

Friday, June 2, 2017

ANU Science Teaching and Learning Colloquium

Greetings from the ANU Science Teaching & Learning Colloquium, where Dr Peter Anderson, from Monash University is speaking on "Indigenous students, indigenous perspectives". He suggests a right based approach to teaching to all students. I understood the rationale for this, but teachers would need more detailed guidance on how to apply this to STEM university courses.

One of the points Dr Anderson made was on access to education for indigenous students in remote areas. His solution appeared to be to send the students away to boarding school in the cities. Last year at mLearn 2016 in Sydney, Philip Townsend talked on Mobile Learning indigenous student teachers in remote areas. This provides an alternative approach, where at least some of the education can be provided where the student is.