Friday, December 7, 2018

Tales from TALE 2018

On my way home from speaking at the IEEE 7th International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE 2108) in Wollongong, so time to reflect. Some surprises were that chat-bots could be useful in education, and China is preparing to scale up its international university education offerings (placing Australia's third largest export industry at risk). One disappointment was that while the leading educators could detail what needed to be done to improve the quality of university teaching, none could offer a strategy to ensure this was actually done.


I did not have high hopes for this conference. I decided to submit a paper because the conference I would usually attend was in a country I did not want to visit. TALE was two hours drive away, and was an IEEE event, so that was enough for me. Early in the year I started the grueling process of preparing a paper.

Come submission time I volunteered to also review. That turned out to be an unexpected pleasure, the management system worked well and the papers were of good quality. It was hard to find what to reject, and I worried my paper would never get accepted, with this competition. However, my paper was accepted, with lots of changes being required.

The last major frustration was the formatting, where there was something being rejected by the IEEE system, but no one could tell me exactly what. However, after many attempts, and days of work, laboriously reformatting the paper with different tools (and introducing new errors along the way), it was finally okay.

The Venue

An international conference from Australia usually involves a flight of at least half a day. So it was a strange feeling to just get in my car and drive an hour and a half to Wollongong. This is a beach-side city and the venue,was right on the beach.

Workshop Chatbot Tutors for Blended Learning

The workshops were held at University of Wollongong, a short free shuttle bus ride from the city.  I chose "Chatbot Tutors for Blended Learning" by Chi-Un Lei, Yuqian Chai, Xiangyu Hou, and Vincent Tam from TELI at University of Hong Kong. I had in mind using this for routine questions from students. The workshop is using the free version of the IBM Watson tool. In a few hours I was able to produce a credible Q&A. The process with the chatbot doesn't look any more time consuming that a quiz, with the AI system providing flexibility. What seems to be missing from this process is the intelligence to create the answers. For example, I would like to just give the system the rules for the course assessment and have it work out the possible questions and answers.

The Engineering of Learning

Keynote speaker Dr Bror Saxberg of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative made the case for the engineering of education at the opening. Dr Saxberg's argument seems to be we need to teach students in ways which have been found to be effective. That may sound self-evident, but as he pointed out, with numerous examples, formal education is not necessarily using techniques show to be effective, and in some cases shown to not work. However, the problem I have found, is that just telling someone what works for education does not get them to do it, we need to also have people actually do things, to learn how to do them. Dr Saxberg did not provide any policy strategies to have academics learn to teach.

Learning Engineering

Professor Gregor Kennedy's keynote the next day was on "Learning Engineering: The Art of Applying Learning Science at Scale". He did not seem happy with the term “learning engineering”, coined by Herb Simon in the 1960's for the systematic design of learning, based on research. But I suspect there were only a handful of people in the room who had ever heard of the term (Dr Saxberg was obviously one), so why mention it at all? Professor Kennedy seemed to want evidence based teaching, but like Dr Saxberg did not seem to have any strategies to make this happen.

Later in the day Rebecca Shields (Central Queensland University) discussed the results of research on the "21st Century Skills" of Australian school students entering university. Rebecca suggested pre-teaching of students entering university, and in the longer term changes to school teacher training and education policy. Her proposed solution's would help answer Professor Kennedy's call for more systematic application of learning science. 

Smart Learning at the University of the South Pacific

Staff of the University of the South Pacific (UPS) discussed "Smart Learning in the Pacific: Design of New
Pedagogical Tools". USP is multi-national, with students who have studied under different school systems. They have an "early warning system" which extracts data from their Moodle Learning Management System to indicate which students are struggling. This was useful actionable advice.

Globalization of Chinese Education

Liang Zhao from Shenyang Aerospace University was talked on "How We Face Globalization of Chinese Education". International students in China are instructed in English, even though this is not the first language of the instructors or the students. Australian universities  will need to re-think their offerings, if China solves this problem, and takes most of the international student market in our region.

Arjun Singh on Gradescope

Arjun Singh, Co-founder & CEOArjun Singh, Co-Founder & CEO of Gradescope talked on grading of large numbers of STEM exam papers. This product, recently acquired by TurnItIn, allows student exam papers to be scanned in, and then marked online by an examiner, using a rubric. The product was demonstrated for engineering and computer science examinations, including for computer code.


 Worthington, Tom. (in press). Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific. In Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), 2018 IEEE 7th International Conference on. IEEE. url

No comments:

Post a Comment