Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Getting academics to do professional development

In the last few days I have been approached by several people asking for help to use ed-tech for academic professional envelopment. One of the paradoxes of higher education is that while academics insist that training and testing is needed by their students, they are reluctant to do any training themselves in how to teach.

Botham (2018) looks at the issue of engagement in a professional development scheme to develop teaching skills. They concluded that institutional policies encouraging, or requiring, PD got staff into such programs, but it was not enough to get them to completion. I suggest this may require a change in doctoral education, and university hiring practices. If universities want good educators, they will need to include teacher training in graduate  programs, and select staff based on their teaching qualifications. Selecting the best researchers and then trying to turn them into educators does not work.

At a practical level it should be possible to train academics, using the same sort of blended techniques which are used to get students through a course they do not have an aptitude for, or interest in. That may not turn the average academic into an enthusiastic expert educator, but can at least make them reluctantly competent.


Botham, K. A. (2018). An analysis of the factors that affect engagement of Higher Education teachers with an institutional professional development scheme. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 55(2), 176-189. URL blob:https://www.tandfonline.com/bbabfffd-2eb4-42a9-ad72-a1300abb9d64

Standards for Innovation management

While I have been looking at how to do, and teach innovation for several years, it was only this month I discovered there were formal standards. After giving a pitch at CBRIN's First Wednesday Connect, I was chatting to Rizwan Khan, who pointed out that ISO TC 279 is developing innovation management standards. The idea of a standard for innovation sounds a contradiction in terms, but DE CASANOVE, and MOREL (2018), provide a useful overview of the work of the committee.


DE CASANOVE, A. L. I. C. E., & MOREL, L. INNOVATION MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES FROM ISO 50500 SERIES. URL https://www2.aston.ac.uk/aston-business-school/documents/IAMOT2018_paper_97.pdf

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Design thinking for student-centric university courses

Jeffrey M. Penta's doctoral thesis (2019), questions the current university centric design of courses and suggests student centric. The author argues for education for employment, and a holistic approach. Interestingly design thinking was used for the research. He argues  educators approach is influenced by their own experience.

It was refreshing to read a study of education which was not a survey of the opinions of hundreds, or thousands of people, then run through a statistical analysis to make it look sciencey. Instead a few participants were interviewed, in depth.

Penta recommends a "... combination of qualitative
story-telling data and sense-making to change perspectives". However, I suggest directly exposing educators, particularly early career academics,  to new ways of learning, as students. It is very difficult to change an educator's behavior just by telling them to do something differently, or even with a story about how it can be different. It is much more effective if they experience the new approach, as a student. I did not really understand how top-down vocationally aligned course design, e-learning, e-portfolios, blended and online learning, or peer assessment worked, until I had to use them myself as a student.

One problem Penta did not address is a narrow vocational focus in university education. I teach computing and engineering students, for whom there are clear career paths, and high demand. It is very easy to align courses with professional requirements, and the graduates get jobs quickly. What do disciplines do, where there is no specific career, or demand, for their graduates?

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization is encouraging Australian universities to expand liberal arts degrees, to defend Western Civilization. But it is not clear how reading old books will get you a job in the digital economy. In contrast, the students I teach are being trained to defend directly the West, by countering cyber attacks, and building anti-missile systems (both skills in high demand). But the world will be the poorer if universities only produce engineers and computer programmers. How do we support the arts?


Penta, J. M. (2019). Designing Student-Centric Solutions through Collaboration: Exploring the Experiences of Higher Education Administrators Leading Cross-Functional Projects and Initiatives (Doctoral dissertation, Northeastern University). URL http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20316541

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Time to Pivot Australian International Higher Education

The Australian newspaper and ABC TV rarely agree on anything, but this week both warned of problems with Australian university support of international students. This comes with the end of increasing enrollments from China and moves to recruit more from India.

Tim Dodd  wrote:
"The highly lucrative six-year boom in Chinese students is over.

Australian universities now are focusing on the less-developed Indian market to meet budget expectations, exposing them to the risk of enrolling low-quality students with poor English. ..."

From: "End of China boom roils universities", The Australian, 8 May 2019
 "... The number of Chinese students enrolled in Australian higher education ... is flattening off, sending universities on a feverish quest to find new students from India ... But rapid growth poses risks if it is accompanied by a fall in student standards ..." 

From "There’s risk in rush to new overseas markets", The Australian, 8 May 2019
ABC TV reported: 
"Teaching staff say that universities are risking their reputations by taking on students who are not capable of advanced levels of learning." 
From: Cash Cows, ABC TV, 6 May 2019
In response to the ABC, an industry body, the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), pointed out stricter government controls had been introduced. This included improvements in English language standards. However, these were only introduced eighteen months ago, so the changes would not yet be reflected in the current student body.

Where there are violations of Australian law and academic standards, I suggest these should be dealt with by suspensions, and, where necessary, criminal prosecution. However, Australian universities and academics can offer new forms of learning, and supporting international students in new ways. This can be done with online and blended learning, incorporating integrated progressive assessment, to ensure students do the required work, on time and to the required standard.

IEAA pointed out that universities have introduced programs alongside their main courses of study, to improve language proficiency. However, I suggest we can also take advantage of technology, to test students early in each course, to see they have the required language, and other skills. Special assistance can be offered, or if necessary, the student removed from a course early. Assessment can move away from a few large tests, where students are tempted to cheat. Students can be issued with digitally certified qualifications, as they progress through their studies, so they are rewarded for good work.

I will be discussing some ways to do this in a presentation "Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students", at EduTECH in Sydney, 4 pm 6 June, and the next day in round-table discussions.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

My Picks for EduTECH Sydney

EduTECH is on in Sydney, 6 to 7 June. Here are my selections from the program. I will be speaking 4pm the first day, and chairing a round-table the next day, so I have to go to those. ;-)

ps: Use the code: TomWorthington20 for 20% off registration fee.

Building a Smarter Learning Ecosystem

Workplace Learning/AITD Conference Jd Dillon L&D doesn’t own workplace learning. WHAT?!?! Every organization is a complex ecosystem with a multitude of elements. Unfortunately, many L&D teams fail to take a holistic approach. Instead, they focus on their sphere of influence, which often revolves around formal training. ... Jd Dillon, Founder, LearnGeek Jun 6 09:25

New Era, Same Spirit

Workplace Learning/AITD Conference Roslyn ColagrossiHow did Qantas prepare their cabin crew for an aircraft yet to be built? Three simulations and a great project team later, the dream of the 787 Dreamliner came to life. ... Roslyn Colagrossi, Manager Service Development, Qantas Jun 6 11:30

3x30 minute Learning Lab – Google for Education

Breakouts - Seminars Jun 6 11:30

Planning for the future – trends and key issues

    Gary White
  • Global drives influencing the future of our urban areas and cities
  • A strategic planning approach to managing change and growth across NSW
  • The implications for the provision of educational facilities and services in the context of significant change.
Gary White, Chief Planner, Department of Planning
Jun 6 13:00

Masterplanning - more than just architecture

Build/Design Matthew GreenePaynter Dixon will share their considerable experience in the process of masterplanning schools to explain thatit's more than just architecture. Using real examples this presentation will explore the importance of getting your staff on board, linking your master plan to your pedagogical approach ... Matthew Greene, Head Of Education, Paynter Dixon Constructions Pty Limited Jun 6 13:20
Natasha Abraham

The changing face of postgraduate education

Higher Education
  • Postgraduate study is becoming increasingly common, with over 400,000 postgraduate students now at Australian universities.
  • 30 years ago, postgrad coursework students were usually older, established in their careers, and more financially secure. Now, many are doing postgrad study straight after finishing their first degree.
  • With this many students, how is the value and experience of postgraduate study changing over time?
Natasha Abraham, National President, Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations
Jun 6 13:30

Overcoming the training transfer problem with the 70:20:10 framework

Workplace Learning/AITD Conference
    Charles Jennings
  • Training has only a limited role in creating high performance in organisations
  • The training transfer problem has been created because we haven’t been using optimal approaches for solving performance problems
  • Frameworks such as the 70:20:10 model can help rectify this issue by bringing learning and working closer together.
Charles Jennings, Leading Thinker On Workplace Learning And Author, 70 20 10 Institute Jun 6 14:00

A Chatbot Case Study - Creating Impact with Learning Transfer

Workplace Learning/AITD Conference Marie DanielsCreating behavioural change is key to any learning initiative. It's proven that following up learning with a coaching-based methodology will deliver far superior results than training alone. Could chatbot technology be utilised to solve the age-old problem of transfer?

The presenters will share all from a case study that used an AI chatbot to drive behavioural change. ... Marie Daniels, ANZ Pharmaceuticals Commercial Learning Lead, Bayer Jun 6 14:20
Sascha Ogilvy

Team teaching

Expo Mainstage (Free)
  • What is team teaching and why it’s so important in schools
  • The purpose of team teaching
  • Case study of the team teaching program at Fairfield High School
Sascha Ogilvy, Head Teacher Eal/D, Fairfield High School Jun 6 14:40

The Art and Science of Teaching at Scale

    Manisha Gazula
  • The Marsden Way - focusing on explicit and direct instruction
  • The art and the science of teaching
Manisha Gazula, Principal, Marsden Road Public School Jun 6 15:20


Using mobile technology to achieve Professional and Vocational Currency within the VET sector

Vanessa MarshHigher Education
  • How Chisholm developed a process for educators to maintain educator currency while assisting the Institute to achieve its teaching and learning goals...
Vanessa Marsh, Team Leader, Operations, Chisholm Institute of Tafe Jun 6 15:20

Train to Fight and Win at Sea

Workplace Learning/AITD Conference Justin JonesNavy training and education is a key enabler in the achievement of navy’s mission ‘to fight and win at sea’. Navy training is expansive. It is conducted at multiple disparate locations across Australia and overseas, with an annual trainee throughput of approximately 80,000. ... Justin Jones, Commodore Training, Royal Australian Navy - Training Force Jun 6 16:00

Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students

Expo Mainstage (Free)
    Tom Worthington
  • Design courses to be mobile ready, while campus compatible
  • Micro-credentials delivered off-shore
  • Blockchain for degree credit onshore
Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, The Australian National University Jun 6 16:20
Jun 709:00 Conference pass

Cool Schools: smart, sustainable strategies to beat the heat

    Sebastian Pfautsch
  • The importance of thermal comfort for student health, wellbeing and learning
  • Strategies for managing heat in existing and new schools
  • Research gaps in relation to thermal comfort for children in schools
Sebastian Pfautsch, Senior Research Fellow, University of Western Sydney Jun 7 09:40

Roundtable 12) Is it time for Micro-Credentials and Mobile Learning for International Students?

Breakouts - Roundtables Tom WorthingtonJoin Tom worthington at this roundtable to discuss the importance of connecting with international students through effective and classroom compatable courses. Host: Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, The Australian National University Jun 7 11:00

90 minute Workshop – Lego Education

Breakouts - Seminars Prof. Chris RogersPlaces at this workshop are limited and will sell out fast. Join now to get familiar with LEGO bricks, software, teaching guide and lesson plans

Accelerate STEAM learning with LEGO Education hands-on solutions Learn how to engage your students with playful learning tools around STEAM!LEGO® Education offers hands-on experiences that stimulate communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills — so that students can succeed in their STEAM classes today and realize their full potential as digital citizens and leaders tomorrow.

Who should attend? School teachers and principals – Years 5-8 Prof. Chris Rogers, Professor And Chair, Department Of Mechanical Engineering, tufts university Jun 7 11:30

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students

I will be speaking on "Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students", at EduTECH in Sydney, 4pm 6 June 2019. The next day I am chairing a round-table on the same topic. My talk is on the Expo Main Stage and is free, whereas the roundtable discussions are for delegates only  (use the code: TomWorthington20 for 20% off the registration fee.)
Just finalizing my presentation: suggestions welcome. Last year I attended EduTech Sydney, and Singapore, which were good. 
"Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students
4pm, 6 June 2019
  • Design courses to be mobile ready, while campus compatible
  • Micro-credentials delivered off-shore
  • Blockchain for degree credit onshore

Roundtable: Is it time for Micro-Credentials and Mobile Learning for International Students?

3 discussions, from 11 am, 7 June 2019 Join Tom Worthington at this roundtable to discuss the importance of connecting with international students through effective and classroom compatible courses." 
From: "Speakers", EduTECH 2019.

Some notes for the presentation:

1. Mobile ready, campus compatible

ANU Marie Reay
Teaching Centre

First design your course for online delivery. Use course software, with a responsive web interface, such as Moodle. This will then work on a mobile device, a conventional computer, oreven on paper.

Add campus based activities for students, where appropriate. Keep the campus activities flexible.
This is flipped, blended learning. It helps to have a purpose designed building, like the  ANU Marie Reay Teaching Centre opened March 2019, by Architects BVN. The Centre has only flat floor classrooms, for 30, 60, or 120 students. The flexibility here is provided by retractable walls, furniture on wheels, and electronic screens on multiple walls.

Learning to Reflect

Flipped module for teaching international masters students to write a job application:

Wall mounted LCD screens and desks on wheels at ANU Marie Reay Teaching Centre
Wall mounted LCD screens
& desks on wheels at
ANU Marie Reay Teaching Centre

  1. Online notes
  2. Videos
  3. Quizzes
  4. Peer assessed online forums
  5. Peer assessed assignments
  6. Classroom discussion in flat floor room

The module is designed to help students to develop capabilities expected of working professionals to identify their development needs, how they will acquire these and to reflect on what they have learned.

An overview of the development of the module, and an open access version of the notes are available.

2. Micro-credentials delivered off-shore

NZQA micro-credentials: 1 to 8 weeks study
AQF Review: considering micro-credentials
Attractive for international and STEM students.
3 x 1 week study modules = 1 semester course?

M-learning can be over shorter periods and targeted at specific skills. The New Zealand government is recognizing micro-credentials from tertiary education organizations as of 22 August 2018. The NZ credentials can be the equivalent of 1 to 8 weeks study. The shortest qualification typically issued by Australian universities is a 12 week graduate certificate.

An AQF Review: considering micro-credentials. This could allow much shorter, and more flexible, credentials. These would particularly appeal to international students, and those in STEM areas.

Even in advance of any official recognition of micro-credentials, institutions can create smaller units of instruction, for example, dividing a semester course which is notionally three weeks full time study into three one week units. Students could undertake the three units separately, or as part of a qualification.

3. Blockchain for degree credit onshore

Lifelong learning and micro-credentials will result in worker having several hundred qualifications. This would be unmanageable with paper certificates and even with web based e-certificates, such as those issued by "My eQuals" in Australia (the image shows my Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, issued by ANU). Employers will want to be able to automatically check qualifications against job requirements, to ensure they are genuine (the other image shows one of the many web advertisements for fake qualifications). One technology which may be used is block-chain. There is an ACS Blockchain technical committee looking at this, as one use for the technology.

Why worry about this?

China's Belt & Road Education Plan

  1. Two-Way Student Exchange
  2. Co-Operation in Running Educational Institutions
  3. Teacher Training
  4. Joint Education and Training
China Ministry of Education. Education Action Plan for the Belt and Road Initiative, 2016. URL https://eng.yidaiyilu.gov.cn/zchj/qwfb/30277.htm

China's Belt and Road Education Plan envisages students from the Indo-Pacific region studying at campuses in China, and also on regional joint venture campuses. Australian institutions will have difficulty competing for international students with these campuses. However, the plan appears to cover only on-campus face-to-face education. This provides the opportunity for Australian institutions to offer online learning using mobile devices, supplemented with on-campus education. This could complement, rather than seek to directly compete with, China's Initiative.

See also: Australian Department of Education. China's Belt and Road Initiative – Education, 2017.

More Information

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Australian draft law prohibiting academic cheating services

Dan Tehan MP,
Minister for Education
The Australian Minister for Education, Dan Tehan MP, released a draft law "Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services", 7 April 2019. This would make it a criminal offense to provide or advertise academic cheating services, with up to two years imprisonment, or more than $100,000 fine. Students who use the services will not be subject to this law, with any academic penalty left to their institution. The law will apply to services provided outside Australia for those in Australia. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) will undertake monitoring, and can ask a court for an order to have web sites providing services blocked. There is a summary overview of the draft Bill available. The Australian Department of Education has asked for comments by 28 June 2019.

It is not clear to me how well this law will work where services are being provided from outside Australia. Also it is not clear if this also applies to students in Australia enrolled in courses outside Australia.

In my view educators need to accept that students do not see cheating as a serious issue. Giving students stern warnings has proved ineffective. Making it something like a crime requires educational institutions to have complex slow processes, which students can use to avoid penalties. Instead I suggest treating cheating as a learning experience.

Students should be trained and tested on study skills, including how to write assignments. Most students will respond to this. Assessment can be designed so the few students who persist with attempting to cheat never graduate.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Students Prefer Video Feedback: But is it efficient and effective?

Dr Tracii Ryan,
Monash University
Ryan, Henderson and Phillips (2019), surveyed 4,514 Australian university students about the feedback they received. Students preferred audio or video comments (which the authors confusingly refer to as "digital recording"), to text. Students also preferred multiple modes to single, and were less impressed with rubrics.

However, this study was only of what students preferred, it did not test if the form of feedback was more effective, in terms of improving the quality of their future work. Also no account was taken of the cost of preparing the feedback, or the quantity. Also the study did not address the option of students providing feedback to each other.

I suspect the well know "no significant difference" effect applies to feedback. That is, it is unlikely the format of the feedback makes any difference to the outcome. Students like video content, but this makes no difference to their learning.
What I suggest will make a difference is timely and targeted feedback. As an example, I use the approach of  placing brief text comments next to the student's mark, combining formative feedback with summative assessment (Worthington, 2012).

This week I have been teaching 80 master of computing students in blended mode. The biggest problem is to get them to spend enough time on task. To do that I have devised a series of graduated exercises for them. This includes small amounts of assessment, each of which provides the opportunity to provide feedback the student will notice, because there is a mark next to it. Also the students provide feedback to each other (and get assessed on this). Students really, really, hate providing feedback to each other, but as a student myself I found it very useful.


Ryan, T., Henderson, M., & Phillips, M. (2019). Feedback modes matter: Comparing student perceptions of digital and non‐digital feedback modes in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology. URL https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12749

Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In 2012 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE) (pp. 263-266). IEEE. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070

Friday, April 19, 2019

E-Trainers free online training for vocational educators

E-Trainers is an EU supported project providing free online training for educators in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. There are three courses:  creating digital content, life and career skills, and  digitally competent and confident teacher. The courses are implemented in Moodle, with an appealing clean, no fuss design. However, the details of the course and quiz design is confusing.

Entry Test

I registered and took the entry test. My score was 12/14. But in a couple of cases I had to guess. The courses are provided in nine languages, so there are bound to be some translation difficulties. At one point the system lapsed into Italian.

Some questions were confusing, for example: "Which of these are video sites?", had two right answers, but I was only allowed to pick one. Another was a free text entry asking for an answer from some competency framework, which was not cited, so I had no idea what the answer might be. Another question said that a "flipped course" was an "online course", which I suggest is incorrect (it combines online and face-to-face).  But these are all minor quibbles.

I started with the first course:

Creating Digital Content

The course content itself is divided into very small web pages, with an image and a sentence or two, with about a dozen of these pages making up one lesson. These appear to be designed to fit on a smartphone screen without scrolling. However, this makes for very disjointed reading, especially on a larger tablet, laptop, or desktop screen. Even on a smartphone I would prefer larger chunks.

The first course, on  creating digital content, references the Co Building a Good Guidance project. This aims to improve students "active involvement" in school. It is an interesting approach to do this via online techniques.

The course suddenly takes a change of pace, going from offering single sentences to complex instructions for suggests entering a co-building international contest. I suggest not encouraging students, as their first exercise, to creating online content which will be made public and judged. 

Also, I suggest students should be introduced to content creation with text, and still images, first, and video later. Text and images are an easier introduction to preparing online content, these are the foundation for video, and are far more useful than video. However, the course frames the use of of text, and images as just a way to plan and prepare videos, not an important commutations media in themselves.

The course suggests using the Tricider free brainstorming tool. It gets a little confusing at this point, as brainstorming seems to be a broach in the course. Also, I could not work how to proceed without actually registering for a Tricider account. There is a similar branch for Padlet. This is not to say these are not good products, but I did not want to register at this time, and a student may want to use another product, or not be permitted to use these by their employer, or government. 

It is curious this EU endorsed project is promoting the use of Facebook and Google, given concerns the body has had concerning these companies. In particular the course recommends for teachers with students having special needs: "Teachers should help students to create Facebook and/or Google accounts."

I had completed 7% of the course when I gave up. I was not sure what exactly I still had to do.

Life and Career Skills

The second course is for VET  teaching. A survey of european employers is quoted as finding they want employees who have:
  1. Positive attitude
  2. Problem solving
  3. Communication
  4. Working under pressure / Resilience
  5. Learning to learn
  6. Flexibility
  7. Personal discipline
  8. Time management
  9. Teamwork
  10. Responsibility
Unfortunately there is no citation to where these results came from.  Also I have doubts about teaching behaviors, such as a "positive attitude". As an extreme example, I don't want the computer professionals I am training to say software is going to work, when their judgement is otherwise, especially for safety critical systems.

At the second step of this course I started to get a little frustrated. The second section "planning" started with a quiz question about competencies which had not yet been discussed, so how was I supposed to know the answer. Based on my knowledge of education (I have several qualification, and a couple of decades of experience) I guessed, and got it wrong.  I don't mind getting a question wrong, but I was not offered any remedial material to help me learn, but was offered another nine attempts at the same true/false question. I got the question right at the second attempt, but was none the wiser as to what this was about.

Then the details of a "PERSONAL COMPETENCE CARD" were detailed. However, the concept of what this was for, who developed or used it was not provided. I can guess that from the context, but a course should explain this explicitly.

8% into the course I gave up.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Three ANU Research Schools Need Directors

The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra has advertised for heads of three Research Schools: Electrical, Energy, Materials Engineering; Aerospace, Mechanical & Environmental Engineering; and Computer Science.
"ANU is seeking to appoint three new School Directors who will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) as a hub that will grow and inspire a new generation of creative thinkers, who will challenge historic biases in a truly inclusive environment.
The three new roles represent part of the University’s ambitious Reimagine Project, an interdisciplinary venture with the aim to attract the very best and brightest from around the world to identify, articulate and solve problems. Not just in the traditional spheres for engineers or computer scientists but those with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise, who aspire to innovate and lead new approaches to technologies, intelligence and data and human interface.
The new Directors will provide the vision and leadership to reinforce the distinctive, applied identity of the Schools and will be motivated by a desire to drive excellence in research, education, engagement and impact. With delegated powers for academic and resource management, candidates will demonstrate the intellectual, strategic and operational leadership qualities to engage colleagues and industry partners in shaping and delivering the Reimagine strategy that will enhance the University’s international reputation and network of relationships.
Given the scope of the roles, applications are welcomed from engineering and IT research-led academics, as well as those pioneers with appropriate leadership expertise across business and industry."

CFP: State-of-Energy-Research Conference, 3 to 4 July 2019, Canberra

Energy Research Institutes Council for Australia
The inaugural State-of-Energy-Research Conference, will be held 3 to 4 July 2019, in Canberra. The conference is run by the Energy Research Institutes Council for Australia (ERICA), and hosted by the Australian National University. A Call for Papers has been issued.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

ANU Seminar on Blockchain Smart Contracts, Canberra, 3 pm, 12 April 2019

Dr. Neville Grech, from University of Athens, will speak on "Gigahorse: Thorough Smart Contract Decompilation and Security Analyses" at the Australian National University in Canberra, Computer Science and IT Building (No 108), room N224, 3pm, 12 April 2019. Free, no RSVP required.


Smart contracts on blockchain platforms (e.g., Ethereum) represent a software domain with critical correctness needs. Smart contract users and security auditors can greatly benefit from a mechanism to recover the original structure of contracts, as evident from past work: many security analyses of smart contracts begin with a decompilation step.

In this talk, we present the Gigahorse framework, which is at the core of the the contract-library.com service. Contract-library.com contains the most complete, high-level decompiled representation of all Ethereum smart contracts, with security analyses applied to these in realtime.

The Gigahorse framework is a decompilation and security analysis framework that natively supports Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) bytecode. Its internal intermediate representation of smart contracts makes implicit data- and control-flow dependencies of the EVM bytecode explicit. Using this framework we have developed and adapted several advanced high-level client analyses, including MadMax and Ethainter. All our client analyses benefit from high-level domain-specific concepts (such as "dynamic data structure storage" and "safely resumable loops") and achieve high precision and scalability.

 One such client analysis, MadMax, flags contracts with a current monetary value in the $B range. (Manual inspection of a sample of flagged contracts shows that 81% of the sampled warnings do indeed lead to vulnerabilities.)


I am currently a Reach High fellow at the University of Athens, as well as at the University of Malta. My areas expertise include program analysis, applied to security and other properties. I have also published in the areas of embedded systems, smart contracts (including a distinguished paper award at OOPSLA), semantics and generative programming. My research tools include decompilers and security analyzers for the Ethereum platform (contract-library.com) and Java pointer and taint analysis frameworks (Doop, P/Taint and HeapDL). Previously, I was a Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol, and have worked in industry as a Data Scientist and Software Engineer. I hold a PhD from the University of Southampton.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Google Sees More Training for Workers in 2040

Alphabeta's report "FUTURE SKILLS" (November 2018), for Google, suggests the average Australian of 2040 will spend three hours a week training, and increase of one third on today. The report suggests that much of this will be upskilling and reskilling by older workers. The authors suggest skills will complement artificial intelligence, with the human workers contributing adaptability, team work, creativity, and integrity. Also they suggest this training will be on-the job, and short flexible courses, not at TAFE or university.

This is a future which, in 2019, I am already living. To retain my certified computer professional status (and limited legal liability), I am required to undertake thirty hours of professional development a year. However, over the last ten years I have also completed formal studies, which would bring the total up to about three hours a week.

While I am one of those older workers Google refers to, I suggest that younger workers will also need constant training. In the last ten years I have been retrained from a generalist computer professional, to an educator of computer professionals.

As the report suggests I train computer professionals in adaptability, team work, creativity, and integrity. I was trained on the job by the Australian Public Service in computing. However, I now design formal vocational and university courses, and learning modules, which can complement on the job training.

With improvements in online education tools and techniques, it is possible to provide a formal accredited tertiary education, made up of small flexible modules, incorporating workplace experience. This doesn't have to be a workplace versus campus, short versus long, vocational versus university choice: students can now have it all.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Audio Slideshow for Job Application Reflection Module

This is the ninth of a series of posts , on how to provide students with help when preparing a reflective portfolio. This is an audio slideshow. The slides are based on the course notes and the audio is computer generated.

This is intended to be a demonstration of how to produce multi-media for education, quickly, and easily. The slides were produced using LibreOffice "Impress" (a free alternative to Microsoft Powerpoint). To generate slides suitable for HDTV, the presentation was exported as PNG images at 1280×720 pixels. These slides were copied into the KDEinLive digital video package, and adjusted to fit with the audio commentary. The video was rendered as 720p MPEG 4,  at 200 kbps, 24 frames per second, with 64 kbps audio.

The computer generated audio is monotonous, and the text based slides not very interesting. However, this is a good start before trying anything more ambitious. Also students are not undertaking study to be entertained, but to be educated.

ps: This is for students of  ANU Tech Launcher.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Audio Slideshow for Job Application Learning Module

This is the eighth of a series of posts , on how to provide students with help when preparing a reflective portfolio. This is specifically for students of  ANU Tech Launcher.

Mazen Al-Ismail
Previously I provided an audio podcast for part 1 "learn". However, research by Ismail (2018) suggests some students prefer audio with slides. So I have added slides to the audio. The student can still listen to the audio, without looking at the slides, which some prefer. This is easier to create and maintain than separate video and audio versions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Education in the 2019/2020 Australian Federal Budget

Some higher education items from the https://www.budget.gov.au/:
  1. $3.9B cut from the Education Investment Fund: The EIF was established in 2008 to "transform Australian tertiary education and research", but is was never clear how. The money will instead be spent on natural disaster recovery.Vocational Education and Training"
  2. Scholarships for students at regional campuses: $93.7M over four years from 2019-20. It sould be noted this applies to universities, and vocational education. Also it is for regional campuses, so these could be branches of capital city university, or commercial VET providers. With education now being provided primarily via the Internet, a "campus" can be a small shopfront. 
  3. Unique Student Identifier (USI): $18.3 million over four years for a centralised digital training record, for both VET and university students. The USI currently applies only to the VET sector. The Australian Government is likely to find universities less cooperative with the USI than the VET sector. Worryingly, when I just tried the USI website, it was not responding.
  4. Additional Identified Skills Shortage Payment: 80,000 additional apprentices over five years, with employers eligible for $4,000 incentive payment, and apprentices  $2,000 "at key milestones".
  5. Pilot Skills Organisations: $41.7 million over four years for "industry partnerships to trial new ways to update and develop vocational education qualifications", in human services care and digital technologies, and cyber security. Perhaps this is referring to "micro-credentials"?
  6. National Careers Institute (NCI): $42.4 million over four years to raise the profile of the VET sector, and  a "single web portal, informed by the latest research". 
  7. Training Hubs:  $50.6M for ten hubs to provide job opportunities for young people and "strengthen local economies".
  8. Higher Education Loan Program ─ partial cost recovery delay:  "The Government will delay the introduction of partial cost recovery arrangements for
    the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) to provide additional time for the sector to prepare for the new arrangements. The new arrangements will now commence from 1 January 2020 instead of 1 January 2019. The measure is estimated to reduce revenue by $3.6 million over four years from 2018-19. "
  9. Extension of Temporary Graduate visa period for regional graduates: From November 2021, international students who complete a higher education in a regional area can can apply for an additional year's work visa. This is expected to provide  $14.0M.
  10. Online Safety Grants Program:  $10.0M over four years for online safety education for children. This funding is only for non-government organisations.
  11. Harry Butler Environmental Education Centre:  $25.0M to Murdoch University to "grow understanding of the positive relationship between economic development and environmental sustainability".
  12. Expanding Questacon’s Education Outreach:  $15.1M to expand Questacon’s education and outreach activities.
  13. Improving STEM Gender Equity in Australia: $3.4M to fund the Science in Australia Gender
    Equity program for three years; and "a digital content National Awareness Raising Initiative, led by the Women in STEM Ambassador."
  14. Making Innovation Games National: $3.6M to "bring together small and medium businesses and students to solve real-life, practical business issues".
  15. Adelaide Space Discovery Centre: $6.0M to "to provide education and mission simulation to support training"
  16. Indigenous students: $276.5M to "support to undertake and complete study to help close the gap in
    education outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students
  17. Extinguish Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt for teachers in very remote locations: $70.6M.

Friday, March 29, 2019

University of Canberra Reviewing Contingent-Continuing Academic Employment

The University of Canberra (UC) has announced an independent review of "Contingent-Continuing" academic employment, to be chaired by Professor Kevin Hall, from University of Newcastle.

Unfortunately the UC media release announcing the review (appended), doesn't explain what "Contingent-Continuing" employment is. Andrews, Bare, Bentley, Goedegebuure , Pugsley and Rance (p 15, 2016) offer a description of contingent continuing employment as "continuing employment but with easier termination arrangements":
"Fixed-term employment is almost invariably used for academic staff funded by research grants, although larger research-based universities have recognised the negative impact of contingent employment on researchers, and have introduced a “contingent continuing” employment category that provides continuing employment but with easier termination arrangements in the event that the researcher misses out on being engaged under a subsequent grant. The severance payments for this form of employment are also lower than the standard academic redundancy payment entitlements"
From: Andrews, Bare, Bentley, Goedegebuure , Pugsley and Rance (p 15, 2016)
Putting it more crudely, this is a form of indefinite temporary employment. While the uncertainty over research grants to fund employees has been the primary rationale for not employing academics permanently, the uncertainty around the need for teaching staff may also be a factor. Australian universities have experienced a boom in enrollments, due to government funding for domestic students, and demand from international students.  However, neither of these sources of income are certain to continue into the future. Also the use of new teaching techniques and educational technology, are changing the number of teaching staff required, and their skills. Most academics currently at Australian universities are not trained or qualified to teach in this new environment.

Dr Inger Mewburn (ANU), has proposed a study into  the nature and extent of academic work. Such a study would be useful for informing the UC review, as well as likely future government inquires into the Australian university system.
'University of Canberra
Media Release 
28 March 2019 


The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Deep Saini, has today announced an independent review of Contingent-Continuing academic employment—commonly referred to as the Assistant Professor program—to evaluate and improve the program.

Assistant professors comprise approximately 22.5 per cent of the academic staff at the University of Canberra through a unique program in Australia. The scheme allows assistant professors to fast track to promotion to associate professor within seven years via two performance reviews.

The independent review will aim to ensure that participants are valued, supported, professionally developed and well managed to continue to be successful.

 “Whilst the basis of the contract is sound and has delivered success for many of our academic staff in fast-tracking their careers, we endeavour to deliver the best possible experience and results in this Australia-first program—both for the assistant professors and the students they teach,” said Professor Saini.

“I have personally consulted with many assistant professors in the program to hear their suggestions on how the implementation and experience of the program can be improved.”

 “We have used input from the assistant professors, staff and the National Tertiary Education Union to develop the scope of the review.”

The Review Panel consists of four members, including three external independent members and one internal member.

Professor of Chemistry and Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice President at University of Newcastle, Kevin Hall, will act as chair with Professor of Psychology and Education Director at University of Sydney, Marie Carroll, as member, and Workplace Relations and Employment Law specialist, Dr Graham Smith, as an external consultant to the panel.

Professor of Biomedicine at University of Canberra Reena Ghildyal will be an internal consultant, having personal experience of the Assistant Professor program at the University of Canberra. The scope of the review includes, but is not limited to:
  • Examining new policy and procedures, terms and conditions and compliance with legislation;
  • Attracting the right talent for successful outcomes;
  • Frameworks for review and promotion;
  • Supervision and mentoring, including appropriate training for supervisors and managers;
  • Assessing if workload and performance-based remuneration encourages work/life balance;
  • Examine the success of the scheme from talent attraction, development and retention;
  • Ensure diversity, equity, access and inclusion;
  • Highlight the positive outcomes and identify the areas for improvement. 
The Review will be provided to the Vice-Chancellor within 12 weeks of the panel commencing. '

From: Media and Communication, University of Canberra, 28 March 2019


Andrews, S., Bare, L., Bentley, P., Goedegebuure, L., Pugsley, C., & Rance, B. (2016). Contingent academic employment in Australian universities. LH Martin Institute. URL https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/2564262/2016-contingent-academic-employment-in-australian-universities-updatedapr16.pdf

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Educational Designers and Technologists Needed at ANU

New ANU Marie Reay
Teaching Centre
The Australian National University in Canberra is looking for Senior Educational Designers, Educational Designers, and Educational Technologists . They will be working with Dr Kim Blackmore, on the Interactive Learning Project.
"The Interactive Learning Project (iLEAP) aims to leverage the social dynamics of learning by creating more high quality interactive learning experiences for students across the university. iLEAP will work closely with course conveners, teaching teams, and students to creatively redesign large enrolment courses for interactive learning at scale.

Course redevelopment project teams will provide intensive support to course conveners to develop new teaching and learning materials for courses, create operational plans and technology support for managing large cohorts, and upskill the new teaching practices.

We are looking for collaborative, motivated and innovative thinkers to work with teaching staff and students across Colleges to enhance teaching effectiveness and increase student engagement by:
  • Supporting the use of a broad range of high quality interactive learning activities designed specifically for the course content;
  • Providing intensive support to teaching academics, especially in large courses with over 100 students, to redesign courses and course delivery with a focus on enhancing student engagement;
  • Promoting student-centred learning and leveraging digital technologies.
From: Educational Technologist, Job no: 529231, ANU , 2019

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Artificial intelligence and ethics: challenges and responsibilities

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Brad Smith, Global President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, is speaking on Artificial intelligence and ethics: challenges and responsibilities. In his introduction, the ANU VC expressed concern over the lack of broadband access around Canberra. He also mentioned the ANU 3AI Institute students who are looking at issues of technology and people (I am sitting in the audience with the students).

This is the second presentation this week on the implications of technology. Yesterday Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce, UAS Sub-Program Manager for the Australian Army talked on "Drones for Good". He handed around a "Black Hornet Nano" advanced military drone, about the size of my thumb. He pointed out that such devices are not "intelligent", they only follow pre-programmed instructions. He also mentioned that drones had been used extensively for disaster relief in the recent Queensland floods.

Brad Smith also was downplaying the current state of AI. He suggested there had been and would not be a sudden achievement of AI. Instead increased computational power and access to data make AI gradually possible. He pointed out some AI is already in routine use, such as in cars for detecting people in the vehicle's path.

Brad Smith raised the issue of ethics with AI and weapons. While suggesting that the laws of war needed to take this into account, he had no specific proposals. I suggest a good start would be for Microsoft to call for China, the United States, and Russia to sign the Ottawa Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Mines (Australia joined in 1999).

Brad Smith warned of a world like Nineteen Eighty-Four, with routine mass surveillance of the public, preventing free assembly. He proposed laws to limit such surveillance to where there is a court order or an imminent threat. However, Microsoft provides technology which could be used to create a surveillance state. One ethical approach would be for Microsoft to not supply its technology to countries which did not have suitable citizen protections.

Brad Smith ended by raising the issue of a need for a global approach to the issues. One of last slides in the presentation showed statues of Confucius, and Socrates, hinting at the differences of views between China and the West.

Well, I thought that was the end of the talk, but Brad Smith ended on a more positive note, by pointing out three Microsoft initiatives: AI for Earth, AI for Accessibility,  and AI for Humanitarian Action.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Provide combined vod/podcasts to students

Mazen Al-Ismail
Al Ismail (2018) surveyed 345 mobile learners from Australia and Saudi Arabia as to their preferences for recorded learning material. It was found that students prefer to get their course content as a long audio podcast (15 minutes or more) for walking, but shorter vodcasts (audio with slides) in somewhere like a cafe. This makes sense: a student walking can't look at a screen, has set amount of uninterrupted time to concentrate on the narration. A student in a cafe can look at a screen, but is more likely to be interrupted, and has more auditory distractions.

One way to meet the requirements for different locations would be to produce content which are designed to be usable with the audio alone (as a podcast), vision alone (as a slideshow), or both (as a vodcast). Long vodcasts could be divided into short chapters, of one to five minutes.

It would be possible to produce the versions of materials semi-automatically.  As an example, I have produced a text-to-speech vodcast, and podcasts for the learning module "Reflective Learning". These have no structure, but the e-book they are derived from does. It would be possible to break the vodcasts and podcasts into chapters, based on the chapter and sub-chapter hierarchy of the e-book. As an example, the chapters of the e-book (indicated by HTML H2 markup) would give audio chapters of about ten minutes, suitable for walking students. Sub chapters (indicated by H3) would break the audio into two minute segments.
"In general, rich and long podcast is recommended while a student alone, even while walking, as we have seen in chapter four that Saudi students highly prefer to be engaged with m-learning while walking alone.

Students highly prefer vodcast and text respectively in busy contexts, so if possible providing slides synchronised with audio in a way that students can read the slide and opt to listen to their lecturer explanation for each slide.

Students highly prefer audio while walking alone, and this research show that Australian students prefer audio in all walking contexts. On the other hand, students dislike audio in quiet and busy contexts.

So, it is highly recommended to avoid disseminate audio podcasting in stationary context."
From Al Ismail, p. 131, 2018.


Al Ismail, Mazen Ibrahim I (2018-12-17). The impact of learners' characteristics on m-learning preferences, and how m-learning preferences form choices in different contexts. URL http://hdl.handle.net/1885/154711

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Course with an iMOOC on MOOCs

The Center for Distance Education at Athabasca University (AU), where I did my MEd, is offering an interesting masters course for students of education, on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You don't have to be enrolled in a degree at AU to do the course (but you do have to pay).

The course incorporates a MOOC, but adds staff supervision, and formal course credit, for a fee. This is an interesting way for an institution to offer a greater range of courses. I was, and remain, a MOOC skeptic, as borne out by some of the recent literature (Reich & Ruipérez-Valiente, 2019). It will be interesting to see what this format has to offer.

MDDE690: Investigating MOOCs: Purpose, Process, and Pedagogy

This is an independent study opportunity for AU Master of Education program students and anyone outside this program interested in registering as a non-program student. This course includes a supervised experience and study of MOOCs, Massive Open, Online Courses, and their design, delivery, and research. The AU-MOOC Learning to Learn Online is the focus of this study experience.

Course Instructor

Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes is a Professor and Chair in the Centre of Distance Education at Athabasca University where she is heavily involved in the research and practice of blended and online teaching and learning. She holds a PhD in Education with a concentration in higher education and the social world. She joined Athabasca University in 2001 and ...

Students in this version of MDDE690 will create, in consultation with the instructors, a 3-credit course with learning objectives based on the topic of MOOCs.This independent study course experience will commence in April, 2019 and includes participation in Learning to Learn Online (LTLO), which runs on the Canvas platform from April 29th to June 2nd , 2019.Timelines for completion of other assignments are negotiable.

The MOOC design for LTLO is called an iMOOC – inquiry-based learning and engagement. You will have the opportunity to identify your own topics, activities, and assignments that will result in knowledge development about MOOCs and their purpose, process, and pedagogy.

For registration information: Contact the CDE office.


Reich, J., & Ruipérez-Valiente, J. A. (2019). The MOOC pivot. Science, 363(6423), 130-131. URL http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6423/130/tab-pdf

Monday, March 18, 2019

What does education do?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor David Deming (Harvard Graduate School of Education), is speaking on "What does education do?". This is a good counterpoint to the book "Open Knowledge: Institutions
Reinventing Universities" from the authors of The Moondyne Maanifesto. Professor Deming's work is obviously well researched, and of high quality, but is of little relevance to Australia.nifesto. Professor Deming is focused on equity in education, while the Moondyne Manifesto is about equity in access to research results.

Inequality in the US Higher Education System

Professor Deming argued that the demand for US college education is rising faster than supply, and they need to work out what skills will be required (some of this is in an article). He first displayed a graph showing that the "American Dream" is fading: the percentage of children earning more than their parents is falling. However, the graph started at 1940, and perhaps it just shows the end of the US boom from WW2. Also I don't see that infinite growth is worthwhile, or possible. Professor Deming then showed a graph indicating that income inequality exists in Sweden and Australia, as well as the USA (and another showing Australia is nearer Canada). So far I am not clear what this has to do with education.

In the next few graphs, Professor Deming showed that income had fanned out since 1964, based on education. That is, income has not increased for those without post secondary qualification, but increased markedly for those with advanced degrees. Curiously, Professor Deming put this in terms of rising inequality, rather than education equipping workers with valuable skills, which were rewarded with higher pay.

Professor Deming then displayed a graph showing US revenue to schools had been equalized between 1990 and 2010. That is, over time, government spending has been provided to schools in poorer districts, to bring them up to the level of richer districts. In contrast, community colleges receive about one quarter the funding of prestigious "research" universities. However, I suggest research universities don't just do education (they also do research), so I am not sure the comparison holds.

The next graph showed that students from high income families are 77 times more likely to attend an elite university. Someone in the audience interrupted with an explanation: rich parents have been bribing university staff to admit their children. However, elite universities do not necessarily provide better education than others. University reputation is largely based on research output, which is unrelated to the quality of education an institution provides. I have studied at TAFE (the Australian equivalent of US community college), at a regional university (the equivalent of a US state university), one of Australia's top research universities, and a Canadian online university. The education provided by these was designed for different students with different needs, but overall the research university rated lowest for quality of education, the regional Australian university, and Canadian online top.

The next graph was educational attainment between generations. Professor Deming focused on the USA not making progress in tertiary attainment. But what stood out for me was that Canada was ahead of the USA, and is still in front. I suggest there is little value in Australia looking to the USA for what to do with education, but perhaps we could learn something from Canada. I quipped to the speaker that I studied education in Canada, so perhaps I know better they they what to do.

How to Help Disadvantaged Students

Professor Deming then introduced his CLIMB Research Initiative. This aims to answer the question: "How can colleges help students from disadvantaged backgrounds climb the income ladder?". I thought this wording curious as it refers to "colleges" only. Also it refers to "income ladder", not to encouraging enrollment, or improving completion. Unfortunately this appears to be an inward and downward looking study, of US research universities seeing what can be done to US colleges.

I suggest that the USA could look to other countries, such as Canada, and perhaps could also ask experienced educators at US colleges what to do. At TALE 2019 last year I met educators from US colleges who had clear ideas on how to improve the system.

Australia has research on improving student outcomes, such as by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE). This includes work by Dr Cathy Stone on National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning.

Teaching Soft Skills to STEM Students

Engineering degree redesign for UCL,
by Mitchell, Nyamapfene, Roach & Tilley, 2019
I had hoped Professor Deming would present research results and practical measures, from the  CLIMB Research Initiative, to improve education. Instead we got  more graphs, showing that STEM, degrees provide a higher initial income, but then taper off. This is something we already knew in the computing profession. Over the last decade the academics in the discipline consulted with the industry, and with professional bodies, around the world. The curriculum for these STEM degrees have been changed as a result, to include "soft" skills in communication, team work, and project management. Similar changes have taken place in engineering. Last year as part of EduTech Asian 2018 I visited several Singapore universities to see how they incorporate real world skills into education, and this was a focus of TALE 2018 in Woolongong.

The ANU TechLauncher program, requires computing and engineering students to work in teams on projects for real clients. There are also courses teaching communication skills. This semester I am delivering a new blended learning module, to help then write a job application. The issue I have been working on for the last few years with my colleagues, is not if we should teach "soft skills", but how to. It turns out that soft skills are very hard to learn, and even harder to teach.

Don't Look to the USA for Education Policy

Professor Deming's work is obviously well researched, and of high quality, but is of little relevance to Australia.

Australia does have problems with higher education, particularly with a lack of integration of vocational and university systems. However, the USA has its own unique problems, and is not a good model to follow.