Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Educaiton Minister Wants Vocational Educaiton and Universities Seamless

Dan Tehan, Minister for Education, is reported to want seamless vocational education and training (VET) and university education (Leaders on board for policy push, Tim Dodd, The Australian, 18 September 2019). Also the minister was reported to want school students to undertake more VET programs. I suggested better alignment of this in my submission to the Senate last year.

However, VET and university can't be seamless, as they have different roles, and so provide different forms of education. Also while VET programs are nationally standardized, university courses and degrees are not. University offerings would need to be standardized between institutions, before they could be made seamless with VET. Universities offer courses and programs to meet different needs, making national standardization impractical, and not useful.

However, there could be some limited alignment within specific vocational discipline areas, such as computing. Australian universities and VET providers broadly follow international  skills requirements for computing. Many universities are accredited by the Australian computer society. However, the computing body of knowledge is broad and can be offered in many different ways. It may be possible for a VET student who has completed an AQF qualification to get credit for a university degree, but detailed competencies and courses are not going to translate one for one.

Universities could move away from course structures to make their offerings more flexible. This would also make them more compatible with VET, by adopting some VET techniques. In particular universities could provide students with a table of skills and knowledge on enrollment. The student would be required to populate the table with evidence of having achieved everything required, to graduate. The student could enroll in conventional courses, and undertake research projects, presenting their assessment results as evidence. Alternatively the student could provide evidence of prior study, or work experience. 

This approach is routinely used in VET, but is challenging for university academics, as they are not trained in how to assess in this way. Also university assessment is primarily designed to select students for advanced research work, with very finely graduated marking systems. VET mostly assesses students as "Competent" or "Not yet competent", with anything beyond competent being a waste of effort.


Worthington, Tom. (2018, March). Educating the Future Workforce, Submission 145, Inquiry into the impact of technological and other change on the future of work and workers in Australia, Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, Australian Parliament. URL

Friday, September 6, 2019

Supply of technology workers in Australia

The Australian Computer Society, released the ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2019 report yesterday. This is an overview of the digital economy, workforce and current policy environment, by Deloitte Access Economics. Of particular interest to educators is the section on Supply of technology workers in Australia (p. 10). The report concludes "The highest policy priority for the digital economy is skills development." and suggests "... we need more people to consider moving from other occupations to take one of the additional 100,000 jobs that will be created in technology by 2024...". This is good news for those of us involved in IT education.

One way to retrain is by applying vocational and online educational techniques, flipped, blended, and peer assessed.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Teaching and Learning at Australia's Newest University College

Greetings from the the Australian Nation University in Canberra, where the  CASS Teaching and Learning Day, just started. The theme is student engagement, with  interactive learning strategies and technologies. The event is being held on the "super-floor" at the top of the Marie Reay Teaching Centre. I will be using this for large format workshops later in the semester.

The keynote is by Professor Maria Northcote, Director of Higher Research Degrees at Avondale College of Higher Education. Beforehand, Maria mentioned she reads this blog, so I thought I should blog. Professor Northcote started by saying she was a constructivist in educational terms. Yesterday TEQSA approved Avondale to be an Australian University College (one step down from being a university).

Professor Northcote raised the topic of student involvement in educational design. She proposed to go beyond simply asking for feedback after the course, to negotiate what should be in it, beforehand. Also Professor Northcote discussed having advanced students teaching.

One research project Professor Northcote  described was "But when do I get my mark?".  With this the students were given qualitative feedback on their assignments, but then there was a delay before they got the mark. The idea was to get them to focus on the feedback, but in line with the title of the work, this was frustrating for the students. What surprised me was that there was no step built into the process to at least justify the delay. An obvious step would be to allow the students to revise their work, based on the feedback, before they get their mark. That would give them a positive reason for the delay.

Professor Northcote  recommended the book "Visible Learning for Teachers"  by John Hattie (2012).

Coming up are:

11.00am – 1pm: Designing Interactive Learning Space – MARKETPLACE (Morning Tea through Lunch)

5 stations:
Station 1Flexible Studio Recording and Green Screen: Tips & Practices
Station 2How to Design Interactive Learning Contents using H5P
Station 3Virtual Reality in Education
Station 4Examples of good Wattle pages
Station 5Examples of Successful Innovation in Teaching at the College of Arts and Social Sciences
1pm – 3pm: Principles and Examples of Student Engagement
3 speakers:
  • Mr Eamonn McNamara, (School of History) – 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Tutoring or Demonstrating
  • Dr Kate Flaherty, (School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics) – 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence
  • Dr Kim Cunio, (School of Music) – Advocate of emerging cultures, indigenous Australians and women

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Dark Cockpit Approach to Online Learning

There is a risk with online leaning that the student will become overwhelmed with information and so miss critical messages from their instructor. Aircraft pilots experience a similar problem, overloaded with information from the panels of instruments around them. The Dark Cockpit philosophy was developed to address this:
“... dark cockpit philosophy which minimizes distracting annunciation for pilots, i.e. only abnormal or transition states are visible. So, the normal parameters of the engine
during flight do not light up any interface lights.”  (Jambon, Girard & Aït-Ameur, p.5, 2001).
Applying the Dark Cockpit philosophy to e-learning, the student should only get a message or other indicator, when there is something they need to do, or to confirm something they did (such as submit an assessment task).

In the notes for instructors in my Learning to Reflect module, I suggest the Instructor seeds the online discussion forums with questions and then leave the students to discuss it. Too many times I see instructors stifling student discussion by continually interrupting, correcting students. It seems at times this is due to insecurity: the instructor wants to show they know more that the student. Also it may be due to a lack of training in how to teach: the only way the tutor know to teach is by telling the student.

In contrast, I suggest the instructor issue “nudges” occasionally to the groups, or individual students, where there appears to be a problem.

Does anyone else do this?


Jambon, F., Girard, P., & Aït-Ameur, Y. (2001, May). Interactive System Safety and Usability enforced with the development process. In IFIP International Conference on Engineering for Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 39-55). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. URL

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Global Urban Sustainability Science

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Felix Creutzig from Technical University Berlin is speaking on "Data-scientific approaches for a global urban sustainability science". This is very relevant to Australia, where, we have rapid unplanned growth of cities.

Professor Creutzig began by pointing out that cities are growing, and a large proportion of their carbon emissions are from building the cities. He then pointed out the New York City Green New Deal (OneNYC 2050). However, Professor Creutzig pointed out that most cities are too small to employ specialists to work on such strategies. Studies carried out by researchers, he argued,  tend to be on a large scale, without the fine scale specifics to be of practical use, while small local studies do not have the needed scale. We then got the pitch on how "typologies" with machine learning could be used to fill the gap.

Professor Creutzig started with some simple statistical analysis of cities characteristics. He the introduced a simple topology of cities, by characteristics features such as energy use, GDP, and population density. What I found odd was that the data analysis for this was carried out using published case studies, not actual data from the cities. It worried me this did not seem to e "big data" or machine learning, just a conventional meta-analysis. Also this has built in the biases of whoever collected the data, as to what they though important about cities. Researchers and statistical agencies collect data based on existing theories of cities.

What "big data" and machine learning now offers is the opportunity to use much more fine grained data. I thought Professor Creutzigwas going to go on to discuss this. But instead he talked about an analysis of papers on the use of machine learning applied to climate change mitigation. This might be of some use for someone who was considering setting out to apply AI to urban planning. However, it is not actually applying AI to urban sustainability.

Professor Creutzig has published extensively on the topic.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Active Learning Classroom Designs

Thirty Seat Classroom at
Anteater Learning Pavilion.
Image by UC Irvine.
UC Irvine has an excellent video about their Anteater Learning Pavilion, built last year. They have a mix of room designs, the smaller having more movable furniture. The smallest rooms have tablet-arm chairs on casters, which can be moved by the students. The medium size rooms having tables on casters, but tethered by power and A/V cables to the floor. The largest room has seats fixed to the floor.

250 Seat Lecture Hall at
Anteater Learning Pavilion.
Image by
UC Irvine.

I like the smaller room designs. However, the 250 seat "Lecture Hall" looks to me an uncomfortable compromise between a conventional lecture theater and an active teaching space. I suggest two separate rooms would be better: one with a flat floor for active learning and one with stepped theater seating for conventional lectures. This would make better use of space, and each learning mode would be better accommodated.

The Australian National University went a step further, and built two separate buildings, one with theater seating for lectures (the Culture and Events Building), and one with flat floors for active learning (the Marie Reay Teaching Centre). Some of the lecture theatres in the Culture and Events Building also have retractable seating to provide very flat floor spaces. I have used the Marie Reay building for large student workshops.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Risks to Australian Universities from China Student Boom

Salvatore Babones (2019) has produced a detailed 44 page analysis of the risks to Australian universities from over-reliance on funding from Chinese students. The language used is alarmist: "... multi-billion dollar gamble with taxpayer money to pursue a high-risk, high-reward international growth strategy ...". Australian universities have a high proportion of international students from one source, however I suggest this does not necessarily translate into a financial risk.

The report focuses on seven universities: Melbourne, ANU*, Sydney, UNSW, UTS, Adelaide and UQ. Babones points out that China is the largest source of inbound international students, making up more than half. These make up 13%  to 22-23% of student fees for the universities.

Australian universities have a high proportion of international students from one source. However, a point the report does not emphasize is that much of the cost of teaching students is variable: as the revenue from students drops, so does the cost of teaching them. This reduces the financial risk to the university.

While Australian universities have a high proportion of international students in comparison with other countries, they still only make up 25% of the student population (with half from China). So if students from China were to cease, this would only reduce overall student numbers by 12.5%. That would be a serious concern for some areas of universities, particularly business studies, but not a risk to  institutions overall. There would be some excess teaching space, however, these are currently undergoing reconfiguration and replacement, as lectures are replaced with flexible learning.

I suggest a larger concern for universities should be the changes taking place in the way education is provided, and what forms of qualifications will be demanded by the workplace. Universities have argued that there is a synergy between their education and research roles. This was always a questionable link, as researchers do not necessarily make good teachers. Also the shift to online education places at risk university's business model. The demand for smaller, even micro, credentials, also presents a challenge for universities.

Universities, and university educators, are not just sitting back waiting for disaster. They are actively changing the way Australian university education is provided. As someone who designs courses for, and teaches, international students.


Babones, Salvatore. The China Student Boom and the Risks It Poses to Australian Universities, Analysis Paper 5, , Sydney, Centre for Independent Studies, August 2019

Monday, August 19, 2019

Digital Learning For Behavioural Change

I was skeptical, and slightly worried, by the title of Haymarket HQ's talk last Friday: "The Future of Digital Learning to Drive Behavioural Change" by So-Young Kang, Founder of Gnowbe. Haymarket HQ is a start-up center in Sydney's Chinatown, specializing in helping Australian businesses expand into China. But the behavioral change So-Young talked about was not some sort of Orwellian brainwashing, but helping people get ready for new jobs.

So-Young emphasized a mobile first approach to online learning, rather than mobile responsive. The latter is for on-line delivery to desktop computers, but uses features in web technology to ensure the display is adjusted if the student has a mobile device. With real mobile-first, the screen display, the content, and the course, is designed with mobile devices in mind. This requires much smaller units of learning.

With my course design I started with desktop orientation, about ten years ago, and started incorporating more mobile features using responsive design over the last five years. I now assume the student will study the material on a mobile device, do the quizzes and forum interaction, but still use a desktop computer for the major written assignments.

So-Young talked of both businesses and universities using Gnowbe products for staff and students. What was most interesting was using this for people skills. Academics and teachers could look at some of these techniques. What is yet to be explored in detail is how this will fit with conventional post-secondary learning. Are VET and university qualifications to be replaced by micro-learning? I suspect not, but it may be supplemented, or supported by this.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cyber security Mentoring Program

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), where ACT Minister, Mick Gentleman, just launched the OKRDY Cyber Edition Mentoring Program. An online system will match people with cyber security experience (mentors), with those could benefit from it (mentees). Added to the usual difficulty of matching people, is the needed to considered security clearances.

"A Canberra-based cyber security mentoring program helping local students connect with cyber professionals, organisations and government. OK RDY Cyber Edition is NOT simply a once off event, but a program of activities across, panels, mentorship matching, employer tours, social media and much more.

Our goal is to foster Canberra’s local cyber ecosystem, demystify cyber careers and help employers identify emerging cyber talent. This activity will develop a pipeline of job-ready cyber graduates in Canberra and collectively help to achieve greater employability, diversity and cultural outcomes for the cyber industry."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Learning to Reflect Module Version 2.0

I have updated my "Learning to Reflect" learning module for the ANU TechLauncher program this semester. The students are guided in how to prepare a job application. In the process they learn long term professional skills to identify their development needs, how they will acquire these and to reflect on what they have learned. The materials are available under a creative commons license for modification and reuse.


The notes and videos contain content intended for instructors, as well as students, to be used in conjunction with online exercises, and face-to-face workshops. Students will be prompted by the Moodle Learning Management System, as to which parts to read, and when to read them.

1. Learn

In this first of two parts, you will investigate what you need to learn for your project, and long term for your career. In scope here, are both technical skills and also professional and teamwork skills. The aim is to prepare you to be a professional in your field, which includes the ability to take charge and responsibility for your future professional development.

2. Report and reflect

In this second and last part, you will reflect on what you have learned. The assignment task is to select a real position to prepare an application cover letter for, and revise the responses to selection criteria prepared in assignment 1.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Vocational Education as an Alternative to University

The Grattan Institute has released a report which suggests vocational education and training (VET), as an alternative to university, for  students with low school results. Research by Norton, Cherastidtham, and Mackey (2019), suggest that, for those with a low low-ATAR, VET produces higher lifetime incomes than university, particularly for males.

The authors views on female education perhaps may be more controversial. They point out that engineering occupations are male-dominated. They then seem to suggest that women would be better off sticking to traditional female occupations of  teaching and nursing. In terms of public policy, I suggest we need to be changing this situation and not reinforcing existing discrimination through education policy.


Norton, A., Cherastidtham, I., and Mackey, W. (2019).
Risks and rewards: when is vocational education a good alternative to higher education?. Grattan Institute.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Australia Pacific Security College

Hon Marise Payne,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs, announced the creation of an Australia Pacific Security College (APSC), 10 August. This will be established with the Australian National University, to "deliver strategic security and leadership training to Pacific security agencies".

An APSC Design Summary is available. It is envisaged the APSC activities could include "... workshops, seminars, courses, secondments and online resources...". I suggest that this could be flipped, to make online resources the priority. The Pacific is a big place*, and the students will learn better if they spend most of their time at work, in their own country, studying online. They can keep in touch with their teachers, and peers in other countries, in online forums. There are well established processes for doing this.

Tom Worthington speaking on e-learning in Colombo
One outcome expected of the APSC is an "... active network of security officials across the region ...". This network, I suggest, could be supported by a secure online network, linking the staff, students, and alumnus. Given the ANU has already been the victim of a data breach, the APSC will make a tempting target, so additional measures, such as two factor authentication, might be used.

* In 2005 I conducted a five day workshop in Samoa for staff from museums around the South Pacific region, on the use of computer and telecommunications technologies. I spent most of a day traveling to Apia, but due to the International Dateline, I arrived shortly before I left. ;-)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Australian Governments Agree to Reform Vocational Education

Representatives of Australia's federal, state and territory governments issued a Communique yesterday committing to work to reform Vocational Education and Training (VET). This claimed that "VET and higher education are equal and integral parts of Australia’s post-secondary education system". Unfortunately that has not been the policy or practice of Australian governments. The Federal government mismanaged VET funding, allowing rorting by private training providers, while while state governments starved their TAFEs for funding. A new COAG Skills Council will provide a reform roadmap "in early 2020". The same meeting also discussed boosting infrastructure. A major impediment to this is enough skilled labor, trained by the VET sector.
"A vision for skills in Australia

A strong Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is critical for our economy and ensuring Australians are equipped for the workforce now and in the future. Leaders agreed to a shared vision for VET delivering high quality education and training that meets the needs of students and employers. VET and higher education are equal and integral parts of Australia’s post-secondary education system. The Commonwealth and states and territories will work together to deliver a system which helps all Australians – for those getting first qualifications or re-training – get the skills they need for employment. Skills ministers will work together through a new COAG Skills Council, in consultation with education ministers, to advise leaders on future reform priorities by the end of 2019 and provide a reform roadmap to COAG in early 2020."

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Potential Improvements and Rorts With New Australian University Performance Measures

Dan Tehan, the Australian Federal Minister for Education, has announced that funding to universities will be "performance-based". Measures will be: graduate employment, first-year student completion rate, student satisfaction with teaching quality, plus participation of Indigenous, low socio-economic status, and regional and remote students. This provides opportunities for better teaching, but also a risk of rorts.

There was a review process, and the final report is available. I was surprised with the relatively mild response from Vice-chancellors, who met with the minister.

What might have worried the VCs was that the Minister said the "core business" of universities was "producing job-ready graduates with the skills to succeed in the modern economy". That is more the job of the vocational sector, including TAFEs. Universities have a far wider, long term role, even if just considering narrow economic outcomes. Universities produce inventions, and experts to implement them, but this process can take a decade, or more. Financial incentives which encourage universities to take a short term view could stop the flow of inventions and highly skilled people, stalling the economy.

Example of for Better Teaching

Having new funding linked metrics could provide an incentive for universities to use better teaching techniques. As an example, last year I designed a learning module to teach students to reflect on their learning, by having them write a job application. I ran this last semester for ANU Master of Computing international students. The module uses the full range of scaffolded m-learning, blended, flipped, peer assessed, group techniques I have been learning over the last six years, as a student of education.

This module was well received by the students, and is being run for all computer science students this semester in the ANU TechLauncher program. These students will have a better chance of getting a job as they will have been formally trained in looking for jobs and have had their application peer reviewed. The learning module is available under a Creative Commons license for free reuse.

The first-year student completion rate can be improved by better scaffolding of the education, project based group work, and a blend of online and classroom education. These techniques are well known, and I explored some in my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education".

Opportunities for Better Student Performance

Student satisfaction with teaching quality can similarly be improved with better teaching techniques, and in particular with better assessment. But the best way to improve the student experience, I suggest,  is to employ trained, qualified educators. Academics will not willingly undertake teacher training and certification. One way around this is to incorporate the training in vocational degrees. Rather than treat teaching as an afterthought which an academic halfheartedly picks up after their formal education, make it part of the training of all professionals in their degrees.

Participation of Indigenous, low socio-economic status, and regional and remote students can be assisted with wider access to online education. This allows those with cultural, family, or work commitments to study without moving to a city. Also the rigorous design process required for online courses produces better courses, which can take into account the needs of non-traditional students. During my MEd studies I explored how to provide e-learning for high quality education.

One difficulty with online education is that it may not do well with the new metrics.  Online students take longer to complete and drop out at a higher rate. This is not due to any inherent problem with the teaching format, but because these courses attract students who are excluded from campus programs. The same factors which stop them attending on campus also result in lower, slower, completion rates.

Improved Teaching Techniques But Potential Gaming of New Metrics

New teaching techniques can improve completion rates and job outcomes. However, these may also be misused to game the system and manipulate the metrics for financial gain by unscrupulous operators. Coming up with reliable measures to base funding on will take considerable effort. The rorting of the vocational funding system shows how inventive people and organizations can be when it comes to exploiting an education funding system. Some obvious examples of how the new measures could be gamed:
  1. Graduate employment: The best students to have for vocationally oriented programs are those who already have a job, or have relevant work experience. Some educational programs require this, as an essential part of work integrated learning (and some professional bodies require it as part of degree accreditation). Due to the difficulty of finding suitable jobs for students, some universities have set up their own consulting companies to employ the students. However, these measures could be misused to make the employment statistics of look better.
  2. First-year student completion rate: Students who have already successfully completed a sub-degree program are much more likely to complete their degree. This can be done, by having students undertake a certificate, or diploma at a vocational education institution, in some cases associated with the university. Those students then get degree credit for their VET studies.  Similarly, universities can offer credit for completion of low cost cost online "MOOC" courses. Another approach is to enroll the students in nested program, where they get a sub-degree qualification first. These are all good ways to improve student outcome, but can be misused to game the statistics. Students enrolled at VET, in online MOOCs, and sub-degree programs do not don't count in the university degree statistics, so those who drop out are not counted.
  3. Student satisfaction with teaching quality: Progressive assessment, where the student is given small tests through their course, provide better feedback.  This allows students who are not succeeding at a subject to withdraw early, and focus on other studies. I use this approach routinely in courses, and the students like seeing how they are doing. However, this might be used to make the student satisfaction scores look better. Students who fail a course tend to give lower satisfaction scores. However, with progressive assessment, students withdraw before the end of the course. These students are not recorded as a fail, which is good, but also they do not get to fill in the student feedback survey, as it is administered at the end of the course, after they have withdrawn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Learning to Reflect Videos

Having revised the "Learning to Reflect" module notes for ANU TechLauncher students, it was time to revise the video. This is a time-consuming and exacting process, even for someone with training in video production.

Last semester I produced this by first making a slideshow presentation, which was also used live in the classroom. I prepared a script based on what was in the module notes, rearranged to match the sequence in the video. I then turned each slide into an image, and the script into synthetic speech. The slides and audio were then imported into a video editing package and timed to match the audio. The results were not perfect, but like Samuel Johnson's piano playing dog: "It's not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."  ;-)

This time I decided to try Content Samurai, after it was demonstrated at PitchEd NSW. This is a web based tool which takes a script, and searches for suitable video clips, or still images,  based on the key phrases. The service will then turn the script into synthetic speech timed to the video. This process works remarkably well. The Australian accented male voice provided is much better than those I have used previously. I did have to slow down the narration to 80% of full speed, and lower the volume of the background music to 5%.

After some experimentation I found I could set the system to add a new scene for each paragraph in the script. I could then hide the text, otherwise it would put it as a caption on screen. Also I could upload my slides in place of some of the auto suggested clips. This way my slides are interspersed with the suggested filler scenes.

Here is what the video looks like generated by automatically, with the defaults (video selected from keywords, scene transitions, animated text). This version was not usable:

I then changed the settings, to use only still images, and have one per paragraph, with no animation, or scene transitions:

One problem was that rendering was very slow (but video rendering is always slow). I found it could be faster by using still images, rather than video clips. The rendering took about six minutes for a six minute video. Also I created a plain black template for the slides, with no shaded pattern.

One option I would like is to reduce the bit-rate of the audio. For an educational video you need only low quality mono sound.

One tip is to set your slide maker (I use LibreOffice) for 16:9 format slides, to match a modern widescreen TV. Then generate the slides images at the resolution required. Full HD TV is 1,920x1,080. Content Samurai produced the lower resolution 1,280x720HD TV format typically used for broadcast TV, but down sampled my higher resolution slides very cleanly.

I could not find a way to prepare closed captions within Content Samurai, so I uploaded the video to YouTube, and then downloaded the VTT file it produced. I then uploaded this to the Moodle website, for the students.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Square One Coworking Space at ANU

The Australian National University has announced "ANU Square One",  a coworking space for "student entrepreneurs working on projects, startups or freelancing". There will be a launch at 5pm, 21 August 2019. Students can apply now to be "onsite" members. As an ANU alumnus, I have applied to be an "off-site" member, to work on the "Async-Sync Learning System".

Thursday, August 1, 2019

InnovationACT 2019 Team Hunt Tuesday

InnovationACT 2019 starts Tuesday in Canberra, with a Team Hunt. This is a ten-week entrepreneurship program, for teams of two to five ANU students (plus a possible "Wildcard entry"). Teams can work on social enterprises, or for-profit ideas.  Teams can share from $50,000 in grants,to develop their idea. I have mentored several successful teams in the past (including "OK RDY"), and volunteered again this year.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Free Teaching and Learning Day at ANU 3 Sep

The ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences (CASS) is holding a Teaching and Learning Day, in Canberra, 3 September 2019 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. This is free and open to anyone interested in higher education (not just ANU staff). The theme is student engagement, with  interactive learning strategies and technologies.

PROGRAM 9.00am – 9.30am: Registration
9.30am – 11.00am:
  • Welcome Address – Professor Rae Frances, Dean of College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), ANU
  • Opening - Professor Grady Venville, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), ANU
  • Keynote - Professor Maria Northcote, Director of Higher Research Degrees at Avondale College of Higher Education
11.00am – 1pm: Designing Interactive Learning Space – MARKETPLACE (Morning Tea through Lunch)
5 stations:
Station 1Flexible Studio Recording and Green Screen: Tips & Practices
Station 2How to Design Interactive Learning Contents using H5P
Station 3Virtual Reality in Education
Station 4Examples of good Wattle pages
Station 5Examples of Successful Innovation in Teaching at the College of Arts and Social Sciences

1pm – 3pm: Principles and Examples of Student Engagement
3 speakers:
  • Mr Eamonn McNamara, (School of History) – 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Tutoring or Demonstrating
  • Dr Kate Flaherty, (School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics) – 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence
  • Dr Kim Cunio, (School of Music) – Advocate of emerging cultures, indigenous Australians and women

Friday, July 26, 2019

Canberra Teaching Renewable Energy to India

Greetings from the ACT Renewables Showcase, at the Renewables Innovation Hub in  Canberra. The ACT Chief Minister is closing the event. He mentioned that the ACT will achieve 100% Renewable Energy in next year. However, as the population is increasing, the energy consumption will increase. The government will be looking at transport and buildings energy reduction. 
The Chief Minister mentioned he will be showicasing Canberra's expertise in renewable energy to India, at an upcoming visit. Earlier in the day I facilitated a workshop on "How Green is My Computer?". This was a taster for the course I designed on ICT Sustainability, run by the Australian National University. Many of my students are already from India, and the course is run online, so there is scope for more providing of such training.

High-Performance-Desktop-Replacement-Slim-Laptop by cmccarthy8  cc-by-sa nicubunu acquired from OCAL (Website) CC0 1.0
Computers > electricity > fossil fuel > CO2 > global warming.

This is an exercise from the short version, of the award winning university course "ICT Sustainability". Commissioned by the Australian Computer Society. The course has also been offered by the Australian National University, and Athabasca University (Canada).

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Risks of University for Low SES Young People

Associate Professor Maria Raciti,
University of the Sunshine Coast)
Secondary school students from low SES backgrounds, and the parents, have been found to be more risk averse than their peers in deciding if they should go to university (Raciti, 2019). This was based on a national survey of more than a thousand people. While this result is well researched, I don't agree with the researchers recommendations for changing these student's minds about attending university. The student's fears are well founded. Convincing students to attend university, rather than undertake vocational education and training (VET), may not only be against the interest of those individual students, but also costing the community more, and harming the Australian economy.

The risks from attending university for low SES students are very real, and not going to university straight out of school is a rational choice. Rather than try to convince students to make the risky choice of university first, I suggest we need to change the educational system to support students, regardless of SES status, to all consider vocational education before university. This is a much safer option for low SES students. Students who choose VET first are making a smaller investment in education, in terms of time and money, with more secure employment prospects. These students can attend university later, for further qualifications. This approach benefits not just low SES students, as older more mature people, with work experience, make better university students.

At present, VET is considered a poor second choice: what those who can't get into university do.  That could be changed by promoting integrated VET studies in schools, and by fixing the current broken VET funding model. Government funding can also be changed to encourage universities to better integrate with VET.

The ten risks for students identified in Professor Raciti's  study were:
  1. Functional and future work risk 
  2. Financial and resource risk
  3. Psychological risk
  4. Social risk
  5. Time-loss risk
  6. Physical and wellbeing risk
  7. Social class identity risk
  8. Opportunity cost
  9. Competency risk
  10. Overall risk
As someone from a low SES background, and a first in family university generation, I can identify with those risks.


Raciti M. M. (2019). Career Construction, Future Work and the Perceived Risks of Going to University for Young People from low SES Backgrounds: Research Fellowship Final Report, Perth: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

Coal transition: power sector, regional adjustment and policy

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the Coal transition: power sector, regional adjustment and policy conference just opened. The chair pointed out that while a transition from coal to renewable energy was happening in Australia, to create a major export industry, but that the politics of regional development and employment needed to be taken into account.

The chair just invoked the Chatham House rule, so I can tell you what the speakers say, but not who says it. I have been to industry events on regional defence strategy under the rule, so military and government personnel could speak freely, but this is unusual for an academic conference.

The first speaker talked about Germany's transition out of coal, with the last mine closed. However, Germany imports coal, including from Australia, as it has the EU's largest proportion of coal fired electricity generation. It is planned to phase it out by 2038. While the speaker said Germany had phased on coal, then then said that  Lignite is still mined. The form of poor quality brown coal is mined in the former East Germany, where there is high unemployment. Some of the newer coal fired power stations in Germany have a lifetime out to beyond 2060, so closing them by 2038 will require government intervention (by regulation or a auction mechanism).

The speaker pointed out that Germany was the only European country aiming to phase out coal, without use of nuclear power. This creates a problem of how to provide continuity of supply when there is limited sun and wind. An extreme form of this is Nuclear Winter, mentioned by Professor  Schmidt, Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, last Thursday, when in introducing the energy entrepreneur  Dr Lachlan Backhall.  Professor  Schmidt suggested that nuclear power might be needed during a nuclear winter. Dr Blackhall seemed taken aback at the suggestion, and quipped he was delighted Professor  Schmidt thought humanity could survive a nuclear winter.

The next speaker this morning  outlined the use of coal for power generation in Australia. They described any new coal power station in Australia as a "white elephant", with renewables quickly supplanting coal. With no new coal fired power investment the question is when the existing plants will be economically non-viable. Exiting plants are earning good returns for their owners, due to market power, however, many could be uneconomic by the end of the 2020s. The problem is the sudden closure of a few large plants will cause price spokes benefiting the few remaining plants, and requiring expensive government intervention.  The speaker proposed an auction based mechanism for orderly exit from coal. They derided the idea that a three year notice by plant owners was sufficient, as it takes many more years to provide a replacement.

The third speaker focused on what would be needed for the transition from coal in Victoria. This included a complex map showing the main energy generation plants and inter-connectors. This was a very matter-of-fact presentation, planning the transition, within the limitations of only a three year notice from coal fired power station owners. They point out that just planning new faculties could take five years, before construction started. An additional problem is that old power stations become unreliable, long before they are closed, and this also needs to be planned for. What was proposed was forward planning in anticipation of closure. What I found interesting was that the discussion was limited to the planning of the transmission networks, with the provision of actual generating capacity left to the market. One issue they are addressing is the 14 days capacity needed to complement renewable energy. Their analysis was that if there is more than a 20% chance of a major Victorian power station closing early, it would be worth building an extra in-connection early. However, they were still not planning actual generating capacity.

The next speaker suggested that rooftop solar was being installed at such a rate, it would allow earlier closure of coal fired power stations. It is hard to imagine that householders installing a few panels on their roof can replace a huge power station, but Australia leads the world with home solar power. This is being complemented by construction of wind farms, many of which are being built as private company initiatives, so their full impact has not been apparent. This is a very positive picture, especially for governments, which would need to do little except see that a network was in place to carry the power. The last part of the puzzle was storage needed for when the wind is not blowing or sun shining.

The last speaker discussed coal jobs and the transition to renewable. They first pointed out that coal mining jobs are very different to work in power stations. Government policy had mostly addressed power station jobs, not coal mining, and the speaker questioned the viability of this. Job statistics conflict as to the trend of jobs in coal mining, but it is clear that coal mining is not a major employer. Coal miners are younger than power station workers ("They are aging with their plant"). About half of coal miners are low skill machinery operators, whereas power station workers are more highly skilled, making them more employable. The experience of other countries is that only about one third of redundant coal miners get secure jobs, with a third becoming casual, and one third retiring. The Australian experience from the Hazelwood closure, which had government funding, showed a similar pattern.

Statistics for renewable energy employment are less clear, but it appears half the jobs are in roof top solar installation. Employment per kwh of energy are lower than for coal. The low skill proportion of jobs is similar to coal mining (for installers, rather than machine operators). Large scale wind projects tend to be more distributed than coal mining, and not in the same locations. What the speaker did not discuss was that most of the jobs for renewable energy are installation. Once a solar panel or wind turbine is installed, not much maintenance is needed over the decades of life. Of course this also increasing applying to a coal mine, where after construction the mines are increasingly automated, and operated remote from the mine site.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Does Attendance Matter for Student Achievement?

Attendance matters from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
A report from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is entitled "Attendance matters". However, the have failed to address the useful role which online education can play, particularly for older students.

The report notes a strong correlation between attendance and student achievement. However, as they teach you in research 101, a correlation does not prove a causal relationship. The report discusses factors influencing
attendance, such as being the victim of bullying, parents who do not value education, poverty, geographical isolation, lack of affordable transport and limited school options. However, all of these could directly negatively effect both a student's academic achievements and their ability to attend school. Non-attendance may be just a symptom of the problems the student has, and addressing that in isolation may not be a solution, or even be detrimental.

Addressing these factors will likely improve both attendance and academic results, but there may be better ways to invest limited resources. Also some ways to address attendance may have negative social effects. As an example, one way to improve attendance for remote students is with boarding schools, but these can have negative effects, especially for indigenous students taken out of their community.

I suggest that it is likely the older the student, the less attendance matters. As an extreme case, I never saw the campuses of the last two universities I "attended". One university was 1,000 km away, the other 13,000 km away on the other side of the planet. Despite this, I received a very good education.

Students who are unable to "attend" school can have at least some studies undertaken remotely online. This may be preferable to removing them from their community for extended periods, or where they are unable, or unwilling to be in a conventional school environment.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Teaching Computer Professionals to Teach with Educational Technology

For some years I have been considering the question of how to improve the quality of teaching at universities. One obvious way is to have academics who teach trained and qualified to do so. However, the business model of university is to attract students, and funding, based on the quality of their research. Students will select a university to study at based largely on a reputation which comes from research, even though this has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching. As a result, there is a strong incentive for universities to select and promote staff based on their research record.

Having recruited a staff member based on their research, it is very difficult to get them to study how to teach. The academic knows that they will be promoted based on the research they do. Regardless of the quality of education they provide, students will enroll. However, those same staff then have a frustrating time teaching students, because it is a skill they did not acquire during their undergraduate degree, where they learned the basics of their discipline, or in postgraduate studied, where they learned research techniques.

Universities offer academic staff short courses, and various fellowship schemes, in an attempt to improve the quality of education, and also to be seen to be doing something. However, this is frustrating for all concerned. I have been through many of these training courses and programs.

One solution I suggest is to incorporate training into degree education, before academics graduate, are appointed and become fixated on research. It can be argued that teaching is an integral part of any professional's job.

To make this training more relevant, it can be tailored to the needs and opportunities of the discipline. As an example, computer professionals can help provide education using computers and networks (so called Educational Technology, or EdTech).

Emphasizing the technical aspects of teaching will make the topic more palatable to computing students, and also make the topic more acceptable to those who approve degree courses. Such a course can make use of whatever short training courses, or work experience through tutoring, or edtech support work is available.

This approach could turn teacher training from something graduates are reluctant to do, even when they are paid to do it, into something students will pay for.

Previously I used this approach in a reflective learning module. Students were required to write a job application as a course assignment. While they were offered training materials, workshops and individual one-on-one help by a specialist careers unit of the university, they were reluctant to use these services. As a result they produced poor job applications. However, when the same materials, workshops and staff were integrated into the formal course, students engaged. The same approach should work for teaching and edtech.

3Ai Masters 2020 Program Open

Applications are open for the 3Ai Masters 2020 program. This is at the  Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Innovation Institute (3Ai), set up by Professor Genevieve Bell, at the Australian National University in Canberra. Exactly what the Institute does it a bit hard to explain. They say "... we are building the knowledge and tools needed to ensure that as technology advances, humanity advances with it ...".

I have had the pleasure of sitting in the ANU Computer Science and Information Technology common room with the first cohort of students. They are a diverse and interesting collection of people. Some are hard core computer nerds, but with a wide range of interests.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reflecting on Reflecting on Teaching

Greetings from the Australian National University where I am attending a workshop on "(Re)Valuing teaching philosophy statements in changing times", with Dieter J. Schönwetter. This was organized by Deborah Veness, for the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), plus staff from ANU Training and Development Providers, and universities across Canberra.

This is one of many workshops, seminars and formal courses I have undertaken to try to learn to write a personal teaching philosophy statement. One useful question in this workshop is:
"Why develop a personal teaching philosophy statement?"
I have had to write these statement for an education course, for the HERDAS Fellowship (unsuccessfully), an MEd, and the Higher Educaiton Academy.
One thing a teaching philosophy statement is not, is a substitute for teacher training.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Qualifications of Australian Government Contractors will be Checked as Part of Security Procedures

Today I went along to a presentation at the Department of Defence about the new Defence Industry Security Program (DISP). Previously, companies and contract staff had to have a Defence contract to get a security clearance, but it was difficult to get a contract without a clearance. The new procedures allow a company to apply for DISP membership, and then tender for contracts. The company can then appoint their own Security Officer, to nominate staff for security clearances. That all makes sense, but one curious side effect is that companies will also have to check the qualifications of staff. This may require universities to improve the certification service they provide. An easily faked paper certificate will likely not be sufficient.

As well as private companies, universities can apply for DISP membership. There are four levels of membership (Entry, 1, 2, 3) and four categories (Governance, Personal Security, Physical Security, Information & Cyber Security), making a sixteen cell matrix.

Friday, July 12, 2019

How Green is My Computer? 26 July Canberra

I will be facilitating a workshop on "How Green is My Computer?", at the ACT Renewables Showcase, 10:30am, 26 July. This is at the Renewables Innovation Hub in  Canberra. Participants will estimate energy use, and carbon emissions, caused by a typical laptop computer.

High-Performance-Desktop-Replacement-Slim-Laptop by cmccarthy8  cc-by-sa nicubunu acquired from OCAL (Website) CC0 1.0
Computers > electricity > fossil fuel > CO2 > global warming.

This is an exercise from the short version, of the award winning university course "ICT Sustainability". Commissioned by the Australian Computer Society. The course has also been offered by the Australian National University, and Athabasca University (Canada). I am a member of the ANU Energy Change Institute.

Tom Worthington presenting.
Photo courtesy of Walkiria Perez
General Manager, Entry 29

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Grid "duct-taped together" says ANU Entrepreneurial Fellow

Greetings from the Shine Dome at the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra, where Dr Lachlan Backhall is presenting the ANU Entrepreneurial Fellow Inaugural address. In introducing Lachlan, Professor  Schmidt,
the Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University recalled how he had sought advice on renewable energy for his farm. His battery/solar system can now provide power during a blackout, and provide a good financial return. The VC commented that this is a "dumb" solar system, and much more is possible with the smart energy technology Dr Backhall has championed.

In his address Dr Backhall pointed out that the introduction of electricity was heralded as a revolution in energy use, but was resisted by entrenched industry. Also towns in regional NSW from 1888 acted to provide their own electricity supply and this has parallels with today's micro-grids. Apart from regulatory issues, Dr Backhall suggested that communities need to work how how they can share energy storage facilities.

Dr Backhall also pointed out that almost all tramways in Australia had been electrified by the start of the twentieth century. At this time there were few cars, but one third were electric, with lead acid batteries. The short range of these cars was addressed with public charging facilities hand battery swap schemes. While electric cars declined in the 1920s, he suggested some of the business models from this era may have parallels today. He suggested by the 2020s electric cars will have displaced internal combustion engines. He also speculated that electric cars might be used to transport energy: charge at point point and then drive somewhere are discharge into the grid.

Dr Backhall mentioned that there was early debate as to when streetlights should be turned out, as people should be home in bed. He did not point out that streetlights were previously off five nights, each lunar month, when the full moon was bright enough to see by (da Cruz, 2013).

Dr Backhall concluded by describing our electrical system as "duct-taped together", and suggesting there were better engineered options including renewable energy. He also said "No one in their right mind would build a new coal fired power station in Australia today".

Monday, July 8, 2019

Education and big data in Australia

Writing in EduResearch Matters, Buchanan and McPherson (2019), discuss banning of smart phones in public schools, companies collecting data about students, data collection in schools for educational purposes, and the monitoring of individual students performance using learning management systems. However, the authors have conflated related, but separate topics.

Bans on student mobile devices are intended to reduce student distraction. This has nothing to do with collection of data about students. I suggest it would be better to teach students, particularly older students, how to use mobile devices responsibly, than banning them. I am old enough to have been shown how to make an emergency phone call at school: is that still done?

Data collection via social media, and mobile devices by corporations is an issue, but not one exclusively for teachers. What is a school issue is the use of corporate educational sites which are “free”, but collect student data for resale. Teachers should not use Apps which infringe their students privacy.

Extensive standardized testing of students predates the Internet, but is facilitated by it, as in the example of online NAPLAN. What needs to be remembered is collecting data is not in itself useful. Also there has been extensive research on how such testing can be harmful.

The propensity of school systems to measure students and try to put their behavior (not just their academic knowledge), on some sort of scale is facilitated by a greater ability to collect data. But then again there should be a good reason and evidence, this actually works.
If the data is not being collected for a good educational reason, then I suggest teachers have a professional responsibility not to collect it.

Like many AARE articles, this one portrays teachers as powerless employees required to carry out the instructions of their employers. I suggest teachers need to assert their professional status, and decide what is in the interests of their clients (the students), as all professionals are ethically required to do. Where data collection is not educationally justified, or is harmful, teachers have an ethical obligation not to collect that data. Teachers need to put in place guidelines, and then lobby collectively to have them adopted by school systems.


Buchanan, R., & McPherson, A. (2019). Teachers and learners in a time of big data. Journal of Philosophy in Schools, 6(1). URL

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Federal Capital University Proposed for Australia in 1910

At the Australian National University's Forum for early-and mid-career teachers and researchers yesterday, one of the speakers* mentioned that proposals for a Federal Capital University went back as far as the 1920s. This is supported by Davis (2013), but a quick web search showed it was actually in 1910 that the Minister responsible for what became Canberra, proposed a university:
Something of the nature of a university that "will lick creation" is promised by the Minister of Home Affairs (Mr. O Malley) at the Federal capital site. "We intend to have a real democratic university and an advanced university," said the Minister in reply to a question yesterday. "In my opinion the universities of Australia should be reconstructed on different lines. This university we are going to establish will be saturated with the same sympathetic spirit as is found in the advanced guard of Christian democracy today, it will cater principally for the people, not for the sons of boodlers."
    From "Federal Capital University", The Advertiser, page 13, 19 October 1910 (Trove Archive).
Apart from the reference to "Christian" democracy, much of what the Minister foresaw is still relevant to ANU today. This includes an emphasis on an "advanced university", but one "for the people", not the children of the wealthy ("Boodler" was a derogatory term for a rich person).

* I can't say who said this at the forum, as we were operating under the Chatham House Rule.


Davis, Glyn. The Australian idea of a university [online]. Meanjin, Vol. 72, No. 3, Spring 2013: 32-48. Availability: <;dn=640753171641857;res=IELLCC> ISSN: 0025-6293.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Latex: a heavy duty publishing tool for serious academic publishing

Last week I was finishing a paper for a computer education conference. This was using the Libre Office open source word processor. Suddenly I realized I was using the wrong tool, and changed to LaTex. This was not an easy change, even for some who had used Latex before (decades ago), but it was worthwhile.

The problem was that every time I made a small edit to my document, I had to tinker with the layout. Each time I added a reference I had to change the referencing list. In the past I made do with things by hand for APA references, but IEEE style references required renumbering each time. Over the years I had tried various bibliographic plugins, but none worked well with Libre Office.

In 1999 and 2000, I used Latex to produce two books: Net Traveler, and Universal service? (by Michael Bourk). LaTex is a tool developed for complex academic works. While Latex worked well for the books, it was cumbersome to use for small projects. Latex works a bit like writing web pages with HTML, or writing a computer program. You include commands in your text for the formatting and images. You then have to have this rendered to see what it looks like.

After a computer upgrade in the late 2000s, I did not bother reinstalling Latex. The next time I was preparing a book, this was done as a byproduct of a website. It was easier to import the HTML files into Open Office, and use that for the typesetting (Open Office, and its successor Libre Office can work directly with HTML files). There were not many references, so I did them manually.

I then spent about seven years as a graduate student. I had to write a lot of assignments, and a large e-portfolio. However, as this was in the social sciences (teaching), the APA format was used, which is easy enough to do with a word processor. My Masters capstone was a web based e-portfolio, so a conventional publishing system was not needed (although I did produce a book from this with Libre Office).

Decades years later, I was sitting in a tedious academic meeting, fiddling with my draft of a paper for a conference. I decided I should give Latex another go (my colleagues had been telling me this for decades). I looked at versions of Latex for Linux, but there were so many to choose from, this was too hard. So instead I tried a few of the web hosed implementations, and settled on Overleaf, which is free for casual users.

Overleaf, like many Latex systems, presents a text editor on one side of the screen, and shows your formatted document on the other. You edit the text, then push a button to see what it will look like. Learning Latex is a major undertaking, and it took me some hours to remember how to do it. However, once that was done, there were the delights of entering a reference in a bibliography file, and having it correctly formatted automatically, and entering a code to say put the figure at the top or bottom of the nearest column of text. Also it was a great relief to have my document pass the conference submission system's automated format checks at the first attempt.

Using Latex is as much about unlearning things, as learning them.  You need to forget about the fonts and where things go on the page, and let the software worry about that. This especially the case when preparing a paper for a conference. You load the conference template and fill in your text, letting the system do the details.