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.

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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Digital Credentials Initiative from EdEx Universites

A consortium of universities is proposing a common standard for  digital credentials for degrees, professional certificates and online course.  There have been many such proposals, but Delft, Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, and  University of Toronto, have a tack record in tech based education with EdEx, which might make this proposals more viable.

A digital credential could use public key infrastructure, public ledgers, and blockchain to be technically secure, but it also has to be accepted. Some years ago I was delighted to be issued with a digital certificate, for graduate studies by a leading Australian university. But when I applied to study in North America, the digital certificate was not accepted, and I had to pay to have a paper copy certified and sent by courier. This was all a bit silly, as I could have easily faked the paper certificate.

However, the biggest challenge for Australian universities which  take part in such standardized credential activities is how it cuts across their existing business model. Australian universities use their reputation for excellence, particularly in research, to attract students.  They also use degree programs to retain students. If students can shop around, selecting courses from different institutions, and selecting where to study based on the quality of the education offered, that will require Australian universities to change what they do.

It might be argued that the overall improvement in quality will be good for everyone: "a rising tide will lift all boats". But this might be more like a tsunami: smashing the unprepared. ;-)

Friday, June 28, 2019

Zoom Videoconferencing for Low Bandwidth Links

Turning off received video in Zoom
AARnet provide Zoom Video Conferencing to Australian universities, so I end up in a lot of such conferences. This works fine in my university office, with a high bandwidth connection, but not so well when I am out and about on a 4G wireless modem. Zoom lacks the bandwidth friendly features of other videoconferencing software, such as Blackboard Collaborate, but there are ways to make it more usable.

One option if you have a limited or unreliable Internet connection is to use a phone for audio. You can dial into the video conference, and use your phone for the audio, but use the Internet connection to see presentations, and text chat.

If you are presenting, then one approach I suggest is to have a picture of yourself on the first or second slide. This gives your audience something to look at if video is not working. Also you can email the slides to the organizer in advance and let them handle it. They can then send you control of the presentation, or it is not complex, and you are having Internet problems, let them changes the slides when you request it. This way you just need the audio working.

If you Internet connection is limited, you can minimize the Zoom video window, and hide the video. In a quick test I found this reduce data use to one tenth: from 1.5 Mbps, to about 150 Kbps. Most of the data traffic comes from displaying video of the norther participants on your screen.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Learning to Reflect Course Module Worked

This is the tenth of a series of posts, on how to provide students with help when preparing a reflective portfolio. A class of 78 graduate computing students completed the module, as part of ANU Techlauncher. The flipped, blended, peer assessed approach worked well, and produced outcomes comparable to conventional lectures with instructor assessed assignments. A copy of the updated course notes are available. I can also provide a Moodle backup file including all course materials, and quiz questions, to instructors.

ANU Marie Reay
Teaching Centre
In 2008 I decided to stop using lectures as part of university courses. I then spent 2009 to 2018 designing and delivering purely online courses. In February 2019 the Australian National University unveiled the Marie Reay Teaching Centre, a flexible teaching building. I was able to use the building to try out the approach of an online course supplemented with face to face workshops. This I suggest could be generally applied in higher education. I have submitted a paper on this to an international computer education conference.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Free Workshops on the Philosophy and Techniques of University Teaching in Canberra 16 July

The Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences is hosting two workshops for university teachers. These are by Dr. Dieter J. Schönwetter, University of Manitoba. Both are free and open to staff from any institution.

1. (Re)Valuing teaching philosophy statements in changing times

• Identify the purposes of a teaching philosophy statement and connect to new research findings on the holistic value of the statement
• Explore and construct the value of a teaching philosophy statement, and
• Collaboratively share ideas about the role of a teaching philosophy statement for teacher, learner, and institution

2. Teaching Techniques: engaging classroom activities

• Define theories of student engagement
• Apply theories of student engagement through teaching techniques
• List the various classroom activities that engage students

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Common Microcredential Framework Proposed by European MOOC Consortium

The European MOOC Consortium (EMC) has proposed a Common Microcredential Framework (CMF). This would allow for mutual recognition of small qualifications between institutions. These small qualifications are about the same amount of study as a typical university course (100 to 150 hours).

While funded by the European Commission, EMC is a consortium of online education providers, not a government agency. The CMF does not have any legal or regulatory status. However, the consortium has respected members, and the CMF may well be formally adopted, or operate successfully without legal backing.

The CMF is very different to NZ and Australian proposals for micro-credentials. The CMF is more aligned with degree programs, whereas ANZ micro-credential proposals are derived from vocational education and industry certifications.

CMF appears to be a way to recognize individual university courses. Students would study online, and undergo summative assessment, as they do now, but could be issued with a qualification after just one such course. At present, students in the EU, Australia, and much of the world, have to accumulate many courses before being awarded a qualification. Also the micro-credentials would be mutually recognized between institutions, whereas recognition of individual courses is currently limited.

The CMF is aligned with Level 6 and 7 in the European Qualification Framework. That is equivalent to a Bachelor Degree (level 7), or Masters Degree (level 8), in the Australian Qualifications Framework 9AQF).

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) recognized micro-credentials from tertiary education organizations in August 2018. The minimum NZ micro-credential is about 40 hours study, which is much smaller than the 100 hours of the CMF. Also the NZQA seems to have avoided equating their micro-credentials to any existing formal qualification. The NZ approach appears to be designed to recognize industry certifications, rather than provide for smaller university qualifications.

Australia has not recognized micro-credentials in the AQF. There are some micro-credentials offered outside the AQF, such as DeakinCo's Professional Practice Credentials. These place an emphasis on "soft" skills, with an approach to skills recognition similar to that of the vocational education and training (VET) sector. With this approach those applying for a credential do not undertake formal coursework, and instead collect evidence of their existing skills. This process is referred to as Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in the VET sector. The emphasis is on skills to complement university degrees, rather than provide building blocks for them.

The CMF is similar to the approach I proposed in "Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students", at EduTECH 2019. University degree courses would be converted to micro-credentials, with minimal changes. Students would study online in courses designed using existing distance education techniques. These courses would count towards a degree.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mixed Results from the Australian Demand Driven University System

The Australian Productivity Commission, released "The Demand Driven University System: A Mixed Report Card" on 17 June.  This extensive 205 page report looks at the demand driven university system Australia had from 2010 to 2017. The focus is on if this delivered better outcomes for 'equity groups'. The report found improved access for students from a low socioeconomic background, and ‘first in family’. However, participation by Indigenous people, and those from regional or remote areas, may have dropped.

Looking at key points from the report (listed below), the Commission found that "university education can be transformative", but is also costly, for the student and public funders. I suggest the non-fee cost to the student needs more emphasis. Educators tend to assume that students have nothing to do but study, however many have jobs, and family commitments.

The report found that the additional students had lower literacy, numeracy and Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. Despite this, many of these graduated and got good jobs. However, as would be expected, the dropout rate for these students was higher, with 21% receiving no qualification (9% higher than for other students).

The higher dropout rate was to be expected. This could have been addressed (and at many universities is now being addressed), through programs for those with limited literacy and numeracy, lower academic standards, and from families without experience of university. I am from a first in family generation, struggled with university study and am now assisting my students through better course design and delivery.

Another measure which could be introduced, but is not common, is nested programs. Rather than a student dropping out after several years study with no qualification, they can be given a job-relevant sub-degree qualification. The student should be then able to return later and continue their studies.

While the report found participation increased for students from a low socioeconomic background and ‘first in family’, it did not for Indigenous people, or those from regional or remote areas (the gap may have widened). I suggest that one way to address these groups, not mentioned in the report, is with high quality distance education programs. Instead, those from regional or remote areas are expected to move away from their community to campuses in larger population centers.

The alternative offered to regional and remote student, as well as those with family and work commitments, is to undertake online programs. However, these are in the main derived from urban campus courses, not suited to the remote students, and are staved of resources. It is possible to design and deliver quality online education. I studied how to do this online in North America, and now design such courses. The approach I now take to course design is to first produce an on-line module, and then add face-to-face components as required, and as resources allow. The approach which many universities take, of trying to turning a campus course into an online one, does not work as well.

The report suggests several ways to address the access issue. The last of these, I suggest, need more emphasis: "Viable alternatives in employment and vocational education and training will ensure more young people succeed." I suggest that this should be taken further, with incentives for schools and universities to integrate Vocational Training and Education (VET). One way to do this would be to transfer funding from the university system to VET, with the expectation that most students would start their studies in VET, possibly at school, and then transfer to university. The norm should be for students to have at least one VET qualifcaiton, before commencing university.

An area the report does not appear to address is the role which the quality of courses, and teaching, may have on student outcomes. Unlike the school and VET sectors, there are no legal requirements placed on universities to employ educationally qualified teaching staff. Academics had been traditionally appointed and promoted based on their research qualifications and skills, which are unrelated to teaching ability (some research suggests research experience makes for worse teachers). I suggest federal incentives, or requirements, for teaching qualifications at university would improve outcomes.

The study addressed two questions:
  1. "Who are the 'additional students' who enrolled in university under the demand driven system who would not have had the opportunity in earlier periods, and what are the academic and labour market outcomes they achieved?
  2. To what extent was the demand driven system more accessible to people from under-represented 'equity groups'? And what factors predict the under-representation of these groups?"
From  Productivity Commission, 2019

Key points from report (numbering added):
  1. "University education can be transformative. It is also costly in terms of forgone earnings, student debt and Commonwealth outlays, so it is important that students, taxpayers and the broader community benefit from the investment. 
  2. The ‘demand driven system’ in place between 2010 and 2017 was intended to increase domestic student numbers and give under‑represented groups greater access. The results were mixed. 
  3. It was certainly effective in increasing numbers: the share of young people that attended university by age 22 years increased from 53 per cent in 2010 to an estimated 60 per cent in 2016, based on data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth. 
  4. Multivariate regression analysis shows that the ‘additional students’ — those whose attendance can be ascribed to the expansion of the system — were drawn from many backgrounds. However, compared with other students, they typically had lower literacy and numeracy and a lower Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (most had an ATAR less than 70). 
  5. Many of the additional students succeeded. About half of the additional students graduated by age 23 years (with many still studying). About half of those graduates entered managerial or professional occupations, outcomes that are similar to those of other graduates. 
  6. However, people that enter university with lower literacy and numeracy and a lower ATAR drop out at higher rates. By age 23 years, 21 per cent of the additional students had left university without receiving a qualification compared with 12 per cent of other students. 
  7. University participation increased within some under‑represented ‘equity groups’, but not others. 
    • School students from a low socioeconomic background and ‘first in family’ students were more likely to participate in higher education following the expansion in university places. 
    • However, the participation ‘gaps’ (compared to those not in the equity group) remain for Indigenous people and for people from regional or remote areas, and may have widened. 
  8. Despite the expansion, the level of participation among all these groups remains far lower than for people who do not come from disadvantaged backgrounds — a reflection of poorer average school performance and a range of cultural and environmental factors. In the latter respect, an equity group student with a given level of academic ability is still significantly less likely to attend university than their non‑equity equivalents. 
  9. Overall, the demand driven system succeeded in increasing the number of students and made progress in improving equity of access. However, many are entering university ill‑prepared and struggling academically. This study suggests some areas for further policy consideration: 
    • The school system has arguably not adapted to the role needed of it to prepare more young people to succeed at university, or more broadly to meet the growing demand in the Australian economy for complex and adaptable skills. Average literacy and numeracy of school children needs to rise to fill this role, reversing the sharp falls since 2003. 
    • Children growing up in regional or remote areas with the same academic ability as their metropolitan peers continue to be much less likely to attend university. 
    • The growing risk of students dropping out of university requires attention. On average, the additional students need greater academic support to succeed. While universities had strong incentives to expand student numbers, the incentives for remedial support are weak. 
    • University will not be the best option for many. Viable alternatives in employment and vocational education and training will ensure more young people succeed."

      From  Productivity Commission, 2019

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Creating a Renewable Energy Export Industry for Australia

ANU Kioloa Coastal campus
Greetings from the Australian National University Kioloa Coastal Campus (KCC). I attending a retreat for the Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific (ZCEAP) Grand Challenge  Team. The team is researching how to set up a renewable energy export industry for Australia, in 25 years time, which is comparable in size to coal and gas today.

Energy could be collected in north western Australia by large wind or solar farms, then exported to Asia, via undersea cable, by ship as liquefied gas, or refined metals.

There are researchers from many disciplines, working questions such as markets, geopolitical issues, development for Indigenous communities, value-added manufacturing in the Pilbara.

I am one of the "cloud" participants on the periphery of the project, interested in how ICT can help, and how online education of the research outputs can be created (I teach ICT Sustainability). One issue is how to freely work with academics, while protecting valuable intellectual property, especially from hacking attack.

There was a pitch session at the retreat,  where ideas of what we could do were put up. I had not asked to speak at this but realized my work on online education was relevant. One of the issues with introduction of renewable energy is that many people have to learn new skills. This ranges from some one installing and maintaining solar panels, up to industry executives and government policy makers.

The traditional way to provide training and education is with classroom courses. However, that requires taking people away from their workplace for days or weeks. In the case of renewable energy for the Asia-pacific, the training center could be thousands of km from the trainee. Another issue is that the training is not perceived as of value to the individual or their organisation.

Instead of classroom courses, training can now be delivered in the workplace, online, via a mobile phone. This training can meet industry and national quality standards, and provide credit to further vocational, or university study. It happened I talked about this at EduTECH 2019 in Sydney last week, so pined my presentation up on the pitch board. This attracted some interest from colleagues.

What looked most relevant was the issue of training for remote indigenous communities in Australia and islands of the Pacific. While a multi-billion dollar energy project with thousands of workers on one site can schedule training, this is much more difficult with thousands of personnel scattered over about one quarter of the world.

In his PHD thesis, Philip Townsend (p. 26, 2017), pointed out there has been rapid adoption of mobile devices in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. He looked at how to use these devices for the education of pre-service teachers.

ps: The ANU Kioloa Coastal Campus can accommodate up to 90 people, in cottages and dormitories. As well as a lab, there is a new conference center, with my favorite layout of rectangular rooms, plus tables on wheels. 


Townsend, Philip, 2017 Travelling together and sitting alongside: How might the use of mobile devices enhance the professional learning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pre-service teachers in remote communities?, Flinders University, School of Education.  URL

Friday, June 7, 2019

EduTECH Sydney on Now

Tom Worthington presenting on microcredentials at EduTECH 2019 Australia. Photo by CAPA President
Photo by CAPA President
Greetings from EduTECH in Sydney. Yesterday I talked on Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students, and today chaired three round-table discussions on the topic.
It was exciting to be presenting on the main expo stage, in the middle of the exhibition.  This has the noise and distraction of people walking past, but is much more lively that a conventional presentation room.At one stage I had not had any questions, so did what I do in workshops with students: sprang down from the stage and up to one of the audience who looked like the wanted to ask a question, which they then did, into my microphone.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) President took a couple of photos and tweeted about my having graduate students respond to a real job ad, and suggesting applying vocational "TAFE-like" approaches for university micro-credentials.

The round-table discussions were also lively, with about seven people who are actively involved and engaged, around the table for half an hour. The round tables attracted about one third people from schools, a third from universities and the remainder from government agencies, vocational education, professional bodies and consultancies.  This made for a lively discussion. I was surprised at the interest in micro-credentials for schools, having assumed it is a higher education issue. Teachers wanted to provide students with more vocationally relevant qualifications, but which were not labeled "VET". Universities, accreditation agencies and professional bodies were all struggling with what micro-credentials are, and how they fit with traditional degrees. The VET people said "we already do this stuff".

Compared to the expo and round-tables, unfortunately the conventional presentations at EduTECH, especially those from senior people, were a bit dull. These were made even less exciting by the lack of question time. The important person would come in, give a canned talk, and leave.

I suggest that the EduTECH organizers, and others running similar industry events, should encourage questions. A tradition which the ACS Canberra Branch has with its annual conference is to take questions from delegates, even for keynotes. It can be a shock for a senior government minister, or industry leader, to be asked a detailed question by a relatively junior professional, but they rise to the challenge and find it refreshing. This takes the presentation to a new level, like good teaching, from one way communication, to interaction.

A format which worked very well at EduTECH Asia 2018, was an online, mobile-enabled system, where the audience could propose questions, and then vote on which should be asked. It was useful in overcoming the embarrassment of asking someone "important" a question.

Friday, May 24, 2019

EdTech Tools in Sydney

Greetings from the PitchEd NSW Event at the Sydney Startup Hub. Teams are pitching their educational technology products and answering questions from the audience. So far I have not seen any very exciting, and the claims made are a little hard to believe, but the enthusiasm is infectious.

Last night I attended "The Tools We Use" of the 
Instructional Design & eLearning Meetup. Working edtech professionals talked about the tools they use, not sell. One of these which looked promising was Content Samurai, for producing videos quickly. At the moment I make short educational videos using digital video editing software. This requires inserting each slide, and manually synchronizing it with the narration. A tool which automates more of this would be useful.

Just as valuable as the presentations, were the informal discussions. I had just arrived from Canberra, and though I would have traveled the furthest. But there were people from Melbourne, and Europe. Perhaps the award for the most unusual method of travel was the person from South America, with a paddle in a bag, for getting back to their  yacht anchored in the harbor. ;-)

There will be a meetup at the Australian Workplace Learning Conference, June 6, 6:00pm. This is in conjunction with EduTECH, and I am giving a free talk on "Mobile Learning with Micro-Credentials for International Students", at the EduTECH Expo Main Stage, at 4pm the same day. All welcome.

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:

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.



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

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

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.

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