Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Work Integrated Models of Learning

The Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) New Work Order report points out that despite increased post-secondary qualifications, only half of 25 year olds have full time work. To accelerate the transition from education to full-time work the report recommends: enterprise skills courses, relevant paid employment for students in an area with a future, and an optimistic mindset. The report points the very real mental health issues with students expectation of employment not being met.

The VET sector leads the way with courses teaching useful skills, but universities are catching up. I have designed a university course on how to learn. The hard part has been not what to teach, but how to get the students to put the time into learning this, and to make it it into a suitable topic for serious university study. Sixty students will be in the pilot this semester.

Finding relevant paid work is extremely difficult for students. Traditionally apprentices received less pay than other workers, and in some industries the apprentices paid the employer for their position. As it is, it is difficult to find enough positions even for unpaid interns in in-demand industries such as computer software. Employers are reluctant to go to the trouble and expense of training a part-time, temporary employee with no experience.

Instilling an optimistic mindset in a student is difficult, if they know they have little chance of ever having a full time, secure career. Regrettably some universities, and universities academics, give students the false idea that a general degree will set the student up for any career. While many professions are being "disrupted", with the skills needed changing, what is certain is that if you graduate with a degree not aligned vocationally you are going to find it difficult to get a good job, or any job.

One way around the disruption in full time employment has been to teach students start-up entrepreneurial techniques. The student learns there is an alternative to a full time job for a large organization: they can instead start their own business. The students are told that their chance of success in this is very small, but even if they never set up a successful business they learn valuable business skills.

However, if a student doesn't have any vocationally relevant skills, then entrepreneurial studies are not going to help much. A few successful entrepreneurs did not finish university, and are held out as role models, but their global businesses are staffed by professionally qualified accountants, lawyers, marketers, engineers, and computer scientists.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

University Dropouts Do Okay

Luckman and Harvey (2019) report that those who don't complete their Australian bachelor degree go on to earn more that those who do. This apparent paradox is explained by university dropouts completing some other form of post-school qualification. In particular those completing vocational education, such as at a TAFE, go on to earn more, on average, than degree holders. Also those to don't complete a degree at the first attempt are likely to start studying again later, at another university.

That our education system provides alternatives to a degree, and second attempts, I suggest shows the strength of the system. However, as I suggested to the Australian Senate Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, at Parliament House in Canberra last year, this could be improved with nested qualifications, and standardized curricular.

Nested qualifications would allow someone who can't complete their degree to leave with a sub-degree qualification (such as a certificate, diploma, or advanced diploma). Standardized curricular would allow the student to gain full credit for their incomplete studies at another institution. At present the student who leaves university without completing a degree likely gets no qualification at all, and if they apply elsewhere will have to redo much of what they have already done. The VET sector has applied both these approaches successfully.


Luckman, M., & Harvey, A. (2019). The financial and educational outcomes of Bachelor degree non-completers. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 41(1), 3-17. URL

Friday, January 25, 2019

Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific in Sydney 4 February

I will be speaking on "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific", at the ACEN WIL Snapshots Second Chance Conference in Sydney, 4 February. This event is a chance to hear presentations on Work Integrated Learning (WIL) from recent conferences. It is free for those at member institutions.

Topics and speakers:
  1. Reimagining WIL in the Innovative Research Universities, Amani Bell
  2. A holistic approach to evaluating an institution-wide WIL program, Kate Lloyd, Anna Rowe, Cherie Nay, Lucy Corrigan
  3. WIL to scale, Mita Das, Phil Laufenberg
  4. Impacting the curriculum: An institution wide approach to embedding career development learning, Bonnie Dean, Tracey Glover-Chambers, Venkata Yanamandran, Michelle Eady, Tracey Moroney, Nuala O’Donnell
  5. EfS@Mq Education: Fostering creative
    approaches to sustainability cross-curriculum
    priority in teacher education, Bronwen Wade-Leeuwen, Wendy Goldstein, Kathleen McLachlan, Thelma Raman
  6. A NSW regional school and university partnership: reconceptualising reciprocity in initial teacher education professional experience, Deb Clarke, Matthew Winslade
  7. Development of a WIL rubric to facilitate identification and mapping of WIL activities in science courses, Christopher Jones, Thomas Millar, Jo-Anne Chuck
  8. Are science academics on the same page as
    society for a new future of work?, Jo-Anne Chuck, Felicity Blackstock, Thomas Millar, Christopher Jones
  9. Exploring the role of WIL in developing professional networking capabilities for career development, Denise Jackson, Ruth Bridgestock, Kate Lloyd
  10. Internships: A case for a pre-internship preparation programme (PIPP) for accounting students, Mark Hughes, Greg Boland, Iwona
  11. Debriefing the shapeshifter: How practitioners conceptualise debriefing for Work-Integrated Learning, Theresa Winchester-Seeto, Anna Rowe
  12. Bringing theory to life: Using WIL to motivate Commitment and master complexity, Lisa Anderson, John Burke
  13. Reflection for learning as a quality framework for WIL, Marina Harvey , Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple, Greg Walkerden
  14. Ethnography in work integrated learning, research, Bonnie Dean
  15. Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific, Tom Worthington

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Higher Education Whisperer in Times Higher Education Blog

A couple of weeks ago, Sara Custer, Digital editor of Times Higher Education asked if I would write some comment pieces for their blog, or re-posts from my blog. She suggested my posts on the Ramsey Center for Western Civilization, digital technology for partition rooms, or dispersal of international students across Australia as candidates. I nominated my Ramsey Center post. Today I realized I heard nothing more, so went to look at the THE Blog, where I found: "Can a degree in Western civilisation prepare students for 21st century jobs?", January 16, 2019.

The post elicited some comments (I am surprised there were not more). One comment suggested that India was ruled by classically-trained Oxford graduates. Leaving aside the question as to if they governed well, not all rulers of India were classically educated in Oxford. The last Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten, attended naval college, was a Senior Wireless Instructor at the Naval Signals School, and a member of Institution of Electrical Engineers. He did also study English literature at Christ's College Cambridge, but only for two terms. Not all India's colonial rulers had this level of technical training, but they were backed by people who did, and could use advanced technology to suppress rebellion.

A second comment suggested that a degree should teach  how to learn and think critically. I agree, but that does not preclude also teaching skills, and knowledge useful in a specific vocation. Many people have had successful careers outside the area they were trained in, but I would prefer they were trained for some sort of career, rather than none at all.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Education for the Indo-Pacific Does Not Need 5G Mobile Communications

Exploring the mobile internet,
Solomon Islands,
Photo: Irene Scott/DFAT.
The short paper I presented on "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific" at the International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE) in Wollongong last December, has been published by IEEE. One curious addition to the paper is the keyword "5G mobile communication". The paper discusses using smarphones for education, but I never mention fifth generation mobile networks, nor do I think these are really necessary.

A 3G or 4G network connection is more than enough for a student. A 3G network provides tens of megabits per second and 4G hundreds. This is sufficient for a student to watch videos, and upload their own, as well as take part in live video conferences. In practice students may have much more limited access, due to cost and logistics, so I design online courses where the student can download large materials infrequently, and then use a much slower connection for interaction.

An example of where this may be an issue is the Solomon Islands. The Australian Government is funding a fibre optic cable to the Solomon Islands and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has asked for ideas how this could help young people with skills and education. I have submitted a proposal "Micro-credentials by Mobile Phone for the Solomon Islands", which is based on my TALE paper.

The problem in the Solomon Islands will be getting the data from the point where the fibre optic cable lands, to where the population is. It is likely the the capital, Honiara on Guadalcanal, will be connected, but not all of the other populated islands.

To address this issue I design online courses which do not require a high speed connection. The student can download all the materials required at the start of the course from a cyber cafe (or be sent a data file in the post). They then only need a slow connection to read announcements and participate in text based forums. Live interactive video is nice to have, but not at the cost of excluding many students. If a 2G GPRS connection is available, providing about 100 kbps, the student can take part in Webinars with audio and slides.

Where video and audio are not available, the course designer and instructor have to make sure that the student gets a sense of human connection, through the text based forums. This is not ideal, but can be made to work.


T. Worthington, "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific," 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, Australia, 2018, pp. 861-865. doi: 10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183 URL

Keywords: 5G mobile communication; Australia; Conferences; Education; training; employment; educational institutions; teaching; Australian educational system; assessment; cognitive learning theory; social learning theory; Indo-Pacific; blockchain; micro-credentials

Friday, January 18, 2019

Higher Education Learning Framework

A Higher Education Learning Framework (HELF) has been produced by the Science of Learning Research Centre (SLRC), an ARC Special Research Initiative, based at the University of Queensland.

The HELF has seven themes:
  1. Learning as becoming
  2. Contextual learning
  3. Emotions and learning
  4. Interactive learning
  5. Learning to learn and higher order thinking
  6. Learning challenge and difficulty
Also provided are strategies for university teachers, students and assessment.

Unfortunately I did not find the HELF particularly useful. The document uses the term "university teachers" and discusses "designing courses". But the key problem with university education, not addressed by the HELF, is that university academics do not see themselves as "teachers", and are not routinely trained in course design, or delivery.

The HELF describes higher education as a "... transformational journey of students to become citizens of the world ...". I don't disagree with this, but it does not help me decide what to teach, or how to teach it. Someone learning to drive may be told how a car will take them on a transformational journey, but what they really need to know is the pedal on the right makes it go and the pedal in the middle makes it stop. Similarly, university teachers need practical training in how to teach: what works, and what does not. Those teachers will benefit from a little theory and philosophy of education, but only to help them master the practical skills.


Nugent A., Lodge, J. M., Carroll, A., Bagraith, R., MacMahon, S., Matthews, K. E. & Sah, P. (2019).
Higher Education Learning Framework: An evidence informed model for university learning.
Brisbane: The University of Queensland. URL

Thursday, January 17, 2019

ANU Hiring Researchers to Transition the Asia-Pacific to a Zero-Carbon Economy

Dr Paul Burke, Professor Kylie Catchpole,
and Dr Emma Aisbett of the
Zero-Carbon Energy for
the Asia-Pacific Project.
The Australian National University is recruiting researchers for  its Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific Project.
"... Appointees will contribute to world-leading, high-impact research, underpinning Australia’s transition to becoming a renewable energy super-power. ... We are hiring researchers in:
  • Economics and energy market economics;
  • Law;
  • Political science;
  • International relations;
  • Sustainability transitions;
  • Chemical engineering;
  • Computational chemistry; and,
  • Energy systems modelling. ..."
From Candidate Information Booklet - Research Fellows: Grand Challenge, 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Australian Employers Are Satified With Graduates

The "2018 Employer Satisfaction Survey" (QILT, 10 January 2019), indicates employers are very happy with the graduates they get. The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) team, was funded by the Australia Government. An analysis of 5,300 survey results from graduate supervisors showed 84.8% were satisfied with their graduates. The least satisfied were in creative arts. It may be that the more vocationally aligned STEM degrees are a closer match to jobs.

The Group of Eight "Leading Universities" did not do so well, with only half of them scoring above average for employer satisfaction. There is no clear relationship between university size, focus or location, and employer satisfaction. Perhaps it is just that Australia has high standards, and we don't have any "bad" universities. This is good news for employers, but does it indicate Australia is over investing in university education?

ps: Bond University topped the 2018 Employer Satisfaction Survey, so it should be worth listening to their Professor Keitha Dunstan, Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Academic), 26th February, 2019. The event is in Canberra, although Blackboard's web page confusingly says "Sydney".

Monday, January 7, 2019

Teaching Degrees Should Not be Limted to High ATAR Students

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader,
Federal Opposition (Labor Party),
on ATAR.
Media reports indicate a Labor government would bar low-scoring ATAR students from becoming teachers. However, while students with higher ATARs have proven to be better teachers, this is not the most important factor. Wurf and Croft-Piggin(2015) found that engagement, and motivation were more important that ATAR.

Instead of increasing the ATAR, I suggest improving the quality of teaching degrees, particularly using "dog-fooding". Students should be provided with structured education using digital technology, working in teams, with support from tutors. University instructors should focus on improving the engagement and motivation of their students, and teach how this support can be provided to school students.

Wurf, G., & Croft-Piggin, L. (2015). Predicting the academic achievement of first-year, pre-service teachers: the role of engagement, motivation, ATAR, and emotional intelligence. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 43(1), 75-91. URL