Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Course with an iMOOC on MOOCs

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

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

MDDE690: Investigating MOOCs: Purpose, Process, and Pedagogy

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

Course Instructor

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

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

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

For registration information: Contact the CDE office.


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

Monday, March 18, 2019

What does education do?

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

Inequality in the US Higher Education System

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

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

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

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

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

How to Help Disadvantaged Students

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

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

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

Teaching Soft Skills to STEM Students

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

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

Don't Look to the USA for Education Policy

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

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Effect of Educational Technology on Campus Needs

The ACT Government has commissioned the Australian National University (ANU) to estimate the number of students in Canberra's public schools in the next decade. This will take into account population growth, urban infill, and changes in preference for private versus public schools (the ANU is advertising for a demographer to work on this). However, another factor I suggest need to be taken into account is the use of technology in education. In the next ten years students will be predominately learning online. This will change the nature, and mix, of schools required, particularly for older students.

The assumption has been that students go to the same campus at fixed times, on fixed days, during a term. However, vocational education has already changed to a predominately on-line mode, and universities are in the middle of the same transition. This change will happen for older school students in the next ten years.

ANU Marie Reay
Teaching Centre
With a blended approach, students receive their learning materials online, with most assessment and routine administrative matters also handled online. Students study at home, or in a "learning center" (a library without books). Students undertake self organized group work, and may also attend some staff supervised workshop activities. However, there are few, if any, old fashioned classes with a teacher giving presentations. Last week I detailed how I am using this approach in the Australian National University's new Marie Reay Teaching Centre.

The change in teaching technique changes the design and mix of campus buildings needed. More informal learning space is needed, for individual and group work. Fewer lecture halls are needed, and almost no "classrooms". Rather than one large campus, an institution can have multiple small satellite campuses. These campuses can be shared between institutions, and be collocated with public facilities

As the ACT has one less level of government, it is much easier to combine school facilities with other educational and public functions. An example is Gungahlin College, which shares a building with the ACT Library and Canberra Institute of Technology. However, this could be taken further, with learning facilities shared more widely.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

How to Blend and Flip a Course for a Flatpack Classroom

Next Friday, 15 March I will be speaking on "Blend, Flip, and Back to the Classroom". So I thought I should collect my thoughts on what to say. Here are some note, so far:

In 2008 I ended my last lecture for the year at ANU by announcing it would be my last lecture, ever. Having become disillusioned with the lecture format, I have been teaching online for the last ten years, with an award winning course offered by three institutions, in Australia and North America. During that time I looked at alternative classroom designs in Australia and around the world.

In February 2019 the Australian National University unveiled the Marie Reay Teaching Centre, a flexible teaching building. So this year I am going back to the classroom, to apply what I have learned, with a blend of online and classroom teaching in the new building. This is intended to be a model for how academics can easily convert conventional courses to new interactive ways of learning, and allow each student to choose the blend of online and classroom learning to suit their needs.

Overview of the Learning Module

I produced slides, and a video for the revised learning module, on how to provide students with help when preparing a reflective portfolio. This is specifically for students of  ANU Tech Launcher.

ANU Marie Reay
Teaching Centre

New Flexible Teaching Spaces at ANU

The Marie Reay Teaching Centre opened at ANU 25 March, along with the Culture & events building opposite, both by Architects BVN. These buildings have flexible teaching spaces, but flexible in different ways. The culture and events building has a 500-seat auditorium, and a 200 seat flexible space. Both of these have tiered lecture theater style seating, but which retracts electrically, providing large flat floor spaces, with high ceilings.

In contrast, the Marie Reay Teaching 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.

147 seat seminar room,
ANU Sciences Teaching Building

This approach of one building with lecture theaters, and one with flat floor classrooms, differs from attempts to combine the features of the two. As an example, the ANU Sciences Teaching Building has a 147 seat tiered seminar room. The room has wide tiers with fixed tables for groups of seven students. This is designed so students can watch a presentation at the front of the room, and then discuss it in a group, around their table. However, the tables take a lot of space and are fixed in place. Display screens on the tables block some of the view.

In contrast, the ANU Kambri complex has two buildings with specialized seating for specific pedagogy. The ANU Cultural Centre Building has high density tiered theater fixed seating for lectures. Opposite is the Marie Reay Teaching Centre with low density flat floor movable seating and tables for group work. This has the advantage that both format rooms can be used simultaneously. and offer a greater overall seating capacity, than would general purpose lecture/group rooms.

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
While the tables in the Marie Reay Teaching Centre are on wheels, one room (4.02) has five electronic screens on each side wall, spaced to allow each of five desks to have a screen (for a total of sixty students). This overcomes the problem of the desks becoming immovable, when computer screen are installed on them.

Students doing a Lego Serious Play exercise at the Australian National University in Canberra
Screen of Wheels, in use at the
ANU Barry Drive classrooms,
for ANU TechLauncher group activity
Other rooms have two projection screens for presentations. I have suggested these be supplemented with screens on wheels, which can be positioned for group work, or to display what is on the main screens. Such screens on wheels have been used at the ANU Barry Drive classrooms for an ANU TechLauncher group activity.

Top Down Course Design

My approach to course design reflects the limited flexibility of the new buildings. Flexibility is provided, but not at the expense of efficiency.

The learning is designed top down: start with the learning objectives, or externally set requirements. These set, in broad terms, the knowledge and skills the student must have on completion of the course.  Often these objectives are not provided to the educational designer, or are so vague they are of little use, so they have to be found, or invented.

For the Reflective Learning module, I first tried adapting skills definitions from the Skills Framework for the Information Age:
"Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:
  1. Determine their own learning needs and possible sources, to develop individual skills for a project and for their career development.
  2. Identify appropriate accreditation and qualification paths. 
  3. Manage the learning, and evaluate its effectiveness through through reflection."
 From the skill "Learning and Development" (ETMG), Level 6, SFIA, Version 7, 2017. As used in "Learning to Reflect" (Version 0.1), February 4, 2019.
SFIA is used by the Australian Computer Society for accreditation of Australian university degrees, and by some employers in defining jobs. It is useful to have course objectives aligned with SFIA, to make accreditation quicker, and so graduates can easily show employers they have required skills.

However, as I writing a module for use in an existing course, and that course was not aligned with SFIA, this approach did not work. In a later draft I replaced the SFIA objectives, with ones from the course definition:
"The module is aligned with two of the outcomes for the course:
3. 'learn any specific technical skills required by their topic, and apply them to project work.
4. apply and deepen skills in oral and written communication, and apply these in a project context.'
From Computing Project, Course COMP8715, ANU, 2019. URL https://programsandcourses.anu.edu.au/course/comp8715" as cited in "Introduction", of Learning to Reflect, Version 1, February 13, 2019.

Aligning Assessment with Leaning

My usual approach is to continue the top down development, by providing one major assessment task for each learning objective. However, in this case the final assessment task was already set by the existing course the module. So I have to set other assessment around this.
The main issue the module was intended to address was the difficulty Masters of Computing students had with the large assessment task at the end of semester. The obvious solution was to break this assignment into pieces delivered in sequence. However, the same assessment task is undertaken by students in multiple courses, all of whom are in the same tutorial group with the same tutor. Having different versions of the assignment for different students would be confusing for tutors and students.

Chunky Blended Learning

Designing learning takes time. I started designing the learning module in late 2018. At that time I was not sure if the new classrooms would be completed for first semester 2019. Even the week before semester started in February 2019, there was construction equipment around the building. However, this was quickly cleared away and the building opened on time, with the classroom equipped.

However, in late 2018 I could not be certain everything would be ready. So I used a conservative approach to blended course design, using what  Fleck (2012) refers to as "chunky" blended learning:
'The term "blended learning" usually refers to a mix of conventional face-to-face elements combined with on-line elements. However, this is at too general a level for in depth analysis, while the term "blend" perhaps suggests too homogeneous a mix: in practice the mix is more "lumpy", more a chunky fruit salad than a blended smoothie. At one extreme it is becoming routine for campus-based virtual learning environments (VLEs) to be used to provide additional notes and materials supporting conventional lectures.'
From Fleck (2012).
 The design is essentially a distance education course, with face-to-face workshops added. The learning management system (LMS), in this case Moodle (part of ANU's Wattle system) is used for providing students with course notes, videos, podcasts and other materials. The LMS is also used for routine announcements to the class, and individual communication with students. Small assessment tasks (quizzes and forum posts) are provided via Moodle's quiz and forum modules. Assignments are similarly done using the workshop module of Moodle.
As it was not clear what classroom would be available, the workshop design was kept general, and drawing on the preceding online activities.
  1. Announcements: General announcements while students set up the room.
  2. General Questions: Students can ask for clarification on administrative, content and assessment questions. Groups first discuss the question and if they are not  sure of the answer it can be put to the whole room.
  3. Forum Questions: Discuss your answers to this week's forum questions.
  4. Assignment Master Class: Bring along your draft assignment, ask for feedback from your group. Be prepared to put it up on the big screen for group feedback.
  5. Wrap-up: Any concluding remarks by students and instructors.
The same  format is used for all workshops, so that staff and students can become familiar with it. This avoids limited class time being taken up with explanations of complex exercise formats.

Chunky Online Learning

As well as the blended and online learning being chunky, the online component is in large chunks. The student is provided with a package of material for two weeks. This has notes, suggested readings, a quiz, discussion questions, workshop, and assignments. While the student is expected to undertake the work in this order, exactly what they do when in the two weeks is left largely to the individual.

This contrasts with tightly scripted online learning modules which give the student a few paragraphs to read and perhaps a video, then an automatically marked question they have to answer before proceeding to the next item. Such packages require considerable design and testing if they are not to hold up and frustrate students. Also these tend to require a high speed reliable network connection to function. In contrast the chunky approach allows students to download material, and use it offline.


Fleck, J. (2012). Blended learning and learning communities: opportunities and challenges. Journal of Management Development, 31(4), 398-411. http://dx.doi.org.virtual.anu.edu.au/10.1108/02621711211219059 
Worthington, T. My Last Lecture, Net Traveller (Blog), August 20, 2008. URL https://blog.tomw.net.au/2008/08/my-last-lecture.html 
Worthington, T., "A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks," Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on , vol., no., pp.263,266, 14-17 July 2012 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070 Preprint available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9013 
Worthington, T. Learning to Teach in the New ANU Teaching Building, Higher Education Whisperer (Blog), February 11, 2019. URL https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2019/02/learning-to-teach-in-new-anu-teaching.html 
Worthington, T. Helping Computing Students Prepare a Reflective Portfolio: Parts 1 to 7, Higher Education Whisperer (Blog), November 28, 2018 to February 13, 2019. URL https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/search/label/Reflective%20Portfolio%20Course

Thursday, March 7, 2019

ANU Interactive Learning Project

Greetings from the Marie Reay Teaching Centre  at the Australian National Unvieristy, where the Interactive Learning Project (iLEAP), is being launched. This will be run by Dr Kim Blackmore.

The MC for the launch, Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope, President of the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA), likened new ways of teaching at university to his school days in a Steiner school. Such a comparison with school teaching I have found does not go down well with university academics, but I think it accurate.

Brian Schmidt, the ANU VC, commented he has not yet been trained in new teaching methods for the new building, but will be. He suggested that charisma of the lecturer was no longer sufficient in the age of the Internet. The VC was being modest, as he has used techniques such as writing mystery stories, games and even a whole online course for students. He commented it was easy to be "interact" with a small class, but not with sixty students.

As well as a series of specific iLeap workshops, the university will continue its online Coffee Course series. The next starts 25 March on Facilitating Effective Discussions. This is free, open and available worldwide.
However, I suggest the university needs to also encourage staff to undertake AQF aligned studies, and become formally qualified in education. I suggest ANU reintroduce certificate, diplomas, and degrees in education. These can use modern project based and blended techniques, so the students can experience the form of education it is being advocated they use. Such courses and programs should be offered to both students and staff.
I was one of the last students of ANU's previous Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, and supported the discontinuance of that program. However, since then new models have emerged.
"In 2019 the University will implement an Interactive Learning Project (iLEAP), aimed at enhancing the quality of University learning. The goal of iLEAP is to foster student interactivity, capitalising on the rich diversity we have at ANU, within our student body, amongst lecturers and tutors, and through the use of our high-quality scholarly resources.
This series of workshops will support the iLEAP project and assist those seeking to transform their practice through the development of interactivity in the classroom. We will explore the theoretical underpinnings of interaction in University classrooms and try out research-based strategies and approaches used to foster interactivity leading to deeper learning. There will also be support for those who are keen to experiment and to document the specific outcomes of approaches in their own courses.
  • Approaches to Interactive Teaching (IL1) Exploring contrasting approaches to Interactive Learning to facilitate interactivity.
  • (IL2) Details TBA
  • (IL3) Details TBA
  • (IL4) Details TBA

Register for a workshop"

ps: The more I learn about teaching, the more similarities I see with school, vocational and university teaching. I will be speaking on "Blend, Flip, and Back to the Classroom", at the ANU Marie Reay Teaching Centre, 1pm, 15 March 2019.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Renewable Energy Hackathon in Canberra

Shane Rattenbury, 
ACT Minister for Climate
Change and Sustainability
Greetings from the ZeroCO2 Renewable Energy & Sustainability Hackathon at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT). I will be mentoring teams working for two days on renewable energy, waste disposal, sustainability in food and manufacturing, transport & travel, smart cities, building and education. There is a a $10,000 prize pool, plus access to Canberra Innovation Network desk space and coaching.

It is easy to get cynical: what can you do to save the planet in two days? Certainly new tech can't be completed in that time, but new ideas of what is needed, and how what is available can be better used. The hackerthon is a compressed version of the group project teaching techniques we use in ANU Techlauncher.

Before the hacking, we have Shane Rattenbury,  ACT Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability speaking.The ACT Government is currently working on the sustainability plan for 2025. He pointed out that this gets more difficulty when households have to change their behavior. Canberra's transport emissions are increasing.

There is also a Renewable Energy and Sustainability Industry Forum taking place in conjunction with the hackerthon. Both events will end with competition results at  First Wednesday Connect, 5pm tomorrow.

All events are taking place in Building K at CIT Bruce  Campus. This was a purpose built for renewable engendering. There is a big workshop on the ground floor, full of neat color coded pipes and machinery. Above the workshop are floors of classrooms, and then space for texting solar panels on the top.

ps: CIT is where I studied for my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What does education do?

Professor David Deming (Harvard Graduate School of Education), will speak on "What does education do?" at the Australian National University in Canberra, 18 March 2019.
"The benefits of investment in education is one of the most robust findings in social science. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the impact of education on earnings, health, family formation, civic participation, happiness and other life outcomes. This has led researchers and policymakers to call for a renewal and expansion of public investment in higher education, for example through ‘free college’ plans proposed in many U.S. states and countries around the world.

Yet despite the demonstrated economic value of education, we have varying ideas about why education is so important. This talk will review what is known about the returns to education, and argue that the workhorse ‘human capital model’ is an incomplete description of the value of education for social mobility and human welfare. Understanding what education does is necessary for important policy questions, such as who will gain the most from investments in education, which policy levers are most effective, and how we should design educational systems for the future of work in the 21st century."