Sunday, April 28, 2019

Australian draft law prohibiting academic cheating services

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

E-Trainers free online training for vocational educators

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

Entry Test

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

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

I started with the first course:

Creating Digital Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life and Career Skills

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

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

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

8% into the course I gave up.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Three ANU Research Schools Need Directors

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Monday, April 8, 2019

Google Sees More Training for Workers in 2040

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Audio Slideshow for Job Application Reflection Module

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

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

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

ps: This is for students of  ANU Tech Launcher.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Audio Slideshow for Job Application Learning Module

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

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Education in the 2019/2020 Australian Federal Budget

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