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.