Thursday, October 31, 2019

Co-design of the National Skills Commission

Greetings from the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, in Canberra, where I am taking part in a Co-design of the National Skills Commission Workshop. There are about 40 people from government agencies, vocational training bodies and industry, around tables with sticky notes and colored pens. I am here as Tomw Communications Pty Ltd, an education consulting company, but I am also an Honorary Lecturer at ANU (across the road), and a member of the Australian Computer Society Professional Educaiton Governance Committee.

There is a National Skills Commission co-design Discussion paper. Adam Boyton was appointed the Interim National Skills Commissioner on 24 October 2019. This followed the release of the Joyce Review of Australia's Vocational Education and Training System and government response.

The questions for the Co-design for the Commission are:
  • "Are the roles and responsibilities proposed for the National Skills Commission appropriate?
  • What organisational capabilities will the National Skills Commission need?
  • What governance is needed to give the National Skills Commission the legitimacy and impact it needs?"
 However, these questions are mired in decades of state-federal political disputes, funding and mismanagement of the VET sector by state and federal governments. It is very difficult to look past this history, to consider how vocational education should be done. Of course even if we work out what the new commission should do, it will need to do it within the state-federal politics.

There is a further workshop this-afternoon on Skills Package co-design workshop. There is a further workshop tomorrow.

For those from universities wondering what this is all about, alongside universities, Australia has a parallel  vocational education and training (VET) sector.  This trains plumbers, bakers and mechanics, but also overlaps the lower end of what universities do. In my discipline of computing, students can start with a VET qualification to enter the profession (usually then going to university for a degree, with credit for their VET study). VET an be provided by private for-profit companies, government TAFEs, units within companies training their own staff, the Department of Defence for military personnel, and universities offering VET education, alongside degrees.

My contribution to the workshop so far was to suggest introducing an international considerations. Most of the discussion is about coordinating between states and the federal government. I pointed out that IT is driven by international standards, and others said this was the case in industries such as aviation. What Australia does needs to be aligned internationally.

A controversial issue is the National Skills Priority List: who does it, is it useful and possible. Different parts of the country may have different priorities, and education has a benefit for individuals in addition to vocational needs. My worry is that the ability of anyone to accurately predict skills needs long enough into the future to be of use for planning is limited. Even if this can be predicted, the peaks and troughs in industry demand will still result in shortages and surpluses of personnel with particular skills. A better approach might be to provide broader training, so workers can adapt to what is required at a particular time.

Despite my cynicism, the tables did come up with positive useful suggestions as to what the commission should do, including promoting VET. The major issue was who the commission should report to.

One worry I have is that Australian training needs to have a more digital and global perspective. Even "blue collar" jobs increasingly require digital skills, meeting international requirements.

One comment at the workshop was about the need to coordinate VET with the university sector on jobs forecasts. This has now largely been abandoned in the university sector, and the example given was why do we have so many more law graduates than there are jobs for lawyers?

The issue of microcredentials, also came up.

Submissions are still being accepted until 15 November.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review of Australian Qualifications Proposes Recognition of Microcredentials

A Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), has proposed recognising credit-bearing microcredentials, and implementing a national credit points system is proposed.

The report uses the example of the EdX Micromasters, where students can obtain credit towards up to one-quarter of a Masters (six months of the two years full-time study) for completing a series of online courses. This is a curious choice, as the EdX MicroMasters is comparable to a Graduate Certificate in the AQF, and so not very "micro", compared to recognition of much smaller microcredentials in New Zealand. The NZ micro-credentials are equivalent to 1 to 8 weeks study, whereas the EdX MicroMasters is 12 weeks of study. Also the Report's endorsement of the term MicroMasters (an EdX trademark), is troubling. What is next, Masters degrees rebranded as "DemiDoctorates"? ;-)

The report claims a national credit points system "would make learning outcomes more comparable between different institutions". However, that is likely to be opposed by institutions which strive to differentiate themselves, in particular universities wanting to be be seen to be superior to Vocational Educaiton and Training (VET) institutions, contrary to the report's wish for a credit point scheme to "contribute to parity of esteem between VET and higher education by expressing the equivalence in value of learning from both systems". Also research intensive universities are unlikely to want to be part of a scheme which equates their offerings with that of education focused universities, let alone the VET sector.

I put some thoughts on how to reform Australian higher education last year when invited to give evidence to the an Australian Senate Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, at Parliament House in Canberra, alongside Rob Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), and just after the ANU VC.

Except from the  Review of the AQF Final Report 2019:

"The Panel has proposed a comprehensive set of reforms and an implementation plan that would see a future AQF evolve as follows:
  1. A less complex AQF structure with a primary focus on the qualification types in the AQF (Degrees, Certificates etc.).
  2. A single and clearer taxonomy comprising eight bands of knowledge and six bands of skills more flexibly applied. Application is not rigidly locked to other bands (or levels).
  3. Contemporary definitions of knowledge and skills are used. Knowledge, Skills and Application are defined in terms of action – the information to inform action, the capabilities to take action and the context for action.
  4. Using these features, the AQF is refocused on the design of qualifications linked to learning outcomes for individual qualifications.
  5. Additional information is included to help define qualification types, particularly for qualifications leading to Nationally Recognised Training delivered through the VET sector, for apprenticeships and for research-oriented qualifications.
  6. General capabilities (such as digital literacy and ethical decision making) are identified for use in individual qualifications.
  7. A prototype national credit points system is developed for voluntary adoption by institutions and sectors.
  8. Qualification types are realigned against the revised taxonomy (based on options outlined in this Report) including the addition of a higher diploma qualification. VET certificates can be more meaningfully titled to reflect their purpose.
  9. The Senior Secondary Certificate of Education is more clearly defined and represented in the AQF in terms of its role in preparing young people for a range of pathways into VET and higher education (including with credit).
  10. Volume of learning is expressed in terms of hours, not years, and applied as a benchmark for compliance and quality assurance.
  11. An ongoing governance body for the AQF is established to give effect to decisions of the Review of the AQF and to provide advice on revisions to the AQF where required in the future.
  12. AQF policies are updated or assigned to the relevant agency, with redundant policies removed. The AQF is more consistently referenced and applied in VET and higher education sector standards and guidelines."
From: AQF Review 2019 (numbering and emphasis added).


Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework Final Report 2019, Peter Noonan, Allan Blagaich, Sally Kift, Megan Lilly, Leslie Loble, Elizabeth More, Marie Persson, Australian Department of Educaiton, 24 October 2019

Friday, October 25, 2019

Job at ANU Producing Flipped Materials for Schools

The Australian National University has advertised for a MeriSTEM Project Officer, to coordinate the development of flipped classroom earth Sciences materials, for secondary schools, as part of the ANU Modular Educational Resources in STEM project.
"The MeriSTEM Project within the Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) aims to develop and disseminate flipped classroom materials, through the Open edX platform, to support secondary education. Through this project, the University supports secondary teachers to improve their classes. It engages current and future students by providing them with direct instruction by top quality teachers, and best-practice learning materials. Following the successful development of Year 11 and 12 Physics flipped classroom materials, the MeriSTEM program is now seeking to grow its reach and further improve senior secondary student learning outcomes. This position, in collaboration with the RSES Associate Director Education, coordinates the development of the Earth and Environmental Science stream of MeriSTEM. This is a varied role that is responsible for managing all aspects of this project. This includes reviewing and contributing to the development of online modules, managing the day-to-day operations of the platform, seeking additional funding, and helping grow and improve the range of materials provided. "

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Open Universities

The latest edition of The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, contains an interesting paper on Open Universities in China (Zhang & Li, 2019). This charts their formation from Radio and TV universities (RTVUs). This got me thinking about how many Open Universities there are in the world now. So I searched for "Open University" in Webometrics. There were 80 results. Open University UK is the only one to rank in the top 1,000 universities in the world. There are four in the top 2,000. Of the former RTVUs, the Open University of China rates highest at 6,818; Shanghai Open University 7,059; Jiangsu Open University 11,771; Beijing Open University 12,034; Yunnan Open University 13,407; and Guangdong Open University 18,730. Zhang and Li did not include the Open University of Hong Kong in their study, as it did not derive from a RTVU, but for comparison it rates 2,578 which is far above any of the RTVU. This largely reflects the role of the former RTVUs, which are more like Australian TAFEs, providing vocational education, rather than universities.

Rank University Presence Impact Openness Excellence
362 Open University UK 765 185 328 662
1344 Open University / Open Universiteit Netherlands 3271 2207 1016 1518
1434 Hellenic Open University 2260 1422 2224 1835
1925 Open University of Israel 2881 3237 1731 2158
2578 Open University of Hong Kong 1512 1813 3122 3853
3061 Open University of Cyprus 1272 7326 2984 2893
3108 Allama Iqbal Open University 2930 4092 4528 3541
3639 (1) Indira Gandhi National Open University 2178 2858 2891 5040
4629 Open University of Sri Lanka 1664 9121 3071 4901
5086 Korea National Open University / 한국방송통신대학교 4473 7501 6630 5040
5316 Open University Malaysia 4500 7104 4241 5648
5410 Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University 1177 5405 4605 6115
5496 Open University of Tanzania 929 9929 6718 5040
5991 (1) Ho Chi Minh City Open University /Trường Đại học Mở thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 3832 9572 4384 5648
6237 Al Quds Open University 412 8680 4260 6115
6588 Open University of Japan (University of the Air) / 放送大学 4881 3855 8470 6115
6627 Arab Open University Kuwait 1302 11136 8078 5040
6818 Open University of China / 国家开放大学 9765 3583 8602 6115
7059 (1) Shanghai Open University / 上海开放大学 8927 3917 8602 6115
7521 Tianjin Open University / 天津广播电视大学 12407 4456 8602 6115
7693 Zimbabwe Open University 2483 14284 6588 5198
7813 National Open University 2541 5620 8602 6115
8234 Vardhaman Mahaveer Open University 6620 9002 6734 6115
8867 (3) University of the Philippines Open University 6134 10375 6289 6115
8914 Bangladesh Open University 13143 9641 8365 5648
9045 Guangzhou Open University / 广州市广播电视大学 15771 6221 8602 6115
9600 Wawasan Open University 11413 11621 5580 6115
9698 Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University 7429 7692 8602 6115
9749 Open University of Kaohsiung 3758 8125 8602 6115
9962 Netaji Subhas Open University 7993 10568 8602 5648
10513 Uttarakhand Open University 4833 11164 7583 6115
10579 Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Open University 20590 7832 8602 6115
10759 Jiangxi Open University / 江西广播电视大学 14074 8579 8602 6115
10993 Arab Open University Jordan 21239 15572 5646 5648
11333 Madhya Pradesh Bhoj Open University 10604 9574 8602 6115
11339 (1) Nalanda Open University 10348 9597 8602 6115
11590 National Open University of Nigeria 8863 10000 8602 6115
11624 Hanoi Open University / Đại học Mở Hà Nội 7146 10163 8602 6115
11771 Jiangsu Open University / 江苏开放大学 8768 10227 8602 6115
12034 Beijing Open University / 北京开放大学 10434 10452 8602 6115
12047 Tamil Nadu Open University 15376 10123 8602 6115
12222 Shenzhen Open University / 深圳广播电视大学 11405 10609 8602 6115
12600 Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University 13111 10981 8602 6115
12731 Guangxi Open University / 广西广播电视大学 15847 10949 8602 6115
13010 Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University YCMOU 17859 11152 8602 6115
13175 Arab Open University Lebanon 17187 14809 6817 6115
13322 UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University 12350 11939 8602 6115
13407 Yunnan Open University / 云南开放大学 19636 11462 8602 6115
13811 The Open University of Fujian / 福建广播电视大学 10795 12668 8602 6115
14095 Hainan Open University / 海南广播电视大学 18276 12416 8602 6115
14361 Hubei Vocational Open University / 湖北开放职业学院 28020 11064 8602 6115
15031 Zambian Open University 21505 16265 8602 5648
15106 Arab Open University Saudi Arabia 28348 11419 8602 6115
15276 Open University of Sudan 7507 14799 8602 6115
15483 Polish Open University / Wyższa Szkoła Zarządzania 23315 13641 8602 6115
15527 (3) Moscow State Open University Cheboksary Polytechnic Institute / Чебоксарский политехнический институт (филиал) В С Черномырдина 9190 14995 8602 6115
15691 Global Open University Nagaland 22232 13991 8602 6115
15703 Arab Open University Egypt 21026 16935 7437 6115
15802 Nanjing Open University / 南京广播电视大学 15484 14811 8602 6115
15873 Arab Open University Oman 21511 18587 6268 6115
16308 Arab Open University Bahrain 27071 15855 7920 6115
16524 (3) The Open University of Fujian Campus Zhangzhou / 福建广播电视大学 漳州分校 20217 15278 8602 6115
16778 The Open University of Nanhai 南海广播电视大学 16302 15986 8602 6115
17623 Shenyang Open University / 沈阳广播电视大学 20581 16580 8602 6115
17676 (1) Al Mustafa Open University 11072 17483 8602 6115
17693 Xuzhou Open University / 徐州开放大学 15920 17119 8602 6115
17756 Open University of Mauritius 13866 17357 8602 6115
18104 Subotica Open University 17685 17499 8602 6115
18730 The Open University of Guangdong /广东开放大学 17859 18249 8602 6115
19012 Venkateshwara Open University 22578 18101 8602 6115
19674 Odisha State Open University Sambalpur 13487 19721 8602 6115
20950 The Open University of Fuzhou / 福州广播电视大学 22609 20368 8602 6115
21485 (4) Commonwealth Open University 27976 19615 8602 6115
21832 Nantong Open University / 南通开放大学 16731 21967 8602 6115
22121 (3) Indira Gandhi National Open University Regional Centre Bangalore 22484 21694 8602 6115
22606 The Open University of Wuhan / 武汉市广播电视大学 17214 22767 8602 6115
22835 Anhui Open University / 安徽广播电视大学 9145 23549 8602 6115
23892 Laweh Open University College 19230 24121 8602 6115
25232 (3) Guangzhou Open University Campus Qiaoguang / 国家开放大学侨光分校 22564 25237 8602 6115
25884 (3) Indira Gandhi National Open University Shillong 26291 25583 8602 6115


Zhang, W., & Li, W. (2019). Transformation From RTVUs to Open Universities in China. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(4).

A wall of screens is not the classroom of the future

CSU College of Business collaborative classroom.
Photo by CSU Photography
Colorado State University’s College of Business has installed 27 high-video screens to create "the classroom of the future". The screens are on the back wall of a classroom, which accommodates 37 students in the room and 88 remote on the screens. Some universities have gone further with a curved screens 360 degrees around the walls. However, I suggest these are a gimmick, a like flying cars, and are a future of the past.

HD screens and cameras are now not reasonably inexpensive, so it is tempting to fill classrooms with them. However, we should use the technology to overcome the limitations of physical classrooms, not perpetuate them.

If each student is displayed on screen life size, then this is only going to work for a small class, of less than one hundred students. For hundreds of students you would need a huge wall, and the instructor would not be able to clearly see any of them. Also the students in the room can't easily see the remote ones, even in a small room for a hundred students (in Colorado State's example, the screens are behind the students).  This would accurately emulate a large lecture theater, where the instructor can't see most of the students clearly, and students can't see each other, but is that a good thing?

Plan of Jeremy Bentham's
panopticon prison
drawn by Willey Reveley 1791.
From Wikipedia
In the modern classroom we don't want students passively sitting listening to the lecturer. We want students talking to each other. Building an electronic version of Bentham's panopticon, with the all-seeing teacher in the middle, and each student isolated, is not the way to do this.

The obvious solution is not to try to mimic the bad features of a physical classroom. Rather than dozens of screens, just have one on each wall, with the image of whoever is speaking enlarged, and everyone else reduced to thumbnails. This is what readily available, cheap or free, videoconferencing software already does. It is what most of the students in  “Room of the Future” see anyway, as they do not have a wall of screens at home.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

RescoIO Grant Recipient for IACT 2019

Congratulation to RescoIO as a grant recipient in the InnovationACT 2019 entrepreneurship program. It was a delight to be your mentor, although I did not do much.

Marc Torra & Alejandra Barrios Paez:
" is an open platform and web app for the exchange, maintenance, traceability and financing of goods, components and materials, with the aim of optimising their usage, effective life and circularity."

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Blending Soft Skills for University Graduates

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
On 20 November I am speaking at the ANU TELFest technology-enhanced learning conference, on How to blend and flip a course for a flatpack classroom. This is for ANU staff, but I would be happy to speak on this elsewhere. In particular I will be in Sydney 28 to 29 October, and Perth on Wednesday 13 November, if anyone would like to provide a venue and an audience.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Convert Latex Document to Microsoft Word with IEEE Template?

Is there some way to convert a LaTex document to MS Word? I prepared a paper for an IEEE conference using Overleaf/LaTex. The conference previously said PDF was okay, but are now asking for MS. Word.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Blockchain Roadmap

Greetings from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Science in Canberra, where I am attending The Inaugural Blockchain Australia National Meetup Roadshow. There are about sixty people present, mostly lawyers in dark suits. I am here as a member of the ACS Blockchain Technical committee. My aim was to mention the ACS' reports on blockchain, but the first speaker has already mentioned them.
  1. Blockchain Innovation: A Patent Analytics Report by IP Australia
  2. Blockchain 2030: A Look at the Future of Blockchain in CSIRO
  3. Blockchain Challenges for Australia  by the ACS Blockchain Technical Committee (I suggested to the section on blockchain for education)
We are having discussions around the tables and contributing via an app.  I have suggested there is a barrier to blockchain use through the lack of IT professionals trained in its use. This creates an opportunity for Australia to provide training and qualifications on blockchain to the world.

Two speakers mentioned the idea of a Blockchain Cooperative Research Center (CRC). I don't think this is a good idea. Blockchain is moving so fast it needs something more flexible than a CRC. This could be linked to the startup centers associated with universities and bodies such as the ACS.

The last question we were asked was what the National Blockchain Roadmap should be called. we looked at each other on our table and typed in: "National Blockchain Roadmap". ;-)

I am sitting next to the Blockchain Collective,  who have developed an Advanced Diploma of Applied Blockchain. Also I bumped into Neil Alexander from (in the ACS Harbour City Labs in Sydney).

 ps: It is a very Utopia event, with the MC mentioning there had been an episode of the TV comedy sending up government blockchain use.Already I have had two lawyers tell me about their parenting techniques, and received one invitation to give a presentation on the ethics of IT. ;-)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Defence Industry Workshop on Extended Reality in Canberra, 5 November

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is hosting a Defence Industry Workshop on XR, Tuesday 5 November. Defence and government organizations, as well as industry, and academia. are invited to attend. The Australian National University (ANU), is investigating the establishment of an Extended Reality Cooperative Research Center (XR-CRC) with other universities.  The term XR includes augmented reality, virtual reality, and other forms of computer generated simulations, using wearable, and other technology. For more details contact Dr Penny Kyburz, Senior Lecturer, Human-Centred Computing, ANU CECS.

Loyal Wingman supersonic fighter UAV
ps: One use for XR could be to provide an interface for high performance UAVs, such as the proposed Loyal Wingman supersonic aircraft. With this approach the remote operator would sit in a flight simulator, controlling the remote aircraft. The movement of the simulator would provide additional feedback, needed for fast decision making in combat.The simulator could be made small enough to be loaded on-board and operated from the aircraft being protected, such as the KC-30A tanker.

pps:  It happens I was the Defence representative on a joint industry project to produce a graphical user interface in the early 1990s. Unfortunately the Web came along and made our work obsolete. ;-)

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Report on Breech of Australian National University Systems

The Australian National University has released a 20 page "Incident Report on the Breech of the Australian National University's Administrative Systems". The supporting materials may also be of interest.

Contents of the report

  • Vice-Chancellor’s Foreword
  • Executive summary
  • Detailed timeline of the data breach
    • Figure 1: Simplified overview of actor   
    • Figure 2: Attack timeline
  • Post notification events 
  • Malware and tradecraft analysis
  • Lessons from the attack and follow-up actions
    • Personally identifiable information
    • Phishing awareness
    • Table One: Issues and Remediation
  • Appendix
    • Appendix A: “invitation” phishing email    
    • Appendix B: “meeting” phishing email    
    • Appendix C: “planning” phishing email   
From the Executive Summary:
"In early November 2018, a sophisticated actor gained unauthorised access to the ANU network. This attack resulted in the breach of part of the network known as the Enterprise Systems Domain (ESD), which houses our human resources, financial management, student administration and enterprise e-forms systems.

By gaining access to ESD, the actor was able to copy and steal an unknown quantity of data contained in the above systems. There is some evidence to suggest the same actor attempted to regain access to ESD during February 2019, but this second attack was ultimately unsuccessful. ...

Technical gaps aside, ANU ultimately views this breach and cybersecurity more broadly as an organisational issue, one which requires a change to the University’s security culture to adequately mitigate. It is through this lens we will undertake the next phase of our cybersecurity work – a strategic information security program. This program encompasses the modernisation of IT and security infrastructure and, more importantly, an emphasis on culture and security awareness among students, staff and researchers; and the protection of the data they entrust to ANU.

The investigation following the breach, which contributed to the contents of this report, was conducted in close cooperation with Australian Government security agencies and Northrop Grumman. ANU is grateful for their continued support."

EY Suggests More University Completions for Productivity Increase

The Productivity Uplift from Better Outcomes for Our University Students was commissioned by the Australian Government from EY. The report suggests more university completions would increase economic productivity. However, I suggest the report's authors made some unjustified assumptions, and if implemented the report's recommendations would reduce, rather than increase productivity. 

The 27 page report emphasizes "job-ready" graduates, suggesting a productivity uplift from improved graduate outcomes. I teach work skills to undergraduate and postgraduate students, so would welcome any way to improve these, but EY's approach makes a few questionable assumptions.

EY's report suggests that aligning graduate skills with workforce needs would boost economic growth. However this leaves out the Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. VET is specifically intended to provide intimidate skills for jobs. In contrast vocational education is only a part of what universities do. Abandoning research and the fostering of advanced skills by universities, and instead focusing on short term job skills will harm the Australian economy in the long term. This focus will turn out graduates who can meet intimidate needs, but not create new industries, or have the skills to work in them.

The EY report points out that the proportion of students completing their degree after nine years has fallen from 75% in 2009 to 66% in 2017. The claim is that improving
completion rates, could save money. However, this assumes that these students learned nothing useful in their non-completed studies, and that the three year degree is the best way to learn vocationally relevant skills.

There are some easy and inexpensive ways to increase the completion rates of students. I suggested some in my submission to the Senate last year.  

 The simplest way to increase completion is to have students undertake shorter, nested university programs, combining VET and university. Students can be encouraged to undertake shorter certificate and diploma programs at TAFE, before university. Government can also encourage universities to offer nested programs, where the students get vocationally useful qualifications, on their way to a degree.

Other ways to increase completion rates are to provide quality online part-time programs, and improve the teaching skills of university academics. At present, online education is seen as a poor substitute for on-campus face-to-face education. However, research shows there is no significant difference between the two.

In reality most Australian university students who are officially enrolled on campus are not attending most of their classes. These are really blended mode students. Unfortunately university academics have not been trained to teach in this mode and are instead giving lectures to mostly empty classrooms, with the recordings of the lectures being watched by students. This is a poor quality form of online education, but most academics have not been given the training to do any better.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Water for Rivers in NSW

Greetings from the Muda Aboriginal Corporation in Bourke, western NSW, where I am taking part in the Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree Festival 2019. We have been to  Walgettand Brewarrina, next is Wilcannia and Menindee. One issue is water for rivers.