Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Blockchain for Education

Dr Sabrina Caldwell
Greetings from the University of Technology Sydney, where I am taking part in a workshop with members of the International Standards Organization's Joint Photographic Experts Group (better known as "JPEG"), on the use of blockchain. There are image processing experts from around the world, including my colleague Dr Sabrina Caldwell, from ANU.

We were each asked to provide a one page quad chart on blockchain. I am not an expert in JPEG or Blockchain and feel a little out of my depth in this company. So I will stick to an application for education.

Blockchain for education

1. Use case(s)

  • Workers acquiring hundreds of micro-credentials
  • Need to validate micro-credentials globally in seconds

2. Key requirements

  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Regulation

 3. Potential Solutions


  • Open Access Education
  • Open Source Software 

4. Standardisation

  • Technical Standards
  • Mutual recognition between instutions and jurisdictions
  • Support by professional bodies 
 Notes

The Australian National University introduced Micro-credentials procedures in October 2019 (Worthington, 2019).

During their career a worker may acquire hundreds of micro-credentials. These would need to be validated before the worker could undertake a specific job, or task. With the gig-economy, this may need to be done several times a day in seconds, in a country away from where the credentials were issued. This will require a system which can scale for billions of workers, securely, and be recognized by governments around the world. Blockchain implementation of micro-credentials could be aided by open source software for implementation, and open access education to teach its use.

The report, Blockchain Challenges for Australia (ACS, 2019), listed micro-credentials as a potential application for blockchain, requiring low computational power, a high volume of data storage and users,  but low throughput (ACS, p 22, 2019).

References
ps: GovTech Singapore developed OpenCerts in cooperation with the OpenCerts Consortium.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why Tutoring?

In teaching university tutors how to teach, perhaps the first question is why should they learn this. Tutors are unlikely to go on to a full time career in teaching (very few of those who complete a PhD become university academics). LinkedIn recently predicted that the most in-demand soft skills with employers for 2020 will be creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Learning to teach can help with these. A teachers must be able to design lesson plans (creativity), get students to study (persuasion), team teach and teach students to work in groups (collaboration), change the teaching method and content depending on student needs (adaptability), and use use emotional information to guide  their teaching (emotional intelligence).

Friday, January 17, 2020

Innovators Lunch at the Eighteen04 Co-working Space Newcastle

Today I attended the monthly Innovators Lunch at the Eighteen04 Co-working Space in Newcastle. There were about a dozen people interested in start-ups, from university, local businesses, and some with international venture capital funds. Like similar centers around Australia, Eighteen04 is located in an interesting old building, in this case a former brewery. The Great Northern Brewery Building, is a very solid brick structure with huge wooden posts and beams, located at the TAFE NSW Hamilton campus. You can see the list of future Hunter IF Events.
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Principles of Tutoring and Demonstrating

In looking for materials to teach computer science and engineering tutors at ANU, I have access to the ten "Principles of Tutoring and Demonstrating" (PTD) modules. I looked at cutting it down to something one tenth the size, suitable for two days. That would have the advantage of consistency with the longer course, which some might then take. However, it was not feasible, but the same major topics could be used (these are much the same as other institution's tutor/TS introductions). One feature worth retaining is that PTD uses the same Moodle based system as the tutors will need to use for part of their role.

Using a conventional online or blended learning layout, this would be something like:

  • Announcements forum
  • Contact your instructor
  • Notes
  1. Preparing for the first class 
  2. How students learn 
  3. Plan a lesson 
  4. Students learning together 
  5. Supporting international students 
  6. Designing Assessment

PostAc Helping PhDs Escape Academia

The app "PostAc" has been developed to help PhD students into non-academic research careers. This is by Dr Inger Mewburn, director of research training at The Australian National University, better known as "The Thesis Whisperer". There will be a launch at CBRIN in Canberra, 2pm, 3 February.

PostAc could be useful not so much in getting PhD students jobs, but  getting them thinking about jobs outside academia. At PhD final seminars I routinely ask students how they will apply the results of their research. In the past many would have not thought beyond publishing their work. They had a vague idea that as they had a PhD they would be able to get a university job. They had not yet faced the fact that their chances of getting a secure job at a university were minimal, and they needed to look father afield. About the only doctoral graduates not in this situation are those who do a professional doctorate related to a profession, where there is a demand for graduates. But a doctoral education for most is a PhD, and not a guarantee of a job.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance to Save the Planet from Environmental Catastrophe Through Educaiton

Penzenstadler, Betz, Venters, Chitchyan, Porras, Seyff, and Becker (2018) suggest under-graduate computing degree programs are failing to address social and environmental issues and inducing some cognitive dissonance would help motivate students. The authors reference my course "ICT Sustainability", where like others, where the students are already assumed to be motivated by a wish to do good for the environment. In practice I suspect some students are instead by the assumption that a course on sustainability must be easy: but they soon learn soft skills, are hard. ;-) More seriously, the authors conclude that their project-based course design fits well with sustainability topics (I agree, and this has been explored in some of the ANU TechLauncher projects). They also suggest more interaction with
the students before a summer school for preparation: however this may be difficult to achieve (my preference is for a blended approach, where the students are formally enrolled online and directed to study materials, rather than expect them to do pre-course work).
 
Chalmers University of Technology
"Sustainability has become an important concern across many disciplines, and software systems play an increasingly central role in addressing it. However, teaching students from software engineering and related disciplines to effectively act in this space requires interdisciplinary courses that combines the concept of sustainability with software engineering practice and principles. Yet, presently little guidance exist on which subjects and materials to cover in such courses and how, combined with a lack of reusable learning objects. This paper describes a summer school course on Software Engineering for Sustainability (SE4S). We provide a blueprint for this course, in the hope that it can help the community develop a shared approach and methods to teaching SE4S. Practical lessons learned from delivery of this course are also reported here, and
could help iterate over the course materials, structure, and guidance for future improvements. The course blueprint, availability of used materials and report of the study results make this course viable for replication and further improvement." 
 
From Penzenstadler, Betz, Venters, Chitchyan, Porras, Seyff, and Becker (2018)

References


Penzenstadler, B., Betz, S., Venters, C. C., Chitchyan, R., Porras, J., Seyff, N., ... & Becker, C. (2018, May). Everything is INTERRELATED: teaching software engineering for sustainability. In 2018 IEEE/ACM 40th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering Education and Training (ICSE-SEET) (pp. 153-162). IEEE. URL https://pure.hud.ac.uk/ws/files/12607064/interrelated_teaching_software_final.pdf

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

What Skills and Knowledge do Tutors Need?

I was asked to help with training of university tutors for computer science and engineering. So I looked at some of the training materials used around the world. But what do tutors need to know and be able to do? The term "tutor" is used by Australian universities for casual contract staff, usually later year undergraduates, and graduate students, who teach small groups (tutorials, or workshops), or supervise in a laboratory. In the USA these are referred to as Graduate Teaching Assistants, or just Teaching Assistants, and are usually PhD students.For simplicity, I will use the term tutors.

Tutors may take on many roles, apart from teaching small groups, including giving lectures and in some cases running whole courses (under the supervision of a Professor). However, my interest here is in what a beginning tutor, who has been asked to supervise a small class needs to know and be able to do.

UK Professional Standards Framework 


The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) breaks what a university teacher needs to be able to do into three categories: Areas of Activity (A), Core Knowledge Professional Values (K), and Professional Values(V):

"A The Areas of Activity
  1. Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  2. Teach and/or support learning
  3. Assess and give feedback to learners 
  4. Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  5. Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices 
K. Core Knowledge
  1. The subject material
  2. Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  3. How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  4. The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  5. Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  6. The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching
V. Professional Values
  1. Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  2. Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  3. Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research,
    scholarship and continuing professional development
  4. Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice"
From:  UK Professional Standards Framework, HEA, 2011

Under the UK PSF Graduate Teaching Assistants (ie: tutors) are expected to have covered at least two of the five Areas of Activity (A1 to A5), core knowledge of the subject matter and how to teach it (K1 & K2), a "commitment" to appropriate Professional Values (V1 to V4), professional practices, subject and pedagogic research and/or scholarship of these, professional development activity (A5).

Areas of Activity

 The Areas of Activity seem a good place to start. It may seem curious that the first item on the list is not teaching (it is second). This may be because tutors, and university teachers generally, do not simply teach pre-prepared materials, they design activities for their students, and in many cases, carry out some of the assessment. So A1, A2 and A3 would appear essential for a tutor.

It is less clear that tutors can, and should, develop learning environments and approaches (A4). Beginning tutors will not have the experience, or training to do this. More clearly, tutors should be undertaking continuing professional development (K5).

Core Knowledge

Obviously, the tutor will need knowledge of the subject their student are to learn (K1) and how to teach it (K2). Undergraduate students who are tutoring will generally be at a later stage in their studies at the same institution, in the same field as the students they are tutoring. Thus these tutors will be familiar with the subject matter. However, PhD students may have finished their studies years ago, in another country and in another part of the discipline, as so will need to study up on what they are teaching.

Practitioners from industry may also be less current with the subject matter, however they will have a depth of practical experience, which students value. Subject matter knowledge is something I don't think needs to be covered in tutor training, except to say the tutor needs to review the teaching materials.

More problematic are methods for teaching and assessment (K2). Practitioners, and PhD students may not be familiar, or comfortable, with modern teaching and assessment methods. These tutors may assume students attend lectures, and assessed via examinations and individual assignments assessed by staff. However, a constructionist approach is increasingly used, particularly in fields such as computing and engineering.

With a constructionist approach the focus is on students undertaking projects, working in teams. There may be videos and computer based instructional materials, in place of lectures, and peer assessment of project work. This can be very confronting for tutors who have not learned in this way, especially when challenged by students who are not familiar with it either. There is a temptation for the tutor to fall back on what they know, giving lectures, and marking student work, instead carrying out their expected role.

Those teaching tutors, I suggest, should lead by example. Giving lectures to tutors telling them they should not give lectures will not send the intended message. Instead the same approach with videos and online materials should be used for teaching the tutors. The tutors should be given group activities to undertake, with most of the learning time spent on this. Even if their training is not to be formally assessed, they should be set the task of assessing each other, so they have experience of this.

How students learn (K3) need not be covered in detail. Some tutor training courses make the mistake of assuming they are training education academics, rather than practitioners. I suggest it is better to briefly mention learning theory, and then apply it, via the tutor training materials and activities. Similarly, learning technologies can be introduced by using them as part of the tutor training. Ideally the same tools should be used for tutor instruction, as they will use for teaching students.

Methods for evaluating teaching (k5) and quality assurance (K6), should be confined to peer review, which can be practiced during the training, and whatever standard evaluation surveys the institution uses. Those training teachers should resist the temptation to turn them into apprentice education researchers, or assistants for the trainer's research projects, as few of the tutors will go on to a career in academia.

Reference

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK professional standards framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. URL https://documents.advance-he.ac.uk/download/file/7013


Monday, January 6, 2020

Available to Help with Distance Educaiton from Sydney During Bushfire Emergency

Preparing web pages
for Defence Exercise K95
I was in Sydney when the smoke hit Canberra, and will be working from here until conditions improve. As I have some experience in distance and e-learning, I would be happy to help out any Canberra educational institutions needing to provide remote access for their students (although most are well equipped for this already). If staff or students in Sydney needed face-to-face support, I expect one of the local institutions would loan us a room. As a member of the Australian Computer Society I can also make use of the ACS Hub at Barangaroo.

If any emergency or relief organizations need extra help with just-in-time online training of staff and volunteers, I would be happy to help.

My skills in design of military and emergency websites are a little rusty, but if anyone needs help with that I would be happy to do so.

ps: The photo is from when I was at Mallacoota in 1995, preparing web pages for a military exercise.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Facilitating Blended Learning

To see if the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) course materials could be adapted for classroom teaching, I started with the FLO Fundamentals course. 

I copied the e-book for "Week 1 Overview". FLO has the e-book broken up into very small segments, each designed to be readable without scrolling. I find this format very annoying, as so many button clicks are needed to get the screen-fulls. Instead I prefer one e-book for a whole module, arranged as conventional long pages, which are scrolled (this also makes editing much easier). So I pasted the Week 1 content into one new e-book page.

Next, as this is to be about more than online teaching, I searched for all occurrences of "online" and deleted them (about 40). As the course may not be in a weekly format, I replaced occurrences of "week" with "module" (thus Module 1, Module 2, instead of Week 1, Week 2). 

The result is mostly readable, but some manual editing would be required, to have this cover both online and classroom teaching. For example this sentence makes little sense for face-to-face teaching (without the word "online"):
 "It is important for learners to understand that we are actually present and active in the online class as we are not visible to them.".

It would be tempting to add "face-to-face" to this. But instead, I suggest generalizing the concept:

 "It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them."

The point here is that students assume that teaching only happens when the teacher is telling the student something. So the teacher needs to give students the sense that they actively monitoring a classroom discussion, be it online or face-to-face. One problem new teachers have is making their presence felt without constantly interrupting the student discussion, stifling it (this is something which many senior professors have never learned). One approach I suggest is to wait for a scheduled, or natural break in the discussion, and then provided feedback which quotes students contributions.

I suggest terms need to be explained in course notes. For example, the section on "feedback" does not actually say what feedback is, or what it is for. There is little point in going into the finer points of good feedback, if the reader doesn't know the basics.

Also I dislike inspirational, and overly long quotes in course notes, so I would want to cut those down. This also avoids having to manually check global edits (such as deleting "online") has not effected a quote. The remaining text is a bit wordy, and I would like to cut it down by about a quarter. However, even with these few simple edits, the notes read reasonably well:

Notes: Facilitating Learning Fundamentals

Building Community

Overview

Setting the stage...
We begin by introducing some important topics in teaching and learning:
  • intended learning outcomes
  • building and sustaining an learning community
  • providing feedback
Throughout the workshop you'll be asked to participate in or facilitate specific learning activities. Take time to reflect on these important topics and see how they affect the learning experience - both from a facilitator's and a participant's perspective.

During Module 1, you'll explore concepts and research associated with facilitation, learning and the Community of Inquiry framework. You'll begin to develop and participate in the learning community. By the end of the Module, you'll be connecting with the other members of your facilitation team, sharing your first "nuggets" of learning, and self-assessing your participation.

Notice what the facilitators and your colleagues did this Module to develop the learning community. What worked for you (e.g., features of the course itself, activities, timing, certain moments or postings)? What could have been done differently?

Learning Outcomes

A learning outcome provides a description of what learners should know, understand, and be able to do in a course or program (Huba and Freed, 2000). Learning outcomes place the emphasis on what learners will obtain in the learning process, not on what the instructor is attempting to do in the course or unit.

A learning outcome establishes the basis for fair learner evaluation. Formal and informal assessment processes provide both participants and facilitators with opportunities to check that learning is aligned with learning outcomes. As learning facilitators, we have a challenging task to incorporate assessment in a way that is both constructive and supportive of our learners. This is especially true in the environment where our learners may feel increased isolation and concern. You made find it helpful to reflect on the following questions as you prepare to teach your course:
  • How do the outcomes inform and focus the course's learning activities?
  • How do I keep learners focused on the outcomes?
  • How do I ensure that ongoing assessment and feedback aligns with the learning outcomes?

Module Activities

During this first Module, the Facilitators will guide you in a demonstration learning activity about community. The purpose of this activity is to show you one way of facilitating a learning activity in a short period of time.
Note:  Each of you will have an opportunity to facilitate a Module long learning activity during this workshop. You can review the details of the process in the Workshop Handbook:  Activities: facilitating page and you will find further guidance in your team planning forum in the Facilitation Teams Workspace tabbed page.
Your activity facilitation team will post detailed instructions and a schedule above the activity forum.
Focus for the Activity
You’ll be asked to explore your own perceptions of learning communities and the role an instructor can play in building community.
Goals
During this Module's discussions, you'll be asked to:
  • share your ideas and experiences around learning communities
  • explore different aspects of the Community of Inquiry model
  • think of ways that an instructor can develop and maintain an learning community

Community Building


Developing a supportive and connected learning community is a key factor in helping learners feel comfortable and willing to fully engage in learning activities. Preparing a statement on a given topic and posting it for everyone to see can be an intimidating experience for a learner in a new group, particularly for those who are relatively new to the environment. When people know a bit about each other and have had an opportunity to interact informally, a sense of camaraderie can develop which encourages people to feel comfortable enough to take risks and explore ideas.

Many programs begin with a face-to-face course or residency so learners have met each other in person and have begun to form a cohesive learning community. As an instructor you might be the "stranger" who needs to get to know your learners.
We build a sense of connection with our learners through presence, interaction and commitment to a common purpose in a given space and time. Non-verbal and verbal cues of welcome, invitation and encouragement contribute to the tone of a face to face class. In the environment most of these communication tools are at our disposal if we just know how to employ them:

  • Providing brief audio and video introductions to both the course and yourself as an instructor help bring your voice and personality to the class. Learners can do the same.
  • Make your intentions and expectations explicit.
  • "Silence" in an course, (a lack of messages, responses to messages or other interactions), can be construed – and misconstrued. In addition, it is easy to misunderstand a written message and draw negative conclusions. When a person is feeling anxious, the likelihood that they will interpret things negatively increases.
Mike Thompson (1:24)
Our job as learning facilitators is to be obviously supportive, both of the group and of the individual. The kinds of learning activities we choose play a significant part in the development of a sense of community. Learners cannot be passive knowledge-absorbers who rely on the instructor to feed information to them. It is imperative that they be active knowledge-generators who assume responsibility for constructing and managing their own learning experience. In a learner-centred environment, many of the traditional instructor responsibilities such as generating resources and leading discussion shifts to the learners. Success in an learning environment depends on the use of instructional strategies that support this shift in roles.
How do you create and sustain communities?
Patricia McClelland (3:46)
Beth Cougler Blom (3:41)

Presence and Learning

It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them. We want them to know that we are reading their postings, watching activities unfold, and taking note of the process of learning. This is referred to as "instructor presence". Throughout this course you will find tips and strategies to establish and maintain presence without being overbearing or stifling learner initiative.
Doug Hamilton (1:03)

Developing a sense of community can begin from providing opportunities to create connections between participants and between participants and the course content. Don't be afraid to use your imagination and get creative; bring who you are to the online environment. At the same time watch that you don't overwhelm the group with additional activities that burden them. Keep it simple and make much of it optional.
Beth Cougler Blom (2:43) 
Alicia Wilkes (1:20)
Doug Hamilton (1:28)

Facilitation

This resource contains five very short video clips (three on this page, two on the next) from faculty. Sit down and take a relaxing 10 minutes to hear a few of their thoughts. Keep their insights in mind as you work through this Module's activities.


Doug Hamilton (1:02)




Jen Walinga (1:18)




Alicia Wilkes (1:28)

Providing Feedback

Feedback is essential to learning. It lets people know whether they are mastering the outcomes and indicates whether or not remedial or additional action is required. Feedback can also encourage learners to stretch and reach new heights. Feedback is like water or air for learners; they need it to survive.
Feedback can be inspiring to learners. It can assist struggling learners who need more encouragement and positive reinforcement. It can also help learners better appreciate the specific strategies they need to use to improve their skill level or performance. Nevertheless, if not done with sensitivity, respect, and empathy, feedback can also be devastating. Poorly planned, or awkwardly phrased feedback can confuse and demoralize a learner.
To be effective, feedback should be positive, concrete, and specific. Feedback should also be instructive. Like asking good questions, providing feedback also enables participants to reflect on their learning and determine possible follow-up actions and strategies.
Alicia Wilkes (1:04)

Optional Reading and Viewing

The following optional readings and videos are provided as references for the topics discussed in this Module's Overview.
Facilitation
Videos
  • Excerpts from 2008 Facilitation Strategies video - (6 min, Youtube)
    0:11 - "How do you help students interact effectively in an course?"
    1:20 - "How do you sustain discussions?"
    1:45 - How do you keep a presence in discussions without taking over the conversations?"
And just for fun....
  • (3:08 YouTube video)
    Note: Calling all Elvis fans....(funny because it's true?)
Community
Community of Inquiry Model
Feedback

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Facilitating Learning

I came across the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) courses, while looking for materials to teach Australian university tutors. These courses are hosted by BCcampus in British Colombia, Canada (an organization similar to an Australian state funded TAFE vocational education providers). FLO courses are derived from the Canadian Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), but intended for online delivery to those who teach online, rather than ISW's face-to-face. FLO materials are available as Moodle backup files, so they can downloaded, modified and uses (under a CC-BY license, for free).

 

In reading through the ISW and FLO materials, it struck me that there was no longer a need for two different approaches to teaching instructors, with two sets of courses and materials. There are no fundamental differences in the way students learn on-line or face-to-face, or the way instructors do their job. Instead teachers could learn how to teach online, an face to face. The materials and exercises for this could be designed for delivery online, or face-to-face, but like most post-secondary courses today, would likely be delivered via a blend.

 

In Australia, where I teach, and I assume Canada (where I have studied), most courses are officially categorized as classroom based, but students treat them as blended, only attending the face-to-face components they find of value. A student can usually get course outlines, videos, exercises and assignments online, only needing to turn up to some workshops/tutorials, and some examinations. Where conventional lectures are offered, most students will not turn up.

 

Post-secondary teachers can become frustrated when their students don't turn up. This frustration, I suggest, could be lessened by taking teachers through a well designed blended course, on how to teach. Instead offering a course which focuses on classroom exercises will increase frustration.

 

ps: One thing I did not understand is that FLO's Facilitators Forum (implemented in Moodle), is called a "Private Rail Car" and has a photo of a dome topped railway car. Is this ed-tech jargon, or Canadian slang? wink