Sunday, March 29, 2020

Zen Martial Arts Maxims for Online Teaching

To those working hard to move courses online, due to the  COVID-19 Coronavirus, remember there is no need to replace every lecture with a video, every tutorial with a webinar, or every paper examination with an online test. I recommend the Zen martial arts maxims: Economy of effort, Realism, and Switching smoothly between techniques.

In 2014, as a student of online teaching I was required to write a personal Theory of Practice. I decided to apply Zen martial arts maxims:

1. Economy of effort

Meditation, Created by Jens Tärning from the Noun Project, CC-BY 3.0, 2014
Meditation, by Jens Tärning
from the Noun Project,
CC-BY 3.0, 2014

Martial arts emphasize maximum results from minimum effort. Similarly, learning is a means to an end and so should be done efficiently: using just enough resources to get the job done. However, most theories of education ignore the cost of an activity. There tends to be an inappropriate emphasis on trying in education, rather than succeeding.

2. Realism

Education needs to provide the student with useful skills. Students will need to start with simplified exercises, but need to be exposed to increasingly realistic problems. My students either have jobs or are training for a specific role as a professional, their studies are therefore focused on obtaining skills for that job. By providing student exercises which are based on their own workplace, or a reasonable simulation of the workplace, the students are motivated and learn useful skills.

3. Switching smoothly between techniques

Educational literature is full of explanations of why one principle, theory or technique is superior to another. But one approach will rarely do for all situations. Educators need to move smoothly from one technique to another. Students will need times when they learn alone and then others in a group. They can learn the basics using a simple drill and practice computer program (based on behaviorism theory) and then explore advanced topics with other students.

From the chapter "Theory of Practice", of the book Digital Teaching In Higher Education by Tom Worthington, 2017.

The Zen maxims are from Bruce Lee's Tao Of Jeet Kune Do
(Lee, 1975).

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Free open source alternatives to Zoom for Videoconferences

I spent much of the week in Zoom based video conferences, only one of which did not work. This is remarkable, given how heavily Zoom is being used due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. In contrast, I had considerable difficulty with Blackboard Collaborate. Collaborate seems to be less able to cope with my 1 mbps broadband connection than when I used it at 28.8 kbps dial-up speed in 2011. 

There are also some open source video conference products. Hamza Mu has detailed 15 of them in "Top 15 Open source Video conference and Team Communication Solutions for Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and Phones (, 30 Mar 2019). The only one of these open source products I have used is BigBlueButton, which is commonly teamed with the Moodle learning management system. However, Apache OpenMeetings looks interesting.

However, these video conference tools have not changed much, from the user's point of video, for decades. The quality of the video has improved, but that is about all, and that is about the least important aspect of a video conference. These events should really be called audio conferences with a shared screen and optional video.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tuning Zoom Videoconferencing

Today was my third video conference for the week, Reading the Corona: extraordinary responses during an extraordinary time, hosted by the ANU Indonesia Project. Chatib Basri and Rizki Siregar discussed policy options for dealing with the the COVID-19 Coronavirus in Indonesia.
With 300 participant, this Zoom video conference had many more than those yesterday, but worked much better. This is a good way to keep in touch, but I am worried about the amount of bandwidth which might be used. So I tried shaping (limiting) my network connection.

Shape Your Video Conference

I am using 4g wireless broadband, with two out of five bars of signal strength, running at 2.63 Mbps download, 1.54 Mbps upload and a ping speed of 34 ms from Canberra to Sydney (at other times it has been 9.1 Mbps download, 12.8 Mbps upload and pink speed of 29 ms). That is modest by current standards, but adequate for attending, and presenting at a Zoom video conference.
I stared shaping with 150 kbps, which is Zoom's recommended minimum, for screen sharing plus a thumbnail video. But Zoom reported an unstable link and it was unusable. Increasing to 512 kbps worked well. The video was then at 256 x 144 pixels and 5 frames per second (sometimes 320 x 180 at 12 frames per second). Shared screens were very clear at 1440 pixels wide, with a small, but clear, video window next to them.

Yesterday I was using video conferencing via the Australian National University's very high speed network. I discovered I could reduce the data requirements for Zoom by keeping the video window small. Today I am using a much slower cellular modem wireless connection. But with the bandwidth shaped, and resulting lower resolution video, the experience is much better than on the higher bandwidth connection.

I used the Linux tool Wondershaper to slow down my network connection, but there are similar tools for other operating systems (and using routers). Wondershaper is not ideal, as it slows down everything, not just Zoom (other tools can select just one application to shape). Of course it would be better to tell Zoom to use less bandwidth, but I have not been able to find a way to do that.

Flip your Video Event

Keep in mind that glitches happen with video conferences. Yesterday I had four scheduled Zoom meetings. The first two worked flawlessly. The third had some glitches, and the last did not work at all.

I suggest 'flipping' the format for online events. That is, provide the presentation slides and, if possible, a short recorded video by each speaker beforehand. That way, if there are intermittent problems, the presenters can skip the full presentation and go straight to questions. Also I suggest reducing the length of events, and break them up into segments of no more than ten minutes. For example, instead of an hour long seminar, make it 15 minutes, including 5 minutes for questions.

Organizers need to be ready to switch off the video, leaving just slides and audio, if there are bandwidth problems. Also the organizers should have copies of slides and be ready to manually change them, if the presenter has difficulty doing that at their location. They should be ready to just talk, with no slides, as I have told ANU TechLauncher students

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

K12 EdTech Showcase

My third video meeting for the day was a K12 EdTech Showcase hosted by EduGrowth, an Australian educational technology innovation hub. There were quick presentations from education entrepreneurs. Interestingly, these were not just online platforms for delivering content, but also curated libraries of content. This could be particularity useful for teachers looking for stuff to keep students at home occupier.

What worked particularly well for this event were the moderator using an interview technique, where they asked questions. As with previous events, Zoom was used. This worked better when the video was turned off, with just the presenter's voice and slides.One frustration was that each time the presentation shifted to a new presenter, the display switched to full screen video. It would be useful if Zoom could be configured to stop this happening.

Work Integrated Learning in the Age of COVID-19

The Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) held a video meeting today to discuss what to do about Work Integrated Learning (WIL) in response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Post secondary educational institutions (and some secondary), have students who undertake part of their program gaining practical experience in a workplace. This is required for some accreditation to work in industry. But what happens to these students with workplaces closed?

Part of the answer to that was provided by ACEN, leading by example, in convening a video conference. This was attended by about 280 people around Australia, and some from other countries.

I help teach ANU TechLauncher students who undertake group software development projects for a real client. This is a little easier to manage, as these students are normally not on the client's premises. Also computing professional routinely do much of their work using computer based tools, and the students have already been introduced to coordinating their work online. I have provided some tips on how to work remotely, from the client, from their tutor, and from each other.

The ACEN video conference suffered from some technical glitches. I have provided some tips on what to do to place less strain on our digital infrastructure. This was my second video meeting for the day, with two to go.

Use Video Conferences to Keep in Touch But Conserve Bandwidth

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I just took part in the inaugural Virtual Morning Tea (VMT), for early career academics. These will be held weekly by the  ANU Network for Early Career Academics (NECTAR). There will also be more formal regular online seminars, but the VMT is an informal drop-in sessions to avoid social isolation. While this is a good use of technology, it is also a good idea to conserve the use of the public data networks, as there is likely to be high use of the coming months. So here are some tips. The video conferencing product being used was Zoom, but other products are likely to behave similarly.

It is possible to reduce data use, simply by using a small video window. With video full screen, I have found that Zoom uses about 1,000 kbps. If I reduced the size of the video window to around 512 by 240 pixels, the data reduced to 300 kbps. Minimizing the video to a "thumbnail" (200 by 112 pixels) reduced data to 220 kbps. Hiding the video reduced data to 120 kbps. This is consistent with Zoom's documentation: 1.2 Mbps for HD video, screen sharing with  video thumbnail at 50-150kbps, and screen sharing only with no video thumbnail 50-75kbps.

During a formal presentation, video is really only needed at the start to introduction the speaker, and at the end during questions, if at all. In between there are usually slides to look at, so the video can be minimized, or hidden. I suggest participant adopt that way of viewing, and if possible, event organizers set this up as the default.

There are other ways you can improve video meetings, especially with careful preparation. The aim is to have the live video meeting as just one element, ideally a non-essential one. Much can be done with text based communications, which are less demanding of networks, to keep people in touch.

Zoom, and other video products, adjust to the bandwidth available, but then tries to use all that bandwidth. This makes them poor online citizens, like someone who fills their trolley with toilet paper, if you let them. wink

As there is likely to be a high demand for Internet access over the next few months, I suggest that providers of video conference products set defaults to use less bandwidth. At the very least they could be set so only a small video window appears by default. Also they could provide a low speed option which uses no more than 256 kbps, and this could be made the default setting. As an example, Zoom has a maximum bandwidth setting, but this is disabled by default. This should be enabled and set to no more than 256 kbps.

Use Recorded Videos and Small Online Tutorials

It is time for lecturers to swallow our pride and accept the "sage on the stage" is not that important to student learning. In place of large live events, I suggest the flipped approach. Provide videos and other materials for students to study in advance (you can provide quizzes to help). Then have online tutorials for small groups. The lecturer can record some short videos for them to use during the tutorials (I suggest around 60 seconds each).

Video conference systems, such as Zoom, allow for hundreds of students to take part in an online interactive events (Webinar). During the event the class can be divided into smaller groups, to work on a task for a few minutes, then the class brought back togehter. This is an excellent teaching method, however, it places demands on the technology, and staff which may be too much due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. There is likely to be very high utilization of videoconferencing, straining resources. Also large complex real-time events are harder to organize.

University Researchers Need to Implement COVID19 Measures NOW

Staff of universities and research organizations should have by now been issued guidelines for them to limit face to face meetings, and move activities on-line, due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. University teachers have needed to make changes to accommodate students, but there has perhaps been less pressure on researchers to change their work habits.

Stop Gathering in the Common Room

One of the delights of being on the academic staff of a university has been gathering in the common room for regular morning tea. This is a very good way to find out what is going on, and to sound out colleagues about ideas. However, this must now stop.

Move Seminars On-line

Over the last few weeks I have been asking each organizer of a meeting, seminar, or conference I have been invited to attend or speak at to provide an online option. This started happening gradually, with notices from organizers saying they have either moved events entirely online, or at least added an online option. However, it is now time to drop the in-person option for events, and focus on providing good online alternatives.

Online events need to start on time, with someone to welcome arrivals, and assure them the audio is working. Also the number of people together running the event needs to be limited. There is no need for all the presenters to be together in the one room.

The Research Project You Save May Be Your Own

For those who are unconcerned about their own safety, I urge them to consider their colleagues and their families. If for no other reason, they need to change their behavior to protect their research, which will suffer if their research team is the center of a COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 Infection Control Training Online from Australian Government

The Australian Department of Health is providing COVID-19 Infection Control Training online for healthcare and related workers.  The module was produced by Aspen Medical. An introductory page warned "Due to the high demand of the Infection Control Training course, you may experience timeouts. We are working with our training partner to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.". The approach I suggest to get around this is to provide a version of the course materials outside the Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS allows the progress of each student to be tracked and t=for them to be provided with the appropriate materials and tests at each stage. However, all that takes computing resources, limiting the number of students. Much of the demand is likely to be from people who do not need, or want, to complete the entire course. Typically, only 5% to 10% of people who sign up for a free online course complete it. Many just want to see what is in the course, or have a general interest. For these people a sample of the course materials can be provided outside the LMS. It is also possible to provide all the materials so that the course can be run in house.
The COVID-19 training does offer some material outside the LMS already:

Monday, March 23, 2020

Australian Has Been Doing Distance Educaiton for 100 Years

A timely article  today on "Online schooling and distance ed? Don’t be afraid, we’ve been doing and improving it for 100 years" by Philip Roberts and Natalie Downes (Edu Research Matters, 23 March 2020). I was talking about this on ABC Radio Canberra this-morning, reassuring students and parents that distance and online education is not completely new in Australia. However, there will be frustrations for students, parents and teachers. One thing I did, as an international online student of distance education was to keep a personal journal. In my journal I expressed my frustrations with the course, the teachers, my fellow students, and the world in general. Much better than lashing out in a class, or public forum. ;-)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Don't Depend on Live Video for Teaching: Flip It

I suggest a flipped approach for on-line educaiton, which supplements text and pre-recorded material with live participation. While video conferences, webinars, and live streaming of video with synchronous participation are popular, these makes demands on the national network infrastructure, which may not be sustainable over the coming months. This not to say don't use video conferences and live streaming, but don't depend on them working.

ps: Last year I had a project for streaming with synchronous participation, in a way which would be tolerant of network problems. Unfortunately this work has been suspended due to the pandemic emergency, so I don't have a usable product.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Free Online Teaching Course Starting 20 March

Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes,
Athabasca University (Canada), is offering a free five-week online course Learning to Learn Online, starting 20 March. This is the university where I undertook a Master of Educaiton in Distance Educaiton. I was an online international student, and Athabasca certainly know how to use e-learning to teach digital teaching.
"In this , you will explore the fundamentals of the learning process and various models of online courses to determine your learning preferences and which forms of online learning are best for you. Activities will address common misconceptions, frustrations and fears about online learning, and introduce techniques to help overcome such obstacles and gain confidence as a learner.

Throughout the course you will be guided through an interactive and reflective process by a team of online learning specialists, with the opportunity to join in live sessions with leading researchers in online education.
On completion of this course, you will be able to:
  • Describe what it means to learn - anywhere, anytime.
  • Clarify personal learning preferences.
  • Identify common components of an online learning environment.
  • Compare differences between online and traditional learning.
  • Plan for areas of personal adjustment required for success in online learning.
  • Analyze different types of learning environments including a personal learning environment.
  • Explore and employ effective online communication tools and strategies.
  • Describe the role of an online learning community in supporting learning.
Certificates of completion are available for participants who pass all five module quizzes."

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Transition to On-line Study: Example message to team project students

The Australian National University is to pause all coursework teaching for one week from Monday 23 March and then deliver online for the remainder of the semester. Here is an example of a message I prepared for Techlauncher computer group project students about the change to e-learning. These students receive few conventional lectures, instead they work in teams on a project, and meet with a tutor regularly.

Transition to Online Study

The TechLauncher program is now being delivered online, due to COVID-19. I have some experience with online education, and so will be providing some tips for students, and tutors, over the coming weeks. Here are the first:

Use the tools you have: You already have an array of online collaboration resources available to you. With most of these, an individual can contribute at any time, and it is stored so others can view it later. In education, this is called asynchronous mode. Many software development teams, who are spread across the world, work this way. However, to get a sense of being a team, and when quick decisions are needed, nothing beats real-time synchronous communication, with everyone contributing at the same time.

For online tutorials, ANU has provided Zoom Videoconferencing. There is a Zoom "Meeting" for each tutorial group. You can use the meeting-id via the web, or download the client for your computer, or smartphone. With the agreement of your tutor, you can use an alternative conferencing product for tutorials. Teams can use whichever tool they find most useful for their own meetings.

You may not need video: While it is called a video conferencing tool, Zoom, and similar products, work well with audio, slides, and screen sharing. As team members already know each other well, you do not necessarily need to see each other. You can also use your asynchronous tools in a near real-time mode, talking together via Zoom, while looking at, and modifying shared documents. A headset greatly improves the quality of sound, and also using a smartphone, rather than a computer for audio tends to have fewer problems. You can use your smartphone for sound and your computer for documents, at the same time.

Meeting preparation is important: Whatever tool you use, keep in mind that good meeting preparation is even more important online than for a face-to-face meeting. You need to solicit items for the agenda well in advance, and preferably circulate the agenda, and any documents for discussion, well beforehand. It can become very confusing if documents participants have not seen before popup online during the meeting.

The tool you are using to distribute documents and images may fail during the meeting, leaving just audio (and perhaps text chat). During the face to face presentations, you have been encouraged to be ready to keep talking if the video display fails and the same applies online: if the video fails you need to be prepared to keep going, referring to documents the participants already have, or painting them a picture with your voice.

The Campus still open but be prepared: At present ANU has not closed the campus, so physical meeting rooms are available. However, this could change without notice, so please prepare now for on-line working. Also while you should take sensible precautions, there is no general requirement to self-isolate at this stage.

Don't Panic: I have been delivering on-line education at ANU for a decade, using the same proven techniques we are implementing for Techlauncher. From 2013 to 2017 I was a graduate student of education, refining these techniques for delivering international distance education. From this experience, I learned which techniques work, but more importantly, how it is key we remember there is a person on the other end of the network connection, and to treat them as such.

I would welcome comments, suggestions, and corrections.

Tom Worthington
Instructor for Learning to Reflect

Sunday, March 15, 2020

All educators must offer e-learning now

I was asked recently what to do if a student who is enrolled on campus asks to switch to online study, due to fear of COVID-19 Coronavirus. Should this only be allowed if the student has a medical condition which places them at risk, or they are unable to get to campus due to travel bans? No, I suggest all students be offered an online alternative now. Educators need not, and should not, wait for their institution, or a government authority, to order, or endorse this action. As e-learning is already having to be provided to some students, offering it to all is not a large cost or inconvenience. Teachers have an ethical, and legal, obligation to act in the interests of their students, their colleagues, and in the public interest.

E-learning for Schools Pitch

Last week I attended a Service Design Meetup at the Canberra Innovation Network, sponsored by Evolve & Amplify. We went through the standard entrepreneurial start-up value proposition process. I worked on the idea of expanding my e-learning services from university to business, in response to the  COVID-19 Coronavirus emergency. I produced a pitch, and submitted it to a start-up competition. Also I produced a video, but then discovered they completion did not allow videos, so here it is.

Images under a Creative Commons License.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Designing in an On-line Learning Option

One of the benefits of computers in education is that this makes distance education a richer experience and feasible for more students. It also can remove the need for special provisions for when some, or all, students cannot get to campus, such as in the current COVID-19 Coronavirus emergency.

Pictographs by
Carlos Sarmento

from the Noun Project
(CC BY 3.0 US).
As part of my graduate studied in education, and informed by my background in defence and emergency management, in 2016 I concluded that international students could be prevented from coming to Australian campuses at short notice due to an international crisis. In 2017 I suggested that universities provide blended learning, which allowed for students who could not get to campus to study online. Since then I have been designing and delivering courses this way: on-line, with classroom activities for those students who can get to campus.

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
An example is the "Learning to Reflect" module for Australian National University computer project management students. This has an e-book, videos, online quizzes, and online student forums. There is also provision for face-to-face workshops. But in the current circumstances, it seems likely these will be switched to online as well. There is no need to change the course content, or assessment processes, as they are all already online. 

It should also be possible to offer both classroom and online real-time (synchronous) sessions for students. This would use the same software as for distance education, but tied into the classroom's audio-visual system. There should be no need for any special additional hardware or software.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Idea of the University Has Not Been Canceled

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  Robert M. Pirsig, 2006
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006
Universities are canceling events to minimize the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 Coronavirus. For the present, face-to-face teaching and research will continue, with precautions in place. Ironically among the events cancelled is "The Idea of the University - Crisis or Adaptation?".  I was reminded of Pirsig:
 "...the real university exists not as the physical campus, but as a body of reason within the minds of students and teachers ..."
From Chapter 13, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006
Decades later this idea has been made a practical reality by adopting teleworking and telelearning. I suggest those organizing events at universities should not cancel or postpone them, assuming the current emergency will end soon: it will not. Instead, just as with teaching, organizers of events should provide blended, or fully online, options. The idea of the university can continue, despite the crisis, through adaption. This will be important to the well-being of staff and students, who need something to keep them occupied, other than worrying about a pandemic. It is also important that the university continue to provide a valuable service to the community, through research, education, and community outreach.

Don't Postpone Examinations: Replace Them With Realistic Tests

Media reports indicate that some universities are postponing examinations due to the about the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Unfortunately this emergency will not be over quickly, so this is not an effective strategy. It is technically possible to run online invigilated examinations. Athabasca University (where I studied education), uses the product ProctorU for this. However, even with a tool, the administrative burden is high. Running pass/fail oral exams via videoconferencing is also possible (I did one of these for my MEd), but these are time consuming, and stressful for the students.

The approach I suggest is to use multiple assignments, and tests (with provision to deter cheating), to determine the student's grade. If some form of supervised test is required to verify the student is not cheating, then this could be a pass/fail one, to confirm the previously established grade.

Paper based end of course examinations are not an effective form of assessment of real world skills. I suggest instead changing to other forms of assessment which realistically assess skills and knowledge. The best way to do this is to have the student carry out the tasks they are being trained to do, either in a real workplace or a simulation, and see how they do. As an example, I help train computer students in project management. This is assessed by having students work in teams on a computer project for a real client, and seeing how they do. The assessment is, in part by their peers, but mostly by staff.

An Approach to Sessional Teaching Staff

Recently I was asked about an approach to sessional teaching staff at university. These casual staff are called tutors, teaching assistants, or graduate teaching assistants. They may be undergraduate students in the later years of their study, postgraduate students, retired academics, or working professionals who teach part time. I have occasionally carried out this role, studied the topic as a student of teaching and helped train tutors. I have come to the conclusion there is an inherent problem which needs to be solved by universities: university teachers are not required to be qualified to teach. I suggest this could be best solved by offering teacher training as part of degree programs, and would remove many of the problems with recruiting and administering tutors.

Offer teacher training as part of degree programs

University teachers are required to be qualified in the area they are teaching. Tutors who are students are typically at a later stage of their studies than those they teach. Such students make good teachers, as they can relate better to students than someone who has not been a student for decades. However, these tutors typically receive, at most, one day of training in how to teach, and there is not time before classes start to give them more training.

The solution to under-trained tutors, I suggest, is to offer concurrent training as part of their formal degree program. Students who wished to be tutors would be required to enroll in a teaching course as part of their degree, and would undertake this study at the same time they are teaching. Tutors would be required to complete at least a one semester course (one quarter full time study: about 100 hours study). Students would pay the normal course fee for this course and receive credit towards their degree.

Those who are not students would be required to undertake the same teaching course as the students, unless they already had some form of teaching qualification (such as a Cert IV T&A, or a Grad Cert in Educaiton). Those who were not students would not have pay the course fee, but have the option to do so if they wished to receive a certificate of completion, and credit towards further study.

Such a teaching course would be blended, with optional face-to-face classes, and would model good teaching and assessment practices. Much of the value of this would be from experiencing how to teach.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sustainable energy Planning for Indigenous Communities

Greetings from the Australian National University where Professor Paul Parker, University of Waterloo is speaking on "Sustainable energy planning in Canada: recognising diversity and the need for Indigenous voices". There are significant lessons for providing energy to remote Australian communities, in terms of consulting the local community on what they need. Surprisingly, solar energy is viable in Canada, along with wind. I asked Professor Parker about the role of for-profit companies in alternative energy, as most of the examples given were government funded not-for-profit initiatives. The problem is that these are limited by the availability of public finding. I suggest some training in startups for those involved may be useful, so they can seek out what the customer is will to pay for, so they can be self funding.

One of the audience asked about portable energy systems for  Australasian abourginal communities. I pointed out that ECLIPS Engineering built a Container Roll-Out Solar System (CROSS) for the Australian military. This is a very rugged system of standard solar panels attached to a hinged framework mounted on a shipping container compatible platform. It would be able to provide power for a small town. Smaller versions could be built for family groups, which could be packed into a trailer and towed behind a car.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Poster generated using Keep Calms.
Since the COVID-19 Coronavirus started causing difficulties for Australian education a few weeks ago, I have lost track of the number of emergency meetings, and written thousands of words of advice on how to change to e-learning. Here is an attempt to sum up what to do in five words "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON-LINE".

Academic or Industrial Doctorate?

Greetings from the Australian National University, where Intel fellow Dr Brendan Traw is speaking on "Academic or industrial?". He is arguing the case that a PhD is a good foundation for a career in industry. As part of his case Dr Traw showed statistics that US doctoral degree holders earn significantly more than those with just a masters. However, these statistics cover all doctoral degrees: both PhDs and Professional Doctorates. Those with professional doctorates, particularly in the medical field, have high earnings, and so skew the statistics. I suggest we need more professional degrees in other fields, not to boost the income of graduates, but to provide graduates with skills specifically tuned for industry. A PHd is intended to train a researcher, but there are very few research jobs, in universities, and elsewhere. Most doctoral graduates end up in industry, so I suggest they should be gaining skills relevant to industry, as well as research. Perhaps rather than making students decide between a PHd and a Professional Doctorate (which are both at level 10 of the Australian Qualifications Framework), at the start of their program, we should allow them to choose somewhere on a continuum between.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Open Discussion Session on Media Blockchain in Sydney with JPEG

Quad-chart for Blockchain for education
Few realize that JPEG is not just a series of technical standards for images, but also a group of people. The "EG" is for "Experts Group" and I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to the group, when they were in Sydney last month. This was an "Open Discussion Session on Media Blockchain". I talked on "Blockchain for education" Also  Dr Sabrina Caldwell, from ANU presented.

We were all asked to provide a one page quad chart on blockchain. The presentation slides are available.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Online Courses on Coronavirus from World Health Organization

The World Health Organization has released a series of web based courses about the COVID-19 Coronavirus. These are intended for  health professionals, and incident managers. The courses are self-paced and available in multiple languages. As an example " ePROTECT Respiratory Infections" takes 2 hours and has four parts:
  1. Introduction
  2. How to protect yourself ...
  3. Basic hygiene measures
  4. Wearing a medical mask
Each part consisted of a video of about 20 minutes.  The English versions have English closed captions, plus a transcript and audio download. There is a small amount of a talking head, interspersed with slides. There is a discussion forum, with topics for discussion, under the video. The layout is clear and the interface is responsive.

I suggest the training could be improved by breaking the videos up into smaller segments. Ten minutes is usually considered about as long as a training presentation, should be, and preferably much shorter. The talking head in the video are useful to give authority, but less could be used: this is only needed at the start (and a simple still photo would do).  The slides used have too much text, and it might be good to break these up with some stock video footage.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Conference Organizers Need to Plan for Infectious Disease Outbreak

Tom Worthington Speaking at NICT 2018 in Colombo
Tom Worthington speaking at NITC 2018
Those organizing international conferences in the next few months need to have a blended, or fully online, option available, due to COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions. One option is to offer venues distributed around the world, which delegates can travel to locally. They will be able to interact face to face with colleagues. They can participate in local presentations face-to-face, and those from other venues via a video link. The moderator at the speaker's venue can relay questions submitted thorough the conference's chat facility, and queue audio questions.

A conference can be run 24 hours a day, with three venues spread equally around the world's time zones, to "follow the sun". With this format each venue takes turn running the conference during their daylight hours, handing over at sunset.

As someone who speaks at international conferences several times a year, I would miss the  travel to interesting places and meeting new people. But sometimes it can be a relief when you travel for many hours, to get to the same old place, and see the same old people. ;-)

ps: Not that I will be refusing invitations to interesting places just yet. I just accepted one for June.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Standardization of Australian Higher Education is for Mugs

With the need to rapidly produce online courses due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there have been calls for  standardization of Australian university courses. This would make it easier for staff producing courses and students taking them. However, there is obvious reluctance for competing institutions, faculties, and even competing staff members in adjacent rooms, to standardize. Rather than some top down set of rules, I suggest training staff in online course design would be more effective. This would produce more consistency, but allow flexibility.

ps: Recently in a charity shop I found two mugs on the shelf: one branded UNSW, and the other UNE: same color, same size, so at least there is standardization of something. ;-)

Cheap Low Resolution Webcam Better than High Resolution

Logitech C170 Webcam
Some Australian Aldi stores are selling off Logitech C170 Webcams for $AU6.99 (1024 x 768pixels maximum resolution). If you want something for communicating with students, or making quick talking heads videos, these would be suitable.

I have a couple of Logitech web cameras, which I have been loaning out to colleagues for teaching online, over the last few days. These are not as high resolution as newer cameras, but that can be an advantage. You don't need very high definition video for online teaching. I suggest not producing video for online delivery at more than 1280×720 pixels (standard HD). A webcam for that will cost about $AU60.