Saturday, December 26, 2020

Learning to Reflect Module Version 3.0 the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Edition

"Learning to Reflect" is a module for the ANU TechLauncher program developed in late 2018 and first run in semester 1, from February 2019. This was designed for blended delivery, with the option of easy conversion to full online delivery. That option was needed for Semester 1, February 2020 due to COVID-19,. The two face to face workshops were replaced with Zoom video conferences. The online content and activities were unchanged.

The assessment was removed from two online quizzes and forums, leaving just two assignments to provide 20% of Techlauncher assessment. This was done in an attempt to reduce the burden on students, and staff, who were suddenly required to change from face-to-face to online learning. The students still had their tutors at Zoom video-conferences, to help them keep up with their studies.

About 90% of students still completed the quizzes, despite them not counting towards assessment. In contrast, about 90% of students did not post regularly to the online forums. The difference may be because the quizzes were quick and easy to complete, being multiple choice, whereas the forum posts required composing text. Also the quizzes returned instant feedback in the form of connect/incorrect and a numeric score, whereas there was no automated feedback in the forums. When the forums are assessed, there is feedback from students (which is also assessed). However, some form of tutor-bot might be useful to give instant feedback.

A paper on the design and blended delivery of the module is available:

Worthington, T. (2019, December). Blend and Flip for Teaching Communication Skills to Final Year International Computer Science Students. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Courses Made of Courses?

Pelf at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Greetings from a meeting of the IEEE Standard for Learning Metadata (P2881) being held online (at 6:30am Sydney time). The discussion today was on defining possibly defining learning materials using RDF entities in W3C's SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System). One point I brought up was that learning and qualifications are being defined in more detail. Australian universities are now offering micro-credentials of only a few weeks duration, the components of which are also used in certificates and degrees. The vocational sector uses an even more fine graded form of learning tracking. At this point I got to quote Terry Pratchett's"Its Turtles all the way down". ;-)

Someone gave the example of a pencil: is it learning resource? Then what is learning? This may sound very esoteric, but the standard will be used to define how learning materials are defined and so how students, staff and administrators find the materials.

ps: My favorite line today was "For the next ten minutes lets assume lawyers don't exist". ;-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Report Finds Most Satisfied with Education Provided Despite Pandemic Restrictions

Professor Nicholas Biddle, Associate Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods
"Experience and views on education during the COVID-19 pandemic"  (Biddle, Edwards and Gray) reports the results of a November 2020 poll with 3,029 respondents in Australia, of whom 671 were an adult student in secondary school, further education, or  university. This found 88% were very or somewhat satisfied with how their their child’s educational institution handled teaching during COVID-19. 85% were very or somewhat satisfied with their own adult education.


"COVID-19 has resulted in disruptions to schooling for the vast majority of Australian school children. Universities and other post-secondary education providers have also seen widespread shifts to remote learning, and considerable impacts on school funding. While there have undoubtedly been negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education institutions, students and their families, the crisis has at the same time created an opportunity to reflect on the role of education in a society like Australia’s. 

In this paper we provide a summary of survey data on the experiences of students and their families during the pandemic, as well as attitudes of the entire Australian population to the role of schools and universities. We found 47.8 per cent, or almost one-in-two Australians were very satisfied with their child’s educational institution, while 40.2 per cent were somewhat satisfied. Only a small percentage of the population were not satisfied with their child’s education, with a slightly higher per cent of adult learners not being satisfied with their own education. Despite this high level of satisfaction, the paper also shows that a large number parents or adult learners were concerned about their own learning or their children’s learning."

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Future Shocks for Australian Universities in 2021

Troy Heffernan has penned the thoughtful piece "COVID-19 has destroyed academic careers and stalled equity programs in Australian universities: Death knell or opportunity?". This follows the  The Research Whisperer's "Surviving 202.". Dr Heffernan suggests that COVID-19 has made the situation worse not only for those casually employed and on short research contracts at university, but also diversity and inclusion. The call for reforms to undo entrenched privilege. However, rather than just asking someone else to do something, I suggest individual academics could also do what they can through their teaching and supervision. While individual academics don't have much say in university or government policy, they can change how their students are trained and thogh this bring about wider changes.

In early 2020 I evacuated my ANU office. I hoped it would be weeks but I took with me enough equipment to work online indefinitely. There was very much the sense of saying goodbye to colleagues who I may not see again. In the last few weeks I have is visited the campus, and seen life returning to the often mentioned "new normal".There is the hope of a return to face to face teaching, likely starting with small groups early in 2021.

Higher education has altered for many staff and students. But this was not unexpected. Some of us had predicted and prepared for a sudden transition online years before. I had hoped this would be a gradual planned change, with the tipping point around 2020, but had also envisaged and planned for a sudden emergency shift to e-leaning.

For ten years I have been teaching online. For much of that time I have investigated how to do it well and how to transition the Australian higher education system. For Australia's regional universities online learning is routine and a natural evolution of their previous distance education. I was an online student at USQ, of how to teach online. However, for capital city institutions, and particularly prestigious research universities such as ANU, online is very different to  business as usual. 

The ANU made important strategic decisions before the pandemic which have greatly aided the response. Key to this was the appointing of Dr Kim Blackmore to head the Interactive Learning Project (iLEAP) in early 2019. This gave the university a head-start in the transition online due to COVID-19. This work continues, with consideration of how to conduct a smooth transition back to the classroom. One option is blended learning, with students in the classroom linked to those who are online. This is technically easy to do, but presents major pedagogical and logistical challenges.

Much as been written about precariously employed university workers. The key to solving this problem, I suggest, is to ensure that graduates of advanced degrees have skills for employment outside the university sector. Where the workforce has limited skills, employers have the opportunity to exploit them. It may sound strange to describe people with doctorates as lacking in skills, but if all you can do and all you aspire to do, is work at a university, then your skills and choices are limited. 

Academic supervisors can, should and are, changing the training of graduate students to include skills for jobs and getting jobs outside research and academia. This will also help those few who are lucky enough to get a job in academia: knowing how to supervise staff, deal with budgets and talk with people outside your discipline, are skills which could greatly improve universities.

Supervisors need to combat the myth of secure ongoing employment in higher education. The pandemic has shown that there is no security in employment in universities. Advanced students need to be trained in how to deal with this reality. Successful researchers do not spend all day in a lab in a white coat, they spend at least as much time as an entrepreneur chasing up funding, as a personnel manager dealing with staff, a finance manager on budgets, and as a teacher inspiring the next generation. Those are skills which the student can be formally trained in, rather than picking up somehow. In particular, the Canberra Innovation Network has had a key role in adapting training for entrepreneurs to train researchers.

While we can hope for the start of the end of the pandemic in 2021, this will not necessarily bring back international students to Australian university campuses. Rather than treat e-learning and shorter more flexible programs as a temporary measure, universities need to make this a routine part of what they do. 

As I cautioned in 2016 and more recently, Australia's deteriorating geopolitical situation could see most remaining international students leave campus suddenly during 2021. In any case there will be increased completion for these students. Australia newspapers were unprepared for the rivers of gold from classified advertising being taken away by the Internet, Australian universities should not make the same mistake and be ready as domestic and international students take up online and offshore study opportunities.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Prospering in 2021: Hoping for the Best But Preparing for Worse to Come

My counterpart, The Research Whisperer, has posted a moving reflection on Surviving 2020. Their work has been a bright point of light in a dark year. In Canberra, where I live, the bush-fires were followed by a hailstorm which tore through roofs at the ANU in January 2020, fortunately without casualties, and then there was COVID-19.

In some ways COVID-19 was the least unexpected of these disasters. Singapore colleagues had pointed out to me years before how they ran drills to practice teaching online, in the event of another SARS-like outbreak closing campuses. In 2016 I warned my colleagues in Canberra, they should be ready with an online options. I predicted most teaching would be online by 2020 (something I would have preferred to be wrong about).

Restrictions and campus closures affected the computing discipline, and my own area of educational use of technology perhaps least of all. There was the sudden need to put years of trying online technology into practice on a large scale, give both new tutors and old professors a few tips how to teach online and find every web camera available.

Like many in higher education I worked to keep things going, only to then be told of rationalizations. Fortunately I will be continuing to help teaching. I might have also found a new role coaching at hackerthons

Canberra's lock-down was relatively short and mild. Even so, the sense of isolation was high and the novelty of hours of Zoom wore off. But years of investigation in how to teach international students online at a research university if they were suddenly kept from campus paid off. The technology and pedagogy worked as expected.

There have been some pluses. Virtual conferences worked well, and were cheap, compensating for the loss of social contact and exotic venues. The many innovation start-up competitions and hackerthons I mentor transferred seamlessly online and I moved from coaching teams to coaching the coaches. Despite these online experiences it was wonderful around the end of the years to attend a few face to face, socially distanced, events.

Some of this experience I summed up in a  six part series "Higher education after COVID-19 at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada:
  1. Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning
  2. Open Content for e-Learning in Response to the Coronavirus
  3. Online Assessment with e-Portfolios in Response to the Coronavirus
  4. Tools to engage students online.
  5. Mentoring student group work online.
  6. Higher education after COVID-19: Not business as usual
In my last talk for Canada, I cautioned against seeing COVID-19 as a "White Swan" event: that is something completely unexpected and only obvious in retrospect. A respiratory pandemic was expected and some universities, particularly in Singapore, had prepared for it. We need to now prepare for the next likely event, which is a deterioration of geopolitics in our region, with the sudden loss of most remaining on-campus international students.

Having been through a series of disasters, I suggest we should not be complacent. Australia was fortunate the bushfires, floods, hailstorms, and pandemic were one after the other, and our region of the world was relatively peaceful. Consider if during 2021 there are natural disasters and military conflicts, stretching national resources. At the same time an adversary may use cyber-attacks to disrupt power and telecommunications, while using fake news to incite civil unrest and promote the spread of COVID-19. Under these conditions all our international students will likely want to, or be forced to, return home. Even if the region remains stable, there will be increasing competition for students from campuses in their own country, offshore and online, including from China's Education Action Plan for the Belt and Road Program.

Australia's traditional allies, particularly Canada, also present a challenge. In 2013 I enrolled in Canada as a graduate online student, after investigating the Australian options. The paperwork to enroll in Canada was easier than Australia, the program at least as good and slightly cheaper.

Friday, December 11, 2020

What can Esports teach us about an engaging online learning and fair assessment

As a member of the IEEE I have been invited to take part in standard development for secure and entertaining e-sports: P2946™ - Guide for Electronic Sports (Esports) Integrity & IEEE P2947™ - Guide for Broadcasting Electronic Sports (Esports) Events. Products such as Twitch have been used for large scale online education. Perhaps methods for securing esports can be used for ensuring students are not cheating in online assessment.

"Esports events need to be fair and equitable. IEEE P2946™ provides the technical procedures to maximize the integrity of Esports. This includes procedures for preventing identity theft, match-fixing, unauthorized use of devices and other methods of cheating, using biometric, signal, and data analysis methods such as facial recognition, position detection, voiceprint comparison, plug-in detection, and spoofing detection. 

Audiences of Esports events desire an immersive viewing experience during live broadcasting (casting/caster) and relaying of the events. IEEE P2947™ addresses the technical and management aspects for broadcasting live Esports, pre-match preparation including network, video and audio testing, in-match action including the coding, transmission, recording, content protection, source, communication and station fault tolerance, and contingency management including data backup, user profile backup or synchronization."

Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge

Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge
Greetings from the Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge in Canada. I am not actually in Canada, this is via Remo, with the group "PostScript" singing country and western. It is all a bit odd. ;-)

I spent three years studying at AU (and designed one of their courses), but have never actually been to the campus or seen a student face to face. But as an online university, AU have put considerable effort to providing a social experience for remote students. Thus is well in advance of the efforts made this year by conventional universities suddenly forced online by COVID-19.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020

Event canvas from NWIW 2020
by Paul Telling
Greetings from the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 (NWIW), where I am facilitating one of the teams. This is the third and final day of the workshop, with Navy personnel joining with people from the defence community and  academia working on an idea. This is much like other hackerthons I have mentored this year, with the added bonus that we can again meet face to face (some teams are online for logistical reasons). 

The teams respond to a scenario, similar in format to one I prepared for ANU students. A visual summary of the projects was produced by Paul Telling. My team came up with TIDE: Threat Identification Detection and Effects for dealing with swarms of RAS (Robotic Autonomous Systems).

Participants use the same techniques as a business start-up competition, refining and presenting an idea, but one to defend the country. A panel of senior defence experts then select which merit further development.

However, the real value of such competitions is not to produce a product, but have the participants learn new skills and meet people they can later work with on projects. 

Metadata for Learning

Greetings from a meeting of the IEEE Standard for Learning Metadata  (P2881) being held online (at 6:30am Canberra time). The discussion today was on the Semantic Web and Resource Description Framework (RDF). This is a very technical area, but is important to the practical concerns of keeping track of e-learning content. The problem is that there are many forms of learning and learners which we want to accommodate. There are existing standards, such as Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) which do some of this.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

UNSW Ranking Of Universities: a Result Looking for a Rationale

The UNSW Aggregate Ranking Of Top Universities combines the Times Higher Education (THE), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) to create the ARTU. This is claimed to provide a long term comparison of top universities. But it is not clear if this combination has any theoretical unpinning, or practical purpose, except to boost UNSW's rating. 

Such ranking systems are used by students in selecting an institution to study at. However, these rankings are heavily weighted to research performance, while most students are undertaking coursework. Also these ranking systems only include a few hundred universities, while there are thousands of other good educational institutions excluded. A reliable ranking of institutions would be useful for students, but ARTU is not that.

My favorite university ranking scheme is Webometrics, which relies on readily available information. As a result, about 30,000 institutions listed, including many vocational colleges, which are excluded other ranking systems. 

Here are institutions I have studied at most recently. All these institutions provided a useful quality education, but only the first (ANU), is in the ARTU list: 

World Rank University Presence Rank* Impact Rank* Openness Rank* Excellence Rank*
Australian National University
University of Southern Queensland
Canberra Institute of Technology


World Rank University Presence Rank* Impact Rank* Openness Rank* Excellence Rank*
Athabasca University

Friday, December 4, 2020

Improving Human Computer Interaction

Greeting from day two of OZCHI 2020, the Australian Human Computer Interaction Conference. Natasha Schüll's Closing Keynote on self-tracking technology, was troubling. Many of these devices seem to be designed to exploit consumers worry about health. As an example, a water bottle which monitor your consumption and prompts you when you need a drink. Apart from a tiny fraction of the population with specific medical conditions, such a device us necessary. This became even more worrying with the example of behavior modifying technology: electronic gadgets which don't just monitor, but emit signals to change behavior.

This is my second computer conference for the week (the first was ). As this one is or people researching how to make computers easier to use, it should work very smoothly online and so far it has. Part of this is in keeping things simple: ASCILITE had four parallel sessions, so I had to choose what to go to and work out how to get there. That is much easier online than face to face, but still can end up with what looks like a treasure map planning how to fit in all the sessions you have to chair, present at, or want to attend. 

 As with ASCILITE the timing seemed to be more generous with this online conference than with face to face ones. There was plenty of time for question and changeovers of speakers seem to go smoothly. This may be because there is no need for shuffling of chairs and movement of people. It may be in part because ordinary delegates, like me, can't see what is going on behind the scenes to keep the conference running smoothly. 

 However,at the Canberra get together of delegates organised by Jennyfer Taylor last night, there was praise for the sessions but worry about conference fatigue. I suggested the smooth flow of presentations may be contributing to "Zoom fatigue". As one session is quickly flowed by another, there is not the usual break when people shuffle in and out of rooms, and not the relief from sitting getting up to go to another room, with an incidental conversation with a delegate on the way.

ps: As with ASCILITE, Zoom was the primary technology, supplemented by Slack. Despite my low speed broadband wireless connection and slow computer, the video conference worked flawlessly. 

The success of low cost online conferences this year raised the question of what to do next year. Returning to face to face only, high cost conferences would exclude many potential presenters and delegates. I suggest this would be unethical and may also be unlawful. As alternative I suggest hybrid conferences, with a venue where people can attend in person, plus online participation. Variations on this can have multiple distributed venues, and use a "follow the sun" schedule for global events. 

For non-profit volunteer events an online conference with optional volunteer run local venues would be useful. The conference organizers would run the event as if it was all online. If someone wanted to provide a local venue, they could. This should prove attractive for universities who want to showcase their work: set up a venue and have their local presenters talk, inviting visitors to also attend.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Australian Human Computer Interaction Conference Starts Wednesday

OZCHI 2020, the Australian Human Computer Interaction Conference, starts Wednesday. Here is the program with items of note highlighted:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

11:00 - 11:45 Paper Session: Motivating Chair: George Buchanen

Investigating Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Use Habits and Contexts Forest Sweeney and Moushumi Sharmin

15:00 - 15:45 Paper Session: Children Chair: Stephen Snow

Enabling adults with less education to support their child’s education through hyperlocal educational videos Deepak Padhi, Rohan Jhunja, and Anirudha Joshi

Serious Game Design To Promote Energy Literacy Among Children Mark Bayley, Stephen Snow, Jason Weigel, and Neil Horrocks

Local Perspectives for Sharing Economy Design on a Remote Tourist Island Greicy Silva, Peter Lyle, and Cláudia Silva

18:00 - 18:45 Paper Session: Wellbeing Chair: Irith Williams

You can’t always get what you want: Streamlining stakeholder interests when designing technology-supported services for Active and Assisted Living Kira Oberschmidt, Christiane Grünloh, Sefora Tunc, Lex van Velsen, and Femke Nijboer

“It Looks Like You Don’t Agree”: Idiosyncratic Practices and Preferences in Collaborative Writing Ida Larsen-Ledet and Marcel Borowski

Thursday, December 3, 2020 All times are AEDT

12:00 - 13:00 Among UX: Imposters, Crewmates and Noobs

Join our Industry Panel for a lively discussion to understand what industry wants, what students need and what we should teach our graduates. How do we prepare and guide our students to go from noobs in the industry, to being effective crewmates, and then become the leaders of the future, and not imposters.

13:00 - 13:45 Paper Session: Designing Chair: Donna Spencer

Codesign approaches to University-Industry Collaborations Ben Schouten, Gwen Klerks, Marcel Den Hollander, and Nicolai Hansen

Wednesday, December 2, 2020 All times are AEDT

10:00 - 10:45 Paper Session: Collaborating Chair: Aaron Quigley

Software Project Work in an African Context: Myths, Maps and Messes Muhammad Sadi Adamu

Friday, December 4, 2020

11:00 - 11:45 Paper Session: Aged Care Chair: Jenny Waycott

Privacy by Design in Aged Care Monitoring Devices? Well, Not Quite Yet! Sami Alkhatib, Jenny Waycott, George Buchanan, Marthie Grobler, and Shuo Wang

12:00 -12:45 Paper Session: Ageing Well Chair: Naseem Ahmadpour

Older adults and their acquisition of digital skills: A review of current research evidence Priyankar Bhattacharjee, Steven Baker, and Jenny Waycott

14:00 -14:45 Paper Session: Interacting Chair: Callum Parker

Usage and Effect of Eye Tracking in Remote Guidance Chun Xiao, Weidong Huang, and Mark Billinghurst

Smart Donations: Event-Driven Conditional Donations Using Smart Contracts On The Blockchain Ludwig Trotter, Mike Harding, Peter Shaw, Nigel Davies, Chris Elsden, Aydin Abadi, Chris Speed, John Vines, and Joshua Hallwright

Live Discussion on Hybrid Learning at ASCILITE 2020 Conference

Greetings from the ASCILITE 2020 Conference, where I am participating in the presentation of the second of two of two joint papers I helped with. This has moved into an interview mode, where the MC is asking the authors questions. 

The papers:

  1. A collaborative design model to support hybrid learning environments during COVID19 by Cochrane, Birt, Cowie, Deneen, Goldacre, Narayan, Ransom, Sinfield & Worthington (Day 2, Session 4, Stream A, 11:30AM).
  2. A mobile ecology of resources for Covid-19 learning by Narayan, Cochrane, Cowie, Birt, Hinze, Goldacre, Deneen, Ransom, Sinfield and Worthington (Day 2, Session 4, Stream C, 11:30AM).

Learning to Work Online for the Long Term

Greetings from the ASCILITE 2020 Conference, where I presented on the first of two of two joint papers. I am the last author and so did not have much to say. But it was good to be able to present. This reflected the way the papers were prepared: collaboratively online. We all used tools such as Padlet to throw in ideas, after which a few turned this into a formal paper. The presentation was done the same way, with the Padlet shown and many of the authors speaking. This is very different to the process I am used to, where writing a paper is a solitary experience. I might collaborate with an author, but one person assembles all the materials and then one presents it. I was the last author, on the ASCILITE paper, so was surprised to be asked to speak and concerned how that would work. In practice having multiple speakers went okay.

I suggest university staff need to get used to researching and teaching online. This should not be treated as a short term emergency measure and we will all go back to the meeting room and lecture theater soon. Even if all goes well with COVID-19 measures, as they are in Australia, NZ and a few countries in the region, things will not be back to "normal" before the end of 2021. Also the deteriorating geopolitical situation for Australia may see international students unable to get to campus, without warning, again. This is something I warned about in 2017. So I suggested we design work and study to be online, with face to face, where possible.

The papers:

  1. A collaborative design model to support hybrid learning environments during COVID19 by Cochrane, Birt, Cowie, Deneen, Goldacre, Narayan, Ransom, Sinfield & Worthington (Day 2, Session 4, Stream A, 11:30AM).
  2. A mobile ecology of resources for Covid-19 learning by Narayan, Cochrane, Cowie, Birt, Hinze, Goldacre, Deneen, Ransom, Sinfield and Worthington (Day 2, Session 4, Stream C, 11:30AM).