Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Australian Universities Were Already Past The Online Tipping Point Before COVID-19

Vector Consulting report on a survey of Australian universities and TAFEs in "The Tipping Point for Digitisation of Education Campuses" (26 November 2020). The study was commissioned by telecommunications companies Cisco and Optus, so it is not surprisingly upbeat about the prospects for the digitization of post-secondary education. But this is a well researched study and, if anything, it is not as pro-Internet some. The study suggests there will still be campuses, with classrooms, but these will be fully integrated with online facilities for research and education.

I called the E-Learning Tipping Point in 2017, as respected Australian universities started offering credit towards degrees for online learning. The Vector Consulting report argues that campuses are changing due to COVID-19, with  fewer people, more "experiential", promotion of "health" and space for industry partners. However, this was happening long before. Universities were replacing lecture theaters with flat floor flexible internet equipped classrooms. There were new entertainment, sport and dining facilities installed. Students were studying more online than on campus. 

An example of this new campus is ANU's Kambri development, opened in 2019, with flexible classrooms, reconfigurable lecture theaters, bars, a gym and swimming pool. The nearby computing building opened a few years before has offices for the Defence Department collocated.

The strategy the report recommends is to first get a secure digital platform, then apply a digital first strategy, apply campus master planning and make use of industry partnerships. The timescale proposed is 18 months, but I suggest any university which is not already doing these things is unlikely to be still in business in 18 months time.

It would be unwise to over-invest in one overall digital platform, as resilience comes from having multiple platforms and layers. At the extreme, a university doesn't need any campus, or any digital, infrastructure of its own, being able to use whatever the staff and students carry around in their pockets. In practice there are likely to be new infrastructure needed as technology and requirements change. Even if many staff still have offices, they may not need telephones, or computers on their desks.

Learning to Reflect Module Version 4.0 the 2021 Blended Edition

"Learning to Reflect" is a module for the ANU TechLauncher program, where students reflect on what they have learned, by writing an application for a real job, as their last assessed task before graduating. This was 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 Semesters 1 and 2 in 2020 due to COVID-19. The 2021 version is intended to be run online, with a blended delivery option ready for a return to the classroom and is available under a CC-BY licence.

Two small workshop exercises have been added for a 2% mark each, in place of the quizzes and forums used previously. The first assignment has been dropped, to make the assessment less complex. An optional student logbook has been added, to aid student reflection and deter plagiarism. 

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

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Changing Role of the University Campus

Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Adelaide
Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Adelaide, has written a thoughtful two part series on the university campus. Professor Manmer argue sthat WWII was a turning point for universities, convincing governments, not just in the USA, to invest in big science on campuses. Post war new campuses were built on the fringes of Australian cities. Hanmer identifies a more recent trend of migration back to the city for universities. 

While interesting, I would have liked more on the post cold war era, the effect of changes in university enrollment as a factor and the Dawkins Revolution. New ideas of how students learn and changing our campuses, with the demise of the fixed tiered lecture theater, more flat floor high tech classrooms. Upscale accommodation, sport, and entertainment venues has made some campuses more like resorts, or malls, than centers of research and learning.

Also some of Australia's older universities are woven into the fabric of city centers, Oxbridge style. Adelaide has an interesting take on this, with the old stone Torrens Building, in the city center, rented out to multiple online universities to give them gravitas. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Tracking Student Well-being Online

Posimente student well-being tracker
Yesterday Troy Ashton-Martin arranged an online demonstration for me of Posimente, a student well-being tracker. This accepts reports from teachers and others, about how students are doing. It helps plan interventions, involve the teachers and track progress. The system is implemented with Salesforce and has the usual dashboards. There isn't anything exceptional about the application,  and it does much as I would expect it to.

With the sudden shift to online learning last year, I have been concerned about the increased stress on students. As one of those who been an international online student, I was aware of the crushing loneliness, fear, anger and frustration it can engender.  Thus the increased need for applications to help with student well-being. 

One of the benefits of online learning is that it does allow better monitoring of students, giving early warning of problems. With conventional teaching, a student with a problem could remain invisible at the back of the class for months.  One technique I like to use is small frequent online assessed items. These can be automatically or peer assessed so little teacher effort is involved.  This way, each week I can have the LMS sort results in ascending order, and see which students need help.

However, I suggest these well-being monitoring techniques need to be extended to the teachers as well as students. Last year I watched with concern as my university colleagues in Australia, and across the world, who had little training in online teaching, attempted to quickly move their teaching. It took me seven years of formal study at four institutions, three qualifications, mentoring by experts, plus trial and error, to become comfortable teaching online. My colleagues had a few weeks. 

While I tried to provide some simple tips, some lessons can only be learned through practice. Having hundreds of students, who are not there by choice, and are also highly stressed, is not the ideal situation for learning to teach online.

Overall the crash conversion to online learning in 2020 went well. However, some of my colleagues assumed it would only be for a few weeks, then a few months, then a semester, then two. Some are having difficulty accepting that this change is permanent, at least for universities who wish to remain solvent. If all goes well, the COVID-19 pandemic should be over in a few years time. However, most students will continue to undertake the majority of their study 80% online, in blended courses. Emergencies could see them online again for all study, suddenly, at any time. Automated help for monitoring all our well-being would be useful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Adapting Geoeconomic Competition to Australian Advantage

Adapting Australia to an era of geoeconomic competition by Wilson, 2021
The report "Adapting Australia to an era of geoeconomic competition" (Wilson, 2021) was launched yesterday at the Australian National University in Canberra. I had a ticket to attend, but decided to stay home and participate online. This reflects one of the new realities of Geoeconomics, which threatens the viability of Australia's universities. 

This report defines Geoeconomics as "the application of economic instruments for geopolitical ends" and points out its reemergence in the  Indo-Pacific, between the USA and China. The report suggests that Australia needs to adapt its liberal approach in response.

Wilson points out that education makes up 9% of Australian exports (p. 8), which is much higher than tourism at 5%, with education exports dominated by China (p. 9). 

The report singles out China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as an "archetypal geoeconomic strategy" (p. 23), for economic development and international political influence. However, as well as targeting trade and heavy industry, the BRI also has an Education component which Wilson doesn't mention. This is similar to the Colombo Plan which Australia and western allies implemented during the cold war (Worthington, 2014). However, online learning considerably increases the scope for education as part of geoeconomic strategy.  Guthrie et al. (2021) predicts onshore international students at Australian universities will drop 60% by 2030 due to competition from China.


James Guthrie, Martina K Linnenluecke, Ann Martin-Sardesai, Yun Shen, and Tom Smith (January 2021). On the resilience of Australian public universities: Why our institutions may fail unless Vice-Chancellors rethink broken business models, Macquarie University Business School working paper. URL

Wilson, p. (January 2021), Adapting Australia to an era of geoeconomic competition, Perth USA Center. URL:

Worthington, T. (2014, August 23). Chinese and Australian Students Learning to Work Together Online: Proposal to Expand the New Colombo Plan to the Online Environment. Paper to be presented at the 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE). Vancouver, Canada.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

AI to Generate Marketing Content

Craig Thomler, Co-Founder of SimpleMarketing.AI gave me a quick online demonstration of the product today. He asked for a few keywords, entered them into the AI tool and it generated a blog post. The style was chatty, if a bit wordy, but very readable and not that different to marketing material I am sent every day. The same keywords produced something shorter, with hashtags and icons, as suits a tweet. The idea of the product is that small business people who are not marketing specialists, and can't afford to hire any, can quickly create material for people to read. I was skeptical, but the output is remarkably readable, using a Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3).

Such a product could be useful for STEM entrepreneurs, who go though the start-up process, finding inventing the product easy but marketing it hard. It would be interesting to feed the text from Simple Marketing's tool into Vidnami, which turns text into videos.

However, this technology has the potential to cause difficulties for teachers and academics, if students and researchers use it to generate plausible assignments and papers. There have already been instances of AI generated papers being accepted for publication. It is acceptable to use a program to check your spelling and grammar, but how much can the algorithm do, before it is not your work?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

ANU 2025 Strategic Plan

The Australian National University has invited comment on its ANU 2025 Strategic Plan. Like previous consultations, for the ANU Strategic Plan 2017-2021, this is a very broad invitation to the community, not restricted to staff and students.

In suggestions for the 2017 plan I wrote:

"... a campus should be seen as a supplement to the primary way universities already carry out their mission: in the digital realm. This allows greater equity, with those of limited means able to work, research and study at university without having to leave their community. ..."

By 2021, I suggest the typical Australian university student will still attend classes, but for only 20% of their program, with the other 80% on-line. .."

The prediction online working came true a year early, regrettably forced by COVID-19.As many universities found, it was feasible to move from blended to pure online working (Cochrane et al., 2020).

However, it should not be assumed that the COVID-19 pandemic will end soon, or that other situations will not keep students from campus. It will therefore be prudent to design an online option into every course, even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Also it would be prudent to design research and work procedures so most staff need not be on campus.

Previously, I had suggested ANU invest in flexible classrooms and lecture theaters with retractable seating. This was done with the Kambri development at ANU, which opened in 2019. This worked well before the pandemic (Worthington, 2019) and was useful for implementing social distancing in response.

However, Australian universities now face a much larger threat than COVID-19, with onshore international student numbers expected to drop 60% by 2030, due to international competition (Guthrie et al., 2021). I suggest a flexible blend of quality onshore, offshore and online learning to remain competitive. Online courses with a mix of domestic and international students have worked, as envisioned (Worthington, 2014).

The main challenge with a blended approach is having staff who are sufficiently skilled to implement it. As well as support staff, this requires tutors and lecturers who are trained and qualified both in their primary discipline and in teaching. I suggest this be addressed by offering teacher training to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, as part of their degrees. The same training can be offered to external professionals, and staff, as micro and short credentials.


Cochrane, T., Birt, J., Cowie, N., Deneen, C., Goldacre, P., Narayan, V., ... & Worthington, T. (2020, November). A Collaborative Design Model to Support Hybrid Learning Environments During COVID19. InProceedings of the ASCILITE 37th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education, Armidale, Australia(Vol. 30). URL

Gwilym Croucher, Kristine Elliott, William Locke and Edward Yencken (0 Mar 2020)Australia’s higher education delivery offshore and online – trends, barriers and opportunities, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. URL

James Guthrie, Martina K Linnenluecke, Ann Martin-Sardesai, Yun Shen, and Tom Smith (January 2020).On the resilience of Australian public universities: Why our institutions may fail unless Vice-Chancellors rethink broken business models, Macquarie University Business School working paper. URL

Worthington, T. (2014, August). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education(pp. 164-168). IEEE.

Worthington, T. (2019, December). Blend and Flip for Teaching Communication Skills to Final Year International Computer Science Students. In2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE)(pp. 1-5). IEEE. URL

Thursday, February 11, 2021

How to Teach Online as Part of a Team

These are the notes for an extra webinar, in addition to the four on "Engaging students in the online environment", Wednesday, 17 February at 11 am AEDT Sydney time (Tuesday, 5 pm MST in Edmonton). This is part of the Microlearning Series at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada, curated by Manisha Khetarpal. Please register for the webinar and send your suggestions. Presentation Powerpoint and PDF available.

Manisha suggested an additional webinar to explore issued raised in the previous ones. In particular,  how can teaching staff convert courses for online delivery, while continuing to teach and carry out other responsibilities. This is an issue confronting educational systems, institutions, and individual teachers.

The Australian National University recently invited comment on its ANU 2025 Strategic Plan. As with the previous 2017-2021 plan, I suggest the major issue is the transition to online working. However, this has to be done while keeping the day to day teaching and research happening. 

There may be educational designers and educational technologists brought in from a central pool, or contracted companies, to help convert courses. However, teachers need to do a considerable amount of work to collect teaching material, discuss online learning options, evaluate proposals, review drafts, alpha test designs, beta test with students, collate test results and recommend changes. 

As an IT professional and educational designer, I have decades of training and experience in design, test and delivery of such complex systems, but it is still not easy.  Many teachers have no formal training in online education and don't have years to do it (or the tens of thousands of dollars this education cost me).


"Blended and Online Learning Design" from UCL through Future Learn

The first step I suggest is for the teacher to experience being an online student in a short course about teaching online. Such dogfooding is useful in showcasing good online teaching techniques, building the teacher's confidence and giving them the sense they are not alone by participating in group exercises with other teachers. There are many courses of a few hours, to a few days, duration available free online. One I tried out recently was "Blended and Online Learning Design" from UCL through Future Learn (set up by the UK Open University).


Live Discussion on Hybrid Learning at ASCILITE 2020 Conference

Teachers should look to their professional associations, both teaching and discipline based, for guidance and support with online learning. As an IT professional who teaches I am a member of IT and education bodies which provide training, advice, and someone to listen. This is not just about the technical aspects of teaching, but of being a professional. It is useful to remind teachers that being a professional is not about working long unpaid hours, it is about deciding what is most important to do with the resources available (especially your own time). 

When given an impossible workload, the responsible professional makes recommendations to their boss as to what should be done and not accept the reply "do everything!". Where given no workable set of priorities, the individual professional must apply their own judgement. Attempting to do everything, knowing this is impossible is bad for the teacher, for their students, and ultimately for the community. Professional associations can be useful in seeking guidance and getting support in this situation.

As an IT professional I am a member of the Australian Computer Society (which is affiliated with the Canadian Information Processing Society). As I teach at a university, I am also a member of education bodies, such as the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). Last year I attended weekly online meetings of ASCILITE's Mobile Learning Special Interest Group, then help write and deliver some papers at the annual conference, with some of the group.


Mapping SFIA skills to public service levels

Online learning lends itself to the use of standards. Rather than trying to invent everything from scratch, the teacher can apply a standard set down by international, national, local, discipline or professional bodies. When designing industry training or a university course I look for some defined skill definition to base the learning on. This might be set by the institution, or the profession. They then can look for pre-prepared learning materials, including free open access ones, to use. This can include electronic versions of old fashioned text books, as well as videos, interactive materials, and educational games.

As an example of standards the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) has a set of skills definitions for computer professionals. The Queensland State Government in Australia has mapped the SFIA Skills to public service levels. If designing a vocational course, this provides a useful shortcut (once you have found your way around all of SFIA's levels).


Unit of competency details CPCPSN3011 - Plan the layout of a residential sanitary plumbing system and fabricate and install sanitary stacks

The teacher needs to keep in mind the aim is to provide skills and knowledge for their students. The best way to do this may not be to teach everything which was in a face to face course, or test it the same way online. Often courses have accumulated content which someone thought a good idea in the past. If the content is not going to be tested, then it should not be included in the course. If there is no way to test it, then there is no point in teaching it. Online communication offer new options for teaching and testing. The student can learn using simulations, or in a real workplace, with their performance of the task as the test. This approach works for plumbers and programmers. As an example in the Australian vocational education system, a prospective plumber needs to plan the layout of plumbing, to show they know how to do that.

Loose Integration

Robert Lester and satellite communications for K95
Tom Worthington updating the K95 website at Mallacoota

Online courses delivered to thousands of students have to be tightly integrated for maximum efficiency. The learning materials guide each of the thousands of students through the steps required. However, this requires a large team of highly skilled staff to design, test and maintain. This is not something a teacher can do part time on their own. Instead they can design an online shell which tells the student what the steps required are and provides pointers to the materials needed. The materials can be in many different formats on different online systems. The student will need more frequent help from a teacher with this, and there will be more manual work for the teacher to do. However, this is much quicker to set up, and allows greater flexibility.

As an example of loose integration providing flexibility, in 1995 I was on holidays on the Australian south east coast. At the same time I was updating the website for an Australian Defence Force exercise taking place at the other end of the continent. The defence media people would send me reports by email, which I would then add to the website. I did not have to speak to the media people, or have any video conferences, just collect, post and reply.

Senior Science TeachMeet, February 21

"meriSTEM are hosting a simple online TeachMeet for the meriSTEM Teacher Community. Whether you’re perfectly organised for the year or wildly rushing about the staffroom, take an hour to reflect, inspire and invigorate your lessons for the second half of term." 

From meriSTEM (modular educational resources in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), The Australian National University, 2021

ANU's meriStem provides science teachers with free teaching materials, plus forums on how to better teach science.

ANU Coffee Courses on Teaching & Learning with Technology

"The coffee course is equivalent to a one-hour or two-hour training session, but broken down into small pieces. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) while you do a short reading or activity at morning tea time, at your own desk. It should take about 15 minutes a day, over one week. You just need to subscribe to the ANU Coffee Courses blog to get the updates as they happen, and join in at any time.

We often also schedule an optional face-to-face catchup to discuss the topic over coffee." From "ANU Coffee Courses on Teaching & Learning with Technology", ANU, 2021

There are longer online teaching courses provided free though consortia such as edX. Canadian examples are "Teaching With Technology and Inquiry: An Open Course For Teachers" from University of Toronto, Blended Learning Practice and Learning to Learn Online  from Athabasca University. 

ASCILITE Open Educational Practice SIG

"This webinar was presented by the ASCILITE Open Educational Practice SIG on 24 September 2019 and presented by Jay Cohen, Associate Professor Transform Online Learning at Charles Sturt University. The SIG convenors are Adrian Stagg (University of Queensland), Carina Bossu (The Open University UK) and Michael Cowling (CQUniversity).
The session detailed how Charles Sturt University’s Transforming Online Learning (TOL) project has incorporated an agile approach to online subject development so that learning design for an online cohort of students can occur at scale, by presenting the experience of a pilot within the Business Faculty. Agile is an iterative approach to project management that, in this instance has afforded learning designers the opportunity to develop online learning subjects at scale more quickly quicker and with fewer errors." From: ASCILITE OEP-SIG webinar "Scaling Online Education" by Jay Cohen, CSU 24 Sept 2019

More to Education Than Just Lectures Says ANU VC

In his 2021 Sate of the University Address yesterday, the Australian National University Vice Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, commented he wasn't go to  "... make the university into an on-line supermarket of inexpensively delivered courses and divert the savings into research ...”. While backing continued face to face instruction on campus, the VC said lectures shouldn't be “a crutch for poor pedagogy.” Rather he proposed better lectures, along with other forms of student interaction.

While the VC referred to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping students from campus as an unexpected Black Swan event, actions taken under his leadership did allow for a quicker, more effective response. This included reconfigurable classrooms which could be easily be set up for lower seating density, plus new systems, support staff and training in online learning.

As I explained in the last of my six part series my webinar for North American educators last year on coping with COVID-19, it should be considered a White Swan event. Universities had been warned for years that international enrollments could cease suddenly and should not be relied on. Health and emergency management professionals had run regular drills and propopsed technology for a likely pandemic

In 2017 I suggested universities should be ready with an online learning option in case international students were unable to get to campus in a regional emergency. Fortunately, ANU invested in upgraded online systems and training for staff, which meant it was in a better situation than many institutions, when COVID-19 struck.

Guthrie et al. (2021) have warned that ten other Australian universities are at a "high risk of financial default" due to dependence on revenue from international students, who can't get to campus because of COVID-19 restrictions. Their "probable" scenario is for onshore international students dropping 33.3% in 2021 due to COVID-19. However, no university would be immune from the effects of their predicted drop in international enrollments of 60% by 2030, due to competition from China. As Professor Schmidt suggests, cheap online courses are not a viable response. Australian universities can instead provide a quality blend of online and campus experience, for a reasonable, but not low, fee.

There is much more work needed to provide quality engagement for students. For the last four weeks I have been providing weekly webinars for North American educators on how engagement could be improved. I have been asked to provide an additional webinar on how to be part of an online education team.


Gwilym Croucher, Kristine Elliott, William Locke and Edward Yencken (0 Mar 2020) Australia’s higher education delivery offshore and online – trends, barriers and opportunities, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. URL

James Guthrie, Martina K Linnenluecke, Ann Martin-Sardesai, Yun Shen, and Tom Smith (January 2021). On the resilience of Australian public universities: Why our institutions may fail unless Vice-Chancellors rethink broken business models, Macquarie University Business School working paper. Download link at:

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Online Examiners Meeting Worked Well

Greetings from the project examiners meeting of the Computer School at the Australian National University in Canberra. Due to COVID-19 this is being conducted online, via video conference. The format is much the same as a face to face examiners meeting. The meeting works its way through a spreadsheet (displayed on screen), where each line shows the proposed grades for a student from reviewers, a proposed final grade and color code to indicate if the academic in charge thinks there is consensus. Most are coded green, indicating there is a consensus and these are generally accepted with little discussion. Those coded amber need more discussion, while the red ones have vigorous debate.

In past years the discussion has got quite heated for a few projects, but not today. There were quite a few comments about the difficulty students had due to COVID-19, with some overseas and unable to meet in person with their supervisor. This can also be difficult where students are working on a project with human subjects, but unable to see them in person. However, I was impressed how, despite the difficulties, staff and students were still able to undertake valuable work.

An observer might think there is not much to such a meeting. But behind this are years of work establishing standards. With that all done, the final decisions can be made smoothly.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Engage Beyond the Class to Stop Our Universities Going Broke

These are the notes for the last of four webinars on "Engaging students in the online environment", Wednesday, 10 February at 11 am AEDT Sydney time (Tuesday, 5 pm MST in Edmonton). This is part of the Microlearning Series at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada, curated by Manisha Khetarpal. Please register for the webinar and send your suggestions.

How do we get students to engage beyond the class?

Education is supposed to be a social and cultural experience, not just learning stuff. With students online, how do we get them to engage outside formal coursework? Athabasca celebrated the end of year with their Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge and the Australian National University is holding a hybrid multi-location virtual/real& Grand Graduation: Class of 2020. Join me and be ready to give your examples of informal student interaction (presentation Powerpoint and PDF).

Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge

Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge

In December I visited the Athabasca University Cozy Mountain Lodge in Canada. I was not actually in Canada, this was via the Remo video conference system. As well as small group chats around virtual tables, in front of a virtual log fire, the group "PostScript" singing country and western. 

I had spent three years studying at AU (and previously 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.

Australian National University Grand Graduation

The Australian National University (ANU) is holding a hybrid multi-location virtual/real Grand Graduation: Class of 2020. on 8 February. This will be streamed from the regular graduation location, ANU's Llewellyn Hall in Canberra. There are satellite locations in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Shanghai and Beijing.

Students who can't make it to one of these venues have been invited to celebrate with a Virtual Graduation Party Pack. Like the Athabasca University Cozy Mountain this has taken on elements of the surreal, if not just silly, with ANU students given a template for a cardboard "DIY Mortarboard" and "Cake Toppers".

How Do We Engage Students Day to Day to Stop Our Universities Going Broke?

Gwilym Croucher,
University of Melbourne
James Guthrie,
Macquarie University

An extreme form of learning beyond the usual classroom is Transnational Education (TNE). 
 Croucher, Elliott, Locke and Yencken (2020) define two types of: offshore campus-based and online. They are are cautiously optimistic about the future of Australian TNE, both in existing markets, particularly China, and new ones, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

However, the authors don't mention a third form of TNE, a blended model using an onshore campus in Australia, plus online study in the student's nation. I suggest this could prove an attractive option for students and is, in effect, what many international students have been forced to do, due to COVID-19. It is also cost-effective and logistically easier for universities, as they do not have to maintain overseas campuses. This also could be applied more generally to on-shore vocational education.

Guthrie et al. (2021) have warned that ten Australian universities are at a "high risk of financial default" due to dependence on revenue from international students who can't get to campus because of COVID-19 restrictions. Their "probable" scenario is for onshore international students dropping 33.3% in 2021 due to COVID-19 and 60% by 2030 due to competition from China. So Australia's universities, I suggest, need to improve the quality of student engagement to remain competitive. 

Virtual mountain lodges and ceremonies with cardboard hats are good for occasional fun, but how do you engage students, domestic and international, day to day? While traditional institutions like to cultivate an image of students enjoying themselves, most are busy studying. Students have jobs,families, and other commitments, so little time to do any more than study. However, some of the most useful parts of study are the contacts with other students and staff, outside formal courses. Also some of the most valuable professional skills for graduates are some of communication and teamwork. Is there a way to build this into programs, without taking all the fun out of it?

As a graduate student I avoided contact with students outside what was required in each course and only communicated with a staff member when required to do so. It was only at the very end of the program, just before graduating, I undertook a course on how to connect with students online that I did so.

The solution, I suggest, is to explain to students that what they do off-campus and outside a particular course is important to learning. However, students need guidance as to what experiences are educationally useful, to be guided while doing these and rewarded with course credit when they do them. This can be as small as a worksheet which students use for a fled project, or as large as multi-year fieldwork or work experience, with hundreds of skills requirements to meet.

Build an Engaging Online Conference 

ASCILITE ML SIG video meeting

Due to COVID-19 many academic conferences were moved online in 2020. This was a temporary expedient measure. However, it did highlight some advantages as well as disadvantages for the format. People who could not previously attend a conference, due to cost, accessibility or family commitments, could now do so. Normally I would prepare one paper for an international conference, help with reviewing for it and attend. But busy with my own online teaching, and helping others, I had assumed I would write no papers in 2020. Instead I co-authored three papers, helped present two and attended more conferences than I would normally. This was because I could do so from the comfort of my home office. Admittedly, watching a video conference presentation was not the same as being in some exotic city. There is still work needed on how to replicate the informal and accidental conversations which happen at conferences. Also the differing aims of delegates and sponsors need further consideration. In may ways the same issues apply to students as they do to academics and researcher at conferences: how can we get real engagement from participants?


Gwilym Croucher, Kristine Elliott, William Locke and Edward Yencken (0 Mar 2020) Australia’s higher education delivery offshore and online – trends, barriers and opportunities, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. URL

James Guthrie, Martina K Linnenluecke, Ann Martin-Sardesai, Yun Shen, and Tom Smith (January 2021). On the resilience of Australian public universities: Why our institutions may fail unless Vice-Chancellors rethink broken business models, Macquarie University Business School working paper. Download link at: