Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Providing Students With More Job-Ready Skills

Lynlea Small
University of the Sunshine Coast
Lynlea Small, Amie Shaw and Ruth McPhail asked "1 in 4 unemployed Australians has a degree. How did we get to this point?". They rightly point out that Australian government policy aimed to increase number of Australians with university degrees. That has been a success, however, not all degrees provide vocational skills and a degree is not necessarily the best way to get a job. I suggest students can be encouraged to select shorter more vocationally relevant university programs and those in the VET sector (vocational education & training). A certificate, rather than a degree, from a university or a TAFE can provide quicker, cheaper result for a student looking for a job.

I teach computing and engineering students, where the degree programs are accredited by professional bodies. Major employers came to the campus last week, to recruit the students I teach. These students undertake project based work, internships, group projects for real clients and other forms of work integrated learning. The last assessment task I take students through is to write an application for a currently advertised job, explaining how the skills and knowledge they have gained can be used in the workplace. This makes the students more employable.  However, not all degrees are so vocationally focused and a degree may not be the best path to a career.

Rather than calling on graduates to be "resilient, determined and adaptable", as Small, Shaw and McPhail do, I suggest we need to change the policy. The Australian government has made an attempt to do that, by making degrees which lead to jobs cheaper and also introducing six month undergraduate certificates for high demand job areas. However, I suggest also encouraging more school leavers to take up a VET program. These VET graduates can then contemplate further study, perhaps at university, after they have employment.

Academics can also play a part in making graduates more employable. They can do this by building practical skills into the curriculum, which help students demonstrate they are "resilient, determined and adaptable". It is not enough to encourage students to undertake extracurricular activities and hope somehow this will make up for the deficiencies in their degree program. It requires teaching staff to learn new teaching skills, so they can provide a less theoretical, more practical form of education, where students learn to solve real problems for real people, by solving real problems for real people

It is not easy to teach or to assess real world skills. But it does help if you have received that form of training yourself recently and have been trained to teach it. It also helps if you have real world experience, and team up with those who have for teaching. I found training in both the VET and university sectors in new ways to teach very useful. Also useful was being able to relate my experience working in the computer industry, designing systems, working in teams and reviewing failed projects. It also helps to have experience of being an international online student, so I can better understand what my students are experiencing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Training for the Next Emergency at Your University

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet and there are other foreseeable challenges as great in the near future, so perhaps it is time for universities to ensure they have staff qualified in Emergency Management. TAFE NSW National Center for Emergency Management Studies are offering qualifications and training in areas very relevant to higher education, such as Critical Incident Messaging, Working with Spontaneous Volunteers,  Commanding Under Pressure, Political Acumen for Emergency Management, Business Continuity Planning, and Exercise management for emergencies.

An emergency becomes a disaster only if we are not prepared for it. In early 2020 I activated the online option I had built into my learning design. It was still not easy, but much easier if I had not planned for this foreseeable event. 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

University of Canberra Campus Master Plan

Greetings from the University of Canberra Inspire Center, where the latest Campus Master Plan is being launched. The physical plan is by is by Rob McGauran, of MGS Architects. The Vice-chancellor  said they are aiming to build a town center linked to the community, health, research and community facilities. He reflected the unviersitey was built in a quad, surrounded by a moat, which could not be seen from the outside. 

The university is now outward looking and he made an ambit claim to be on a future light rail route to the city. In my view, it is a challenging time to plan a university, with COVID-19, and the prospect for further disruptions to international students in the short term due to regional tensions. There will also be increased competition from online international providers in the next decade, as online education becomes the default option for domestic and international students. 

The VC is looking to partner with the ACT Government, industry and the community. What wan't mentioned, and featured in past plans, were links to vocational education. The UoC 2012 Campus Master Plan, envisioned a polytechnic, as a "practice-led higher education institution with strategic partners delivering employer relevant programs". This was to have 5,000 students accommodated in dedicated premises.

The new plan places more emphasis on industry partnerships for innovation, with more than 18,000 non-university staff in210,000 m2 of office space.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

How do you plan a university campus post-COVID-19?

The University of Canberra will launch an updated Campus Master Plan on Thursday. It will be interesting to see how this differs from the current plan, which was released in 2012. Flexibility, I suggest, should be the priority, with most students mostly studying online, even after COVID-19.

The university planned to have 10,000 full-time equivalent students on campus. Also there were plans for a bridging programs with 1,000 full-time equivalent students, including international ones, operating from purpose-built premises. The plan also designated a health precinct, which has seen the building of the University of Canberra Hospital.

As COVID-19 shows, there are predicable and foreseeable events which can case havoc for institutions which fail to plan for them. Australia's universities now face the prospect for further disruptions to international students in the short term due to regional tensions. There will also be increased competition from online international providers in the next decade, as online education becomes the default option for domestic and international students.

As I pointed out in 2012, the typical university student of 2020 and beyond "... will be on campus for only about 20% of their studies, with 80% on-line away from the campus ...". This has implications for the types of spaces provided. Buildings need to be able to be repurposed and flexible in day to day use. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Australian Government Acknowledges ANU TechLauncher Developing Professionals

 The Australian Public Service Commission has acknowledged the role of the Australian National University's TechLauncher program in "developing the next generation of tech professionals". This is a form of Work Integrated Learning where a team of students undertake a real project for a real client. But is not as easy as it sounds (I help out teaching the students soft skills).

The APSC also have a case study of GovHack on the same page. Hackerthons successfully transitioned to the online environment last year. I helped with some for ANU, ACS, CSIRO, and DoD. There is scope for hackerthons, in both technical and non-technical disciplines, to be used more. Hackerthons could be used as part of the curriculum to give students a short sharp experience of teamwork for course credit, as well as for their usual role of  learning as well as outreach (as with the ANU Singapore Health Hack 2019)?


Delivering for Tomorrow: APS Workforce Strategy 2025, Australian Public Service Commission, March 2021. URL

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Why open pedagogy and learning activities?

These are the notes for a webinar, Wednesday, 17 March 2021, 10 am AEDT Sydney time. This is part of the Microlearning Series at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada, curated by Manisha KhetarpalPresentation Powerpoint and PDF available.

Athabasca University recently renamed their Master of Education in Distance Education (MEd DE) to be a Master of Education in *Open*, *Digital* and Distance Education (MEd ODDE). Join Tom Worthington, one >of the graduates, to discuss what open education is, what are the benefits and pitfalls and how to do it.

Pre-reading "Use of Open Education Resources", from Digital Teaching In<br>Higher Education, Tom Worthington, 2017. URL

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Webinar on Mental Wellbeing Of Students, 24 March, 4pm

Posimente student well-being tracker

Posimente will be holding a free webinar on "Post COVID-19: Mental Health and Wellbeing in schools"Wednesday, 24 March, 4pm, with Liz Rankin and Jan Lonsdale from Tyndale Christian School. I had a demo Posimente's student well-being tracker and it does much as I would expect it to

Captioned Recordings for Students

Professor Katie Ellis, Curtin University
Kent, Ellis, and Peaty (2017) suggest that captions and transcripts of recorded lectures are of benefit beyond those with a disability they were originally intended for. While this paper was published in 2017, it is very relevant in the COVID-19 era, where lecturers are struggling to communicate to students online. Providing a transcript and captions on videos is an un-glamorous but effective way to improve learning, particularly for students who are not studying in their first language.

ps: I discovered this paper recently because it cites my blog (this blog): Worthington (2015).


Kent, M., Ellis, K., & Peaty, G. (2017). Captioned Recorded Lectures as a Mainstream Learning ToolM/C Journal20(3), 1-1. URL

Worthington, Tom. “Are Australian Universities Required to Caption Lecture Videos?” Higher Education Whisperer 14 Feb. 2015. URL

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

I am now a Master of Education in Open, Digital and Distance Education

Athabasca University have renamed their Master of Education in Distance Education (MEd DE) to be a Master of Education in Open, Digital and Distance Education (MEd ODDE). As I had graduated in 2017, I was able to pay a small fee to have my certificate replaced. This is the cheapest extra two letters I ever got after my name, but does this now make me Odd -e?

Athabasca is the only university I could find which has digital and open in the name of the degree. The use of "distance" seems a bit dated. The second "Education" in the name seems a bit redundant: perhaps "Learning" could replace the second one.

Charles Sturt University have a Master of Leading Online, Open and Distance Education, whereas the The Open University (UK) call theirs Masters in Online and Distance Education (no digital). The University of Sydney offers a Master of Education (Digital Technologies) and University of Wollongong the  Master of Education (Digital Technologies for Learning) with no "open". 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

eXtended Reality Cooperative Research Centre Workshop

A workshop on a proposed Xtended Reality Cooperative Research Centre (XR CRC) will be held online, 1pm, 19 March 2021.

"Six Australian Universities; Deakin University, Charles Sturt University, Curtin University, Griffith University, The Australian National University and University of Technology Sydney, all with research and application expertise in immersive experience and solutions are working on the development of the eXtended Reality CRC (XRCRC) program proposal to Government.

The XRCRC aims to enable our partners transform for the new global environment and manage the impact and opportunity of accelerated digital experience and digital offerings.

With a focus on the integration of people content and technology, XRCRC research and development is relevant where human and digital worlds combine across the following sectors:

Education and Training
Health, Accessibility, Inclusion and Aged Care
Media, Entertainment and Creative
Advanced Manufacturing, Resources and Industrial Services
Architecture and Construction
Emergency Services, Defence, Security, and Public Safety ..."

Loyal Wingman supersonic fighter UAV

ps: One use for XR could be to provide an interface for high performance drones, such as the proposed Loyal Wingman supersonic aircraft. The operator would sit in a flight simulator, controlling the remote aircraft.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Best way to Avoid Zoom Fatigue is Not Have a Meeting

Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab
Jeremy N. Bailenson has written a thought provoking commentary on the causes of fatigue from using video conferencing (2021). He suggested Zoom, and similar video conference systems, cause the user to be tired due to: Eye Gaze at a Close Distance, Cognitive Load, An All Day Mirror, and Reduced Mobility. 

As Professor Bailenson notes, "... being on video-conference all day seems particularly exhausting ...". He suggests this is an area for research by social scientists and technologists.

However, I suggest the primary cause of the exhaustion may simply be from spending so much time in video conferencing. In a typical day pre-COVID19, I might attend a couple of face to face meetings. In between the meetings there was at least some break walking from one meeting to another. When I occasionally have had to attend, or chair, all day meetings, I have found this exhausting. Because it is so easy to schedule and attend video meetings, I have found some days in 2020 I go from meeting to meeting without a break. Some conferences which transitioned to online last year acknowledged this and scheduled breaks.

Eye Gaze at a Close Distance

Professor Bailenson identifies Eye Gaze at a Close Distance as a problem, with a video conferencing like staring at a group of people. I haven't noticed this as a problem, perhaps because I frequently have the screen set to display only the speaker, in a small "thumbnail" window. I do this to save on computer CPU and networking resources, but perhaps it also has benefits for the user. 

There are other video conference systems which try to mimic a meeting more closely. Remo displays a floor plan with people represented by small icons around tables. When you join a table, you see the video from just the few people around the table. Some systems attempt to provide a perspective view, showing people near you larger than those further away.

Cognitive Load

Professor Bailenson suggests that having to consciously attend to one's visual communication creates extra workload. However, in a face to face meeting I am conscious of the need to be visible to others and appear to be paying attention. This has been a problem when I am taking notes on a computer, but those around me think I am not paying attention and are using the computer for an unrelated task.

An All Day Mirror

As Professor Bailenson notes, Zoom's default option is to display the speaker on screen. I find this reassuring, but he suggests it is stressful. Perhaps one reason it doesn't bother me is that most of the time I have the video camera turned off and a stock image (taken from the same perspective, wearing the same clothes, displayed. I do this to reduce bandwidth use and also enable me to take notes without distracting other participants.

Reduced Mobility

Professor Bailenson suggest video conferencing reduces mobility because the participants need to stay in view of the camera. This is not the case. Video conferencing is available on phones as well as laptops and so can be mobile. It may be that we need features in the video system to encourage people to use this feature, or explicitly encourage them to do so.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue: Don't Have a Meeting

It may be that I suffer less Zoom fatigue because I was a user of low bandwidth video conferencing before 2020. As such I treat the video as an adjunct to the audio, and the audio as an adjunct to the text chat, and the text chat as an adjunct to asynchronous communication. 

Those who are used to working primarily via face to face meetings, including those used to teaching this way, find video conferencing the closest alternative available. However, this is not necessarily the best way of working. My approach is to try to get the work done asynchronously, as that save the time and trouble of having a "meeting". 

For ten years I was able to run online courses for university students which had no video or audio. Students never saw or spoke to me face to face or online, but were still able to learn and gave good ratings for my teaching. In decades of helping to run the Australian Computer Society I avoided meetings wherever possible, making decisions out of session.

The best way to avoid Zoom fatigue is not through better software design, but by not having fewer meetings.


Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom FatigueTechnology, Mind, and Behavior2(1).