Thursday, May 27, 2021

Is Augmented Reality the Next Big Thing?

Augmented Reality by Mark Pesce
Greetings from the ANU in Canberra, at the Book Launch for  Augmented Reality by Mark Pesce. Dr Bell, in her introduction, mentioned needing Mark at a national library event, which I remember vividly. 

Mark gave the example of Peg Patterson Park Sydney becoming a major Pokemon AR site, changing the real space. He then showed some smart specs. 

But I was a Google Glass skeptic and still am. This is a tech which was coming and went, without really happening. I found Microsoft HoloLens much better than Google Glass, despite having a much bulkier headset.  However, even with something which looks like normal glasses, there are considerable social impediments to the technology.

Much to everyone's surprise, I suggest the last big thing we had was Zoom: old fashioned video conferencing done a bit better. The next big thing will be something like that, not augmented reality. It might be, for example, vaccination certificates with QR codes, which allow us to travel.

Australian Universities Should use the Pandemic to Reform

Baré, Beard, Marshman and Tjia ask "Does the COVID-19 emergency create an opportunity to reform the Australian university workforce?" (2021). They suggest that Australian universities could change, if those in the sector had the will to do so. The authors suggest the university workforce requires knowledge of digital and artificial intelligence (AI), capability to innovate, skills for  engagement with industry/government/community, flexibility, learner-centric approaches, and team skills. Those are all achievable, assuming staff and potential staff, are given incentives to acquire those skills. However, I suggest some of the structural reforms suggested appear contrary to this and internally inconsistent. 

Baré, Beard, Marshman and Tjia suggest  more flexibility in university employment conditions, but also job security and better pay for casual academic staff. However if universities gain more ability to hire and fire "permanent" staff, why would they want to give this up for the staff they already can already hire and fire: the casuals?

In taking on increasing numbers of international students over the last decade, universities realized that this source of revenue could cease quickly. For that reason universities have relied on large numbers of casual staff and those on short term contracts. When COVID-19 struck, these staff had no jobs. This was not an unintended consequence of the pandemic: it was the activation of a planned contingency. That was not some secret plan by heartless bureaucrats: just a fact of life. If universities don't have the revenue to pay staff, they can't pay them.

Unlike other employers, universities are able to train staff, but have someone else pay for this training (either the students, or the government or both). There are many more research academics graduated than there are academic positions for. As a result, for most jobs, universities have no incentive to offer career paths, permanent positions or competitive salaries.

There are plenty of people with academic training who are ready and willing to take on a job at a university. This is similar to the entertainment industry, where there are many more artists and musicians than jobs for. Some can earn a living teaching, but most need another career outside entertainment. 

Baré, Beard, Marshman and Tjia suggest a role for "third space professionals", who could undertake both academic and professional roles at universities. I suggest this is too inward looking and narrow an approach. Instead I suggest a role for professionals, who have skills for a role outside university, but can also undertake administration, education, and some research at a university. As an example, those teaching students need to know a lot about their discipline, but also a little about teaching. The can work alongside educational designers and other specialists. Those carrying out roles requiring innovation or industry liaison will also require extra skills.

It is not possible for universities to provide long term permanent employment for increasing numbers of research graduates, in the face of uncertain demand for their services. Instead, I suggest the graduates should be prepared for roles outside academia and research. A few of them will get secure jobs at universities, but the majority should be ready to work in government and industry. Some of those can have part time, temporary jobs at university, as and when needed, bringing with them their real-world experience.

I bring to my university work experience from the computing industry.  I can carry out the role as an educational designer, having postgraduate qualifications in the field, but also teach practical skills to  computing students, being a certified computer professional. As part of this I teach alongside professionals from the university's careers unit. Those teaching do need some knowledge of research techniques, but do not need to be rock stars of the research worls, as research shows that while a popular academic might appeal to students, this does not improve the quality of their learning (Uttl,  White, & Gonzale, 2017).

References

Uttl, B., White, C. A., & Gonzalez, D. W. (2017). Meta-analysis of faculty's teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not relatedStudies in Educational Evaluation54, 22-42. https://doi-org.virtual.anu.edu.au/10.1016/j.stueduc.2016.08.007

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Shaping Ideas That Shape the Future

Expert Panel
Greetings from the ANU TechLauncher Student Showcase, at the Canberra Innovation Network. ANU Techlauncher students get to show off the computer systems they have built in teams for real clients though the semester. A panel of experts, from academia, and industry and discussing education and innovation. Most students are participating online via Remo. Tony Hosking mentioned that such projects get students out of their comfort zone. Petr Adamek, plugged First Wednesday Connect. In response to a student question online from China, the panel discussed learning from what happened unexpectedly in a project. As it happens I run the last assessment task for the course, where students learn to reflect on their experience.

Four OECD Scenarios for Schooling

Back to the Future of Education, OECD, September 2020
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)  released "Back to the Future of Education: Four OECD Scenarios for Schooling" in September 2020. While addressing primary and secondary schools, similar possibilities exist for vocational and university education.

The four OECD scenarios are:

  1. Schooling extended: an intensification of the current front-end, massive schooling model
  2. Education outsourced: an outsourcing of schooling and resulting surge of learning markets
  3. Schools as learning hubs: a re-purposing of schooling and transformation of schools
  4. Learn-as-you-go: the end of school-based learning and demise of schooling.
We are likely to see a little of all of these and a lot of some. Campuses and education serve many different purposes for the students, their parents and the community. I suggest that school campuses will remain much as they are for younger students, while those for older students will become more like learning hubs. An example of the latter is Gungarlin's public library, which incorporates a vocational education center, school library, community meeting rooms and classrooms. Curriculum materials may be provided online, while classrooms and teachers remain.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Global Education in Australia

Greetings from the "Global Educators Workshop" at the Australian National University. This follows on from last week's Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies Workshop and online Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching the week before. We have had presentations on China and Indian educations systems. This raises the question as to if Australian universities should adjust teaching techniques and content to suit the students, or are we teaching them skills, including learning skills, which are not offered in the own education system.

I teach computing and engineering students in programs accredited by Australian professional bodies. The national requirements are aligned with international professional standards, through the Seoul and Washington Accords. However, these are heavily influenced by the USA, UK and Australia. Also they do not specify the pedagogy to be used.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Microsoft Teams Meetings on the Move

For the last year and a half Zoom has been my go-to video conferencing application. But some organisations prefer Microsoft Teams. The biggest problem I have found with Teams is security: it is too good. For those who use Teams with just one organisation that is fine, but I have difficulty moving from one Microsoft account to another. I log out of the Microsoft account at one organisation to log into another, but Microsoft logs me straight back into the same one. So far I have found no solution to this problem.

Something which does work well is Teams on a smart phone, but this takes a little more effort than Zoom. In Zoom, you can activate "Safe Driving Mode", which mutes the microphone and video, so you will not be distracted. This has the added benefit of greatly reducing the data use, as video is not transmitted to the phone. I haven't found a similar mode in Teams, but outgoing audio and video is muted by default (remember to provide a profile photo, to give people something to look at). There is also an option to turn off incoming video (something I have not found on Zoom).

Even with incoming video turned off, you will still see presentation slides in Teams. I found this reduces bandwidth use to about 90 kbps. But for driving you don't want this distraction. What I do is put the text chat on screen. That is usually less dynamic and after a minute my phone blanks the screen anyway, just leaving the audio. This also reduces the data use to about 7 kbps. It also helps to put the audio through the car speakers, so the sound is not coming from the phone.

It may seem odd, to want to attend a video conference with no video, no presentation visuals, and only one way audio, but it can be  liberating. Because you can't see anything and can't respond, you have to listen to what is being said. You have to make a mental note of anything to respond to later.

ps: Another option for an audio only conference is to dial in by phone. Zoom supports this, with the app able to dial your phone for you, and insert the meeting, access code, and password. Teams goes one further and will call you. However, those organizing the conference have to enable these features. The last Zoom conference I attended did not have the password included for dial-in and the last Teams meeting would not call Australian phone numbers.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies

Dr Marina Iskhakova
Greetings from room 2.02 of the Marie Reay Teaching Centre, Australian National University, where I am student in a workshop on "Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies", Dr Marina Iskhakova from the ANU College of Business and Economics. This face to face session was preceded by a week long "Coffee Course". With this approach students are given a small chunk to learn and respond to each day. The face to face workshop then reinforces the learning. 

One simple tip from Dr Iskhakova was to learn to pronounce student's names. But I found much of the material very challenging, perhaps being what the main text (Howe & Lisi, 2018) describes as a WASP. As part of the dominant culture of Australia, I don't notice a lack of cultural recognition, or discrimination, as I am not the one being discriminated against. 

There were some cultural aspects which resonated with me, being from a low SES background. Also, unlike the discipline I teach (computing), which is dominated by male students and staff, as a student of education I felt very much the minority.

At the face to face workshop, we did some exercises, such as using a color every fifth word, to help understand how difficult it is for students speaking a second language. I only speak English, but the difficulty of this reminded me of being interviewed for a podcast (which I was this morning by Ben O'Shea for The West Live).

I teach mixed classes of domestic and international students, in degree programs accredited by Australian professions. So I am required to teach the students to fit into an Australian workplace, using techniques developed in the UK and USA. In professional programs the students are, in effect, being trained to speak, write and act in the customs of that discipline and culture. However, these students will be working in multicultural teams, in Australia, online and internationally, so some exposure to multicultural work practices would be useful for them.

Perhaps the approach applied to provide access for those with a disability could also be used for multicultural education. Rather than try to customize content and technique to each student, provide a variety of materials for them to choose from. This would avoid a flaw which apparent in the multicultural pedagogy which assumes that people have fixed "learning styles". Instead, all students, including those from a different culture, could choose the form of learning which suits them, at the time.

Unfortunately most of the texts in this field are from a USA perspective. While there are some similarities with Australia, particularly the exclusion of the indigenous population from educational opportunities, much is USA specific. At Chapter 8, Howe & Lisi (p. 216, 2020), started to get interesting and relevant, with  "Instructional Approaches Needed by Multicultural Educators". However, an Australian text on this topic would be useful. The best source of such material currently is the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, such as that by Dr Cathy Stone.

References

Howe, W. A., & Lisi, P. L. (2018). Becoming a multicultural educator: Developing awareness, gaining skills, and taking action. Sage Publications.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Real World Tests to Prepare Graduates for the Real World

I am helping out with some project audits of ANU Techlauncher computer students this week. Students have been working for ten weeks in teams for a real client to produce a system. They are audited every few weeks to see how they are doing and to make suggestions for improvements. The clients, and other students have input to this as well as staff. This is an approach which might be applied in other disciplines, to make assessment for useful for learning and prepare graduates for the workplace.

This approach is modeled on real world software engineering practice. I have carried out similar audits at the Defence Department on large projects, some of which were subsequently cancelled (as an expert witness in court cases I have reviewed documentation from projects which should have been cancelled). I thought I should revise the fundamentals and found a Wiki version of the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) which doesn't need registration to access (but I am not sure how up to date this is). Chapter 10: Software Quality, 2.3 Reviews and Audits is the relevant part:

"Reviews and audit processes are broadly defined as static—meaning that no software programs or models are executed—examination of software engineering artifacts with respect to standards that have been established by the organization or project for those artifacts. Different types of reviews and audits are distinguished by their purpose, levels of independence, tools and techniques, roles, and by the subject of the activity. Product assurance and process assurance audits are typically conducted by software quality assurance (SQA) personnel who are independent of development teams. Management reviews are conducted by organizational or project management. The engineering staff conducts technical reviews."

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Protecting Australian Education Exports

Van der Kley and Herscovitch, have produced a four page policy paper, for the ANU National Security College, on the risks to international student enrollments from China, due to tensions with Australia. Unfortunately, the provocative title of the paper may make the situation situation worse. I suggest policy proposals for protecting Australia's interests can be worded in a way which avoids giving offence.

As the paper points out, education is a $10B export industry which employs many Australians, and one of the few major ones not effected by Chinese restrictions. The industry is fragmented, with Australian public and private institutions both  competing for international students. The authors propose an Office for Education Trade, but Austrade, I suggest, is particularly unsuited to this role and may well do more harm than good. It is perhaps the lack of government intervention, which has been behind the success of this export sector. Australia has excellent, independent institutions, which international students value highly and government branding may damage this. 

Tom Worthington Speaking at NICT 2018 in Colombo
Tom Worthington, proposing Indo-Pacific
joint education initiative
, in Colombo, 2018

Australia should, obviously diversify its education market to new countries. That can take years, but Australia academics connections with the region can help with this (obvious markets are India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia).

As the authors suggest, Australia should prepare for Chinese students being discouraged from studying in Australia. In 2017 I warned of this possibility and suggested online learning should be prepared as an option. In this I avoided explicitly mentioning China, to avoid giving offence. The crash programs to implement e-learning in 2020 for COVID-19 have now made this possible. However, while providing some flexibility, a reliance on e-learning also creates a risk, as technical means could be used to cut off Australian institutions access to their students in China. 

The paper recommends increasing Australia’s education diplomacy. However, there is no mention of , its implications for Australian education exports, or the geopolitical and geoeconomic situation of the region. Rather attempting to directly challenge China, I have suggested offering alternative forms of education to the region (Worthington, 2014 & 2018). While the loss of Chinese international students is of concern, in the longer term there are far graver implications for Australian education, and the nation's strategic situation.

References

Protecting Education Exports: Minimising the damage of China’s future economic coercion, Policy Options Paper No 18, Dirk van der Kley and Benjamin Herscovitch, National Security College, May 2021. Url https://nsc.crawford.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/publication/nsc_crawford_anu_edu_au/2021-05/digital_nsc_policy_options_paper_no18.pdf

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. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2014.6926448

Worthington, T. (2018, December). Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific. In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE) (pp. 861-865). IEEE. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Australian Budget to Popularize Shorter Courses at Private Providers and Online Learning

The 2021‑22 Federal Budget contained some measure related to higher education. Of particular interest are two relatively small amounts for increased short courses and offshore education:

"$26.1 million over four years from 2021-22 to assist non-university higher education providers to attract more domestic students through offering 5,000 additional short course places in 2021

• $9.4 million in 2021-22 to provide grants of up to $150,000 to eligible higher education and English language providers to support innovative online and offshore education delivery models"

From Budget Paper Number 2, Part 1: Receipt Measures, Australian Government, 18 May 2021, URL: https://budget.gov.au/2021-22/content/bp2/download/bp2_02_receipt.pdf#page=7

Short Courses Opening Up Higher Education to Private Providers?

The "short courses" referred to are not that short, being bachelor and graduate certificates, which require one semester (about 12 weeks full time) to complete. These have proved popular with students and I think they are a good idea. But I am not sure universities like students getting the idea a six months course will do to get a job, rather than a three year degree. Also universities will have to cope with students turning up years later and ask for a semester's credit off a degree for having completed a certificate. This is not unreasonable as the certificates, at least the initial ones, were created by universities repackaging courses from existing degrees.

However, what might cause universities most concern is that this additional funding is only for non-universities. Apart from direct competition for students, this may create a demand for students from these non-universities for credit at universities. 

Innovative online and offshore education delivery models?

The small allocation of funding for "innovative online and offshore education delivery models" might be useful beyond the English language providers it is targeted at. Australian education providers have a problem with international students unable to get to Australia, due to COVID-19.  This may become worse, far worse, if current relations with China deteriorate further. Australian higher education providers, not just for English courses, need to urgently find new ways to deliver programs and to new markets. Australian universities also need to provide more attractive flexible delivery methods, as students do not want to come to campus every day, and may decide to study elsewhere. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Future of Australia’s digital economy is bright

The Australian Computer Society has released "Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021". This is an annual snapshot of the digital economy and job prospects by Deloitte Access Economics. As the report notes, due to COVID-19 it is a boom time for computers and telecommunications. Work and study from home, tele-medicine, online parliament and courts, went from fringe ideas to the mainstream in 2020.  As the report notes, home working doubled from February 2020 to 2021. The resulting demand for technology workers to keep this boom working is likely to continue, at least until 2026. 

Deloitte Access Economics expects demand for working from home to continue, with a consequent need for better digital skills. The technology workforce grew by 4.3% in Australia and a remarkable  10% in NSW. 

Computing was the growth area for university degrees in 2020. The report identifies programming as still in demand by employers, particularly SQL and Java, and also DevOps (which is not a language). Employers also continue to ask for the usual soft skills:  communication (human to human, not computer to computer),  teamwork and problem solving.

Deloitte Access Economics identifies Artificial Intelligence (AI) as an area in demand. The report notes there is ground to be made up with less than a third female IT staff, compared to about half in  professional, scientific and technical jobs.

The report argues for increased professionalism of the technology workforce. As the report notes, this is typically done through higher education degrees. However, I suggest we will see a continuing trend to more flexible programs, integrating work experience and many small specialist qualifications which can be assembled into a degree.

Deloitte Access Economics take a pessimistic view suggesting  international travel restrictions will continue until 2024. They suggest this will force more reliance on those already in Australia obtaining qualifications to fill jobs. However, I suggest the lock-downs have shown that many jobs can be done from anywhere, with the right tools and training. The student teams I help teach, who are undertaking group projects are gaining valuable experience learning to work in virtual teams of people from different cultures, for clients they have never met in person. 

A difficult issue the report raises is how IT fits in the training of other professions. This is an area in which I suggest IT educators should take the lead, being able to tailor curricular for different needs of disciplines.

An even more difficult issue raised by Deloitte Access Economics is how to have more women studying IT. STEM content in schools may help, as the report suggests, but perhaps changes are needed to the definition of what an computer professional is and does. That computing has an identity problem did not occur to me until I studied education as an international student. Here I went from being part of the the dominant workplace culture to a minority.


ps: I am a member of the ACS Profession Advisory Board.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Two Phase Approach to Australian International Education: Offshore VET Plus Onshore University

One useful source of migrants for Australia has been international graduates of Australian universities. It will be interesting to see what effect COVID-19 and the resulting shift to online education has. This may result in a two phase process, where international students do their initial training offshore online in the Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) system, then come to Australia for further study at university, and to work.

Dirk Mulder
There are some indications this is happening. It may involve students studying first at a vocational institution offshore, before moving to a university onshore ("International student growth – it’s all in VET and it’s all from India", Dirk Mulder, Campus Morning Mail, May 5, 2021). While international enrollments are falling at Australian universities, VET is growing, especially from India at Victorian institutions.

The option of starting study in the VET sector and then moving to university is a sound approach for vocational qualifications. Some Australian universities have the option of doing this in-house, offering VET qualifications as well as university degrees. The student can first enroll in VET, complete a diploma and then go straight to the second year of their degree. I was asked by one of these institutions to be on a review panel for their computing degree and was impressed by how it worked.

There are differences in how and what VET and universities teach. VET focuses on vocational skills, offers recognition of prior learning (RPL) and "competency" based assessment. You learn what you need for a job, and if you have evidence already have that skill you don't need do that part of the course. University tends to teach more theory, it is harder to get credit for prior experience and the assessment looks for excellence.

But in terms of learning how to do something both VET and university approaches work. I undertook a certificate in education at  both university and VET, with more similarities than differences. Also the move to online learning over the last year by universities has made their courses more like VET (which is not a bad thing).