Monday, August 23, 2021

Keep Calm and Carry Online Webinar, 1pm Wednesday 20 October

My first Keep Calm and Carry Online Webinar, presented "Some tips and tricks for e-learning" (7 September, see the slideshow video and slides). The second in the series "Creating an X-factor Experience for Students" is 1pm Wednesday 20 October,  Canberra Time, Via Zoom (draft slides). This will look to the future to see how individual university academics and unviersites can better deliver learning for students through the use of technology on campus and online. This will be key to learning into the future, and will decide if Australian universities have a future.
Poster generated using Keep Calms.

"Keep Calm and Carry Online" a sign on the wall behind me, during webinars from my lounge room for the last eighteen months. So that as the working title for this series of talks. Contributions, corrections and offers of where to present would be welcome.

Keep Calm and Carry Online: Creating an X-factor Experience for Students

Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, ANU School of Computing

Abstract: Award winning online educator, Tom Worthington, has been learning about, and teaching, online at ANU for ten years. He will provide some tips and tricks to survive teaching in these uncertain times, in a classroom, online, or both at the same time. Bring along your problems for a masterclass solution.

About the speaker: Tom Worthington is an  Honorary Senior Lecturer, at the ANU School of Computing, an independent computer consultant and educational technology designer. He previously wrote IT policy for the Australian Department of Defence. Tom is a Fellow, Past President and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Tom has a Masters of Education in Open, Digital and Distance Education from Athabasca University and blogs as the

Creating an X-factor Experience for Students

  1. X-factor for Student Satisfaction
  2. Sage on the Stage & Many Guides On the Side
  3. Tool Up
  4. Global Design
  5. Team Teaching in ANU TechLauncher
  6. Design Courses Like Luxury Cars

The X-factor for Student Satisfaction

Gary Martin, CEO, AIMWA
"With university leaders scrambling to regroup amid the operational and financial chaos caused by COVID-19, it has become clear that providing a transformative student experience is critical to attracting an increased shared of the domestic student market, and that for international students once borders re-open.

What remains unclear, however, is exactly how to crack the student experience X factor that delivers the kind of transformative experience students are looking for."

  From Creating an X-factor Experience, Gary Martin, Business News, 22 August 2021

Gary Martin, chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management WA, recently asked what gave a quality experience for Australian university students ("Creating an X-factor Experience", Business News, 22 August 2021). After scrambling to quickly deliver online courses, universities around the world are asking: what next? Do they return to pre-COVID campus based teaching, provide online courses alongside campus ones, blended learning which has some online and some face to face elements, or hybrid with classroom linked online.

While academics and university executives may think online delivery is still an open question, students now expect courses to be available online as a matter of routine. However, they also want the option of face to face classes, where they can work with others, under the guidance of experts. What will distinguish a course is the quality of interaction provided, with students and staff.

As an online student for seven years I found I could manage to study by following the materials provided, doing the readings and exercises. However, it was a very lonely, frustrating experience. What stood out were the occasions when I met and worked virtually with my fellow students. Events live with instructors were a highlight. The very rare occasions when I met my instructors were a bonus, as they were on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, 17,000 km away.

The Sage on the Stage

Prof. Steve Blackburn teaching Structured Programming
with interactive live-streamed lectures
from ANU Manning Clark Hall.

Professor Steve Blackburn and the team at ANU Engineering and Computer Science have shown the X-factor, in the video "Teaching computer science in a pandemic". I suggest, as the video demonstrates, student satisfaction can be improved though personal attention, enhanced with technology. Steve is a distinguished academic, who is also a good communicator, making him a Sage on the Stage. Steve can present, and discuss material in a way which engages the audience. However, he makes it look deceptively easy. Presenting a good lecture to a room full of students is difficult. Projecting your personality to students online is harder. Doing this to both a room and line is even harder. Not everyone will be able to reach Steve's level, but these are skills which can be learned, and practiced.

Guide on the side

Prof. Steve Blackburn & tutor Leopold Zhou

In the video, Steve mentions the role of tutors. Called Teaching Assistants (TAs) in North America, they are critical. While the professor takes center stage, the tutors work with smaller groups of students, assisting in lectures, in tutorials, workshops and laboratories, to investigate topics and practice skills. Here again, tutoring is a skill which takes training and practice, with a extra layer of complexity when carried out online.

Support Crew

Dr Kim Blackmore, Director,
ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching

Backing up the professor and tutors are many other staff. Producing courses, especially online courses, requires educational designers, video makers, and other specialists. Ed designers work with the subject matter experts to structure the learning and assessment, video makers and others polish the materials.

The Australian National University has a Centre for Learning and Teaching, headed by Dr Kim Blackmore, as well as staff in the colleges. These staff have been busy during the pandemic, with a crash program to move courses online. But they are always busy, so if you need help, give them plenty of notice.

Both classroom based and online learning also require technical support personnel to keep the audio visual systems, software and networks working. The last decade has seen new software to delivery learning developed. When working properly, and used as intended, these systems lighten the burden for students and teachers.

Tool Up

Home office webinar setup, Tom Worthington, CC BY, 2 September 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we need to be ready to deliver learning from and to, anywhere at any time. As a technology teacher I routinely carried everything I needed to teach in my briefcase. Here is a photo of my home office, upgraded with second hand equipment for lock-down teaching. I made a point of using low cost equipment to show that it is technique which makes good teaching not the hardware. I can make do with just a laptop, or even a smartphone, but the other equipment makes the job easier, and if all else fails, I can just use my voice and a plain old telephone service (known as "POTS" in telecommunications jargon).

Global Design

Holly Hapke
University of Kentucky.
3-in-1 Hybrid Learning:

1. Online asynchronous course, 
2. Add synchronous events, 
3. Add classroom events.

From Hapke, Lee-Post, and Dean (2020).

One way to avoid the idea that online learning is a poor quality cut-price experience is to bundle it with a campus offer, as hybrid learning. A good example is Hapke, Lee-Post, and Dean (2020), with their 3-in-1 Hybrid Learning. Rather than divide students administratively into distance and campus based, they receive the same online course, supplemented with synchronous events, either in the classroom or online, at the student's discretion.

The hybrid approach is more difficult for the instructor, than just online or face to face. However, it does provide them the opportunity to still be the "sage on the stage". The student has the sense of getting a full university experience, even if they enter a classroom. The institution can continue to market courses using images of ivy covered stone buildings, even if most students never set foot on campus (much like a gym membership which is never used). 

Over the last eighteen months, we have seen heroic efforts to rapidly convert campus based classroom courses for online delivery. Now there is discussion of a return, via hybrid, to the classroom. But it does not need to be this hard. Keep in mind that students value the personal interaction with each other, and with you, the teacher. Don't let a lot of content get in the way.

A typical course has more content, assessment, and activities, than needed. You can start by paring it down to what it is reasonable for a student to do in the time available to them. As an example, most courses have far more readings than a student could possibly read. I use a  estimate how long it will take a student to read reading speed of 80 words a minute for a student at IELTS 6.5 (McEwan, 2012, p. 80).

Design your courses as if they were to be delivered as old fashioned distance education, with no real time interaction (that is asynchronous mode). Provide the materials and activities for each week. Offer students ways to interact with you and each other, online. Make the deadlines generous, and don;t assume they can all do this at the same time. Then add synchronous activities which can be done online. Then add to that the option of those same activities in a classroom. Don't make the assessment synchronous, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. 

With this approach there is no need to make special provision for an emergency: one, more, or all students can study online at their own pace, if they can't come to class.

Students like this approach, but academics, and university administrators have difficulty with it. A "lecturer" who has built their sense of self around lecturing has to learn new skills and build a new identity. A university which has marketed the campus experience has to avoid the idea that are now just offering cheap, online video courses. 


Hapke, H., Lee-Post, A., & Dean, T. (2020). 3-IN-1 HYBRID LEARNING ENVIRONMENT. Marketing Education Review, 1-8.

McEwan, M. (2012). Evaluating and enhancing the feedback process: an international college case study. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education7(1), 79-95. Retrieved from

Dogfood: Be an online student of teaching

Tom Worthington receiving an MEd
in Open, Digital and Distance Education
from Athabasca University, Canada
- You don't know how frustratingly hard it is, until you try it.

- Enroll in an online course in how to teach. It has to have deadlines, and assessment, to make the experience real.

- If you find study frustrating, conflicting with family and work commitments, then you know what it is like for your students.

- Start with something easy, like the ANU Coffee Courses, work up to an international online graduate course. Take the good meal challenge.

As an online student of e-learning, at Australian and North American vocational colleges and universities, I learned much about how to design and deliver courses. However, one of the greatest insights was how hard being a student was, how frustrating being an online student was, and how lonely being an international online student was. Being a part time student with work and family commitments, just makes it harder still.

Academic staff, I suggest, need to be reminded what being a student is like, and many, like me, had never been an online student before they started teaching online. So I suggest some dogfooding:

'Back in the 1980s when actor Lorne Greene served as the pitchman for Alpo dog food, the TV commercials were careful to point out that he indeed fed Alpo to his dogs. Consequently, the idea that someone would use the products they were making became known as "eating your own dog food.'

From Harrison, W. (2006). Eating your own dog food. IEEE Software, 23(3), 5-7.

ANU TEL ED HE Certificate awarded to Tom Worthington
I suggest starting with something simple, such as an ANU Coffee Course. These are intended to only take as much time as you spend on a coffee break, each day for a week. But even that commitment of time can be challenging. See if you can do ten and then reflect on the experience (although I don't know if ANU are still handing out certificates).

To have skin in the game, take the good meal challenge: hand a friend enough money for a good meal for two. Tell them that when you complete your study on time, you will share a meal with the funds. If you don't produce the certificate on time, ask them to give the money to charity.

ANU EFSInformation Sessions
14 September
For something harder, there are programs such as the ANU Educational Fellowship Scheme (EFS). But it is not all hard work, you also get to meet, if only virtually, people going through the same thing you are. This is also one of the key lessons I got from study: the importance of getting to know your fellow students.


Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning, Tom Worthington, Beyond 50 Series, Athabasca University, April 17, 2020

Build the course around the assessment

- Set the learning objectives
- Select assessment to cover the learning objectives
- Provide support to obtain the knowledge and skills needed for the assessment
- Have many small regular assessment items and a few big ones

Students worry about assessment, so tell them what it is, and how each learning activity supports it. Delete activities, readings and materials which don't relate to assessment. Have small assessment tasks every week, to keep the students engaged (1% or 2% a week will do). Have a best of assessment scheme, so students can have multiple attempts. Provide results with feedback each week.

By clearly linking content and activities to the assessment, you can remove the frustration of students asking what will be assessed, as everything will be assessed

Make time for contact with students

- Drop most lectures (face to face & live online): students don't learn much from them anyway
- Get students to communicate more: with you and to each other
- Answer individual student questions to the group
- Use tools and techniques to free up your time & that of students
- Don't use email to communicate with students

Unfortunately, many university academics are fixated with lectures, seeing standing up talking to a room full of students as the ultimate form of education: it isn't. Quality beats quantity, and a few active interactive sessions will be appreciated by students.

I spent my first ten years a lecturer, trying to deliver good lectures face to face and online. Thirteen years ago, on August 12, 2008, I had an epiphany: I told my class I had given my last lecture. Instead I learned flipped techniques, with the emphasis on student activities. Those activities can be online, in a classroom, or both, as long as they involve the students doing more than just listening to me.

Drop activities where you are doing all the talking, so there is more time for students to do and talk. You then have more time to respond to students promptly. Answer individual student questions to the group, so they bet maximum value from your advice.

There has been decades of research and development put into online learning tools and techniques. Use these to save you time. Use the learning management system to lighten the administrative burden, by using it to distribute materials, send out announcements and administer assessment. Use automated quizzes, rubrics, peer assessment and other techniques to lighten the burden for you and increase student learning.

Don't use email with students: use the tools in the learning management system. If a student sends you an email, reply via the system, with a copy of their message, so they understand this is official, on the record, communication.

Use video sparingly

- Reuse old videos
- Generate slideshows
- Provide video to supplement the text
- Implement accessibility guidelines

High production quality video is not needed for education (in fact video is not needed, text works just as well). If you already have video, use it. If you have slide decks, turn them into videos. Link the videos from your text notes. Instead of an hour long video lecture, create a ten minute summary.  Focus your efforts on getting students to do things, not just watch videos.

Follow accessibility guidelines, not just to make your materials readable by someone with a disability, but so they will work on a smart phone, and a slow Internet connection. 

Get help

- Ask for advice from the educational technology & learning design staff: they are trained experts.
- Have a colleague, or assistant, to help you with the course.
- Team teach live: one person presents, the other works the tech and helps the students

Universities have teams of learning and educational technology professions to help you do your job. Also, teaching online can be a 24 hour job, so it helps to do it as a team. Live to air teaching is technically and pedagogically challenging, as well as being tiring, so have at least a two person tag team. One person presents, while the other checks for questions and problems. 

Team Teaching in ANU TechLauncher

Careers Consultant
Four workshops per semester for ANU Computer Project students, preparing a capstone reflective portfolio. 

Designed for hybrid mode.

The team:
  1. Course convener: Dr Charles Gretton, sets the context
  2. Subject matter expert: Tempe Archer, delivers the workshop.
  3. Instructor: Tom Worthington, manages the students
  4. 200 Students: Peer review.
  5. 13 Tutors: Assess their student’s portfolios.
An example of team teaching are the hybrid workshops, for the Australian National University Tech-Launcher program. Workshops are provided each semester for Computer Project students, to help them prepare a capstone reflective portfolio.

This module was designed with an online asynchronous core, to accompany the face to face workshops (Worthington, 2019). Provision for delivery fully online was included, in case an emergency kept students away from the campus. This contingency was activated in 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, by replacing the classroom with Zoom videoconferencing. For 2021, a hybrid option was added, allowing for students, both in the classroom, and online.

At each workshop, the Course Convener, Dr Charles Gretton, sets the context. Tempe Archer, from ANU Careers, is the "Sage on the stage", presenting the material she is expert on. I am the "guide on the side", putting the students into Zoom rooms for group work, relaying questions, and administering the accompanying assessment. There is also a team of tutors help the hundreds of students with their individual challenge of building a portfolios by the end of semester, and assess them on it.


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.

The Lexus and The Learner: Engineering Quality Education

2007 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES, built on the same car platform (Wikipedia, 2021)

Universities across the world are now struggling to come up with a post-COVID education strategy. On the one hand online learning has shown education can be provided efficiently anywhere, on the other there is a desire to provide a personal experience. Thomas L. Friedman explored a similar dilemma in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization" (1999). Lexus motor vehicles represented the desire for the products of globalization, and the olive tree local tradition. Friedman argued that globalization would win out, but I suggest it is possible to have both.

Engineering a car for global standards takes hundreds of engineers years and billions of dollars. So makers such as Toyota design a common "platform" for a range of models, from low cost to luxury ones. Luxury models are hand finished with some premium components, to give a luxury product.

The approach of an engineered platform, with personal touches added, can be applied to learning. A course can be created by a team of educational designers and subject matter experts, for delivery world wide, to meet formal government and professional standards. The basics of the course can be provided online, with personal touches added by teaching staff, live online and face to face. This way the student gets the benefit of quality design, plus the human element.
  1. Higher Education After COVID-19, six webinars from August 2020, by Tom Worthington, for the Microlearning Series curated by Manisha Khetarpal at Maskwacis Cultural College, Canada
  2. Engaging students in the online environment, five webinars from February 2021, by Tom Worthington, for the Microlearning Series curated by Manisha Khetarpal at Maskwacis Cultural College, Canada
  3. Learning to Reflect Module Version 5.0: Hybrid Edition by Tom Worthington, for the  module for the ANU TechLauncher program, 2018 to 2021.

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