Thursday, September 23, 2021

UNESCO Failure to Come Up With a Workable Definition for a Microcredential

UNESCO Draft Preliminary Report "A conversation starter: Towards acommon definition of micro-credentials" (September 2021).
UNESCO titled their 31 page Draft Preliminary Report "A conversation starter: Towards acommon definition of micro-credentials" (September 2021). Unfortunately the proposed definition is unusable, as it doesn't address what makes a microcredential different to other credentials: it is much smaller.

The UNESCO report proposes a micro-credential:

"1. is a record of focused learning achievement verifying what the learner knows, understands or can do;

2. includes assessment based on clearly defined standards and is awarded by a trusted provider;

3. has stand-alone value and may also contribute to or complement other micro-credentials or macro-credentials, including through recognition of prior learning; and

4. meets the standards required by relevant quality assurance."

However, every credential should have these characteristics. UNESCO seemed to have missed the hint in the name micro-credential. These are much smaller, but not necessarily literally one millionth, of a conventional qualification. I have, not entirely seriously, suggested these be called Deci or Centi-credentials, as in practice they tend to be one tenth to one hundredth of a three year degree.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Survey Volunteers Needed for Study of Digital Communication and Work Stress in Universities:

E-stress Survey Link
The University of South Australia is leading a study into "Digital Communication and Work Stress in Universities". They are seeking volunteers who work in Australian universities to survey.

This is an excellent initiative, however, they are focusing on those who have a full time working week. Much of the university workforce is part time and casual. These people have been exploited by universities through systematic wage theft, and threatened with loss of work. So I suggest excluding them from studies of work stress will skew the results.

As for how to reduce stress, I suggest courses designed with an asynchronous core, supplemented with online and classroom synchronous events, can help, by lowering student stress and therefore staff stress. With this approach no special arrangements are needed for a campus lock-down, or individual student emergency. The same approach can also be taken to staff meetings, with it not assumed that everyone can turn up on campus at a particular time. I will be touching on this in the webinar "Keep Calm and Carry Online", 20 October from ANU (all welcome).  

Also work stress could be reduced by teaching staff good practices as to how to work online. In response to seeing people waste a lot of time on email, in 1997 I wrote "How to Read and Write E-mail Messages". 

Scaffolded learning, where students do their assignments a bit at a time helps, as do more flexible assessment schemes. One example I have used is "best X out of X+2" assessment in a "Green computing professional education course online". The idea is that students are assessed on their best work, so do not have to worry about doing badly in, or missing, a couple of assessments. This reduces the need for students to ask for special consideration, extra time, and remarking. It also encourages students to work steadily through a course, not leaving everything to the end.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

An Encounter with the Absurd on Zoom

Greetings from You Say You Want A Revolution: An Absurdist Encounter Group. Johnnie Moore and Matt Moore are using absurdist techniques to help us broaden our thinking about how to achieve our aims. At least that is what I think it is about. This event is sponsored by UTS Information Innovation.

I had forgotten about signing up for this event. But it turned out to be a refreshing counterpoint to the recent very serious video events I have been in. I did help ferment revolution in a pub & parliament. ;-) 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Highest Demand for Digital Technical Skills

According to the ACS (2021), the greatest demands for technology workers are in: 1. Information, Media & Telecommunications (31%); 2. Professional, Scientific & Technical Services (14%), 3. Financial & Insurance Services (11%), 4. Education & Training - Adult, Community & Other Education (9%), and 5. Health Care & Social Assistance (5%). It will be interesting to see if the last two, education and health, increase further, due to the need for systems to address the COVID-19 pandemic.


Demand & Impacts on Tech & Digital Skills, An ACS Technical White Paper, The Australian Computer Society, August 2021. URL

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Acoustic Pinboard as Green Screen

Before Canberra's lock-down I noticed a well known hardware store had acoustic pin-boards in lime green. I purchased one 1200 x 800 mm ($30) in lime green and found it worked very well as a green screen for video. The board is 9mm thick polyester, and is strong enough to be propped up without needing any framework. But it is a bit small so I have it propped up behind my monitor in my home webinar studio, to provide some sound absorption. 

The boards are also available 2420 x 1220 mm ($84.50) which would be better for a screen, but unfortunately they are not colored. I have contacted the supplier to suggest they make bigger panels in green.

Low Cost Home Office Webinar Setup

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

This is my home office setup for teaching online. I will be discussing this in my Keep Calm and Carry Online Webinar. Normally I talk sitting down, as it is then much easier to access the equipment, and I can't wander out of shot. I use a small wired headset for better sound ($50). I use a wired keyboard (second hand $5) and wired mouse (second hand $5) to operate the presentation. I have tried various wireless headsets, remote controllers and pointing devices, but find they get in the way, get lost and the batteries go flat at inconvenient times.

I use a low cost laptop ($500) plugged into a 24 inch monitor (second hand $100). Internet access is provided by a 4G wireless modem ($50 plus $15 a month for access), plugged into a router configured to limit bandwidth ($100).

Behind the monitor is a web-camera (under $100) with a clip on telephoto lens (under $20). The camera is on a telescopic tripod, so I can push it down out of sight behind the monitor, when not in use  (and so it can't see me). I appear in front of a folding green screen (second hand $10, plus $5 for green paint). There is a sound absorbing pin-board behind the monitor, which can also b used as a green screen ($30).

Under the desk is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) , in case mains power is lost (UPS $10 secondhand, new battery $50).

Beside the monitor is a ring light for better illumination ($10) and my smartphone ($500). I dial-in to the video conference to provide a more reliable audio channel, and as a backup in case the power, laptop or primary Internet connection fails. Also I can monitor how well the audio and video is received using the phone.

I have an ergonomic chair to provide comfort (free second hand). The blood-pressure monitor is just to remind me how stressful online learning can be. ;-)

For a more advanced setup, see Nicolo Malagutti's  "A bespoke audio-visual set-up" (2021).

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Silly Experience Swinburne Online TV Advertisment

Swinburne University wins the Higher Education Whisperer award for the silliest TV ad, for the third successive year with "Experience Swinburne Online". Last year it was online learning like a Zoomba class, this year it is students from other unis doing an interactive learning taste test (like the Pepsi Challenge). The ad doesn't quite work, with the pixeliated faces looking more like criminals than students. Of course prisoners have always been clients for distance education, but I don't think that is what Swinburne has in mind here.

Swinburne University must be feeling a little aggrieved. They have been providing online education for more than a decade, along with Australia's other teaching orientated universities. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, every university is suddenly offering online education. So Swinburne is trying to point out it is doing this better. That may well be the case, but this may not be an effective marketing strategy. 

The research orientated universities discovered long ago that students don't select a university based on the quality of the education. They select a university based on reputation, which is mostly about research prestige, and a campus with social activities, neither of which have anything to do with education. 

Despite Swinburne's slogan "Not All Online Universities Are The Same", they pretty much are. Swinburne might do better to either adopt the marketing techniques of the major universities, or attack them with humor. 

Swinburne could show people in lab coats doing science stuff, and students relaxing in the bar, then briefly mention at the end there is an online option. Or they could show a mock ad for an sandstone university with labs students are turned away from (because they are not PhDs)  and sports fields they can't use (because they are not in the elite team), then show Swinburne students happily engaging online.

How to sell a quality online course remains an unsolved problem. Students assume online courses are second best, despite research showing the learning outcomes are just as good. But facts have never been much use for selling anything. A better approach is Holly Hapke's 3-in-1 Hybrid Learning, where the distinction between on and off campus learning is blurred, with students not forced to make a choice in advance. The university can then continue to market a campus, as a symbol, if not a place where actually go very often.