Sunday, December 19, 2021

Do Begging Letters from Universities Work?

Today I received begging letters from two universities I studied at. Recently I also had a call from a student at the behest of the university asking for money. I find this annoying and distasteful.  am happy to support universities through taxes, student fees, an annual donation and occasional, endowment. However, I don't like the way universities go about trying to get more money out of me. Each time I get one of these emails, I mark it as "spam". 

Here is a sample from one email:

"If you are considering a year-end donation, I want to tell you how your gift to ... University can really make a difference. 

While I may not know your personal story, I know it took hard work, dedication, and grit for you to earn your degree. ..."

And another:

"Hi Tom, thank you for being a part of the ... donor community. A student filmed this video to express our gratitude for your continued support."

The first is at least being honest in that they say they don;t know me, whereas the second uses fake familiarity.

Interestingly I have never had one from the not-for-profit vocational college I also studied at. That might be a good reason to study in the VET sector, so you don;t get so much spam, and harassing phone calls.

Do these begging letters generate a significant amount of revenue? Do phone calls generate enough to cover the cost of the wages paid to the people making the calls? 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Make academic conferences hybrid post pandemic

This is a plea, and a warning, to academic conference organizers to retain an online option for events post-pandemic. As Skiles, Yang, Reshef et al. (2021) report, virtual conferences forced on organizers by the COVID-19 pandemic have improved diversity, equity and inclusion in science and engineering conferences. Regrettably this may be a temporary, with some organizers I have contacted indicating they will only provide online access for those unable to get to the venue due to the pandemic. 

Where pandemic restrictions are lifted, some delegates may no longer be permitted to attend online. That this will exclude most of those who could previously attend, either is of no interest to the organizers, or seen as a a positive. The organizers want high quality delegates who can pay a high price to attend. Those who are from low income countries, or institutions which cannot subsidize high fees are not wanted. People who may not be able to attend due to child mining duties are similarly considered not worth having at the conference. The ideal delegate is a white, western, male from a wealthy university in the first world, with a wife to look after the children.

In the past there have been online conferences, but these were fringe events. The pandemic has shown an online event can be mainstream. Given this has shown to be the case, is it ethical and lawful to deny access to disadvantaged groups by removing the online option? I suggest not.


Skiles, M., Yang, E., Reshef, O. et al. Conference demographics and footprint changed by virtual platforms. Nat Sustain (2021). 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Martin Dougiamas on Moodle 4.x

Tom Worthington and Martin Dougiamas at EduTech Asia 2018
 Martin Dougiamas, & Tom Worthington
at EduTech Asia 2018

Martin Dougiamas, creator of the Moodle, is talking at EdTechPosium on the future of the learning management system. Moodle 4 is getting a makeover with a new user interface. The problem, as Martin explains it, that Moodle looks old fashioned, compared to Apps. For me this is not a problem, as I like the basic interface. The problem is how to freshen the design without making it too complicated. The preview shown looked a good clean approach for thsients who want "Just show me what I need to do next".

Next Martin talked on the Moodle Academy, which has free courses for educators, administrators and developers. This is based on a European standard, but implemented specifically for Moodle. Each course has an introductory quiz, to help potential students decide if the course is for them. 

MoodleNet provides a curated collection of educational content which can be used in courses. This is a challenging area. When a student of open education I had to find content to use. It was very difficult to find quality, complete, educational content. What I instead found were outlines of courses, but not the full, usable content. I will see if it is possible to donate my ICT Sustainability course and reflective learning module

Lastly Martin speculated about the use of wearable devices for education. One example was being able to provide healthy eating information when in the supermarket. I worry that instead the consumer will be bombarded with 3D advertisements. Martin touched on this by arguing that this should not be left to companies such as Meta.

ps: I bumped into Martin at EduTech Asia 2018

ANU DVC on the Future of Learning

Professor Maryanne Dever, ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education & Digital), delivered the keynote at the opening of EdTechPosium 2021 in Canberra this morning, with a gentle dig at the Australian Government: "We are not helped by the revolving door around the Minister for Education".

But the PVC started on the tech side about providing suitable leaning management systems, then the need to help staff to use them effectively. She moved the broader topics of offering international students to option of studying online at first before comping to Australia to work and study. As someone who has spent the last ten years teaching online and three years as an international online student, much of what the DVC envisaged has been my daily life for all that time. So I suggest aiming for even more flexibility. Australian universities can offer all students, not just international ones, the option of studying wherever they happen to be for must of their study. In practice students will still want to come to campus, and my rule of thumb is this will be about 20% of the time.

"Massive digital disruption of the pace and scale we have seen was not on the agenda for our higher education system. While Australian universities have managed with varying degrees of success to deliver emergency online learning in the wake of COVID19, most of us are still processing what the last 18 months mean for the future of university learning and teaching. In this presentation I will draw on my experience managing change across this period to explore some of the opportunities offered by this new normal, reflect on the comfortable assumptions that have been shattered, and question what it might take if we are to emerge from this moment in better shape than we went in."

Dr Justin Garrick, Head of Canberra Grammar School on Caring for Students Online

Greetings from the opening of EdTechPosium 2021 at Canberra Grammar School, where the host, Dr Justin Garrick, Head of the School, is talking about not only teaching students online, but caring for them. He pointed out that the response to the pandemic would have been very much more difficult five years ago, without the online systems now in place. These needed to not only technically deliver learning materials, but look to the individual needs of students. He expressed admiration and gratitude to the educators and technologists who made this possible, I admit a little pride to have been one of those people. 

On the way into the event I was interviewed for a podcast. This is always interesting, as I find myself looking on wondering what I am about to say. It turned out to be that one of the good features of online learning was that it can provide more direct and individual communication between students and staff, than face to face. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

My Picks for EdTechPosium 2021

 My picks for Edtechposium 2021 in Canberra, Friday 10 December, and online:

10:20 AM - 11:00 AM Keynote 1 Better than we went in? – Tim Murray Theatre By Professor Maryanne Dever ANU

11:30 AM - 12:00 PM The Innovation of First Nations Pedagogy – how the past can lead our future? SC204 By Anissa Jones GEG Canberra

12:00 PM - 12:30 PM Virtual Object Based Learning for cultural inquiry – SC204 By Tamsin Kemp University of Canberra

12:30 PM - 12:55 PM Planning for the Online Learning Future – SC301 By Tom Worthington ANU

02:00 PM - 02:40 PM Keynote 2 Moodle 4 and the future – Tim Murray Theatre By Martin Dougiamas Moodle

03:20 PM - 06:00 PM Practice Bazaar – Snow Centre

04:30 PM - 04:55 PM Turning the lecture on its head: rewriting the Electronics course curriculum and delivering the content using 10 minute videos – SC301 By Dr Catherine GalvinANU

05:00 PM - 05:25 PM Are we neglecting staff and student support and training for the Education Enabling Technologies? – SC202 By Liane Joubert ANU

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Self Inflating Blue Screen for $60

Self Inflating Blue Screen
as Background
Self Inflating Blue Screen
with background in Zoom
Still on my quest for a low cost, lightweight, movable background screen for video conferences, I am now trying one which is self inflating. Preparing for a camping trip, I got out the sleeping mats and was going to show to someone on Zoom. I then realized that the mat is rigid enough to stand up by itself and is similar in color to a chroma-key blue screen. 

Single Self Inflating Mattress
I have two mats with clips along the sides to make a double. So I joined them, and stood them up behind me, set Zoom to use blue, rather than green, screen and it worked. The dimpled pattern on the mats, and the join between them, are hidden by Zoom's algorithm, and the blue background is replaced with whatever image I choose.

These are two Single Self Inflating Mattresses ($19 each) from a local store. They are 650 x 1900 mm each, and three would be needed for a practical screen (1,950 mm wide), which would stand up by itself.

Media Rich Asynchronous Online Education with OB3

Gloria Gomez
Greetings from ASCILITE 2021 at UNE. This morning there are workshops, and I am in "STUDENTS AND TEACHERS CO-DESIGNING MEDIA-RICH DOCUMENT RESOURCES IN AN ASYNCHRONOUS VIRTUAL PERSONAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT". This is with the product OB3 from NZ, presented by Gloria Gomez. I was worried this would just be a sales pitch, but it is well founded in pedagogy, addressing a real problem, and could be applied with other tools.

The issue of engaging asynchronous materials is one I have been investigating since I stared teaching at a university 20 years ago. I have had supervised individual students and teams working building a "Async-Sync Learning System", with limited success.

The examples used for the workshop were from University of Sydney medical courses, which have a lot in common with the STEM computer courses I teach. The model where students jointly create course content in the form of a Wiki, and review it, could be applied in computing and other STEM subjects. With this approach students are assessed both on content contribution and collaboration.

Having been a student of collaborative work, and set it for a class with hundreds of students, the question for me was how not to get overwhelmed by the quantity of detail to assess. 

OB3 provides a system for students to jointly assemble complex documents, with tutors able to keep track which student contributed what. What could be added to this, I suggest, is a way for students to peer assess, and then the tutor assess the peer assessment. That would help with situations like mine, in ANU Techlauncher, where I have hundreds of students to keep track of.


Gomez, G., Daellenbach, R., Kensington, M., Davies, L., & Petsoglou, C. (2017). Benefits of enabling lecturers and students to author, share and discuss media-rich documents for online study. In Digital poster presented at ASCILITE 2017 at 34th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Australian Government Strategy for International Education

The Australian Ministers for Education, Trade, and Immigration, , Alan Tudge, Dan Tehan, and Alex Hawke, released an Australian Strategy for International Education 2021‑2030, on 26 November 2021. This is a relatively easy read at 32 pages. Note that this is an Australian Government strategy, not one issued by Australian educators, or institutions. 

As the forward points out million of international graduates of Australian universities have become leaders in their countries, whereas others have contributed as Australian citizens. At the same time this is a $40B a year export industry. The new strategy's priority is for "Diversification", after COVID-19 reduced the flow of students from China and India to Australian campuses. The obvious solution, outlined in the strategy is to attract students from other countries, and to teach some of these students, at least part of the time, online. 

However, the risk in having students from a few countries travel to Australia to study was obvious when SARS-CoV-1 closed campuses in the East Asia, in 2002. This was 19 years before SARS-CoV-2 again closed campuses. Unfortunately, the Australian government and Australian university, either did not learn the lesson for forgot it. In 2016/17 I warned in talks and articles that Australian universities should be ready with online leaning in case an emergency kept international students away.

While 19 years late, the Australian Government's recognition of the need for diversification is welcome. However, it will take a considerable amount of funding and policy work to have Australian universities re-skill, reequip to attract students from other countries and provide them with quality online education. There are no substantive proposals or funding commitments in the strategy to achieve this. There is no clear direction set as to what countries are to be targeted (the obvious being Indonesia).

The Australian Strategy for International Education is similar to the Australian Government's recent climate change strategy: a decade late, lacking in detail, and funding. In 2016 I was not thinking of a pandemic keeping international students from campus, but a military confrontation in the region. Such a confrontation could happen at any time, resulting in almost all students having to leave Australia.

In addition to the short term risk from a regional emergency, in 2016 I warned of the long term risk from increased international competition, both for international students and Australian domestic students.  As well as Canada (where I studied*), UK & US, Australian institutions have to compete with China's Belt and Road Education Plan.

* In 2013 I looked for a graduate education program to undertake. I first looked at programs at universities in the city where I live, then at ones I could study at online in Australia. However, I ended up an online international student, in a quality program which was cheaper than studying in Australia. As part of my studies I investigated the threat to Australian universities from increased competition, and how they could provide quality online and blended programs to remain in business. I will be discussing this at EdTechPosium, in Canberra, 10 December 2021.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Mobile and Socially Constructed Blended Learning with Activity Theory a Response to COVID-19

Next Tuesday at ASCILITE 2021, I have sixty seconds to speak on "Mobile learning and socially constructed blended learning through the lens of Activity Theory". The reason I have only a minute is that there are nine authors for the paper (Vickel Narayan, Thom Cochrane, Neil Cowie, Paul Goldacre, James Birt, David Sinfield, Alizadeh Mehrasa, Tom Worthington and Stephen Aiello). That might sound an impossible task, but we managed it last year at ASCILITE 2020. This is much easier to do online, than with a crowd of people on a stage.  

I am not much of a theory person, and the idea of applying Activity Theory comes from my coauthors. All I am doing is describing how I modified my teaching slightly last year for COVID-19. But the point we are collectively making I suggest is an important one. Mobile devices and collaborative tools were effective by connecting students with each other, and with their teachers. This I suggest has been far more important than replicating old fashioned lectures and examinations online. As an online student myself for years, I felt the loneliness of long distance study. With the pandemic behind us, it is important for Australian universities to engage students and not slip back into lazy habits of offering dull lectures and then blaming students for not attending.

Our paper differs from many recent ones which describe heroic and radical changes which had to be made to teaching practice to move from classroom based to online. The difference was that as tech literate educators we had less to do to move our teaching online. 

I moved to pure online teaching ten years ago, then in the last few years had been incorporating some classroom elements. As someone with a background in dealing with emergencies using tech, my teaching was designed with an online contingency, so that if an emergency kept students from campus, it could all be done online. That is what happened with COVID-19.

Saturday, November 20, 2021


ASCILITE 2021 is on from 29 November to 1 December at University of New England in Armidale (NSW), and online. I am a joint author for one poster, a paper, and as a mentor.

It is good to see ASCILITE have decided to retain dual mode for the conference: in person or reasonably priced online.*

Here are the topics which caught my interest in the draft paper.

Conference — Program Day One

9:30 — 10:30 am Session #1 — Keynote Speaker: Professor Sarah Pearson, University of Queensland.

11:00 — 12:00 pm Parallel Session #2

Session 2 - Stream A

Virtual Worlds in Education. Why are they not centre stage in online learning in a pandemic? - Lisa Jacka, Sue Gregory and Steven Warburton
ID: 33

Session 2 - Stream B

A systematic approach to learning design for supervisor training in a specialist medical college - Jorge Reyna, Santosh Khanal, Victoria Baker-Smith and Ellen Cooper
CP ID: 15

Advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning using educational drama - Rajeev Kamineni
CP ID: 20

Session 2 - Stream C

Capability development by educational technology - Cedomir Gladovic
CP ID: 38

Session 2 - Stream D

Benchmarking educational quality – an independent analysis and alternative approach - Stanislaw Paul Maj
CP ID: 7

12:00 — 1:00 pm— Lunch + ASCILITE AGM —1:00 — 2:30 pmParallel Session #3

Session 3 - Stream A

Sponsor Session

Chair: Steph Toole

AccountingPod - Sponsor Demo

Pedestal 3D - Sponsor Demo

Session 3 - Stream B

Managing Career Transitions into post-secondary Learning Designer Jobs: An Australasian Perspective - Michael Sankey and Jack Sage
FP ID: 91

Session 3 - Stream C

Exploring the social aspects of student collaboration in online learning - Shahed Kamal, Margaret Bearman, Joanna Tai and Brandi Fox

FP ID: 40

Session 3 - Stream D

Implementing pedagogies of care in online teacher education - Dewa Wardak
FP ID: 11

2:30 — 3:00 pm— Break —3:00 — 4:30 pm Parallel Session #4

Session 4 - Stream A

Panel Session

An integrated framework for non-formal to formal learning in Queensland - Professor Kevin Ashford-Rowe, Dr Donna Harvey and Margo Griffith

ID: 49

Session 4 - Stream B

The Role of the Lecture in Post Pandemic IHLs: Possibilities and Implications from a Singapore Case Study - Ganthi Viswanathan and Marnie O'Neill

FP ID: 16

The Use of WeChat in Higher Education: Investigation of Chinese Students in Australia - Daeyoung Kim and Shanton Chang
FP ID: 89

Session 4 - Stream C

New way of investigating ICT-enhanced teaching in TAFE Australia: Disciplinary Focused - Shahadat Khan and Sue Gregory

CP ID: 97

Session 4 - Stream D

Chair: Special Interest Groups

Contextualising the horizon

Conference — Program Day Two

9:30 — 11:00 am

Pecha Kucha & Poster Session - Session #6

Pecha Kucha

For a full list of Pecha Kucha presentations click here.

To read abstracts, click here

Poster Session 6
Stream C

Pecha Kucha Session 6
Stream A

Chair: Steph Toole

Pecha Kucha Session 6
Stream B

Chair: Samuel Bugden

11:30 — 12:30 pmParallel Session #7

Session 7 - Stream A

Panel Session



Jan Owen - Chair and Convenor, Learning Creates Australia
Prof Shelley Kinash - Executive Principal Student Experience, University of New England
Tony Maguire – Regional Director, ANZ at D2L
Emeritus Prof Martin Bean – CEO The Bean Centre (past Vice Chancellor, RMIT University)

Session 7 - Stream B

Design and development of a large Business School core interdisciplinary unit to foster blended learning during the Pandemic - Abdul Razeed and Thea Werkhoven

FP ID: 9

Session 7 - Stream C

Pedagogy Before Technology: Understanding the Confidence of Vocational Educators for Integrating Technology Enhanced Learning - Robert Vanderburg, Michael Cowling and Joanne Dargusch

FP ID: 82

Enhancing students’ employability skills and experiential learning through integration of Xero software - Gregory Jones, Hazel Jones, Claire Beattie and Dom Pensiero
FP ID: 84

Session 7 - Stream D

Special Interest Groups

3:00 — 4:30 pmParallel Session 8

Session 8 - Stream A

Panel Session

Digging deeper into the ethical use of learning analytics - Linda Corrin, Hazel Jones and Srecko Joksimovic

ID: 69

Session 8 - Stream B

Back to what? What STEM and Health teaching academics learnt from COVID - Christopher Bridge, Birgit Loch, Dell Horey, Brianna Julien, Belinda Thompson and Julia Agolli
FP ID: 52

Deakin Launch Network: an employability network that improves engagement, graduate outcomes and wellbeing by connecting and leveraging the expertise of diverse students and alumni - Trina Jorre de St Jorre
FP ID: 96

Session 8 - Stream C

Exploring students’ experience with and perceptions towards eLearning in an online public health module - Charlene Goh, Kit Yung Tan and Andre Matthias Müller
CP ID: 65

Employability focused technology enhanced hybrid and online accounting capstone experience - Christine Contessotto, Edwin Lim and Harsh Suri
CP ID: 70

Mobile learning and socially constructed blended learning through the lens of Activity Theory - Vickel Narayan, Thom Cochrane, Neil Cowie, Paul Goldacre, James Birt, David Sinfield, Alizadeh Mehrasa, Tom Worthington and Stephen Aiello
CP ID: 57

Embedding the Development of Graduate Qualities of International Postgraduate IT Students in the Disciplinary Subject - Ping Yu, Siyu Qian, Zhenyu Zhang, Lina Markauskaite, Jun Shen and Ting Song
CP ID: 71

Session 8 - Stream D

AJET and the future of scholarly publication - Linda Corrin, Gwo-Jen Hwang, Jason Lodge and Kate Thompson - AJET Lead Editors

About AJET; publishing and reviewing - Linda Corrin, Gwo-Jen Hwang, Jason Lodge and Kate Thompson - AJET Lead Editors

Conference — Program Day Three

9:00 — 10:30 am

Panels Session #9

Session 9 - Stream A

Hiring practices: an analysis of higher education in Australasia - Nhung Nguyen, Camille Dickson-Deane, Keith Heggart and Mounika Ragula

ID: 31

Session 9 - Stream B

Community Mentoring Program 

Session 9 - Stream C

Learning to Research in Distance Mode: Technologies for Building Higher Degree Research Community Online - Nikki Rumpca, Ariella Van Luyn, Adele Nye and Huw Nolan
CP ID: 64

A proposal to measure the Impact of Automated Response Systems on Meeting Student Learning Outcomes - Josiah Koh, Michael A Cowling, Meena Jha and Kwong Nui Sim
CP ID: 41

Session 9 - Stream D

Sustainable learning design in large transformational teaching and learning initiatives - Courtney Shalavin and Elaine Huber
CP ID: 80

Exploring industry-university partnerships in the creation of short courses and micro-credentials - Rachel Fitzgerald and Henk Huijser
CP ID: 67

10:30 — 11:00 am— Break —
11:00 — 12:30 pmParallel Session #10

Session 10 - Stream A

Panel Session

Online proctored exams: the good, the bad, and the meh - Phillip Dawson, Michael Henderson and Lesley Sefcik
ID: 27

Session 10 - Stream B

The use of a publishing platform to facilitate the adaptation and development of Open Textbooks: A Pilot Report - Kate Nixon and Katya Henry
FP ID: 87

On the Need for Open Teaching on the JamStack - William Billingsley
CP ID: 68

Embedding wholistic learning: Designing curated eLearning processes for social work students - Prue Atkins and Katie Sykes
CP ID: 50

Session 10 - Stream C

Providing Equitable Education through Personalised Adaptive Learning - Punithavathy Palanisamy, Shamini Thilarajah and Zihui Chen
CP ID: 76

Increasing Student Grades in Large Online Subjects: Combining Tutorial Support with Technology - Kelly Linden, Ben Hicks and Neil Van der Ploeg
CP ID: 88

Session 10 - Stream D

The silver lining of COVID-19 – improving operational processes - Sabina Cerimagic and Dewa Wardak
CP ID: 4

From Pandemic to Endemic: Examining Transitions in Blended Learning in Teacher Education - Shamini Thilarajah and Renuka Nasendran
CP ID: 37

12:30 — 2:00 pm— Lunch + Special Interest Groups —
Read SIGS information here
2:00 — 2:30 pmThat's a wrap!

* It should be kept in mind that not everyone can get to a conference in person. They may not be able to afford the trip, they may have family,  or community obligations, or have illness or disability which prevents attendance. The last two years shows that an acceptable conference experience can be provided online. In my view it is ethically, and perhaps legally unacceptable to not provide the option.