Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Research Should Be Driven by Both Curiosity, and Commerce

In an opinion piece, astrophysicist and ANU VC, Brian Schmidt urged that "Research in Australia’s universities should be driven by curiosity, not commerce" (The Guardian, 25 October 2022). He pointed out that technology such as WiFi was a spinoff from pure research. However, most of the useful, and profitable innovations from universities are not happy accidents, they are applied research to a practical outcome, funded by government, the military, and companies, with specific goals. The Internet was no accident, it was directed research, funded by the US Government, with the intent to build a reliable computer network.

There are skills and techniques which academics need to undertake applied research. There are also specialist roles for those who take the basic work and build usable products and services from it. These are very difficult fields with their own bodies of research. 

As a computer professional who wrote policy for government I had the honour of occasionally dipping into this field. As someone who helps out at a university I regularly get asked by academics how to get funding from government and industry. My answer is invariably is that they have to offer a useful outcome for those they are seeking funding from. Governments want ways to improve the lives of citizens, and companies want ways to make money. Ensuring that these things happen are very challenging tasks.

Several decades ago I visited Cambridge University (UK) to see how they commercialised research. What surprised me was that just about everyone, from the students to the VC, were hustling for money for commercial development. This was not treated as an accidental spinoff from pure research, but central to academia. Academics were comfortable going from the lab to the board room. On my return I proposed Australia, and Canberra in particular, adopt this approach. It is reflected in the establishment of the Canberra Innovation Network

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Deciding the Future of Higher Education in Australia

View from ACS HQ
Greetings from the Australian Computer Society head office, halfway up a very tall building in Sydney, overlooking the harbour. I am here for a meeting of the ACS Professional Standards Board (PSB). But beforehand I am sitting in on the ACS Accreditation Committee. This committee decides on which university degrees are suitable for those applying for ACS membership. There is a complex and detailed process, with a team visiting each university, talking to staff, and checking assessment. There are also larger issues to consider, as to what skills are needed for a computer professional working in a multidisciplinary team. 

Questions for the future, I suggest, include: "What about micro-credentials? Can you chop a degree into small pieces, but still have it make sense?". As I was writing that I came across a post from May Sok Mui Lim at Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), on a Competency-Based Stackable Micro-credential pathway (CSM). In the SIT scheme a micro-credential is about 4 months work, and is a standalone qualification. Students can complete several micro-credentials, plus a capstone project to be awarded a degree. As it happens I visited SIT recently, and was impressed with what they are doing, which gives me more confidence this approach will work. It will be interesting to see how much consideration it gets in the O’Kane Review of Australian Higher Education

Also this morning I sat in on the ACS Professional Ethics Committee, which is revising the code of ethics of the society. Here the questions can get very philosophical, buit have to translate into guidance a working professional can use to deal with dilemmas. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Australia host a blended UN Climate Change Conference?

Greetings from the "Post COP27 – What happened, and where to from here?" seminar at the Australian National University in Canberra. There was criticism of access to COP27 for representatives of indigenous groups and those who could not afford to sent a large delegation across the world. Australia has bid to host a future COP in conjunction with Pacific Nations. So I suggested to the panel this should be a blended event, allowing participation online, with consensus building software used. The panel were mildiny enthusiastic, while pointing out that final negotiations still happen face to face. But I suggest that this need not be the case, and it is this process which has got the world into the mess it is in with global warming. The ANU Techlauncher studets could build a system, using free open source software, to do this. 

China’s proposed economic and security pact and Pacific responses

At the the Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop hosted at ANU in Canberra, the issue of China looking for military bases on Pacific islands is being discussed on day two of the program. One point was that these can be dual use facilities, which have an overtly civilian role. Examples are docks and airfields for civilian use, but which also can have a military role. There was also mention of China's Belt and Road Initiative. One more lighthearted was speculation that Chinese police were training Solomon Islands people in Kung Fu as a form of soft power, because Bruce Lee is better known than anything else about China.

"China’s proposed economic and security pact and Pacific responses

(Moderator: Professor Hidekazu Sakai)

Speakers

Dr Henry Ivarature, Australia Pacific Security College
Pete Connolly, Australian National University
Dr Anna Powles, Massey University
Dr Joseph Foukona, University of Hawai’i – Mānoa

  • What are the implications of the Solomon Islands-China security agreement for security cooperation in Solomon Islands?
  • What issues arise from China’s efforts to secure a regional economic and security pact?
  • What do the responses of Pacific Island countries to China’s overtures tell us about the future of regional security cooperation?
  • What are the implications of geopolitical discussions about China at the local level?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Tonga Tsunami Relief Coordinated from Bungendore, NSW

At the the Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop hosted at ANU in Canberra, Air Commodore David Hombsch, HQ JOC ADF, is describing how the headquarters in Bungendore NSDW was able to take workload off personnel on the ground in Tonga during relief operations after the January 2022 tsunami. The personnel in Australia were able to coordinate with their counterparts around the Pacific, using high quality communications available. They could also take advice from experts in Canberra. This in a way goes against the usual model of military and relief operations which see a tent city built, usually at an airfield, full of staff, or on a ship offshore.

One point Mr Sione Taumoefolau, of the Tonga Red Cross made was the need for somewhere to store the materials provided by international donors. One way I suggest might be for lightweight structures built on shipping containers to be used. There is likely to be a surplus of shipping containers, and these can be used to build warehouses, by the addition of a fabric roof between two rows of containers. 

Australian Stripping Small Pacific Countries of Skilled Workers

An issue raised at the the Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop hosted at ANU in Canberra just now was Australia attracting highly trained staff from small pacific nations. The ABC reported "Pacific hospitals suffer nursing shortage as workers leave for Australia's labour scheme" (ABC Radio, 22 November 2022). This issue was taken up by other delegates at the workshop. 

Perhaps an ethical approach would be for the Australian government to compensate the countries the workers come from, for the cost of their upbringing, education and training (around $1M per worker). This would make for a more rational migration policy, rather than just using it for quick cheap labor. 

Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop at ANU

Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop
Greetings from the Pacific Security Cooperation Workshop hosted at the Australian National University in Canberra. On the agenda are response to COVID-19 and disasters, and, of course, China. This is core business for the university, which was set up, in part, to advance Australia's interests in the region. While the Pacific has not been at the forefront of strategic thinking, ANU, and other institutions, have been quietly studying it for decades. There is a report from last years workshop.

In opening remarks, Professor Alan Tidwell, Georgetown University, made the point that the US military has difficulty in cooperation with Pacific island states as most don't have a conventional military forces. This, I suggest, is a serious limitation in dealing with security issues in the region. In responding to grey zone operations, conventional military force may be counterproductive. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

IEEE Life Member

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers sent me an IEEE Life Member certificate in the mail. With this comes free lifetime membership. At first I thought this a scam, as it is unexpected. While I am grateful, I am not sure what I have done to deserve this, apart from paying my dues for 39 years, and helping out on the occasional standards committee, or conference. I joined IEEE after coming across their work with the Ada programming language.

Call for ANU Techlauncher Projects

 

Dr Charles Gretton
Dr Charles Gretton has invited project proposals for ANU Techlauncher, Semester 1 2023 (I help student with their reflective portfolios):

"We invite members of the community to participate in the Australian National University TechLauncher Program, as a project proposer/client, mentor, tutor and/or guest speaker. 

ANU TechLauncher is the initiative than enables mature students to work in teams with business, government, and academic experts to address real-world problems, or with experienced mentors to create start-up enterprises as part of their degree studies. It builds on over two decades of real-world group project work at ANU.

How simple is it to get involved? 

  1. (Re-)activate your account (https://redmine.cecs.anu.edu.au/redmine/), 
  2.  Pitch the cohort a project brief, or otherwise let them know how you are interested in engaging with them, and then
  3.  A program facilitator from the Australian National University will be in touch in due course to discuss the program, this model of engagement, and your project in more detail. 

Or.. just email us, or PM on the socials!

The deadline for project proposals is February 10th 2023. If we are oversubscribed, we shall allocate accepted places on a first-come-first-served basis. In case you have unsuccessfully pitched a project to students in the past, we very strongly encourage you to give it another go!

Thank you for your continued interest in the program. We are all looking forward to another ambitious and productive cohort next semester. You are strongly encouraged to forward this call on to others who may be interested in ANU TechLauncher, add this call to your circulars, socialise with your portfolio businesses and innovation ecosystem partners.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email myself and/or Priscilla Kan John."

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

More Flexible Macro-Credentials Needed

The new Australian Government is going ahead with a modest micro-credential initiative of the previous government.  But we also need some reforms to conventional degrees. Recently I have been helping assess applications from students for course credit. One thing about these is the wide range of institutions people have studied at. Another is the impressive depth of work experience some students have. However, students who change institution tend to be penalised, with not all prior studied recognised, due to the difficulty of finding equivalencies. This is not a problem in the vocational sector in Australia, where modules are nationally standardised, but each university in the world tends to do its own thing. There is some university standardisation through requirements for professional accreditation. One approach might be to give a standard amount of credit for a professional membership, or having completed a professionally accredited qualification.

Professional experience also tends to get limited recognition at university. Someone who has spent years working on projects at a major international computer company likely knows more than the university lecturers teaching them. A better approach then giving them some credit and making them do courses is to have them write up their work experience, align it to the qualification requirements, and assess that as an e-portfolio. However, that requires training which most university lecturers don't have (I learned it at CIT, and Athabasca University).

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Australian Government Funding $18.5M Microcredentials Pilots

Jason Clare MP
Jason Clare, Australian Minister for Education has announced $18.5M for a Microcredentials Pilot in Higher Education (9 November 2022). This is targeted at skills shortages in areas including teaching, engineering, health, and technology. This year, only public universities will be able to apply for the first $2 M to develop, & $2M to deliver, microcredentials. Next year, Australia's private and for profit universities (Bond, Divinity and Torrens), along with Carnegie Mellon University of Pennsylvania, will be able to apply for the balance of the funds, along with non-university Higher Education providers (such as Box Hill Institute, and some TAFEs). Applications for Round 1 are now open. 

This is a useful initiative, but giving priority to public universities is a mistake. The institutions best equipped to deliver short, vocationally focused, flexible programs are Australia's public TAFEs, and private vocational education providers. They have staff trained and experienced in this form of education, whereas universities generally do not. Some universities are dual stream and have associated vocational arms. However, these tend to be run separate from the university arm, with different staff  teaching university and VET courses.

Creating microcredentials is very, very difficult. It is especially difficult for Australian universities which have research, not teaching, as their primary focus. It will take the universites multiple attempts to create microcredentials which work. This will require new staff, with new skills.

Government should be cautious overpromising with microcredentials. These are, in the main, not for school-leavers, bit for experienced staff who already have post-school qualifications, wishing to up-skill. As an example you can't take a school leaver and make them a cyber security expert with a microcredential. That person needs to already have a computer related qualification, and experience. Australia will need to invest in old fashioned VET and university qualifications, as well as microcredentials, to meet the skills shortage.

ps: I am speaking on Learning to Innovate for Sustainable Computing, at EduTech Asia, in Singapore, 3pm today (local time).

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

ICT for student motivation

Emmanuel Bernet 
Greetings from EduTech Asia in Singapore, where  Emmanuel Bernet is speaking on "The role of ICT in pedagogical activities and its impact on achievement motivation: Scientific evidence and practical applications". He started with a standard "introduce yourself" icebreaker, which is unusual for a conference, but worked well. He started with the beliefs of the teacher and how they influence learning. I got a bit lost with a list of dozens of models of the use of ICT in teaching. Perhaps all these models are because ICT is relatively new. Do teachers feel the need to learn different models of the use of pen, paper, and books? 

After the first hour I realised that what Dr Bernet was talking about were really issues of general student motivation, not specific to ICT, which is not a bad thing. We did a TPACK self evaluation. I worry with such tests as to if they have been scientifically tested, that is comparing what people self score with an independent evaluation of their knowledge and skills. The workshop ended with SAMR, which did not make much sense to me. All the examples given appeared to me to be substitution of ICT to carry out an exercise which could be done without it (we had video, for example, before computers). Dr Bernet advocated combining TPACK and SAMR, but I can't see much value in either.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Online Dating for Conference Deligates

Currently I am in Singapore for five conferences. One thing I noticed was that they are using applications like Swapcard, for delegates. This provides the agenda for the event, a QR code to get your badge at the event. But it also provides a way to find people, before, during and after the live event. This aspect is likely to be of great interest to businesses wanting to contact potential clients, as well as academics wanting to meet up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Singapore and Cyber Security

Greetings from Predict22: The Intelligence Summit, at Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. The conference organisers were excited to have someone from Canberra as a delegate, but I admitted I was actually here to speak at a uni & EduTech Asia next week. But computer security is a hot topic, so it doesn't hurt to brush up. The current presentation is touching on an attack on India's power grid, and implications for other coutries.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Learning to Innovate for Sustainable Computing in Singapore

I will be speaking on "Learning to Innovate for Sustainable Computing" at EduTech Asia in Singapore, in the Show and Tell Sessions, 3:20, Thursday, 10 November. I am a last minute addition, reprising my talk at Tech in Government, in Canberra this week.


Computers are part of the problem of global warming,

Computers > electricity > fossil fuel > CO2 > global warming.

photo by Marcus Wong Wongm, CC BY-SA, 18 August 2007

Computers, and the Internet, run on electricity. Most electricity today is generated by burning fossil fuel, which releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which traps sunlight, causing global warming. These facts have been clear since 2007, when the Australian Computer Society (ACS) release a world first study. The study estimated 1.52% of Australian carbon emissions were attributable to computers and telecommunications. There have been later more detailed studies around the world, but these produce similar estimates of around 2%. This is a significant source of pollution, being around the same as from the airline industry.

Reference

Audit of Carbon Emissions resulting from ICT usage by Australia Business,
by Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group Pty Limited, for the Australian Computer Society, August 2007. URL https://web.archive.org/web/20070907015722if_/http://www.acs.org.au/acs_policies/docs/2007/greenictaudit.pdf

Computers can be part of the solution to climate change

Big Efficient Data Centers Linked to Handheld Devices 

Brendale Supernode, Queensland,
by Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, 8 July, 2022

Consolidating computing into large data centers, collocated with renewable energy storage, as is being done at the Berndale Supernode in Queensland, provides the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions from computing. These systems can also be used to replace activities which are carbon emitting. As an example, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown that much business travel can be replaced with video conferences. However this requires learning new skills, and habits.

Reference

Supernode set for Moreton Bay, Steven Miles, Deputy Premier of Queensland, 8 July, 2022. URL https://statements.qld.gov.au/statements/95682


We can teach how to measure and reduce emissions, with a smart phone

Small Chunks of Learning Delivered to Handheld Devices


Green course home page in landscape mode on a mobile device
ICT Sustainability Course on a desktop computer,
by Tom Worthington, CC-BY, 2007
Green course home page in landscape mode on a mobile device
ICT Sustainability Course on a phone,
by Tom Worthington, CC-BY, 2007
Vocational education at TAFE, and courses at university are now routinely provided online. What is not generally appreciated is that students don't have to sit down at a desk-top computer, to learn. The learning management systems used for teaching TAFE and university students automatically adjust to smart phone screens. It takes a little more work to design the course content for this mode, and to allow students to study while working.

In 2008, the Australian Computer Society commissioned me to design an online course to teach how to estimate and reduce carbon emissions from computers. This was implemented using the Australian developed Moodle Learning Management System, and has been running at Australian and North American universities since 2009.

Reference

Worthington, T., "A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks," Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on , vol., no., pp.263,266, 14-17 July 2012 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070

Same Approach, Other Challenges

Needed Tech Skills for Defence by Smartphone


Event canvas from Navy Warfare Innovation
Workshop (NWIW), by Paul Telling, 2020
Australian government face the challenge of recruiting and training sufficient personnel for technical roles. Training using mobile devices can assist with this, by allowing in service professional development in new and interesting ways. One example are the hackerthons which I have assisted with in the last few years. Two  were hosted by the Australian Computer Society, for the ADF & NZDF, and one by the Australian Navy. These helped participants learn to collaborate online rapidly in a high stress environment.

Reference

Worthington, Tom (2022): Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel. University of Melbourne. Media. https://doi.org/10.26188/20742451.v1 Notes at: https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2022/08/expanding-canberra-defence-training.html

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Lecture Theatre Video Screen as an Autocue

Last week I was called in at short notice to record a video to promote the university internationally. Our award winning filmmaker set this up in a lecture theatre, as it was raining outside. The camera was pointing out the door into the open plan area to provide some atmosphere. So I was looking to the front of the room. We did not have an autocue, so I brought up the script on the large screen at the front of the room. I could see this over the camera operator. If I did not have an electronic copy of the script, I could have used the document camera on the lectern to project from paper. Might be useful for ad-hoc recording.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Australian 2022/23 Budget Lacks Funding for More Flexible Telecommunications and Education Options

The 2022/23 Australian Federal Budget Papers are available online. Here are some items of interest on information technology and higher education. 

IT Items

The big ticket items for IT are $2.4B for NBN Co fibre to 1.5 million premises, and $757.7M for rural mobile and broadband. What this lacks is a strategy to incorporate new options, such as low earth orbit satellite access to small fixed locations, and direct to mobile phones. Also lacking is a way to encourage, or  require telcos to share mobile infrastructure in regional and remote areas, for more coverage, at lower cost.

Higher Education

The big ticket items for education are $921.7M for 480,000 fee‑free vocational education and training (VET) students, and $485.5M for 20,000 extra university places. The university funds will be targeted at First Nations, first in family, rural and remote students to do teaching, nursing, engineering, and other priority courses. The VET places will target jobs and regions in need, but there is no mention of priority for disadvantaged groups, as there is for the university places. That is unfortunate as VET is a good first step to higher education. 

One small program of interest is the $15.4M Startup Year, with 2,000 loans for recent graduates, postgraduate and final year undergraduate students per year. The students will do a one‑year accelerator program at a university.

I could find no mention of micro-credentials, or other more flexible forms of education in the budget. This lack of flexibility will continue to be a barrier for students from disadvantaged groups. It is all very well to be offered a place in a university, but if this is 1,000 km from home, because the university has cancelled the online study option introduced during COVID-19, then many rural and remote students will have difficulty attending. This also applies to those who cannot leave their job, children, aged parents, or cultural commitments, to study full time for years, to get a qualification. We need policies, and incentives, which see universities introducing the sort of flexibility, for short, part time, online courses, already in place in the VET sector.

Also there does not appear to be any funding to support Australia's international education industry, which faces threats from technological change, and geopolitical tensions. In 2016 I warned Australian universities to be ready to teach online, in case geopolitical tensions kept international students outside Australia. That didn't happen, but COVID-19 showed what could still happen to Australian education, if there is a military confrontation in our part of the world, with no warning, which stops students attending Australian campuses.

From Budget Paper No. 2, Part 2: Payment Measures:


Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts

Australian Communications and Media Authority – spectrum management

The Government will provide $27.7 million over 5 years from 2022–23 (including $15.3 million in capital funding) for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to deliver a new spectrum management system and auction capability for spectrum licences.

Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia

The Government will provide $757.7 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to improve mobile and broadband connectivity and resilience in rural and regional Australia,.including:

  • $400.0 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to support the roll out of mobile base stations to improve highway and underserviced community mobile coverage, and initiatives to improve the resilience of communications services to support the roll out of base stations to improve highway and underserviced community mobile coverage

  • $200.0 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for two additional rounds of the Regional Connectivity Program to fund the delivery of telecommunications infrastructure to improve digital connectivity in regional, rural and remote Australia

  • $40.0 million over 3 years from 2022–23 for an improving mobile coverage round of the Mobile Black Spot Program to implement commitments for new mobile infrastructure to improve mobile coverage and reception quality across Australia

  • $39.1 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for two additional rounds of the Peri‑Urban Mobile Program to improve mobile reception in peri‑urban areas that are prone to natural disasters

  • $30.0 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for the On Farm Connectivity Program to support farmers and agricultural businesses to purchase and install on farm connectivity equipment

  • $20.0 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to conduct an independent audit of mobile coverage to better identify black spots and guide investment priorities

  • $6.0 million over 3 years from 2023–24 for the Regional Tech Hub platform to provide free and independent advice on telecommunications connectivity and services in regional and rural Australia

  • $2.5 million over 5 years from 2022 23 to establish a First Nations Digital Advisory Group to lead consultation with First Nations people on the design and delivery of digital inclusion initiatives.

This measure will redirect funding from the 2019–20 Budget measure titled Stronger Regional Connectivity Package, 2021–22 MYEFO measure titled Digital Economy Strategy – additional funding and 2022–23 March Budget measure titled Government Response to the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review.


Improving the NBN

The Government will provide an equity investment of $2.4 billion to NBN Co over 4 years from 2022–23 to upgrade the National Broadband Network (NBN) to deliver fibre‑ready access to a further 1.5 million premises by late 2025.

The additional investment will support nearly 90 per cent of Australia’s fixed line footprint to have access to world class gigabit speeds by late 2025.

The Government will also provide $4.7 million over 3 years from 2022–23 to support the delivery of free broadband for up to 30,000 unconnected families with school aged students during the 2023 calendar year.


Post Secondary Education

Outcomes of the Jobs and Skills Summit
  • $8.9 million over 3 years from 2023–24 to establish a Productivity, Education and Training Fund to support employer and union representatives to improve safety, fairness and productivity in workplaces

Startup Year – establishment

The Government will provide $15.4 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $2.8 million per year ongoing) to establish the Startup Year program to deliver income contingent Higher Education Loan Program loans to up to 2,000 recent graduates, postgraduate and final year undergraduate students per year. The Startup Year will support students’ participation in a one‑year, business‑focused accelerator program at an Australian higher education provider, which will encourage innovation and support Australia’s startup community.


Strengthening Australia’s Higher Education Sector

The Government will provide $491.8 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $570.1 million over 11 years) to boost higher education and strengthen Australia’s university system. Funding includes:

  • $485.5 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $563.8 million over 11 years) for 20,000 additional Commonwealth supported places at universities and other higher education providers commencing in 2023 and 2024. These places are dedicated to students under‑represented in higher education, including First Nations peoples, those who are the first in their family to study at university, and students from rural and remote Australia. The places are for courses in areas of skills shortage, including teaching, nursing and engineering

  • $3.6 million in 2022–23 to the Department of Education to develop a business case for a new university and schools payment system, to manage the timely and accurate administration of entitlements

  • $2.7 million over two years from 2022–23 to deliver an Australian Universities Accord, a review of Australia’s higher education system by a panel of eminent Australians delivering recommendations to drive accessibility, affordability, quality, certainty, sustainability and prosperity.

The Government will also achieve savings of $144.1 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $484.9 million over 11 years) by ending the 10 per cent discount for students who elect to pay their student contributions upfront rather than defer payment through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme – Higher Education Loan Program.

Teacher Shortages

The Government will provide $310.4 million over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $7.9 million per year ongoing) to attract and retain high‑quality teachers and improve student outcomes. Funding includes:

  • $160.1 million over 8 years from 2023–24 for up to 5,000 bursaries of $10,000 per year to students, with an ATAR of 80 or above, who undertake a teaching degree. Bursaries will be available to undergraduate and postgraduate students with an additional $2,000 made available for students who complete their final year placement in a regional area

  • $78.8 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to expand the High Achieving Teachers program to support an additional 1,500 high achieving professionals to transition into teaching through employment‑based pathways

  • $60.6 million over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $7.1 million per year ongoing) to implement the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review’s recommendations, including the expansion and development of new micro‑credentials courses in classroom management and phonics

  • $10.9 million over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $0.8 million per year ongoing) to the Department of Education for administrative costs associated with this measure.

Vocational Education – fee‑free TAFE and TAFE Technology Fund

The Government will provide $921.7 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to strengthen Australia’s Vocational Education and Training system and address skills shortages. Funding includes:

  • $871.7 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to provide 480,000 fee‑free Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and vocational education places in industries and regions with skills shortages

  • $50.0 million over two years from 2022–23 to establish a TAFE Technology Fund to modernise IT infrastructure, workshops, laboratories, telehealth simulators, and other facilities at TAFEs across Australia.

Around 180,000 fee‑free TAFE and vocational education places will be delivered in 2023 in areas of highest skills need as part of a one‑year National Skills Agreement with the states and territories commencing 1 January 2023, which was an outcome of the Jobs and Skills Summit.

Chat Show Format for Live-from-the-Classroom Events?

Frankly set, ABC TV, 2022
Recently I attended a recording of ABC TV's Frankly chat show. This got me thinking that the same studio layout, and format, could be used for hybrid delivery of learning. Frankly uses a standard chat show format: the host sits stage left, with space for four guests beside them. There is a flat area in front for a couple of rows of small tables for audience members who will appear in reaction shots. The rest of the audience are in theatre seating behind. ABC TV use movable cameras with operators. For education we could make do with fixed, voice operated cameras, preset on the presenter positions, and audience.

This room setup would combine features of the flexible flat floor classroom, with those of a traditional lecture theatre. It could be implemented by removing some rows of seating in a fixed lecture theatre, and more easily in rooms with retractable seating, by partial retraction, leaving enough space for tables. The idea is to provide a more interactive up-front (literally) experience for those students who want it, while those who prefer to sit back can. It will also provide a more lively experience for students participating online in real time, and those watching the recording later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Back to the Conference in Canberra

At the TiG food truck.
Greetings from Tech in Government (TiG) at the National Convention Center in Canberra. While I have enjoyed online conferences over the last three years, it is good to be back in a room, with people. I am speaking tomorrow on Learning to Innovate for Sustainable Computing.

TiG's big innovation this year are food trucks parked outside the exhibition hall. This prompts casual conversations with people you don't know. I was offered work with one of the world's big four consulting companies, and a pair of sox, while waiting for my Chicken Tikka. ;-)

Google slogan at TiG 2022:
"Let's getting solving for Government".

Google got perhaps more attention than they wanted for the slogan on their booth: "Let's getting solving for Government". ;-)

University Rankings Are a Marketing Tool Not a Student Guide

Julie Hare writes "Why university rankings don’t tell you what you need to know" (AFR, Oct 23, 2022). But ranking systems, such as that from  Times Higher Education (THE), were never intended as a guide for students in selecting a university. My favourite ranking system is the non-profit Webometrics, which includes things like openness. There are also some awards which explicitly look at teaching quality, such as the Good Universities Guide Awards, which show that institutions which rate poorly on THE rankings do well when it comes to education.

The ranking schemes from publishers are designed as marketing tools to help promote their publications, and help their advertisers (the universities), promote themselves. Like many industry awards, the university rankings are designed to appeal to the vanity of the established organisations and their executives. The reality is that research excellence has little to do with the quality of the education provided by a university. If anything there is a negative correlation, as researchers are not selected for their teaching ability. Also the quality of the teaching has little to do with the student's learning outcomes, as this mostly depends on the student, and their background, and the support they get externally. Universities in a particular system also tend to level outcomes. Australia has a strict government regulatory framework for universities, so there are no bad ones, and not that much difference between the top ones.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Education Jobs Anywhere

Yesterday one of the well known online job platforms sent me a list of openings: four were in Canberra (three government jobs, one government contractor),plus one in Perth, and one in China. The four Canberra jobs were labelled "On-site", the Perth and China ones "Remote". The two remote jobs were in education: one was for a well known Australian Learning Management System : "This role can be based anywhere in Western Australia, the Asia Pacific region, UK or Europe! Just let us know where you are when you apply.". The China job was for a professor at a university. This has implications for Australian universities, who now have to compete for staff anywhere in the world. It also has security implications, where staff may apply for jobs in other countries, and reveal details of the sensitive projects they are working on.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors

Tom Worthington Speaking at NICT 2018 in Colombo
Presenting on M-learing for the Indo-Pacific,
Colombo, 2018. 

The Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is holding an Inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors. The committee is accepting submissions. For  international education the terms of reference are:

  1. "challenges associated with the loss of international student numbers as a result of the significant disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and effective measures to attract and retain students to Australia;
  2. online innovations in education delivery and potential opportunities to strengthen the sector's resilience;
  3. initiatives to ensure positive international student experience and support pathways to build their skills and contribute to Australia's prosperity; and
  4. opportunities for international education to support strategic and foreign policy objectives"
Some initial thoughts:

COVID-19: A White Swan Event

The COVID-19 pandemic was a shock for traditional campus based universities, especially those with a research focus. These universities had to quickly convert to online delivery to students, who were unable to get to campus. This was done by turning lectures into video conferences, and exams into online quizzes. However, the limitations of this approach was already well known in the distance education community. Also it challenged how teaching staff see their role, and what students want from a university. 

The institutions which had the lest difficulty were education-focused online, distance, and open universities. These institutions have been in the business of delivering education to remote students, in some cases for half a century, or more. Some more conventional campus based universities, particularly in Singapore, had practiced online delivery in an emergency, after their experience with SARS-CoV-1 in 2002 to 2004 (Chandran, 2010).

After being alerted to the need for an online alternative in an emergency, I investigated how this might be done for international students of an Australian research intensive university (Worthington, 2017). In 2016 and 2017 I gave a series of talks warning Australian universities to be ready with an online option in case international students were unable to get to campus. In the case of Australia, it seemed at that time that international tensions over the South China Sea were more likely to interrupt student access, rather than a pandemic.

In 2019 I redesigned the learning module I was delivering to allow for blended delivery, plus the option of full online delivery in an emergency (Worthington, 2019). This contingency was activated in 2020 for to COVID-19. No changes were required to content, or assessment. The face to face components were simply replaced with Zoom webinars (Cochrane, Et al., 2021). 

1. Measures to attract and retain students

Australia can continue to use essentially the same marketing techniques for attracting international students. These emphasize Australia as a safe place, with quality respected institutions, and job opportunities. Universities can continue to use their campuses as part of the marketing. However, in reality most students spent most of their time not in a classroom, even before COVID-19. Conventional lectures are a very poor way to learn, and exams a poor way to assess. Universities were replacing these with experiential learning, and project based assessment, and COVID-19 has accelerated this trend. Unfortunately, these are difficult to market learning formats, with parents wanting to see students in class, and potential employers seeing scope for cheating in online assessment.

The key to marketing the new educational techniques is through the person to person learning, for vocationally relevant outcomes. One example is Work Integrated Learning (WIL), where students learn, and earn course credit, while in a workplace. WIL is part of the requirements for membership of professions, including engineering, and computing, as it is way of providing students with so-called "soft" skills. This is attractive for students, especially where the WIL is through paid work. However, arranging sufficient work places is an expensive process for universities, which are currently undertaking this is an ad-hoc way, and competing for job placements.

Coordination of WILL opportunities with universities, industry bodies and government could improve the attractiveness of Australia as an educational destination, while also meeting staff shortages.

2. Online education for resilience

For those who were already using online learning, and those who had planned to use it in an emergency, the pandemic proved to be mostly business as usual. In particular, asynchronous learning to provide the scaffolding for a course, with embedded synchronous activities added (Worthington, 2013). This proved resilient to problems with equipment, bandwidth, and students and staff unavailable at set times. With this approach students are provided with all the materials they need, and all assessment tasks, at the beginning of a course. The student works through the materials on their own, or with others, occasionally checking in with a tutor. 

The approach to course design I suggested in 2016, and implemented in 2019, had a traditional distance education format, with face to face components for those who could get to campus, or online for those who could not. This approach evolved from that used by the Australian Computer Society for professional development, modified for delivery at university with face to face components. This approach is supported by education theory (Narayan, Et al., 2012).

3a. Providing a positive student experience

Unfortunately most online education delivery during the pandemic was not designed for online distance delivery, and undertaken by staff not trained in digital education. The students were not inducted into the distance format, and had to learn about it, at the same time as their instructors, as courses evolved. Despite these impediments, overall learning was achieved. However, with training, staff can deliver a much better experience. Decades of research shows that online and distance institutions provide a learning experience at least equal to face to face (Worthington, 2012). 

For students who are unable to get to campus due to cost, disability, employment or family commitments the distance option is their only best option. In the past Australian universities routinely discriminated against students by refusing to provide an online option which was feasible, affordable, but too much trouble. It would be unfortunate if universities were permitted to withdraw the online option, and return to discriminating against students. One promising development to provide 

3b. Pathways to build skills and contribute to Australia

The previous Australian government introduced undergraduate certificates, as a form of short university qualification. Universities responded by taking the first semester of their degrees and packaging these as the certificate. This was a worthwhile initiative, but does not provide the flexible "micro-credentials" talked about. For these to be designed and become useful universities will need to adopt the techniques for standardizing, and packaging short qualifications used in the vocational education and training (VET) sector (Worthington, 2018).

4. Supporting strategic and foreign policy

A key component of the cold war Colombo Plan was to provide subsidized education to people from developing nations of the Indo-Pacific region. This was done to help with development, and engender friendly relations with Australia. Now that Australia, and other western countries have switched to using education as a for-profit premium product, China has stepped in to offer low cost education, as an element of foreign policy. Australia can't compete directly with the scale of provision of low cost education by China, but could offer premium blended low cost education targeted at the region (Worthington, 2014). Delivery of education via low cost mobile devices has potential (Sinfield, Et al., 2020).

References

Chandran, R. (2010, May). National University of Singapore's Campus-Wide ELearning Week. In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blog.nus.edu.sg/dist/0/119/files/2011/03/national-university-of-singapores-campus-wide-elearning-week.pdf

Cochrane, T., Narayan, V., Aiello, S., Birt, J., Cowie, N., Cowling, M., ... & Worthington, T. (2021, November). Back to the Future Post Pandemic Socially Constructed Blended Synchronous Learning-Vignettes from the Mobile Learning SIG. In ASCILITE 2021. ASCILITE.

Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Aiello, S., Birt, J., Cowie, N., Cowling, M., ... & Worthington, T. (2021, November). Mobile learning and socially constructed blended learning through the lens of Activity Theory. In ASCILITE (Vol. 2021, p. 38th).

Sinfield, D., Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Cowie, N., Hinze, M., Birt, J., ... & Worthington, T. (2020, December). A mobile ecology of resources for Covid-19 learning. In ASCILITE 2020: ASCILITE’s first virtual conference. ASCILITE.

Worthington, T. (2012, July). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. In 2012 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE) (pp. 263-266). IEEE.

Worthington, T. (2013, April). Synchronizing asynchronous learning-Combining synchronous and asynchronous techniques. In 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 618-621). IEEE.

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 Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2014 9th International Conference on (pp. 164-168). IEEE. URL https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2014.6926448

Worthington, T. (2017). Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment. ANU Open Research Repository. https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/148737

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.

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.