Tuesday, June 28, 2022

University Culture as an Amalgam of Professions

This morning I took part in a workshop on improving the culture in a university department. There were inspiring words, a lot of post-it notes, and some survivor guilt over COVID-19. What stuck me was that much of the discussion was inward looking, as if one bit of a university worked on its own. I do most of my teaching in a team with people from across campus, from a professional (non-academic) unit. I write papers with people at other universities in the Indo-Pacific. The university provides the infrastructure for me to do this. In return I teach students, and publish papers, which brings the university revenue, and reputation.

Most of what I do is also governed by external factors. The curriculum is derived from the bodies of knowledge set nationally and internationally by the professions. The way I teach comes from my other profession (teaching). There are international conventions, national, and local laws which govern what and how I do things. The particular institution I am working through does have a role in helping meet all those requirements, but doesn't have much say in what the requirements are. In a way I have more say, having helped write the professional standards, and influenced the laws which apply.

This is not to say a universality, or its departments, are not important for research and education. However, they are most important in supporting the people who do the research and teaching. The institution needs to ensure staff are competent to do the job, but then let them got on with it. When asked to teach I am given a couple of sentences of instructions, sometimes written down, but often verbal. It is then up to me to work out how and what to do. I can do that having been trained, qualified and certified.

One way university culture falls down, I suggest, is where the different professions roles are not recognized. Academics tend to assume that everyone else's role at a university is subordinate, and unskilled. However, HR, marketing, & teaching staff are required, among others, and each has their own expertise, which needs to be recognized.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip an extra 18,500 defence personnel

I will be speaking on "Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel", at the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group meeting of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), 10 am, Friday, August 26, 2022. 

On 10 March 2022, the then Prime Minister announced that the Australian Defence Force would ADF personnel will increase 30% by 2040, at a cost of $38B. As the PM noted, “You can’t flick a switch to increase your army, navy and air force overnight, growing the type of people and skills we need to face the threats of the future takes time, so we must start now so critical skills can be taught and experience gained". 

The new and existing personnel will require new skills in fields such as cyber security, nuclear propulsion, and warfighting in space. Intelligence, information and communications capacity were singled out in the announcement.

This seminar explores how mobile technology and mobile learning could be used to recruit, train and equip these personnel.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Academic integrity and AI

 Just attended the ASCILITE seminar "A positive approach to academic integrity and the potential future of artificial intelligence", with Ishpal Sandhu & Patrick Lynch,from RMIT University. They discussed the potential and pitfalls of AI with issues such as student plagiarism. One of the audience asked how they could see the tools used, without signing up to a contract cheating site. So I did a quick search and found an interface to an AI system. I asked it a few questions, and got answers which seem very plausible, at a casual glance:

Q: How can we stop students cheating?

A: There is no one answer to this question as the reasons why students cheat vary. Some possible solutions include increasing the consequences for cheating, providing more opportunities for academic help, and increasing the difficulty of assignments.

A very plausible answer, although the first sentence could apply to anything. As one person at the seminar commented, it is the sort of answer a politician gives: vague on details.

Q. How successful was Online Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

A: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the success of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic depends on a variety of factors, including the type of online learning platform used, the quality of the online learning content, the students' prior experience with online learning, and the students' level of motivation. However, overall, online learning appears to have been successful for many students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The start of this answer seems to use the same formula as thew previous one, to say there are many factors. It has that same vague quality to the balance of the answer.

Q: Who is Tom Worthington?

A; Tom Worthington is an Australian information technology academic, consultant and commentator. He is a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society and a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

A bit out of date: I am now an Honorary Senior Lecturer, and the School is now just "Computing".

Employability and Teaching

Employability has always been an important part of university education. The idea that students enrolled to explore the miseries of the universe and to think deep thoughts is a myth. Universities were established to provide trained professionals for industry and government. Those teaching the students therefore need to be trained in how to teach and test real-world skills. 

One way to make students more employable is to have them undertake internships and group projects. In ANU Techlauncher, computing students with group projects for a real clients. Their last assessment task is to write a job application

Providing the resources for Work Integrated Learning (WIL), is a challenge. The classes I help have 200 to 300 students. This could scale to any size, using group work tools from the IT industry. The limiting factor is the availability of suitable tutors.

WIL provides the opportunity to build partnerships with industry. The best partnerships are driven by student involvement which brings staff together. Innovation centers, such as Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) are also a useful. Just having some sort of committee doesn't really help. Adjunct and honorary staff with industry backgrounds also helps.

Hackerthons can help as a quick lightweight supplement to WIL. Student involvement in innovation centers is also useful. An example of a good story is an ANU student start-up on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list

However, it takes training, as well as real world experience, for teaching staff to provide WIL. Australian universities tend to showcase teaching, but neglect basic teacher training for staff. School and TAFE teachers are required to have formal AQF qualifications, whereas university teachers are not. Unfortunately the priority at universities is research. One way to get researchers to take teacher training more seriously would be to emphasize how this will reduce work for them, so they can spend more time on research. This training can be done without making staff sit in classroom, but by Dogfooding: give the staff the learning experience we want them to provide their students.

AQF aligned micro-credentials provide the opportunity to rethink how teacher training is provided at universities. These could act as a minimum qualification which tutors are expected to have to teach. This would replace classroom based training courses with documenting experience, and peer support. Tutors could be offered free training, but then get credit for a qualification, by paying the usual course fees. Microcredentials could be nested into certificate/graduate certificates, diploma, degrees/masters of education. Staff could have the option of completing certifications for professional bodies as a byproduct.

Students training for the professions could be offered the same teaching courses as university staff, as teaching/supervision is part of being a professional. As an example, the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), is used for accrediting computing degrees in Australia. SFIA includes skills definitions for learning management, learning design, learning delivery, competency assessment, certification scheme operation, teaching, and subject formation.

Australian universites should maintain membership of national and international education bodies (such as ASCILITE, ACEN, and EDUCAUSE), and host events under their auspices. This will help guide staff, and lift the level of knowledge of education. This will help with emerging fields, such as co-design with students,  which require specialist skills currently not part of teacher training.

A modest proposal: I suggest an "Indo-Pacific Education Innovation Institute" to the new federal government, with $100M funding over ten years. This would train students from the region, alongside Australians, in advanced digital teaching techniques. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Minimizing student deferral and leave, rather than maximizing return after

Harvey et al. (2022) have provided a detailed report on how to get students back to study after a deferral or leave. They include on low SES, rural, those with a disability and Indigenous students. However, I suggest it would be more beneficial to increase the flexibility of study, so students don;t have to break their studies. Reducing the need to defer will help both the students and universities. Flexibility could include the option of online study, low rate part time study, work integrated learning, and credit for real world projects. Nested programs, where a student is awards a certificate, or  diploma, and welcomed back to continue their studies with full credit, would also be useful.

As a low SES student myself, who was not comfortable with university study until becoming an online, low rate, part time, WIL student, I can understand the issues. Also at one point I was offered the choice of exiting with a certificate or continuing on to a degree. This was an either/or choice: if I took the certificate I could not resume the degree. That is a decision I should have not been forced to make (I ended up taking the certificate, and resuming my studies outside Australia in a more flexible higher education system).

The authors point out that two thirds of deferrals are by school leavers. So I suggest universities could offer introductory study skills programs (with course credit), to ease the transition. Similarly, other students have leave for very good reasons. Rather than universities try to get students back into a rigid program which forced them out in the first place, the programs need to change to allow students to study, and have a family, job, and life, at the same time, wherever they are.


Harvey, Andrew; Luckman, Michael; Gao, Yuan; Kubler, Matthias; Tomaszewski, Wojtek; Dempsey, Naomi; et al. (2022): Towards the point of return: Maximising students' uptake of university places following deferral and leave. La Trobe. Report. https://doi.org/10.26181/19897210.v1 

The Future of Assessment Feedback

 When universities are preparing a Learning and Teaching Strategy, it is important to make what is proposed, staff and prospective students know the details. But what should be in such a strategy? What has worked well during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should be kept?

For the last few years I have been helping teach ANU Techlauncher, which has no exams, progressive assessment, some peer feedback, authentic and oral  assessment, Work Integrated Learning (WIL): the lot. This is challenging for staff and students, but that is the point: it is a capstone exercise to ensure graduates are ready for the real world.

One aspect which has worked well is a reflective portfolio disguised as a job application, and could be applied generally as a program capstone across a university. The idea is that a student has to think about what career they want, and what they have learned which help with that, in a very useful way. This is more relevant that a student having to prepare a portfolio which might be useful some time in the future. 

Previously I had used small quizzes and assessed forum contributions to keep online students working. Also I used a “best of” assessment scheme for small assessment tasks, so students could have a couple of bad weeks, without penalty. This helps cut down on requests for special consideration, and extra marks, as students know one missing or bad result will not penalize them. 

However, staff designing, and doing, assessment need to be trained in how to. The average academic knows about exams and assignments. There is also resistance from academics to spreading assessment throughout the courses to keep students working. There is the reasonable fear this will increase staff and student workload, but it can reduce the workload, if well designed. Academics are not familiar with vocational style assessment which looks for competency, not a 100 point scale. When they realise they do not have to treat a small test like a major exam, they can relax a bit.

More low stakes assessment can be used. This could be applied for small tasks, while large assignments are used to identify high achievers, to give the benefits of the ungraded approach, but with grades. 

Obviously authentic assessment should be used: it is natural and easy to apply in vocational courses. However, the research staff may not be qualified in real-world skills, or how to teach them. Peer and self assessment are fine for low stakes tasks, but is problematic for high stakes ones.

Obviously assessment should be scaffolded. The whole course should be there to support the assessment. If something is not assessed it should not be in the course. High stakes exams should be abolished. Small tests are okay.

A little oral assessment is okay, as long as it is linked to the learning objectives. The approach used by innovation centers (such as Canberra's CBRIN) to teach giving compelling presentations could be adopted by universities, or this teaching handed off to associated centers. Orals can be high stress: ask me about the pile driver during my MEd presentation. ;-)

Hackerthons could be incorporated. These could be within a course, a program, university wide, or open. The hackerthon packages a group project into a few days, rather than weeks.

Assessment templates, tools, and marking tools would be of some use. However, this is not a substitute for training staff in assessment. Personalised automated feedback would be of some use. The Techlauncher students have access to the university's careers automated tools, and we will try to have them use these more next semester. Templates for e-portfolios would be useful. However, this also requires staff training. Also I suggest a GitLab type repository, and advanced group working tools, as used by Techlauncher

An ungraded university first year would be disastrous, unless academics who were also trained, qualified educators were to run it. Otherwise this would cause great stress for students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds. I suggest instead an approach using progressive assessment, where only the best grades count. That is something the students, and especially the staff, will be better able to cope with.

The overriding constraint on changing a university's assessment is the lack of academics trained and qualified in education. The major challenge is how to get competent staff without compromising a university's’s research focus.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

More on a Learning & Teaching Strategy

I am interested in improving education, by blending online and on campus. Also improving staff knowledge of teaching.

What has worked well during the pandemic are conventional online distance education techniques, which I have been using at university since 2009. Also the adaption of WIL to a blended format, with online fallback for  emergencies worked (planned in 2019, before pandemic).

What didn't work so well for others were high stakes exams moved online. But this was an expedient measure needed where staff were not trained to assess in other ways. The problem for universities is how to motivate staff to do the required teacher training, so they not only know how to teach and assess in other ways, but are willing to do it.

The approach I suggest is to design an asynchronous online core, plus syncronous/f2f components. As in Hapke, Lee-Post, and Dean (2020) did with their 3-in-1 Hybrid Learning.

A LMS, such as Moodle is fine (one LMS is much the same as another). Zoom is very good. Turnitin is a problem: as it doesn't integrate well. Add Github, or similar repository tool, and a logbook tool, to support student individual and group projects. This logs the student's progress, so you can see who did what, when, throughout the semester. 

The first year experience could be improved with a Professional Practice course. Have group activities from first semester, firm deadlines and zero for late work, to set expected behavior.

The campus experience can be improved by making extra curricular activities co-curricular, by offering course credit for relevant experience. Ensure all teaching spaces are equipped for blended learning. Make campus attendance optional, so students come because the want to be, not because they have to.

Program design requires staff trained in program design. This takes years to phase it in. Look at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) experience.

Australia's elite research universities need to accept that "research lead", and "campus based" are marketing slogans, not workable strategies. Universities don't need a corporate"model of learning", so much as trained, qualified, educators. The focus in staff training should be on "dogfooding": teach the staff to teach, in courses which give them the experience we want students to have. Also offer these courses to students.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Showing and Telling Virtual Reality in Health Education

Greetings from the ANU Medical School, where Dr Jane Frost, Associate Professor in Nursing, at University of Canberra, is talking about the use of extended reality, for teaching medical students. Jane is gently introducing us to how VR & AR can be used. She started with a view of a typical lecture theater, captured with a headset camera. This then switched to a simulated hospital ward, particularity useful for students who can't get to a real one, or one of the training wards with dummies the universities have.

Jane explained the difference between VR & AR, with AR overlaying an image on the wearers perspective, whereas VR provides everything. She also mentioned that use of VR requires safety protocol, so the students do not fall over objects they can't see. As well as training, Jane pointed out AR has potential to assist in everyday work.

It was good to see Dr Frost did not spend too long on simulated classrooms, as I don't think these are much use. We want students in a workplace, simulated or real, not a classroom (simulated or real). One compelling example was of a student looking at a simulated patient in a real hospital ward, responding as if they were real. Another was very disturbing, with a simulated patient screaming continuously (the lesson for students was that the noisy patient doesn't necessarily get priority). 

The event was chaired by Katie Freund, Manager of Technology-Enhanced Learning and Teaching (TELT), at ANU Medical School.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Developing a Learning and Teaching Strategy

Along with many university staff, I have been invited to be part of developing a Learning and Teaching Strategy. This is an issue exercising the minds of people at many universities at present (or should be), as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. I have spent some of the last ten years studying, researching and presenting on these issues, so note that these are my views, not necessarily those of any particular institution.

An Approach

The approach I suggest is that universities design for a student who is remote, part time, and focused on practical vocational outcomes. Then add optional on-campus, and more academic activities. In terms of teacher development, require formal qualifications, but with training based on workplace experience.

It is much easier to start with a course designed for remote students, and add on-campus activities, than the reverse. Also, when another emergency forces some, or all, students online, this can be accomplished with no change in course design or delivery, the on campus components can be simply cancelled, leaving the remote component to continue. This approach was found to be effective in response to COVID-19 (Narayan, et al., p. 168, 2021).

Some issues:

1. Learning

Use of digital learning environments, on-campus learning, blended, flipped and flexible. As a result of the need to switch to online learning during the Pandemic, universities have well developed technical support for modern teaching approaches. The students are expecting these. The problem, up until 2020, was in convincing staff to do more than give the usual lectures. COVID-19 forced a crash program of online delivery. The problem is now how to make this more than just recorded lectures.

In part, the problem with learning is one of the self image of academics. When I joined the staff of a university decades ago, I assumed I would be researching, and teaching by giving an occasional lecture. As a computer professional, who had an award for helping getting the nation on the Internet, I assumed I could easily translate classroom teaching online. It took about ten years to realise I needed to swallow my pride and learn how to teach online without lectures. This is a process we need to take academic staff through, using dogfooding: teach them to teach by having them a student.

2 . Assessment

Also as a result of the pandemic, universities have technical support for flexible and advanced authentic forms of assessment (even if they don't use these). The ideal form of assessment is where the student does what they will need to do after graduation, in the workplace, and how they do it is checked. This can be in a real workplace, with an internship, or other Work Integrated Learning (WIL), or some form of simulation. Ideally the assessment is progressive, throughout the students courses, and accompanied by timely relevant feedback, so they pay attention. However, good assessment is much harder than end of semester examinations (which are bad assessment). This requires academics to be trained in how to assess, and time to set up. Once set up using the digital tools, the assessment takes more work. But academics will require the training and support to get to this point. 

As a student of assessment I did not believe much of what I was being told, until I had to experience it first hand (more dogfooding). As an example, I did not believe students did not read detailed feedback on assignments, until I got back my assignment on assessment and did not read the feedback. Only after this did I set about delivering feedback in smaller, more frequent chunks. Only after having to do group-work online, and reflective portfolio,  did I understand what these were about.

3. Teaching

How to ensure quality teaching is a dilemma for all university, but especially for research intensive ones. Whatever the marketing slogans might say, research is the priority, and researchers generally do not make good teachers. While vocationally focused, and not an elite researcher, I still did not volunteer to undertake teacher training, and had to be forced to do it. 

Universities will need to require staff to undergo teacher training, making recruitment and promotion conditional on achieving the required standard. I suggest this be done with formal courses, and AQF aligned qualifications. Voluntary schemes and ad hoc training courses are not sufficient. Universities have the opportunity to set up nested programs which can be a showcase for future offerings across the institution. As an example, micro-credentials which nest into a graduate certificate, diploma, and masters degree in university education, with WIL, & recognition of prior learning (RPL). Components of these programs can be offered to students, who are plan to be trainers in their discipline, as well as to staff. 

4. Job Ready Graduates

Internships, WIL, and career skills, as typically provided in computing, engineering and other closely vocationally linked disciplines, can be expanded to other fields. As an example, the ANU Computing School offers internships to individual students, and group projects for real clients (Awasthy, Flint, & Sankaranarayana, 2017). ANU Careers guides the group project students through the process of documenting the skills gained, considering careers, and applying for a job. Rather than this being extra-curricular, it is integrated into a course, with assessment (Worthington, 2019). Further digital support for these resource intensive programs can be developed. As with other forms of education and assessment, it would be valuable for teaching staff to have undergone such a program as a student.


Awasthy, R., Flint, S., & Sankaranarayana, R. (2017, April). Lifting the constraints—closing the skills gap with authentic student projects. In 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON) (pp. 955-960). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7942964

Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Aiello, S., Birt, J. R., Alizadeh, M., Cowie, N., Goldacre, P., Sinfield, D., Stretton, T., Worthington, T., Deneen, C., & Cowling, M. A. (2021). Mobile learning and socially constructed blended learning through the lens of Activity Theory. In S. Gregory, S. Warburton, & M. Schier (Eds.), Back to the Future – ASCILITE ‘21. Proceedings of the 38th International Conference of Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education (pp. 166-171). Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education. https://2021conference.ascilite.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ASCILITE-2021-Proceedings-Narayan-Cochrane-Cowie-Goldacre-Birt-Sinfield-Mehrasa-Worthington-Aiello.pdf

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. https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE48000.2019.9225921

Sunday, June 5, 2022

ACS Recommendations to Improve Digital Technologies Education in Australia

The Australian Computer Society (ACS)  has released a whitepaper on "Computer education in Australian schools 2022: Enabling the next generation of IT" (June, 2022). This is timely, with a new federal government. There are 55 recommendations, but the most important is for support for those teaching Digital Technologies to be trained and qualified in what they are teaching (Recommendation 3, Page 72). This training, I suggest, should ideally be done using digital technologies, without necessarily taking in service teachers away from their classroom for extended periods (there are several good Australian university programs for this). Also it would be useful to have a nationally standardized senior secondary computer education curriculum (Recommendation 25, Page 77). It would also be useful to have research on how well schools do, what resources they have and how are disadvantaged students helped (Recommendation 55, Page 78). I commend the report to those advising Government ministers, state and federal: I know you read my blog. ;-)

Declaration of Interest: I am a member of the ACS, and its Professional Standards Board. But I wasn't involved with the computer education whitepaper, which is from the ICT Educators Committee.

Friday, June 3, 2022

ASCILITE Mobile Learning SIG 2022

MLSIG presentation at ASCILITE 2021

Greetings from the weekly ASCILITE Mobile Learning SIG meeting. Last week we had an introductory session for new members, and to my surprise this has been recorded, archived, and formally referenced* as a scholarly work.

Upcoming webinars are:

  1. June 24, Dr David Sinfield, Where Art Meets Science: How I use mobile technology in the field for research documentation (preview).
  2. July 22, Mehrasa Alizedah and Neil Cowie, The Affordances and Challenges of Virtual Reality for Language Teaching
  3. August 26, Tom Worthington, Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel

The Sig members have also worked together on projects during the pandemic. This week we are looking at how to do a systematic meta-analysis of mobile learning and the pandemic. The meta-analysis process is not just a matter of reading a few papers, it requires a carefully designed search, then analysis. Get it wrong and you end up with no papers, or tens of thousands of irrelevant ones. This is something I am not familiar with, and having to learn quickly from others.

* Reference 

Cochrane, Thomas; Narayan, Vickel; Cowie, Neil; Birt, James; Alizadeh, Mehrasa; Ransom, Lisa; et al. (2022): Introductory Webinar to the ASCILITE Mobile Learning SIG 2022. University of Melbourne. Media. https://doi.org/10.26188/6295b6b7690a6

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Revolution Will Not be Streamed

Just received an invitation for delegates to attend leadership masterclasses at the 2022 Universities Australia Conference. Only two problems with this: 1. I haven't registered for the conference, and 2. the masterclasses are only in person, at the conference venue. It is a troubling if these workshops are, as claimed, an "... opportunity to gain an insight into how our sector’s top decision-makers approach the challenges of running a university". In that case, our universities are in trouble, run by poor administrators, and poor educators. 

We need universities which are familiar with the needs of their students, and offer education where the student is, not forcing them to turn up to a campus. Leadership amid change requires doing things differently. Influencing for impact requires using new ways of communicating. Building resilient cultures requires genuine communication. Our top university decision makers need these skills, if they want to stay in business. The way to learn is to do, not sit and listen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Shorter-term Technical Certificates as a Path to Higher Income

In "If College Isn't the Pathway to the Middle Class It Once Was—What Is?"
, Lindsay Daugherty, Senior Policy Researcher at RAND, suggests that there may be better options than a four-year degree program for students seeing a job with a middle class salary. In Australia the answer is, or should be, easy: if you want a well paying job quickly and easily, got to TAFE. The government, and non-government VET providers in Australia offer sub-degree programs, which are nationally recognized. Some of these are required for entry into regulated jobs, while others are in high demand job categories with subsidized fees. The VET sector has forms of education and assessment designed to suit less academically accomplished students. However, even in Australia, this form of education has an unwarranted poor reputation, being seen as second best, compared to university. Australia's new government should be  boosting the reputation of the VET sector, and ending the downgrading of TAFEs, so this is seen as the first option for those wanting a step up in employment.

Learning from Wuhan on Helping International Students

While western universities have focused on the problems of their own students during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be remembered that China also has international students. There are some interesting papers emerging from the experience of students, some at the epicenter of the Pandemic.  English, Yang,  Marshall, and Nam (2022) have written about the experience of international about 1,500 students facing Wuhan's 76 day lock-down (out of 8,000 pre-Pandemic). The authors note that the stress from the pandemic is in addition to the stress international student face from studying abroad.

Wuhan was locked down earlier than other locations, when little was know of the virus, which will have increased the stress level for students. Also, as the authors note, those in Wuhan faced the stigmatization and discrimination as being perceived as the source of the disease. However, it should be noted that Melbourne (Australia) experienced six lock-downs, of 262 days in total, more than the rest of the world. It would be interesting to compare the experience of Melbourne's very large international student population to that of other countries. Australian international students were stigmatized by the then Australian Prime Minister, who with a breathtaking lack of compassion, said of the students: "it's time to go home".

The authors report the stress and anxiety students felt, fear, worry, uncertainty, which were made worst by misinformation. Students were homesick and felt  abandoned by those able to leave. However, they were able to continue their education online. In my own studies of the potential for online education in China, I noted that it was not widely accepted (Worthington, 2014). Despite this, as the authors note, Chinese universities were able to switch to online learning, at scale. Another positive point was that international students were helped by the local community, reducing the sense of isolation.

The authors suggest universities could apply the prosocial behavior exhibited at Wuhan in dealing with mental health issues of students generally. In particular, peer support, and practical help for students, with food, and transport. Also social support from outside the international student body will reduce a sense of isolation. 

Wang (2022) makes similar points. However, they also point to the direct role of university medical personnel, and students, in treating patients. This included online support for the psychological effects of the pandemic. The author emphases the sense of "belonging" of China's students, which aided response to the pandemic. This may sound a little odd, to western ears, but Australian universities are similarly attempting to cultivate a sense of care for students. The use of social media, specifically WeChat, is mentioned, but unfortunately not detailed. Australian universities now routinely use social media to get messages out to students, but these can tend to be more in the form of announcements, which do not have the power to engage. 


English, A., Yang, Y., Marshall, R. C., & Nam, B. H. (2022). Social Support for International Students Who Faced Emotional Challenges Midst Wuhan's 76-day lockdown during Early Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2022.01.003/

Wang, L. (2022). Belonging, being, and becoming: Tertiary students in China in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic. In J. S. McKeown, K. Bista, & R. Y. Chan (Eds.), Global higher education during COVID-19: Policy, society, and technology (pp. 39-56). STAR Scholars. https://ojed.org/index.php/gsm/issue/view/152

Worthington, T. (2014, August). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 164-168). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2014.6926448

Monday, May 23, 2022

Global Energy Transition Accelerated by Ukraine Situation?

Professor Jotzo,  Ambassadors Pulch,
& Myroshnychenko, at ANU 
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Michael Pulch (European Union), and Vasyl Myroshnychenko (Ukraine),  Ambassadors to Australia, are speaking along with the ANU's own Professor Frank Jotzo on the energy implications of the situation in the Ukraine. The obvious solution is more use of renewable energy, but that is not easy, or cheap to do, especially quickly. The event is in a theater of the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, with a wonderful view of the Campus and Black Mountain. 

The EU Ambassador pointed that imported gas dependence had increased in the last few years, due to declining local extraction, and conversion from other fuels. Also they noted the spread of dependency was uneven across the EU. The Union this year decided to phase out dependency on imported gas, however that sound to me like the Captain of the Titanic deciding to buy more lifeboats, but only after seeing the iceberg. The Ambassador did note there are some short term moves possible, to increase gas imports other than from Russia, having more storage, and more use of coal. In the longer term the Ambassador said they were looking to follow Australia's example promoting rooftop solar. But they noted options would not be simple or cheap.

The Ambassador said they did not expect significant LNG exports from Australia, but Australia could increase experts to other regions, thus freeing up supplies for Europe. The Ambassador did not mention longer term opportunities for Europe to buy renewable energy from Australia, in the form of synthetic fuels, or Australian technology to reduce energy use.

The Ukrainian Ambassador noted Russian "weaponizartion" of energy policy. They argued previous German policy on gas from Russia propped up the Soviet Union. They referred to the "Schr√∂derization" of energy,  German politician, Gerhard Schr√∂der, advocating the Nord Stream pipeline, then after retirement taking up a board position. The Ambassador advocated phasing out Russian gas in Europe, facing up to the shock. They said Ukraine will buy more Australian coal and uranium. These will be unpalatable messages for European and Australian governments. Quickly phasing out Russian gas will have a local political cost, as would the new Australian government, which may dependent on cross benches, supporting coal and uranium. The Ambassador also may a very technical point that Australian LNG has a different composition, and so EU industry may need to make changes to use it for chemical production (simply burning it is less of a problem). 

Professor Jotzo pointed out that the Ukraine situation can lead to increased use of renewable energy in the long term, as well as energy trade within political blocks. However, there will be more investment in fossil fuels in the short term. What they did not mention was the potential for changes in behavior to reduce energy use. As an example of what can be done where needed, was the shift to online work and study during COVID-19. This was something many thought impossible, until their life, and livelihood, depended on changing behavior. 

National governments are understandably anxious to return to "normal" after pandemic restrictions. However, where "normal" involves the use of fossil fuel for travel, which could be eliminated with online work and study, government could productively work on a new normal. In my course "ICT Sustainability" (currently offered online from Canada)I invited students to consider how such changes could reduce emissions. So I asked the panel about this. Professor Jotzo suggested the energy savings from telecommuting would be marginal. ,  Ambassador Pulch pointed out the many small savings which could be made would add up. Ambassador Myroshnychenko pointed out that working from home has energy costs, may lower the quality of work decisions, and quality of life. He pointed out people were very keen to travel after the pandemic.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Is Ditching the Online Learning Option legal?

Meredith Wilkinson, writing in Times Higher Education suggests "Disabled students still need online learning options" (21 May 2022). They point out at least  17% of UK university students had a disability and online learning has  advantages for many of these students, and suggest universities should not withdraw this option with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would put the case more strongly than that. The UK, Australia, and many other countries have anti-discrimination legislation. Withdrawing online learning would discriminate against sections of the community, and may therefore be illegal.

Laws prohibits discrimination based on disability, gender, religion, race, and other grounds. Universities showed they can deliver online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic (although some had been doing this for decades). That learning benefits students who have a disability, or can't get to campus due to work, family, community, and cultural commitments, or simply due to were they live. If online learning is withdrawn, those students will find study harder, or impossible. If online learning was very expensive, or technically difficult to provide, then universities would have a defense in law for not doing it, but it isn't expensive, or difficult, so they must do it?

In reality most students, at least in Australia, were studying mostly online before the pandemic. By 2019 universities had put in place learning management and video systems to supplement face to face teaching. These were the same systems needed for fully online learning (I was using them for teaching online at ANU from 2009). The removal of online learning options will not reduce costs, as the video and learning systems for it will still be in place to support courses officially classified as on campus. However, students will have their flexibility to study how they want, and need to, restricted, for no good reason.

This may seem absurd, but then so did the idea that services must be provided online. Surely a sporting organisation is not required by law to have a web site blind people can use? The answer is yes they are, as established in the human rights case "Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games" (2000), which I was an expert witness for. The Beijing Olympics later asked me to go over to help them not make the same mistake.

ANU Technology Showcase on Tuesday, All Welcome

The students at the Australian National University will be showing off their project work on Tuesday, 12 Noon to 2:00pm. All are welcome in person at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) in Canberra, or online via Remo, but please register. These are mostly the ANU Techlauncher computer projects, but there will be some others, from across disciplines. I help the students think about what career they may want.

Why Do Online University Staff Have to be at a Campus?

Times Higher Education report that "Ministers demand online university staff live in remote town" (Paul Basken, May 20, 2022). The Alberta government wants staff of Athabasca University, a Canadian online university (similar to Australia's University of New England), to live in the town of Athabasca, where the campus is located. The idea of forcing staff to live where the campus is, and have to clock in each day is not just misguided, it is contrary to the ethos of the institution, and could damage its reputation. The Alberta Government doesn't appear to appreciate the very valuable resource it has in Athabasca University, and is damaging the reputation of their government, and province. 

Tom Worthington in
Athabasca Master of Education regalia
I designed a course offed at Athabasca University, and am a graduate, where I studied how to provide distance education, via distance education. I never visited the campus in Canada, in three years of study, from 13,000 km away in Australia. The only time I met staff face to face was when we happened to be at an international conferences on my side of the Pacific. The administrative support and the tuition was superior to my on-campus study in Australia. The whole idea of Athabasca University is to provide a quality education to people wherever they are. Saying the staff have to live near the campus doesn't help, and could harm the university.

My studies were on how to provide quality learning for international students, including during an emergency which kept them off campus. That was key to my being able to support students in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am sure other graduates were key to supporting education across Alberta, and Canada. If Alberta doesn't want Athabasca University any more, perhaps it should move to another province, or country, where it would be welcome, and appreciated.

Friday, May 20, 2022

A Day in the Life of the MLSig

MLSIG presentation at ASCILITE 2021

Members of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (ML-SIG) are going to do a Zoom introduction. What would you like to know?

Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel

 I will be speaking on "Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel" at the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (ML-SIG), 10 am AEST, 26 August 2022. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Some of my defence related posts:

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Thursday, May 19, 2022

How Much is International Distance Education Worth to the Australian Economy?

Graph of education exports per year
from ABS data by Mary Clarke, 18 May 2022
In 2020 Australian higher education made a sudden pivot online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A question for Australian policy makers is how much of this will remain online. However, there is no way to tell from the statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as it doesn't record this. What they do have is a category for "Correspondence Courses". However, this shows as only a tiny fraction of export income from education over the last few years, so it is clearly not a proxy for online learning, as almost all students have been learning online. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Lower Socioeconomic Status Students Don't Have Lower Aspirations But Are Rightly Wary of University

The University of Newcastle's course for teachers "Aspirations: Supporting Students’ Futures" references Gore, Holmes, Smith, et al (2015). While 2015 now seems a long time ago, the issues it investigates are very current. As we (hopefully) emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a good time for educational institutions to rethink who their potential students are, and what they want. 

The researchers set out to find if low low socioeconomic status (SES) students don't consider university, and contact by universities in schools, would change their minds. They asked about 3,000 NSW school students, in Years 4 to 10, split evenly between city and regions, at mostly government schools. As the authors point out, conventional wisdom is that Year 10 is too late to change a student's views on studying at university (as well as being too late for them to select suitable courses to get into university). 

The researchers found that earlier year students were more certain about a future career than later year ones. They therefore suggest discussion of careers in primary school, with the aim of maintaining this interest in later years.

The researchers also found that the assumed preference of higher SES students for more prestigious occupations (requiring university qualifications) was relatively small. Most students aspired to skilled, para and professional jobs (vet, teacher, sportsperson). The exceptions were two occupations: mechanic (aspired by low SES, and doctor (high). It was noted that low-SES students were aiming for financial security, with high were more often selecting a career out of interest. 

A key finding was that how the students had done in their study was more important than SES in determining their view of a future career. Those who did well aspired to higher status jobs. However, the researchers could only account for a small minority of the variation in career choice (13%). While they speculated what might account for the rest, they do not know.

As someone from a low SES background I found this of interest. It was not until after completing a graduate certificate and masters of education, that it occurred to me I was a low SES background, first in generation to university student. As a child I had aspirations of being an engineer, which was likely influenced by a strong mechanical bent of all males in the family (my nephew now designs robots for assembling cars). I ended up on the academic staff of an Engineering and Computer Science College of a university. 

Obviously there is self interest in universities wanting to attract low SES students, as the pool of high SES ones dries up. However, is this in the interests of the students, and the public interest? I find talk of striving for excellence by by academic colleagues troubling. As a student myself, as recently as 2016, I was not striving for excellence, I was aiming for the minimum required to complete my studies (or just a bit above the minimum , to be on the safe side). Even though I am now financially secure, and it doesn't really matter if I pass or fail, I can't break the habits of a lifetime, aiming to complete as quickly, cheaply and safely as possible.

Rather than trying to lure low SES students into university courses which they, for very rational economic reasons, may be avoiding, I suggest providing options which make sense to them. As an example, students can be offered a path from VET, where they can get a qualification for a secure well paying career, through further study at university to a higher paying career. That will make more sense to someone needing to aim for financial security, than asking them to aim for excellence, but likely end up with no qualification after several years of university study, and a large student debt. 


Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M. et al. Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. Aust. Educ. Res. 42, 155–177 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-015-0172-5

Teaching Teachers to Support Diverse Students

The University of Newcastle is providing a free 20 hour course for teachers "Aspirations: Supporting Students’ Futures" to teach students "... from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds". This is intended for school teachers, but may also be of value to those teaching in VET and universities. As well as the content, it would be useful for university academics with limited teacher training to see what a well designed online course looks like. In particular the ways the course directly references professional skills standards provides an example of what universities should aspire to. 

The course is implemented using Newcastle's Canvas LMS, in a conventional online course format. There is also a 41 page learning journal, in the form of a Microsoft Word document, with versions to print, or fill in online. This contains the same course content as online, with places for the student to fill in answers. That may seem a little old fashioned, but makes the course backward compatible for students who do not have Internet access, or prefer a printable workbook.

The course has six units:

  1. Introduction (10 minutes)

  2. Introduction to aspirations (2 hours)

  3. Aspirations matter (2 hours)

  4. Factors that matter (2 hours)

  5. Relationships and connections that matter (2 hours)

  6. Schooling and teachers matter (2 hours)

I was able to quickly register with UoN's system and enroll in the course. Canvas provides a text rich usable interface. 

There is a glossary included in the workbook, but buried in Unit 2 (it would be better if separate). Some of the definitions are a bit difficult to understand, for example, "Cultural capital: Symbolic assets such as cultural awareness and knowledge, skills, mannerisms, and credentials". I am not really sure what a "Symbolic asset" is or what makes a mannerism an asset. The author's biases might be showing also, for example with "Cultural capital" being measured, in part, by the student's interest in classical music. Apparently only formal Western music has culture. ;-)

The course invites teachers to think about how their background shapes their aspirations, as well as those of their students. For example:

"What are some of the reasons why you chose teaching as a career? What other careers might have brought a similar sense of fulfilment?

How might you use the reasons given by your students for their occupational aspirations to broaden their sense of possible selves?"

Some of the questions are very relevant to the future of higher education in Australia, such as:

"Thinking about the students you teach, what might be some of the reasons behind misalignment in university and VET aspirations?

What role can teachers play in ensuring that students understand differences between university and VET and the educational pathways required to reach a particular occupation?"

This is a question which might be asked of the leadership of universities which seem to be trying to be everything to any possible student, trying to provide everything from vocational training to graduate research. 

The course is not peppered with long reading lists and quotes from research papers, which makes many university courses so annoying. However, a few embedded references and readings would be useful. The course apparently draws on a study from  draws on a study from Newcastle, however only a title "the Aspirations Longitudinal Study" is provided, with a broken hypertext link. As an experienced online learner I am used to hunting down web pages in the Internet Archive, but this link appears to have broken two years ago. It would have been useful to have a full formal citation of the research report, which took me a couple of minutes to track down (Gore, Holmes, Smith, et al, 2015).

As it is there is a reading list section at the end of the course, but I was unable to get this to display, instead getting an error message (which I have reported):

Integration Failure

Reading List Display Failure

Unable to display the reading list due to the error below. Please review the error and if the error persists then contact support

Error code user_is_missing
eReserve Plus was unable to create the necessary records when processing the launch from the platform (https://canvas.newcastle.edu.au). Please contact support.

There is also a discussion forum called "Community". I was able to read the postings there, but could not register to participate. It is not clear why this forum is not using the same ID I was provided with for the rest of the course (which I was able to get access to).


Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M. et al. Socioeconomic status and the career aspirations of Australian school students: Testing enduring assumptions. Aust. Educ. Res. 42, 155–177 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-015-0172-5

Monday, May 16, 2022

Canberra Toolkit for International Student Promotions

The ACT Government provides a free online toolkit of materials for promoting Canberra. This includes for promoting international students to come to Canberra to study. As someone who writes a blog about education (highereducationwhisperer.com), I signed up for the toolkit. First thing I did was search for resources on "innovation". What came up were photos of Petr Adamek and Rachael Greaves from Canberra Innovation Network, and a couple of photos of the Mugga Lane Solar Farm. Those are relevant, but more pictures of students would be good, perhaps from CBRIN events.

But having found some images I am not sure what to do with them. I ticked a box below each image. I clicked on the basket item. But what happens next. Do I have to go to a checkout? Do I have to pay for them? I clicked anot basked icon further down the page and was at what looked like a checkout. This required me to describe what the photos were for and who the client was. The system, I assume, is designed for professional marketing companies.

This all seems a little old fashioned. In the modern era, you do a web search for materials, if the licence suits, you use them. You don't waste time explaining to some gatekeeper why you want to use them, or have to order and download them. You don't want to wait while your order is processed (why do stock photos have to be processed?)

It is useful to have attractive images, videos and test to show Canberra as an attractive place to come and study. However, university will need more than this to attract students, as they mostly study online now. In some ways this makes the city around the university more important, as the student will be spending very little time on campus (at least not in the classrooms). Also what will be important are employment opportunities in the region, during and after study.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Is Atlassian University Accredited?

Atlassian, an Australian IT company, offer training though Atlassian University. However, the use of the term "University" is restricted by Australian law to accredited institutions. So I wrote to Atlassian suggesting they might like to use a more generic term, such as  "Atlassian Institute", or make it clear the organisation is not based in Australia, and not a registered university. The reply I received was disappointing (I removed the name to save embarrassing the individual):

02/May/22 5:37 AM

"Hi there, Tom!

Thanks for reaching out to Atlassian, I hope you're doing well.  My name is *** from the University Team and I'm happy to help you today!

We do acknowledge honest reviews of those who purchase our products and help us turn things around and try to make this positive public feedback. We do want to preserve the positive perception that we have built over time by respecting the public opinion of our customers, whether good or bad, as this creates a chance for them to be heard.

Your comments have been forwarded to the relevant team to review as we continue to improve our products and make your journey with us better.

Meanwhile, regarding your question, we are currently checking on this with the relevant team. An update will be provided at the soonest.

Appreciate your patience as well as your help in making us further improve our services.

Have a great day and stay safe!

Customer Advocate"

"Wed, 11 May 2022 02:55:39 +0000 (UTC)

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