Sunday, December 25, 2022

A University is Not Just a Place

Professor Gavin Moodie, University of Toronto, recently discussed the effects of a merger between the universities of Adelaide and South Australia. Professor Andrew Norton, Australian National University suggested urban participation rates in universities would decline if funding went to regional campuses. However, these analyses are focused on the physical location of university campuses, which the Internet, and COVID-19 have made much less important for the future of universities. Most university students while officially enrolled on Australian campuses mostly studied online. COVID-19 made this practice official. Australian regional universities already had city satellite campuses. It is possible to envision a future where students can study online, but go to a local shared campus, when required.

This analysis of campus locations sounds a little last century. Like asking where customers will want the telephone installed in their home. Anyone under 50 is going to be confused: "Install a telephone? I have my phone in my pocket: why would I attach it to a wall?". Same with university locations. The students will look bewildered: "Campus? Why would I need a campus? I have the course here on my smartphone".

 Locations of our universities are somewhat arbitrary anyway. The few km around the Sydney CBD has campuses of Charles Sturt University, Edith Cowan University, Western Sydney University, Macquarie University, Victoria University, Federation University Australia, University of the Sunshine Coast, La Trobe University, The University of Notre Dame Australia (two sites), Torrens University Australia (two sites), Charles Darwin University, and University of Tasmania, as well as University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney. 

Torrens Building Adelaide, 
Photo by Bahudhara
CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Adelaide's Torrens Building is an interesting model for Australian Higher Education: multiple online universities wrapped in one sandstone facade

It would be tempting to merge universites in one city. However, it may not make sense to bind universities to a place in this way. The issue is largey one of marketing, not education, or administrative efficiency. Most staff and students will not be on a campus most of the time, so who they administrative report to, where, doesn't much matter. 

Torrens University Australia, provides an interesting model, with specialised campuses across Australia. Open Universities Australia is an example of national cooperation by public universities. That approach could be replicated physically, by regional universities sharing campuses.

ps: I was just contacted by someone who has started a course at Athabasca University in Canada, asking for some advice (I studied there). Of course neither of us have ever actually been to Athabasca, where the campus is. I am not even on the same continent.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

My Factory Floor is an Outdoor Cafe at a University

Tom Worthington at ANU Coffee Grounds Cafe.
Photo by Tom Worthington CC-BY 2022
Greetings from the Coffee Grounds Cafe, at the Australian National University. in Canberra. I just met with a PhD student who is researching an ancient dead language, and working on a commercial spinoff, while employed part time by the government.  Someone who talks to university donors happened past with a project needing funding. I jokingly described this table under a tree at the cafe as my factory floor. This is where I meet people to get things done, some planned, some accidental.

Later I bumped into someone and discussed if I would be helping assess applications for course credit of international students again next year. On Thursday I am having lunch with people to organise the work integrated learning of computer students. Coffee Grounds makes up part of the almost invisible infrastructure which provides the link between higher education and innovation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

What is Coming Soon with Educational Technology in Australia and New Zealand

ASCILITE have released their first "Scanning the Australasian Ed Tech Horizon: The 2021-2022 Contextualising Horizon Report" (Campbell, Porter, Logan-Fleming, & Jones, 2022). It is a big title for a relatively short 47 page report. This covers  rethinking lectures and assessment, blended learning, Co-design and Microcredentials. The bigger picture is covered with rethinking the university experience, and support for staff and learners. This will be useful for administrators and academics considering what to do post-COVID. 

The most telling point for me in the report was:
"Higher education needs to mainstream assessment design that better prepares graduates with 21st century skills for an ambiguous future". 
 (Page 15, emphasis added). 
The key point here is "mainstream". We already know how to improve assessment, and a few of us are doing it. The problem is to make this use widespread, and routine, not something novel a few do. Online learning, was proven years before COVID, but took the threat of financial ruin, and death, to make mainstream. Hopefully improved assessment can be introduced without a similar crisis. But it may take a little pressure from funding and accrediting bodies, to push universities into this.

I was one of those who pressed for my professional body to require students to have 21st century communication and teamwork skills. Universities agreed to do this, not necessarily because they thought it was a good idea, but because if they did not they would not be accredited and international students would not enroll. It takes a staff with new qualifications to teach these new skills.

The report is optimistic about online learning: 
"Higher education learners are choosing the convenience and flexibility of online learning, and it is therefore less likely that higher education will flip back to face-to-face teaching to the same extent as has occurred in the school sector. Learners in higher education are largely there by choice and will likely select providers that enable them to juggle study as part of their increasingly complex lives." (Page 15)
However, how will these online learners be treated? Pre-COVID-19, most university students were studying mostly online, despite being officially registered on campus. The students took advantage of the online services offered. COVID-19 forced universities to take online students more seriously, and not pretend they weren't there (or they were in the classroom). Especially in the case of international students, online mode creates marketing and administrative problems for universities. It is difficult to market online study as a premium product with high fees. If a student has to turn up to campus to meet the requirements of a student visa, then dejour online courses are not relevant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Designing for online, blended and synchronous learning for computing students

Today I talked to the participants of Thomas Cochrane's "Design for Transformative Mobile Learning Design BootCamp", along with other authors of the paper, "Analysing mobile learning designs: A framework for transforming learning post-COVID" (2022). 
The talk gave me a needed confidence boost, as I was writing Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education, and thinking: "What do I know about higher education?". After the talk, I realised "I know something about it", as Dr McCoy would say. ;-)


Cochrane, T. D., Narayan, V., Aiello, S., Alizadeh, M., Birt, J., Bone, E., Cowie, N., Cowling, M., Deneen, C., Goldacre, P., Sinfield, D., Stretton, T., & Worthington, T. (2022). Analysing mobile learning designs: A framework for transforming learning post-COVID. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology38(4), 1–21.

Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education

The Higher Education Review Terms of Reference, lists seven key areas for consideration (Department of Education, 2022). Here are some thoughts on the topic. Please note that while I am an Honorary Lecturer in Computing at the Australian National University, and a member of the Professional Standards Board of the Australian Computer Society, these recommendations are my own, and may not represent the views of any organisation I am associated with. 

The Review has asked for priorities. I suggest no radical change is needed. Universities should continue to provide educated professionals for the workplace, and applied research for industry, supported by fundamental research. Better funding of, and linkage with the VET sector is needed. This can be facilitated by training university academics in how to teach, using the work integrated techniques used in VET. Australia should double down on the use of online blended, and mobile learning, and promote this for international students. Government should target strategic areas for HE/industry cooperation, starting with a $20B defence drone program.

Recommendations on the Review Topics

1. Meeting Australia’s knowledge and skills needs, now and in the future

Recommendation 1: Australian universities should continue to be funded to focus on educating professionals, conducting applied research for industry, supported by fundamental research. The funding for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in preparing professionals, both before and after university, should be expanded. 

Discussion: Universities should continue to provide first, and advanced degrees, with some vocational institutions offering first degrees, and other shorter qualifications. All should offer options for competency based, stacked short qualifications, with work integrated learning, and project capstones, as recently announced by Singapore Institute of Technology.

From the establishment of the first university, the top priority for Australian higher education has been to educate professionals for the workforce. The second priority has been applied research, in support of industry. Both education and applied research have been supported by fundamental research. There is no need to change these priorities. 

Alongside universities, have been vocational institutions, providing more focused courses, and providing  specific skills needed immediately. Schools have also been able to provide vocational qualifications, as well as preparation for university. A minority of jobs will require a bachelor's degree, or higher, as the specific skills required will be specified using small skills units, which can be obtained via industry certification, VET, or university.

2. Access and opportunity

Recommendation 2: Government funding should be contingent on universities continuing to offer online, blended, and mobile learning, as a way to enhance access for those who can't get to a campus regularly. Qualifications be required to be  stacked, so that students will receive a worthwhile outcome from months of study, while still being able to go on to a multi-year one.

Discussion:  hose from First Nations, low socioeconomic backgrounds, disability, regional and rural areas, have been underrepresented at Australian universities, both as students and staff, in part because they simply could not get to a campus. Online access can help correct this form of discrimination, further enhanced with a mobile option (Cochrane, Et. al, 2020). Allowing for online and hybrid access also forces better design of courses and work, lowering other more subtle barriers to access. The Australian government should make online access for staff and students a condition of funding. 

COVID-19 caused Australian higher education, & much of the research effort, to move online. For those trained to teach and work online in a pandemic emergency, this was less challenging (Worthington, 2020, & 2006). 

However, most students were already undertaking most of their studies online pre-COVID, even when officially enrolled on-campus. Researchers also collaborated online, across campus, the continent, and the world. The pandemic made these practices official. Australian institutions should build on the work done during COVID-19, with training provided for staff in how to teach, and work in teams online.

Having shown it is possible to provide an online option for staff and students, universities have a legal obligation to continue to do so. Remove the online option would unlawfully discriminate against those who cannot be there in person, for reasons of economic circumstance, disability, family care, community, or cultural obligations.

3. Investment and affordability

Recommendation 3: Governments fund VET programs for new students, nested with intermediate programs at university. All programs would have the option of competency based assessment, and recognition of prior learning. Funding be provided for university academics to be trained in how to design and teach using these techniques. 

Discussion: The lowest cost course is one the student doesn't have to do. If the student already has the required skills and knowledge, there is no need for them to do a course, and they can move on to something more advanced. This approach is well established in the Vocational Education Sector, but not higher education. It requires staff trained in how to carry out experience based assessment, and to accept qualifications of other institutions. It also requires embracing competency based assessment, which university academics are reluctant to do. These staff need training in how to perform such assessment, and be familiar enough with it that they are willing to accept it.

4. Governance, accountability and community

Anduril Dive-LD Ghost Shark XL-AUV, 
made in Sydney
Recommendation 4: The Australian Government fund  coordinated industry/education programs, starting with a $20B drone defence program. This would research, develop, build and deploy autonomous sub-sea, sea, land, air and space systems. This would include developing  automated systems for additive manufacture, train military personnel in tactics, and set up for mass production.

Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV
made in Queensland.
Discussion: Past education/industry programs have been short term and piecemeal. The Australian Government is expected to spend $171B on nuclear submarines, to be partly built in Australia. However, remote sensing, and drone technology, may have rendered the submarines obsolete, before the first can be completed. The Australian government is already investing in joint air and subsurface drone development with US companies, with prototypes already being tested.

The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which is made in Queensland, and Anduril Dive-LD Ghost Shark extra-large autonomous undersea vehicle (XL-AUV) recently completed in Sydney, show potential. The Australian Higher education sector has already assisted through activities such as the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020, which featured drones. Funds diverted from the nuclear program could make Australia a world leader in drones.

5. The connection between the vocational education and training and higher education systems

Recommendation 5: Governments fund university academics in the teaching techniques and course design approaches, including online, blended, work integrated, and other techniques used in VET.

Discussion: A striking feature of the Australian education system is how the higher the level, the less teaching qualifications are required. School teachers are required to have at least a first degree, and increasingly an advanced degree in teaching. VET teachers need at least a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. However, university academics are expected to teach, and design learning, without any AQF qualification. 

Connecting VET and universities would be much easier if universities had staff qualified to teach. It would help if the teaching include the techniques used in the VET sector, both to improve the quality of university teaching, and allow better integration with the VET sector. This doesn't require university academics sitting in lecture halls listing to lectures on teaching. In fact they should not be doing that, and instead learning online, while teaching. 

6. Quality and sustainability

Recommendation 6: Discontinue the New Colombo Plan program, and instead fund university programs which allow domestic and international students to learn together collaboratively online.

Discussion: After a virus closed campuses in 2003, the National University of Singapore conducted an annual "E-learning Week", to practice teaching online in an emergency (Chandran, 2010). The Australian Government, and universities therefore had plenty of warning of the possibility of a pandemic, and prudent precautions to take.  Unfortunately Government, and most universities, failed to prepare for this known risk. As a result universities had to put in place ad-hoc online learning, using staff untrained for the challenge.

International students could again be kept offshore by a regional security crisis (Worthington, 2017). Also Australian universities face increasing international competition. Rather than just retreat into serving a shrinking premium market for onshore courses, Australian institutions can also offer premium online and blended programs. This can be done by training staff in how to teach online, and challenge the myth that online learning is inferior in quality. This learning can be engaging, and offer international students the chance to study with Australians (Worthington, 2014).

7. Delivering new knowledge, innovation and capability

Recommendation 7: Governments fund training for undergraduate, and graduate students to learn commercialisation techniques, at centres such as the Canberra Innovation Network, while receiving course credit, as exemplified by the ANU Techlauncher program (Worthington, 2019).

Discussion: For university research to deliver practical outcomes, researchers need to learn commercialisation skills. It is not sufficient for a researcher to pass on their discoveries for others to commercialise, they need to be actively involved. This training is best done at the innovation centres located near universities, in partnership with local, state government, and industry. This training should be integrated with formal programs of study, not as an optional extracurricular activity.


Terms of Reference, Review of Australia’s Higher Education, Department of Education, Australian Government, 10 November 2022. URL

Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning, Worthington, Tom, Athabasca University, April 17, 2020.  URL

Wireless Web System for an Avian Influenza Pandemic, Worthington, Tom, Australian National University, March, 2007. URL

Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment, Worthington, Tom., 2017. URL

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

National University of Singapore's Campus-Wide ELearning Week. Chandran, R. (2010, May). In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL

Blend and flip for teaching communication skills to final year international computer science students. Worthington, T. (2019, December).  In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE. URL

A collaborative design model to support hybrid learning environments during COVID-19. Cochrane, T., Birt, J., Cowie, N., Deneen, C., Goldacre, P., Narayan, V., Ransom, L., Sinfield, D., & Worthington, T. (2020, December). In Proceedings of the ASCILITE 37th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education, Armidale, Australia (Vol. 30). URL

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Australian Higher Education Review

Professor Mary O’Kane
The Australian government has tasked Professor Mary O’Kane, and a panel of six other eminent Australians to conduct a Higher Education Review, as part of the Australian Universities Accord. The term "accord" is one Labor governments favour for broad  agreements with sectors of the economy (most famously used for a 1980s agreement with unions). The review's terms of reference emphasises an economic role for universities, including alignment with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, and international education. Submissions have been invited by 19 December 2022.

From the terms of reference

"Key areas for review:

1. Meeting Australia’s knowledge and skills needs, now and in the future

- Enhance the delivery of quality education that meets the needs of students across all stages of lifelong learning and develops the skills needed now, and in the future. This will include recommendations for new targets and reforms recognising that more than nine in ten new jobs will require post-school qualifications, and fifty per cent of new jobs are expected to require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

2. Access and opportunity

- Improve access to higher education, across teaching, learning and research. This will include recommendations for new targets and reforms to support greater access and participation for students from underrepresented backgrounds (including First Nations Australians, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, people with disability, and regional and rural Australians).

3. Investment and affordability

- Explore funding and contribution arrangements that deliver equity, access, quality and longer-term investments to meet priorities in teaching, research, workforce and infrastructure. This will include a review of the Job-ready Graduates Package.4. Governance, accountability and community

-Enhance regulatory and workplace relations settings to support universities to meet their obligations to both staff and students.

-Explore the contribution that higher education makes to the Australian community, national security, and sovereign capability.

5. The connection between the vocational education and training and higher education systems

- Explore possible opportunities to support greater engagement and alignment between the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education systems. In particular, the panel will have regard to the experience of students in navigating these systems and ensuring a cohesive and connected tertiary education system.

6. Quality and sustainability

-Examine the challenges faced by domestic and international students and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary and permanent impacts on the way the higher education sector works.

-Support a competitive and resilient international education sector, reflecting the important role international students play in our society and economy, and Australia’s interest in deepening partnerships abroad.

7. Delivering new knowledge, innovation and capability

- Support a system of university research that delivers for Australia, securing the future of the Australian research pipeline, from basic and translational research to commercialisation. In doing so, the Accord will explore relevant initiatives and other opportunities and to further boost collaboration between universities and industry to drive greater commercial returns.

- The review will synchronise with the ARC review and consider issues raised through that review and other areas of government that impact on the capacity of the higher education system to meet the nation’s current and future needs."

From Terms of Reference,  Review of Australia’s Higher Education, Australian Government, 10 November 2022

Friday, December 2, 2022

QR Codes in Place of Business Cards at Conferences

QR Code from Chrome
QR Code from LinkedIn
There were fewer business cards offered to me at the five conference I attended in Singap
ore recently. It may be a lingering fear of COVID-19, or people have just got out of the habit. One alternative is a QR code scan. This provides a similar ritual: you first can each other's code on your phone, then examine the profile, offering appreciative remarks. The LinkedIn App has a QR code built in, and the Chrome web browser can generate a code for any page.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Charting the Future of Technology in Australia

ACS Canberra meeting room
Greetings from the new Canberra office of the Australian Computer Society. I am here for a planning workshop of the ACS Blockchain Technical Committee, in a small meeting room (my fifth ACS meeting for the week). As it happens there is an ACS Think Tank this afternoon in the main room. 

This room demonstrates a good design for meetings, and education. There is a small stage at one end, with space for four chairs, and a projection screen behind. There is a window into the office area beside the stage. This allows an operator to sit behind the glass, controlling the A/V setup.

There are 30 chairs set out, with five flip top tables on wheels at the back. These are used for holding the snacks during a function, but can be spread out around the room for group work. Along one side is a kitchen with a bench facing the meeting space. Smaller meeting rooms have glass walls into the main space. Each room has two large LCD screens and an inbuilt video conferencing system, and seating for nine people. This layout would be good for a small satellite campus. 

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)


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 (, 
  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.


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

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.


Supernode set for Moreton Bay, Steven Miles, Deputy Premier of Queensland, 8 July, 2022. URL

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.


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:

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.


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. Notes at:

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.