Sunday, January 30, 2022

Mentoring Academic Educators

One of the things which kept me sane through two years of COVID-19 were activities of the professional bodies I belong to (and some I don't. An organisation which managed the pivot online well was ASCILITE (the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education). As well as attending a weekly ML-Sig (Mobile learning Special Interest Group), and presenting papers at two annual online conferences, I mentored an educator from another university in the CMP (ASCILITE Community Mentoring Program). Below is what we wrote in our report, presented at the 2021 conference.

I had mentored individual students and teams before, for startup projects. I had also given one off advice to colleagues (someone times solicited, sometimes not). But this was the first time I had a long term formal mentoring arrangement with a peer. After we were matched up I wondered why I was mentoring someone who had more experience in education than I had, and it turned into an equal exchange of ideas.


  • Mentee: Furthering my academic career through publication
  • Mentor: Decide if I have a future in academia

What We Did

  1. Managed to meet face to face over lunch once in early 2021, between lock-downs
  2. Met twice via Zoom.
  3. Email exchange each month or so.
  4. Once more by lunch in late 2021.

What We Found

Much in common, being experienced educators, not from an academic research background.


  1. Mentee: Goal accomplished, with paper submitted on the the flipped classroom to a journal. Got a new, higher paying, job.
  2. Mentor: Decided I have a future in academia.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Degree Credit for Activist MOOC

Athabasca University are offering credit towards a Masters degree for the course "Toward Co-operative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century". This is described as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on . MOOCs were widely discussed a few years ago, but have fallen out of favor with educators. Many signed up for these free and low cost courses, but few completed them. Some universities offered course credit for MOOCs, but this usually involved extra assessment, cost, and administrative steps. In one case I looked at, the MOOC path cost more than  conventional study at a vocational college. The Synergia Co-operative Institute, a Canadian not-for profit, who are offing the MOOC, and Athabasca University, have tweaked the process to try and overcome these problems. 

The practice with past MOOCs was to make them free. If you wanted a certificate of completion, there was a fee for that, and some had an extra assessment fee to be used for course credit at a university. As a result many people registered for free out of curiosity, but never completed. MOOCs typically had a completion rate of 5% or less. Those how persisted for a few weeks were more likely to complete, indicating many were just curious.

As I discovered myself, having paid a fee makes you far more likely to complete a course. However, that results in equity issues, where those less able to pay are barred form the course. Synergia have addressed this by having a full fee of CA$140, a reduced fee for those on low incomes of CA$70, and a "solidarity fee" of a minimum of CA$1. It would be interesting to see what effect a $1 fee has on completion. 

Athabasca University are taking a cautious approach to credit for the MOOC. Rather than equating them to specific university courses, as some institutions have done (usually an introductory course), these are offered as Prior Learning Assessment credits. The catch, not mentioned in Synergia's documentary, is that Athabasca University's prior learning assessment process costs CA$884. This is less than the fees for a university course, but six times the full fee for the MOOC.  This process is expensive as each RPL has to be individually assessed, and is difficult (I went through it for an Australian certificate). Given in this case the RPL is for a course designed by Athabasca staff, the process should be easier, and the fee lower.

The MOOC is interesting in offering three levels of involvement for students: Explorer (1.5 to 2 hours a week), Changemaker (3 hours per week), Deep Diver (more than 3 hours a week). MOOCs commonly rely on prepared videos and reading materials (much like pre-Internet distance education), however Synergia offer "Peer Working Groups", which are essentially tutor-less tutorial groups. 

    Monday, January 3, 2022

    Australian Next Generation Graduates Build Underwater Drones for Navy

    The CSIRO has invited universities and industry to develop themes for training Next Generation Graduates in artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber security, quantum computing, blockchain and data. The plan is to have students undertake projects which contribute large multi-disciplinary programs, working on real-world problems, with industry. But, I suggest going further and having students work in teams on projects, not as individuals. That will require some training for the students (and their supervisors), and a change to the usual individual assessment system. Some of the ideas in the ANU TechLauncher program could be used. 

    Also I suggest this be done across locations and institutions. By having students work with those in other institutions, in other places, it will provide useful skills, and as a byproduct, provide scope for cross fertilization between institutions. This will not happen by default, as it is hard to do. One think I help with for Techlauncher is have students explain what they have learned at the end of their program, by writing an application for a job, research or start-up grant. 

    In terms of projects, I suggest a smart Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV), the size of a Mark 54 Lightweight Torpedo, for the ADF to use for surveillance and attack, implementing ideas from the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020