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. All welcome, via Zoom (no need to register).

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