Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Prepare for Regional Conflict to Keep Students Offshore

Dirk Mulder reports that 19% of international students enrolled in Australian universities are offshore (Dirk Mulder on where international students are (and aren't, Campus Morning Mail, 9 August 2022). This may be an underestimate, as it is based on government figures for the number  of students with visas (students studying purely online don't need a visa). The figure is higher for Chinese students (38%), and lower for Indian (10%). The students in China may be unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, it may be that some of these students do not see value in travelling to Australia, and would prefer to study offshore. That option has only been available from a few universities and programs, with most requiring on campus participation. Also students may be taking advantage of Australian university not indicating on transcripts that students studied online. In investigating the possibility of Chinese and Indian students studying at Australian universities online before the pandemic, I noticed that particularly in the case of China online study had a poor reputation. 

Also, in 2016 I warned that international tensions may stop students studying on campus in Australia. The type of tension I had in mind is currently taking place around Taiwan. As I wrote in 2016, Australian universities should be prepared if tension deters, or prevents, students travelling to Australia. This could effect not only Chinese students, but also Indian students, and nationals of other countries in the region. The best way to prepare is to offer quality online learning with a campus option.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Future of Online Universities

Athabasca University (AU), my alma mater, is in dispute with government. This is not a new dispute, and not one confined to Canada. It is about the nature, and future, of universities. AU wants to be virtual, with staff working online from wherever they are, but the Government of Alberta wants staff to live in the town of Athabasca, where the campus is. AU is an online university, so it makes sense to give the staff, as well as the students, the flexibility to work from wherever they want. On the other hand, the Government is funding the university for the benifit of its citizens, particularly those outside cities, in regional areas. Both sides have reasonable points, and this is a dispute not unique to AU, nor new.

Australia has a similar university to AU, which has also had difficulties with government. The University of New England (UNE), is located in the inland Australian city of Armidale. UNE was a pioneer of distance education, providing some of the model for the UK Open University. UNE made the transition to online learning, and has attempted several innovations to suit this environment. However, UNE keeps running up against federal government regulations designed for conventional campus based institutions, and the norms this sets.

Speculation over the future of AU is not new, and there was press speculation of a merger with a conventional Alberta university back in 2013, when I was a student. There was also speculation about moving to a larger city. I asked my tutor at the time, as any student worries that there will not be a university for them to graduate from. The tutor wisely said that this is a perennial issue and not to worry. But the current dispute, seems more heated, and political.

As Robert Pirsig wrote:
 "...the real university exists not as the physical campus, but as a body of reason within the minds of students and teachers ..."

From Chapter 13, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig, 2006
My studies at AU were to explore this idea. By 2016 there were millions of graduates from online universities. However, this was still seen as not the mainstream. This was despite decades of research showing online universities produced good graduates, and the techniques for teaching them being refined. In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, all universities suddenly became online universities. Unfortunately, there was not time to train all university academics in how to teach online. Also some academics were unwilling to accept that teaching online was a well developed field they could learn from. 

The Government of Alberta appears to be acting like academics of the pre-Internet age. The backed a university in a small regional town, to help that town, so they want the university to make its staff live in the town. However, university education doesn't work like that any more. The Government can choose to impose that restriction, and cripple the university, or choose to compromise.

There are dangers both for government and university in this dispute. Students will be reluctant to enroll in an institution which might be sent broke by the government which accredits it. Staff may also simply not apply for jobs at AU, if they may be later required to move to Athabasca. The Government of Alberta needs to be seen to be applying a clear policy on regional development, or face allegations of political pork barreling. Perhaps it is time for the parties to reach a compromise: AU will retain a campus and some academic staff, but will be free to have most academic and teaching staff based elsewhere.

With campus closures due to COVID-19 all universities were suddenly forced to face the implications of the Internet. For years it has been possible to run a university, with most students, and staff, not on a campus. What has held up wider use of this model has been the perception that online education, and work, is inferior. Universities have been able to take the lazy option, promoting their education and research via images of the campus, be it ivy covered stone, or mirrored glass. Now that it has been proven the campus is not important, except for marketing, universities are scrambling to formulate new ways of working. Those institutions were built on a model of distance education, such as Athabasca, have an advantage, as they are set up, with trained staff, to prosper in this new world. I suggest the Government of Alberta allow the university to flourish. It is ironic that I selected AU to study the topic of the virtual university, to help Canberra's institutions

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ukraine President Address to the Australian National University

Audience in ANU Hall 
(still image from ANU TV)
This afternoon, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, addressed staff and students of the Australian National University, via video. He acknowledged Australia's contribution as the largest non-NATO provider of military assistance.

Ukraine have run an impressive Information Warfare campaign, with subtility, and occasional humor. This is a capability Australia needs to build as part of its defence rethink.. 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.
President Zelenskyy speaking to ANU 
(still image from ANU TV)

Cybernetic Leadership.

Professor Genevieve Bell,
Director of the School of Cybernetics 
at the Leadership Launch.
Greetings from the Australian National University where the new School of Cybernetics is launching a program in Cybernetic Leadership, funded by the Menzies Foundation. There is a whitepaper available: "Redefining Leadership in the 21st Century: the View from Cybernetics". Cybernetics started as a engineering concept, where feedback lops are used to control the operation of s system. But this has been broadened to investigate complex systems, and the human aspects of them. As a computer professional interested in the human aspects, I often bump up against these issues.