Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Back to the Conference Face to Face

I’m planning to attend to EDUtech Asia in Singapore, 8 to 10 November. This will be my first big conference face to face since the pandemic started in early 2022. I will be going early for the Singapore Fintech Festival, 2 to 4 November, and the Predict22 Singapore Summit, 1 to 2 November.  I have decided to not to volunteer to present at the conferences, but happy to speak at a university, or professional meeting (let me know if you would like a talk).

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On Campus Online

Greetings from the The Australian National University, where I have been helping ANU Careers teach ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science students how to apply for a job. Today we had Benjamin Luton, Technical Principal from Contino talk to the students. Last week it was David Parums, from Black Mountain Construction, and Thomas Griffiths, from Social Pinpoint.

These are computing students at Australia's leading university, undertaking a technical degree in a highly sought after field. But what shocks them after mastering the intricacies of a very technical field is that employers want people who can talk to customers. Students, especially STEM students, find all this "soft skills" stuff, very hard. So me have them practice talking to each other, and talking to real clients.


This semester we have students back on campus, but not all of them. So we are operating in hybrid mode, with most instructors in a classroom, with some students, and others online via video conference. This makes for a high workload for those coordinating presentations, and breakout rooms.




Saturday, September 24, 2022

Teenage Angst in the Inner West of Sydney

The play "THE OTHER END OF THE AFTERNOON" by BOKKIE ROBERTSON at the New Theater Sydney last night was big on teenage angst, perhaps more than I wanted in the long 50 minutes before interval. The play focused on the daily worries of teenagers from blended and broken homes, balancing study, work, relationships, and their parents expectations.

There was more characters talking to the audience than each other, which took some getting used to. But things settled down after the interval, and the young actors (much older, but credible as teenagers) had something worthwhile to say. 

While the teenagers were well rounded the adults were two dimensional, but perhaps that's how teenagers see adults. About half way through I worked out the ending, and it was a little too unrealistically positive. But this was an okay romp.

ps: I meant to post this review to my other blog "Net Traveler". but was using the phone to do it, so didn't notice. But the play is on topic, as it explored issues of private versus public education, the role for private tutors, and vocational versus university learning. 


How Successful, and Micro, are Micro-credential Programs?


The government of the Canadian province of Alberta has announced a CA$8M, two year micro-credential program. This follows a CA$5.6M 2021 pilot program. But how successful was the pilot? How much shorter, cheaper, and successful are the micro-credentials, compared to existing vocational and university short qualifications? Do these help disadvantaged students, or primarily help those already better off?

Who Gets the Help?

I was unable to find any report on the outcomes of Alberta's pilot microcredentials program. It would be useful to know the completion rate for low socioeconomic status students. Also a useful rubric would be the increase in income of graduates, compared to those who undertook existing conventional short vocational and university qualifications. 

One of the problems which has occurred with previous initiatives, such as Distance Education, and Massive open online courses (MOOCS), is that they tend to benifit those who are already well off, and well credentialed. Funding bodies, and educational institutions tend to underestimate the resources needed, and the cost of supporting the students who need the help. 

How micro are the microcredentials? 

The previous Australian government talked about microcredentials, but what they actually funded were conventional 12 week vocational & university certificates. Those are useful qualifications, but were not really new, or micro, credentials. The Australian government funded six month undergraduate certificates. These were a new credential, but were mostly implemented by universities packaging up existing courses from the first semester of a degree. That allowed for rapid implementation, and nesting with degrees, but not much in the way of helping disadvantaged students, or addressing new industry needs,

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Why Don't Academics Want to Provide the Education Students Need?

Neil Raven,
 
In "Why not HE? The reasons those from under-represented backgrounds decide against university", Neil Raven looks at recent research on why low Socioeconomic Status background (SES) students are underrepresented at university. But I suggest the studies perhaps show a need for research into those providing the education, as much as those seeking it.

The research shows that, as expected, those from less wealthy backgrounds want to get a qualification for a job quickly, and are interested therefore in forms of apprenticeship, where they can work and study at the same time. It is good to have one's personal experience validated by research (I am from a low SES background), but I suggest the research needs to go further and look at why HE is not routinely providing the form of education the students want.

The idea that students want vocationally orientated, part-time, off-campus education appears to be treated as an embarrassment, and inconvenience, by many academics. On-campus graduate research is what they focus on, plus some full time, on-campus students to help pay the bills, and to provide future researchers. But why is this? It is simply self interest, or are there deeper reason for the disconnect with what the customer wants? I suggest this is a fruitful area for research.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Active Learning Spaces Require Active Teaching

Ralph, Schneider, Benson, and Ward (2022) caution that the benefits of active learning may not be available to all students, due to a lack of space, marginalizing some. However, I suggest COVID-19 may have solved the problem, by accelerating the move to online learning.

Universities now have far more teaching space than needed for the number of students who turn up to class. My guess, and it is only a guess, is we can expect about 5% to 10% of students to turn up to class, down from 25% to 33% pre-pandemic (with the balance participating online). This provides the opportunity to decommission old lecture theaters, and replace them with active learning spaces, having flat floors.

Some large spaces can be equipped with retracting theater seating, for occasional lectures. But what we then need to do is train teaching staff so they don't waste the time of students by giving lectures, and instead focus on helping students to work together.

ANU Marie Reay Teaching Centre

An example of a modern active campus redevelopment is the Australian National University's Kambri. The Marie Reay Teaching Centre was built from pre-fabricated engineered timber, with small, medium and large flat floor classrooms for active learning (Worthington, 2019). The adjacent Manning Clarke Center, has several large event rooms, with retractable theater seating.  

References

Ralph, M. C., Schneider, B., Benson, D. R., & Ward, D. (2022). Separated by spaces: Undergraduate students re-sort along attitude divides when choosing whether to learn in spaces designed for active learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14697874221118866. https://doi.org/10.1177/14697874221118866

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 (Presentation notes: https://www.tomw.net.au/technology/education/learning_to_reflect/tale2019_blend_flip_worthington_final.pdf)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Less Conventional Institutions Sweep Good Universities Guide 2023 Awards

Congratulations to James Birt & others at Bond University, for six awards in the Good Universities Guide 2023 Awards. It is interesting to see how Bond, along with University of New England, beat the more conventional institutions. Bond is a small, business teaching-focused, private not-for-profit university. UNE pioneered distance education in the 1950s, and was one of the models for the UK Open University.

But students need to keep in mind that Australia doesn't have any bad universities. Our universities, public or private, not or for-profit, research or education focused, are all good.

 ps: I am delighted to have helped ANU win for "Staff Qualifications". ;-)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Language Teaching Tech Innovation

Greetings from the ASCILITE Mobile Learning Special Interest Group, where Paul Raine, developer of Zengengo, is talking on developing apps for language teaching. He is in Japan, along with two other of the Sig members, some are in NZ, and the rest Australia. He is discussing how to develop mobile versus web applications. As well as being a teacher and entrepreneur, he has published academics papers on language learning, and a series of webinars.

An import point Paul made was that web based products need to have a source of revenue. Edmodo recently shut down due to a lack of advertising revenue.

Paul suggested you don't have to throw away the Learning Management System investment, such as in Moodle, but can add new functions, for example language learning.

Paul is getting into the theory, with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The practical implications of this is that students need help to learn, step by step. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Wide Angle View of Hybrid Classroom

Screenshot from AI, ML & Friends Seminar, 
Greetings from the weekly AI, ML and Friends Seminar, at the ANU School of Computing. Last week I was in the room, but this week I am zooming in. As well as the slides, the Zoom session features a wide angle view of the room, from the back. At first I wondered why, as you can't clearly see the speaker, or read what is on the board. But this turns out to be useful for getting an idea of what is going on. At the start of an event you can look at the image and see people are still milling around. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Casual Tutoring in Computing Available at the Australian National University

The School of Computing at the Australian National University has opened applications for casual tutoring for Semester 1 2023.  The School teaches everything from AI and machine learning, systems, software, theory, analytics, to the practicalities of  project management teams (I help with that in Techlauncher). Paid training is provided, & ACT Government staff visit the campus to help with getting your Working With Vulnerable People card.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Most Students Are Not Coming Back to Class So Get Used to It

Returning to Uni (Video),
ABC TV, 6 September 2022
Victoria has made a pitch to absent international students to return. However, while acknowledging the efforts of the marketers of Australian education, I suggest this is domed to failure, and counterproductive. This signals to potential students that Australia's higher education system is inflexible, unwilling to cater to student's needs, and that our academics don't understand that things have changed, permanently. I suggest that the fantasy of a return to full classrooms needs to be challenged, before it does permanent damage to our education system, harming staff and students. This is not to say Australia can't have vibrant campuses, or students in class, but students have to be actively engaged when there, working to together, not passively listening to boring lectures.

It is confronting for a "lecturer" to admit that lectures are obsolete. I had this Epiphany in 2008, but it took years to retrain in more effective, online, blended, and hybrid teaching techniques. Australian universities need to make this change while they still can. Each day I see photographs taken by lecturers of empty lecture theaters, who are devastated by the fact that most of their students did not turn up. The lecturers contemplate drastic measures to force students back to class. I understand the anguish this situation causes for dedicated teachers, but the difficult solution is for them to learn to teach effectively.

Australian universities failed to prepare for a crisis which forced students off campus, despite being warned years in advance, and despite the example of universities in other countries which did. Despite that crisis occurring two years ago with COVID-19, and the shift to online learning as envisaged, most Australian universities, and academics, are unwilling to accept this is not temporary.

Most students never came to most classes, before COVID-19. About a quarter to a third of students turned up. Most students are not coming back to class after COVID-19. We can expect about 5% to 10% in the classroom, with the balance of the same quarter to a third participating synchronously online. Australian universities need to accept that fact, and provide a 21 century education.

Pre-COVID19 most students did not attend class, as they had lives, jobs, and families. Instead students made do with notes (as they always had), as well as videos, and online materials. This defacto blended/online education was not ideal, but workable. However, purpose designed flexible learning can be so much better. It can put resources into what actually helps students learn, rather than what is easiest for researchers, who are part time teachers, to deliver. This takes training, and time to prepare, but lowers the stress level for staff and students.

It is possible to design courses which can be delivered entirely online, but which have optional campus components, for students who have the time, and feel the need. Campuses can attract students, working together in supervised classes, and also in self organised teams on projects, with staff available when needed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Cybersecurity Startups in Canberra

 Greetings from the University of Canberra where startup companies are pitching. The theme this evening is cybersecurity. This was opened by Air Vice Marshall Neil Hart, Director of the Canberra CyberHub.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Cyber-criminals as Modern State Sponsored Pirates

Greetings from the Australian National University where Professor Andrew Goldsmith is speaking on "Cyber-criminals as semi-state actors: weaponising ransomware and the Russia/Ukraine conflict". He pointed out that ransomware attacks thought to be originating from Russia are using software which is more normally used for extracting information from systems than simply blackmailing, suggesting a state sponsored role. Professor Goldsmith then went back to the past and pointed out that states in the past have sanctioned private for-profit military operations, in the form of piracy. He says ransomware is attractive as it is financially rewarding for private groups, while being deniable for the state and recommended Egloff (2018). 

Professor Goldsmith asserted that Australian government doesn't have cyber-security capabilities, and has to rely on companies. I suggested that perhaps we needed the equivalent of a coastguard used to combat piracy, that is a force combining the features of military and police. Professor Goldsmith responded that to combat a network, you need your own network, but that having companies conducting offensive cyber-warfare was problematic. The solution, I suggest, is to have reserve ADF personnel, who are continually trained using educational technology, working for the companies. They can look for attacks in their civilian day job, and if an offensive response is needed, put on their uniform. 

References

Egloff, F. (2018). Cybersecurity and non-state actors: a historical analogy with mercantile companies, privateers, and pirates [PhD thesis]. University of Oxford. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:77eb9bad-ca00-48b3-abcf-d284c6d27571/

Monday, September 5, 2022

Bluetooth microphones for low cost team teaching & events audio?

Alead Nolan MIC2
Bluetooth Microphone
Lewinner Lavalier Microphone

Sitting in a meeting discussing ways to provide audio for team teaching and events at universities. Rooms are normally equipped with a couple of microphones for teaching. But for more active classes, and events, there may be a half dozen people speaking. Buying professional grade microphones gets expensive. 

Blue Tooth 5.0 Transmitter
Receiver
Audio Adapter

There are Bluetooth lapel microphones for around $100. But other small units designed for making ordinary headphones wireless, at about $20.

The output from multiple Bluetooth microphones could be received by a laptop, or tablet computer and combined using a mixer app (with no additional hardware required). Anyone know of such a setup, please let me know. 

Learning to Build a Nano-satellite

Greetings from the Birch Building at the Australian National University, where I am learning the basics of building a nano-satellite, from Dr Shinya Fujita, Senior Assistant Professor, Tohoku University, Japan. You have heard the expression "It is not rocket science", well this is. But we are starting with the simple stuff: what is a nano-satellite (1 to 10 kg). These craft are becoming popular, as advances in electronics make them more capable, relatively cheap, and able to be launched by more countries (such as Australia and NZ).

An innovation which has made nanosats popular is standardization. An example is the cubesat, made in units of 100 mm cubes, weighing no more than 
2 kg each. The standard units allow easy manufacture and packaging for launch of multiple satellites. Cubesats can be piggybacked on launches of larger satellites, fitted into empty spaces.  This is also a very familiar size, being about the width of a brick. 

Nano-satellites tend to be in a low earth orbit, so they can capture higher resolution images, and use smaller radios, but this requires ground stations which can track a moving target. 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Digital Legislation

Greetings from the Australasian National University where Dr. Guido Governatori is speaking on "Digital Legislation" at a AI, ML and Friends Seminar. The idea is to have legislation which computers can read and interpret as computer code. Dr. Governatori commented he was not talking about Robodebt, which failed due to a data problem, with social services not having tax data. He said he would talk about smart contracts, which are neither smart, or contracts. The claim is that this will reduce the burden on business, as an automated system can work though all the legal obligations. However, I suggest this might increase the burden, as it would allow much more, and more intricate legislation to be written. Also not only black letter law, issued by the legislature will be need to be encoded, but also case law from courts.