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.