Sunday, December 25, 2022

A University is Not Just a Place

Professor Gavin Moodie, University of Toronto, recently discussed the effects of a merger between the universities of Adelaide and South Australia. Professor Andrew Norton, Australian National University suggested urban participation rates in universities would decline if funding went to regional campuses. However, these analyses are focused on the physical location of university campuses, which the Internet, and COVID-19 have made much less important for the future of universities. Most university students while officially enrolled on Australian campuses mostly studied online. COVID-19 made this practice official. Australian regional universities already had city satellite campuses. It is possible to envision a future where students can study online, but go to a local shared campus, when required.

This analysis of campus locations sounds a little last century. Like asking where customers will want the telephone installed in their home. Anyone under 50 is going to be confused: "Install a telephone? I have my phone in my pocket: why would I attach it to a wall?". Same with university locations. The students will look bewildered: "Campus? Why would I need a campus? I have the course here on my smartphone".

 Locations of our universities are somewhat arbitrary anyway. The few km around the Sydney CBD has campuses of Charles Sturt University, Edith Cowan University, Western Sydney University, Macquarie University, Victoria University, Federation University Australia, University of the Sunshine Coast, La Trobe University, The University of Notre Dame Australia (two sites), Torrens University Australia (two sites), Charles Darwin University, and University of Tasmania, as well as University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney. 

Torrens Building Adelaide, 
Photo by Bahudhara
CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Adelaide's Torrens Building is an interesting model for Australian Higher Education: multiple online universities wrapped in one sandstone facade

It would be tempting to merge universites in one city. However, it may not make sense to bind universities to a place in this way. The issue is largey one of marketing, not education, or administrative efficiency. Most staff and students will not be on a campus most of the time, so who they administrative report to, where, doesn't much matter. 

Torrens University Australia, provides an interesting model, with specialised campuses across Australia. Open Universities Australia is an example of national cooperation by public universities. That approach could be replicated physically, by regional universities sharing campuses.

ps: I was just contacted by someone who has started a course at Athabasca University in Canada, asking for some advice (I studied there). Of course neither of us have ever actually been to Athabasca, where the campus is. I am not even on the same continent.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

My Factory Floor is an Outdoor Cafe at a University

Tom Worthington at ANU Coffee Grounds Cafe.
Photo by Tom Worthington CC-BY 2022
Greetings from the Coffee Grounds Cafe, at the Australian National University. in Canberra. I just met with a PhD student who is researching an ancient dead language, and working on a commercial spinoff, while employed part time by the government.  Someone who talks to university donors happened past with a project needing funding. I jokingly described this table under a tree at the cafe as my factory floor. This is where I meet people to get things done, some planned, some accidental.

Later I bumped into someone and discussed if I would be helping assess applications for course credit of international students again next year. On Thursday I am having lunch with people to organise the work integrated learning of computer students. Coffee Grounds makes up part of the almost invisible infrastructure which provides the link between higher education and innovation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

What is Coming Soon with Educational Technology in Australia and New Zealand

ASCILITE have released their first "Scanning the Australasian Ed Tech Horizon: The 2021-2022 Contextualising Horizon Report" (Campbell, Porter, Logan-Fleming, & Jones, 2022). It is a big title for a relatively short 47 page report. This covers  rethinking lectures and assessment, blended learning, Co-design and Microcredentials. The bigger picture is covered with rethinking the university experience, and support for staff and learners. This will be useful for administrators and academics considering what to do post-COVID. 

The most telling point for me in the report was:
"Higher education needs to mainstream assessment design that better prepares graduates with 21st century skills for an ambiguous future". 
 (Page 15, emphasis added). 
The key point here is "mainstream". We already know how to improve assessment, and a few of us are doing it. The problem is to make this use widespread, and routine, not something novel a few do. Online learning, was proven years before COVID, but took the threat of financial ruin, and death, to make mainstream. Hopefully improved assessment can be introduced without a similar crisis. But it may take a little pressure from funding and accrediting bodies, to push universities into this.

I was one of those who pressed for my professional body to require students to have 21st century communication and teamwork skills. Universities agreed to do this, not necessarily because they thought it was a good idea, but because if they did not they would not be accredited and international students would not enroll. It takes a staff with new qualifications to teach these new skills.

The report is optimistic about online learning: 
"Higher education learners are choosing the convenience and flexibility of online learning, and it is therefore less likely that higher education will flip back to face-to-face teaching to the same extent as has occurred in the school sector. Learners in higher education are largely there by choice and will likely select providers that enable them to juggle study as part of their increasingly complex lives." (Page 15)
However, how will these online learners be treated? Pre-COVID-19, most university students were studying mostly online, despite being officially registered on campus. The students took advantage of the online services offered. COVID-19 forced universities to take online students more seriously, and not pretend they weren't there (or they were in the classroom). Especially in the case of international students, online mode creates marketing and administrative problems for universities. It is difficult to market online study as a premium product with high fees. If a student has to turn up to campus to meet the requirements of a student visa, then dejour online courses are not relevant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Designing for online, blended and synchronous learning for computing students

Today I talked to the participants of Thomas Cochrane's "Design for Transformative Mobile Learning Design BootCamp", along with other authors of the paper, "Analysing mobile learning designs: A framework for transforming learning post-COVID" (2022). 
The talk gave me a needed confidence boost, as I was writing Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education, and thinking: "What do I know about higher education?". After the talk, I realised "I know something about it", as Dr McCoy would say. ;-)


Cochrane, T. D., Narayan, V., Aiello, S., Alizadeh, M., Birt, J., Bone, E., Cowie, N., Cowling, M., Deneen, C., Goldacre, P., Sinfield, D., Stretton, T., & Worthington, T. (2022). Analysing mobile learning designs: A framework for transforming learning post-COVID. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology38(4), 1–21.

Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education

The Higher Education Review Terms of Reference, lists seven key areas for consideration (Department of Education, 2022). Here are some thoughts on the topic. Please note that while I am an Honorary Lecturer in Computing at the Australian National University, and a member of the Professional Standards Board of the Australian Computer Society, these recommendations are my own, and may not represent the views of any organisation I am associated with. 

The Review has asked for priorities. I suggest no radical change is needed. Universities should continue to provide educated professionals for the workplace, and applied research for industry, supported by fundamental research. Better funding of, and linkage with the VET sector is needed. This can be facilitated by training university academics in how to teach, using the work integrated techniques used in VET. Australia should double down on the use of online blended, and mobile learning, and promote this for international students. Government should target strategic areas for HE/industry cooperation, starting with a $20B defence drone program.

Recommendations on the Review Topics

1. Meeting Australia’s knowledge and skills needs, now and in the future

Recommendation 1: Australian universities should continue to be funded to focus on educating professionals, conducting applied research for industry, supported by fundamental research. The funding for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in preparing professionals, both before and after university, should be expanded. 

Discussion: Universities should continue to provide first, and advanced degrees, with some vocational institutions offering first degrees, and other shorter qualifications. All should offer options for competency based, stacked short qualifications, with work integrated learning, and project capstones, as recently announced by Singapore Institute of Technology.

From the establishment of the first university, the top priority for Australian higher education has been to educate professionals for the workforce. The second priority has been applied research, in support of industry. Both education and applied research have been supported by fundamental research. There is no need to change these priorities. 

Alongside universities, have been vocational institutions, providing more focused courses, and providing  specific skills needed immediately. Schools have also been able to provide vocational qualifications, as well as preparation for university. A minority of jobs will require a bachelor's degree, or higher, as the specific skills required will be specified using small skills units, which can be obtained via industry certification, VET, or university.

2. Access and opportunity

Recommendation 2: Government funding should be contingent on universities continuing to offer online, blended, and mobile learning, as a way to enhance access for those who can't get to a campus regularly. Qualifications be required to be  stacked, so that students will receive a worthwhile outcome from months of study, while still being able to go on to a multi-year one.

Discussion:  hose from First Nations, low socioeconomic backgrounds, disability, regional and rural areas, have been underrepresented at Australian universities, both as students and staff, in part because they simply could not get to a campus. Online access can help correct this form of discrimination, further enhanced with a mobile option (Cochrane, Et. al, 2020). Allowing for online and hybrid access also forces better design of courses and work, lowering other more subtle barriers to access. The Australian government should make online access for staff and students a condition of funding. 

COVID-19 caused Australian higher education, & much of the research effort, to move online. For those trained to teach and work online in a pandemic emergency, this was less challenging (Worthington, 2020, & 2006). 

However, most students were already undertaking most of their studies online pre-COVID, even when officially enrolled on-campus. Researchers also collaborated online, across campus, the continent, and the world. The pandemic made these practices official. Australian institutions should build on the work done during COVID-19, with training provided for staff in how to teach, and work in teams online.

Having shown it is possible to provide an online option for staff and students, universities have a legal obligation to continue to do so. Remove the online option would unlawfully discriminate against those who cannot be there in person, for reasons of economic circumstance, disability, family care, community, or cultural obligations.

3. Investment and affordability

Recommendation 3: Governments fund VET programs for new students, nested with intermediate programs at university. All programs would have the option of competency based assessment, and recognition of prior learning. Funding be provided for university academics to be trained in how to design and teach using these techniques. 

Discussion: The lowest cost course is one the student doesn't have to do. If the student already has the required skills and knowledge, there is no need for them to do a course, and they can move on to something more advanced. This approach is well established in the Vocational Education Sector, but not higher education. It requires staff trained in how to carry out experience based assessment, and to accept qualifications of other institutions. It also requires embracing competency based assessment, which university academics are reluctant to do. These staff need training in how to perform such assessment, and be familiar enough with it that they are willing to accept it.

4. Governance, accountability and community

Anduril Dive-LD Ghost Shark XL-AUV, 
made in Sydney
Recommendation 4: The Australian Government fund  coordinated industry/education programs, starting with a $20B drone defence program. This would research, develop, build and deploy autonomous sub-sea, sea, land, air and space systems. This would include developing  automated systems for additive manufacture, train military personnel in tactics, and set up for mass production.

Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV
made in Queensland.
Discussion: Past education/industry programs have been short term and piecemeal. The Australian Government is expected to spend $171B on nuclear submarines, to be partly built in Australia. However, remote sensing, and drone technology, may have rendered the submarines obsolete, before the first can be completed. The Australian government is already investing in joint air and subsurface drone development with US companies, with prototypes already being tested.

The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which is made in Queensland, and Anduril Dive-LD Ghost Shark extra-large autonomous undersea vehicle (XL-AUV) recently completed in Sydney, show potential. The Australian Higher education sector has already assisted through activities such as the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020, which featured drones. Funds diverted from the nuclear program could make Australia a world leader in drones.

5. The connection between the vocational education and training and higher education systems

Recommendation 5: Governments fund university academics in the teaching techniques and course design approaches, including online, blended, work integrated, and other techniques used in VET.

Discussion: A striking feature of the Australian education system is how the higher the level, the less teaching qualifications are required. School teachers are required to have at least a first degree, and increasingly an advanced degree in teaching. VET teachers need at least a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. However, university academics are expected to teach, and design learning, without any AQF qualification. 

Connecting VET and universities would be much easier if universities had staff qualified to teach. It would help if the teaching include the techniques used in the VET sector, both to improve the quality of university teaching, and allow better integration with the VET sector. This doesn't require university academics sitting in lecture halls listing to lectures on teaching. In fact they should not be doing that, and instead learning online, while teaching. 

6. Quality and sustainability

Recommendation 6: Discontinue the New Colombo Plan program, and instead fund university programs which allow domestic and international students to learn together collaboratively online.

Discussion: After a virus closed campuses in 2003, the National University of Singapore conducted an annual "E-learning Week", to practice teaching online in an emergency (Chandran, 2010). The Australian Government, and universities therefore had plenty of warning of the possibility of a pandemic, and prudent precautions to take.  Unfortunately Government, and most universities, failed to prepare for this known risk. As a result universities had to put in place ad-hoc online learning, using staff untrained for the challenge.

International students could again be kept offshore by a regional security crisis (Worthington, 2017). Also Australian universities face increasing international competition. Rather than just retreat into serving a shrinking premium market for onshore courses, Australian institutions can also offer premium online and blended programs. This can be done by training staff in how to teach online, and challenge the myth that online learning is inferior in quality. This learning can be engaging, and offer international students the chance to study with Australians (Worthington, 2014).

7. Delivering new knowledge, innovation and capability

Recommendation 7: Governments fund training for undergraduate, and graduate students to learn commercialisation techniques, at centres such as the Canberra Innovation Network, while receiving course credit, as exemplified by the ANU Techlauncher program (Worthington, 2019).

Discussion: For university research to deliver practical outcomes, researchers need to learn commercialisation skills. It is not sufficient for a researcher to pass on their discoveries for others to commercialise, they need to be actively involved. This training is best done at the innovation centres located near universities, in partnership with local, state government, and industry. This training should be integrated with formal programs of study, not as an optional extracurricular activity.


Terms of Reference, Review of Australia’s Higher Education, Department of Education, Australian Government, 10 November 2022. URL

Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning, Worthington, Tom, Athabasca University, April 17, 2020.  URL

Wireless Web System for an Avian Influenza Pandemic, Worthington, Tom, Australian National University, March, 2007. URL

Digital Teaching In Higher Education: Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment, Worthington, Tom., 2017. URL

Chinese and Australian students learning to work together: online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. Worthington, T. (2014, August). In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 164-168). IEEE. URL

National University of Singapore's Campus-Wide ELearning Week. Chandran, R. (2010, May). In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL

Blend and flip for teaching communication skills to final year international computer science students. Worthington, T. (2019, December).  In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE. URL

A collaborative design model to support hybrid learning environments during COVID-19. Cochrane, T., Birt, J., Cowie, N., Deneen, C., Goldacre, P., Narayan, V., Ransom, L., Sinfield, D., & Worthington, T. (2020, December). In Proceedings of the ASCILITE 37th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education, Armidale, Australia (Vol. 30). URL

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Australian Higher Education Review

Professor Mary O’Kane
The Australian government has tasked Professor Mary O’Kane, and a panel of six other eminent Australians to conduct a Higher Education Review, as part of the Australian Universities Accord. The term "accord" is one Labor governments favour for broad  agreements with sectors of the economy (most famously used for a 1980s agreement with unions). The review's terms of reference emphasises an economic role for universities, including alignment with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, and international education. Submissions have been invited by 19 December 2022.

From the terms of reference

"Key areas for review:

1. Meeting Australia’s knowledge and skills needs, now and in the future

- Enhance the delivery of quality education that meets the needs of students across all stages of lifelong learning and develops the skills needed now, and in the future. This will include recommendations for new targets and reforms recognising that more than nine in ten new jobs will require post-school qualifications, and fifty per cent of new jobs are expected to require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

2. Access and opportunity

- Improve access to higher education, across teaching, learning and research. This will include recommendations for new targets and reforms to support greater access and participation for students from underrepresented backgrounds (including First Nations Australians, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, people with disability, and regional and rural Australians).

3. Investment and affordability

- Explore funding and contribution arrangements that deliver equity, access, quality and longer-term investments to meet priorities in teaching, research, workforce and infrastructure. This will include a review of the Job-ready Graduates Package.4. Governance, accountability and community

-Enhance regulatory and workplace relations settings to support universities to meet their obligations to both staff and students.

-Explore the contribution that higher education makes to the Australian community, national security, and sovereign capability.

5. The connection between the vocational education and training and higher education systems

- Explore possible opportunities to support greater engagement and alignment between the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education systems. In particular, the panel will have regard to the experience of students in navigating these systems and ensuring a cohesive and connected tertiary education system.

6. Quality and sustainability

-Examine the challenges faced by domestic and international students and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary and permanent impacts on the way the higher education sector works.

-Support a competitive and resilient international education sector, reflecting the important role international students play in our society and economy, and Australia’s interest in deepening partnerships abroad.

7. Delivering new knowledge, innovation and capability

- Support a system of university research that delivers for Australia, securing the future of the Australian research pipeline, from basic and translational research to commercialisation. In doing so, the Accord will explore relevant initiatives and other opportunities and to further boost collaboration between universities and industry to drive greater commercial returns.

- The review will synchronise with the ARC review and consider issues raised through that review and other areas of government that impact on the capacity of the higher education system to meet the nation’s current and future needs."

From Terms of Reference,  Review of Australia’s Higher Education, Australian Government, 10 November 2022

Friday, December 2, 2022

QR Codes in Place of Business Cards at Conferences

QR Code from Chrome
QR Code from LinkedIn
There were fewer business cards offered to me at the five conference I attended in Singap
ore recently. It may be a lingering fear of COVID-19, or people have just got out of the habit. One alternative is a QR code scan. This provides a similar ritual: you first can each other's code on your phone, then examine the profile, offering appreciative remarks. The LinkedIn App has a QR code built in, and the Chrome web browser can generate a code for any page.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Charting the Future of Technology in Australia

ACS Canberra meeting room
Greetings from the new Canberra office of the Australian Computer Society. I am here for a planning workshop of the ACS Blockchain Technical Committee, in a small meeting room (my fifth ACS meeting for the week). As it happens there is an ACS Think Tank this afternoon in the main room. 

This room demonstrates a good design for meetings, and education. There is a small stage at one end, with space for four chairs, and a projection screen behind. There is a window into the office area beside the stage. This allows an operator to sit behind the glass, controlling the A/V setup.

There are 30 chairs set out, with five flip top tables on wheels at the back. These are used for holding the snacks during a function, but can be spread out around the room for group work. Along one side is a kitchen with a bench facing the meeting space. Smaller meeting rooms have glass walls into the main space. Each room has two large LCD screens and an inbuilt video conferencing system, and seating for nine people. This layout would be good for a small satellite campus.