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. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Ukraine President to Address ANU Online Wednesday, All Welcome

Volodymyr Zelenskyy,
President of Ukraine
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, will speak via video to staff and students of the Australian National University, 5 pm AEST, Wednesday 3 August. This is booked out, but you can watch online.

The Ukraine Ambassador to Australia, who was previously the country's head of information warfare, previously talked at ANU in person. 

ps: Volodymyr Zelenskyy's comedy TV series "Servant Of The People" is available from SBS On Demand. ;-)

Green IT and Electrically Actuated Microbeams

A piezoelectric microbeam with rectangular
cross-section and its coordinate system. 
R. Ansari et. al. doi:10.1155/2014/598292
CC BY 4 2014
I am delighted any time my work is cited. But I feel like I have become a character in The Big Bag Theory, after a mention in "Electrically Actuated Microbeams: An Explicit Calculation of the Coulomb Integral in the Entire Stable and Unstable Regimes Using a Chebyshev-Edgeworth Approach" (Schenk,  Melnikov, Wall, Gaudet, Stolz, Schuffenhauer, & Kaiser, 2022). If you are wondering, as I did, what a Microbeam (or Coulomb actuated microbeam) is, this microelectromechanical system is a tiny strip of material which is made to bend when electricity is applied. These are used by the million in optical displays, and in sensors. Requiring only a tiny electrical current, they reduce the energy needed, and so the authors cited  my book on ICT Sustainability (Worthington, 2017).


Schenk, H. A., Melnikov, A., Wall, F., Gaudet, M., Stolz, M., Schuffenhauer, D., & Kaiser, B. (2022). Electrically Actuated Microbeams: An Explicit Calculation of the Coulomb Integral in the Entire Stable and Unstable Regimes Using a Chebyshev-Edgeworth Approach. Physical Review Applied18(1), 014059. https://journals.aps.org/prapplied/pdf/10.1103/PhysRevApplied.18.014059

Worthington, T. (2017). ICT Sustainability: Assessment and strategies for a low carbon future. Lulu. com. https://www.tomw.net.au/ict_sustainability/introduction.shtml

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Drones and Global Order

Greetings from the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific where a panel is speaking on "Drones and Global Order: Reflections on Ukraine". This is to discuss the book "Drones and Global Order: Implications of Remote Warfare for International Society" (edited by Paul Lushenko, Srinjoy Bose, William Maley). Moderator, Professor John Blaxland, Head of the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, pointed out that the book was prepared before the current conflict in Ukraine, and so is prescient. 

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Lushenko,  U.S. Army and Cornell University, mentioned that drones can be used to breech and protect national sovereignty. He nominated the General Atomics Reaper drone as the preeminent system. I suggest it is worth pointing out that the usefulness of this aircraft is reflected in its general design being widely copied by both allies and enemies.

Cecilia Jacob, Associate Professor, ANU International Relations, pointed out the dilemma that drones have been useful in response to conflicts short of war. However, the low cost of drones, and low risk for operators, may make war more likely. A positive point mentioned was using a drone to capture evidence for war crimes trials.

Emeritus Professor William Maley, ANU Diplomacy, reminded the audience that drones are not new, with the German V-1, being mass produced in 1944. As the Professor points out, the V-1 was not accurate enough, and the war did not continue long enough for its significance to be appreciated. Drones could be used for surveillance, material delivery, conventional military attack, attack on terrorist leadership, and drone swarms. On the last point I coached a team of Australian Navy, government and industry people working on swarm defence. Media reports suggest Ukraine used drones to distract the defenders of a Russian warship

Professor Maley commented that "Most people think of drones for delivering pizza, not bombs". This made me wonder what will be the effect of low cost mass-produced drones. Will this be like the effect smart anti-tank weapons have had in the Ukraine? What if both sides are supplied with thousands of small, disposable armed drones, which can loiter over a battlefield? I suggest a drone packaged in a disposable  larch tube similar in size and operation to an anti-tank missile would prove a popular product. This would be larger than the AeroVironment Switchblade, with a battery motor for loitering, and a rocket motor for attack.

ANU Techlauncher Learning to Reflect Introduction

Today I had the delight of being in a classroom with the Australian National University's Techlaucher students, as well as those joining online (video available). Normally I stick to the mechanics of how the "Learning to Reflect" module I supervise is run. The staff of ANU Careers provide the actual content, running students through exercises to help them think about a career. However, after reading Becoming by Michelle Obama, I was inspired to talk a little about my own career. The point wasn't big-noting myself (well not entirely), it was to show a career is rarely a straight linear path. I happened to join ABS, just as they had millions of dollars for IT training I joined the DoD computer division only to have it abolished ending up in the nation's military HQ. I nominated for VP of the ACS, but ended up President. I joined ANU to do research and ended up teaching. The latest coincidence is that I went to an ACS meeting last night, and it was the launch of the new version of a computer job analysis used in Techlauncher. The person launching it happened to have an interest in training computer people in Indonesia, as do I ...

Improvised Throw-able Microphone

Inserting microphone into soft toy,
Photo by Tom Worthington, CC-BY 2022
In a large classroom it can be difficult to get a microphone to a participant. So there are throw-able microphones available. These consist of a wireless lapel microphone inside a soft foam ball.

So I made my own throw-able microphone from a $10 soft toy. The toy has a zip, so I inserted a wireless lapel microphone into the fiber fill of the toy. I removed the metal tag from the zip on the toy, and replaced that with string, to reduce the risk of injury.

The idea is you can throw the unit to someone, without damage to the microphone. Some will automatically mute the sound while being thrown. But the improvised unit worked fine. The only problem was some of the toy's stuffing clung to the microphone, when I removed it.

ps: The soft toy is a "Boba Plush", from Toymate. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Race to the Top for Talent Says new Australian Computer Society CEO

Greetings from the National Press Club in Canberra, where the Australian Computer society are launching the "ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2022" report. Chris Vein, the new ACS CEO, fresh from the USA, described how Australia is in a "race to the top" for global computer talent. This year's Pulse report, prepared by Deloitte Access Economics, backs this up, with details of the growth areas for demand for personnel, particularly as cyber security, digital analytics, and AI. The Hon Ed Husic MP, Minister for Science, then talked about the ACT's role in support of government, and proposals of the new government to open up contracts to local tenderers. The Minister also mentioned the issue of diversity, arguing technology industries have suffered from a lack leading to poor design. The Pulse report (Page 16) bears this out, with a 31% female computer workforce, compared to 46% for professions generally. 

I asked the Minister about cyber training in the region, particularly Indonesia, where a recent ANU National Security College report expressed concern. The Minister mentioned his recent trip to Indonesia, and emphasized vocation education, and micro-credentials as areas with potenital.

Andrew Barr, Chief Minister of the ACT Government, and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, are also present. 

ps: The release of the Pulse report is fortuitous, as tomorrow I am helping a class of several hundred ANU computer students think about their future career.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Alternatives to Chinese technology training for the Indo-Pacific

Tom Worthington Speaking at NICT 2018 in Colombo
Presenting on M-learing for the Indo-Pacific, 2018. 

In "China Inc. and Indonesia’s Technology Future", van der Kley, Herscovitch, and  Priyandita (ANU National Security College, 2022), suggest Australia and its allies should provide tech training in Indonesia, to counter China's influence. This is a viable idea, from geopolitical, developmental, and market development perspectives. However, Indonesia has excellent tech educators (I have met many), and so this would be better done by assisting them, rather than being imposed from outside.  In 2018 I suggested countries of the Indo-Pacific could jointly educate professionals using mobile devices, in to counter the influence of China's Belt and Road Education Plan.

Rather than creating free courses, dependent on intermittent foreign aid programs. I suggest that allied educational institutions, and entrepreneurs, could be assisted to set up not-for-profit, and for-profit programs, which will be able to be self funding. This can be done using standard start-up techniques, and Indonesia's exceptionally vibrant commercial sector. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Economics of Charity at ANU

Professor John List, Head of the ANU John Mitchell Economics of Poverty Lab, is speaking on "The Economics of Charity" in Canberra, at the ANU College of Business and Economics. I am watching on-line. He is author of "The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale" (2022). 

Professor List related how in his early work he conducted experiments into getting donations for a university. He found that private donations in advance to a pubic call increases donations, as a quality signal. Taking an extreme example, mentioning there had already been a donation from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation greatly increased subsequent donations. However, traditional economic models on price effects don't work. In particular, different matching ratios (from 1:1 to 1:3) doesn't make a difference.

Another interesting point is that marketing gifts, only tend to work once. Men are more price sensitive than women.

Interestingly Professor List discussed the use of AI, both for experiment, and in practice. 

Overall an interesting talk, but I had some difficulty with the US outlook, terminology, and jargon. At times I had difficulty working out what were US colloquialisms, and what were technical terms from the field.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Hamburger University Sydney

Front door of "Hamburger University", Sydney.
Photo by Tom Worthington, CC-BY 2022
Desperate for a coffee in Sydney last weekend, I stumbled across "Hamburger University", collocated with a Mcdonald's cafe in the suburb of Thornleigh. This is the unofficial name for the Charlie Bell School of Management,  a McDonald's Corporation training unit. They also offer scholarships for study at Australian universities. 

Note that "University" for this facility is informal (their logo is made of chips), as using this term officially for an educational institution in Australia requires government accreditation. McDonald's Australia Ltd is a Registered Training Organisation (Number 90820). It can deliver and assess a Certificate II & III in Retail, with four  units of competency in safe food handling.  

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Universities Must Prepare for the COVID-19 Peak by Keeping an Online Option for Courses, Meetings & Events

Australia's National Cabinet met on Saturday and agreed to reinstate, continue and introduce some new emergency measures due to rising cases of COVID-19. I suggest all universities must offer an online option for all courses, meeting, and events, at least until the end of 2022. Forcing staff and students to return to a classroom, will place at risk the lives of staff, students, and the general public. It will also place in jeopardy the ongoing operation of our educational institutions. 

Vice Chancellors, university executive members, and all academics who teach, have a duty of care. Allowing students to participate online, without requiring to specially apply, or get permission, is a way to meet that duty of care, and remain within the law.

As well as slowing the spread of disease, an option option will allow those in isolation to participate. Not offering them that option would be unlawful discrimination. It is not as if universities were not ready with an online option. Even those which failed to prepare in advance of the current pandemic, have now had two years to equip and train.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Thursday, July 14, 2022

On-line Graduate Certificate of New Technologies Law at the ANU

Tim Hillman just ran an online seminar on the new ANU Graduate Certificate of New Technologies Law. This program is unusual, as it was designed, and is offered, entirely online. It is short, with the student able to complete the four courses in only six months, full time. But I suggest that if you are working or have significant home commitments, consider doing it one course at a time. There are summer course offerings, so this could take a little under two years.

There is a compulsory introductory course with those not having a prior law degree, then 12 electives. What got my attention was that there are two defence related courses offered: Cyber Warfare Law (LAWS8035), Weaponry and Targeting (LAWS8401). Also #MeToo and the Law (LAWS8403), looks interesting.

The certificate courses can be credited towards a Masters program, but as Tim pointed out in the seminar, you have to thing about your program of study.

ps: 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. 

Getting disadvantaged students through post secondary education requires designing programs for them

Sarah O' Shea (Curtin University) asks "So what more can be done?" to get  disadvantaged, particularly regional, students into university. I suggest this is the wrong question. Stone, King, and Ronan (2022) provide some of the answers. They suggest working with Regional University Centres and regional campuses to support online study options for regional students. 

Also I suggest university may not be the best place for these students, and the goal should be broadened to include vocational education and training (VET), as this is just as useful for the community (and the student), if not more so, than university study. Regional students can undertake a short, job relevant program, at a nearby VET institution, which caters to students with limited schooling. If universities want to have those same students succeed, they need to either partner with VET, or set up campuses, courses, and services, to meet their needs.

The length of programs aimed for at university should be shortened, to allow for certificates, & diplomas, as well as degrees. A student who successfully completes a program shorter than a degree is not a failure. Their success should be celebrated, and they should be made to feel welcome to return, with full credit, to continue their studies in a nested degree program, later. Also the learning needs to be provided when and where the students are, online and flexibly. Lastly, the learning needs to include basics and study skills, for those students who missed these.

As it is, universities have been set up to cater for students from affluent suburbs, who undertook courses at school (especially elite private schools), to prepare them for university. It is not surprising that if you don't have a university nearby, have never seen a campus, have no one in your family who went to university, don't know anyone who did, and did no courses to prepare you for university, that it might be difficult to contemplate enrolling, let along completing.


King, S., Stone, C., & Ronan, C. (2022). Investigating transitions to university from regional South Australian high schools. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/King_UniSA_Final_2022.pdf

Technology needed to check the pulse of education research

Catherine Manathunga suggests we take the pulse of education research, and address climate change, and other wicked problems. My doctor doesn't get out an analog stopwatch to check my pulse any more, instead there is an electronic device for that. These are now so cheap I have one at home. I suggest the same change in thinking, and practice, is needed for Australian education, and research. To take the pulse of education research in Australia I suggest we need technology, as well as for conducting research, and undertaking education.

Due to the pandemic, Australian education research has caught up to were higher education the students already were in 2019: mostly studying online. Before the pandemic, academics, and most researchers of university education, were in a state of denial, bemoaning the lack of attendance in class, without being will to accept that students had moved online. Faced with the alternative of being put out of business, academics finally moved their teaching online.

An agenda for inclusive and compassionate education research doesn't have to be this radical. In 2020 feeling isolated by COVID-19 from my usual education research events I drifted towards the excellent online events hosted by ACSILITE, and found myself collaborating with a group of people online, who I have never met in person. Thsi proved productive, and continues today, across three countries. 

Geography has been an easy gap to bridge with technology. Much harder is the transdisciplinary one, and I work in a twilight zone between my original discipline of computer, and my new one of education. If the gap between education and the disciplines it supports, and support it, the decline research funding can be reversed. This can be done by drawing on the funding for those disciplines, and also presenting a compelling case for increased research to address the current skills shortage, energy shortage, defence climate, and other challenges.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Desktop smartphone holder for webinars

As a backup for my desktop computer during webinars, I put my smartphone in a $10 car-cradle. This has a suction cup I stuck to a CD case, to make a desktop stand. This works remarkably well with Zoom or Microsoft Teams. For additional reliability, the audio for the conference can be via a phone call, rather than the Internet.  

Send Facebook Executives to Jail for Promoting Contract Cheating Services?

Offering to write a university students' work for them has been illegal in Australia since 2020. However, when I asked Facebook to take down a post promoting such a service to Canberra students, they refused.

Perhaps it is time for TEQSA, who administer the law, to prosecute Facebook. The financial penalty is only $100,000 but the possibility of a two year jail sentence might get the attention of Facebook executives. 

What Facebook replied:
"We didn't take down ***'s post

We know that this is not what you wanted, and we thought it might help if we explain how the review process works.

Our technology helps us review reports first. This means that we can find content that goes against our Community Standards quickly and reply to people in a reasonable period of time. Some reports, such as those that might contain child exploitation, are prioritised for review by our team.

Our technology reviewed your report and, ultimately, we decided not to take the content down. If you think that we've made a mistake, you can request another review. We'll use what you've sent us to improve the technology and the reporting experience.

We understand that the content may be offensive or hurtful. Facebook is a global community, and people express themselves differently, but we only take down content that goes against our standards. We review and update our standards regularly, with the help of experts.

Thank you for helping to keep Facebook safe and welcoming for everyone."

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. 

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Revolution Will Not be Streamed

Just received an invitation for delegates to attend leadership masterclasses at the 2022 Universities Australia Conference. Only two problems with this: 1. I haven't registered for the conference, and 2. the masterclasses are only in person, at the conference venue. It is a troubling if these workshops are, as claimed, an "... opportunity to gain an insight into how our sector’s top decision-makers approach the challenges of running a university". In that case, our universities are in trouble, run by poor administrators, and poor educators. 

We need universities which are familiar with the needs of their students, and offer education where the student is, not forcing them to turn up to a campus. Leadership amid change requires doing things differently. Influencing for impact requires using new ways of communicating. Building resilient cultures requires genuine communication. Our top university decision makers need these skills, if they want to stay in business. The way to learn is to do, not sit and listen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Shorter-term Technical Certificates as a Path to Higher Income

In "If College Isn't the Pathway to the Middle Class It Once Was—What Is?"
, Lindsay Daugherty, Senior Policy Researcher at RAND, suggests that there may be better options than a four-year degree program for students seeing a job with a middle class salary. In Australia the answer is, or should be, easy: if you want a well paying job quickly and easily, got to TAFE. The government, and non-government VET providers in Australia offer sub-degree programs, which are nationally recognized. Some of these are required for entry into regulated jobs, while others are in high demand job categories with subsidized fees. The VET sector has forms of education and assessment designed to suit less academically accomplished students. However, even in Australia, this form of education has an unwarranted poor reputation, being seen as second best, compared to university. Australia's new government should be  boosting the reputation of the VET sector, and ending the downgrading of TAFEs, so this is seen as the first option for those wanting a step up in employment.

Learning from Wuhan on Helping International Students

While western universities have focused on the problems of their own students during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be remembered that China also has international students. There are some interesting papers emerging from the experience of students, some at the epicenter of the Pandemic.  English, Yang,  Marshall, and Nam (2022) have written about the experience of international about 1,500 students facing Wuhan's 76 day lock-down (out of 8,000 pre-Pandemic). The authors note that the stress from the pandemic is in addition to the stress international student face from studying abroad.

Wuhan was locked down earlier than other locations, when little was know of the virus, which will have increased the stress level for students. Also, as the authors note, those in Wuhan faced the stigmatization and discrimination as being perceived as the source of the disease. However, it should be noted that Melbourne (Australia) experienced six lock-downs, of 262 days in total, more than the rest of the world. It would be interesting to compare the experience of Melbourne's very large international student population to that of other countries. Australian international students were stigmatized by the then Australian Prime Minister, who with a breathtaking lack of compassion, said of the students: "it's time to go home".

The authors report the stress and anxiety students felt, fear, worry, uncertainty, which were made worst by misinformation. Students were homesick and felt  abandoned by those able to leave. However, they were able to continue their education online. In my own studies of the potential for online education in China, I noted that it was not widely accepted (Worthington, 2014). Despite this, as the authors note, Chinese universities were able to switch to online learning, at scale. Another positive point was that international students were helped by the local community, reducing the sense of isolation.

The authors suggest universities could apply the prosocial behavior exhibited at Wuhan in dealing with mental health issues of students generally. In particular, peer support, and practical help for students, with food, and transport. Also social support from outside the international student body will reduce a sense of isolation. 

Wang (2022) makes similar points. However, they also point to the direct role of university medical personnel, and students, in treating patients. This included online support for the psychological effects of the pandemic. The author emphases the sense of "belonging" of China's students, which aided response to the pandemic. This may sound a little odd, to western ears, but Australian universities are similarly attempting to cultivate a sense of care for students. The use of social media, specifically WeChat, is mentioned, but unfortunately not detailed. Australian universities now routinely use social media to get messages out to students, but these can tend to be more in the form of announcements, which do not have the power to engage. 


English, A., Yang, Y., Marshall, R. C., & Nam, B. H. (2022). Social Support for International Students Who Faced Emotional Challenges Midst Wuhan's 76-day lockdown during Early Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2022.01.003/

Wang, L. (2022). Belonging, being, and becoming: Tertiary students in China in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic. In J. S. McKeown, K. Bista, & R. Y. Chan (Eds.), Global higher education during COVID-19: Policy, society, and technology (pp. 39-56). STAR Scholars. https://ojed.org/index.php/gsm/issue/view/152

Worthington, T. (2014, August). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 164-168). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2014.6926448