Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Future of Education as Envisioned by My Students: Online and Industrially Focused

I just finished reading 200 career goals submitted by computing students, as part of an assignment I set. This made me feel positive about the next generation of professionals, and the future of education. Three students are planning to undertake further university studies. The rest of the students sensibly concluded that a bachelors or masters degree was sufficient for the present. We need a few students to go on to do doctoral studies, but only a few.

Rather than university studies, many of the students are planning to undertake online short courses, and industry certifications. In particular cyber security is very popular.

Most students are aiming for a job in industry. A few having ambitions to work for the major computer companies. A handful of studnts plan to work for start-ups, or set up their own. 

Students already have the option to work on their own startup and get credit for it. What I think I need to work on now is options for them to get support, and formal course credit, for undertaking short online courses, and obtaining industry certifications.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

In Christchurch NZ for ASCILITE 2023 3 to 6 December

Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, 
Photo by Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
What is there to do in Christchurch in December? I will be in and around the Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, 3 to 6 December for the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education ASCILITE 2023 Conference. I don;t have a paper to give, just a Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (MLSIG) session to contribute to. Happy to catch up with people, and give a talk, if someone has an audience and venue. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

National Skills Passport Doesn't Need $9M Consultation: Just Get On With It

Tom Worthington's
digital ANU certificate,
Copyright ANU 2013
The Australian Government has announced consultation on a National Skills Passport. This is a teaser, from an Employment White Paper due out tomorrow. The government proposes to spend $9M on a business case and consultation. A Skills Passport is a good idea, and one which higher education has been working on, in Australia and around the world. There are some minor technical issues, but the major challenge is acceptance. The ANU provided me with an electronic version of my Graduate Certificate, but Athabasca University did not accept this when I applied to study there (I had to pay ANU to courier a paper copy). Fortunately Athabasca now provides electronic certificates provided by a consortium of Canadian universities (so presumably accepts them). 

It would be useful for the federal government to consult with employees, employers, educators, and other governments. However, this is not something new. It should be well within the capabilities of government staff, and should not cost $9M to do. Instead I suggest the money be spent on building the system.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Kambriwood Creative Studio at ANU to Take Students Beyond Chat GPT

ANU Multimedia Studio
Greeting from the soft launch of the Australian National University's new central  multimedia studio. Grazia Scotellaro, Senior Educator for College of Arts and Social Sciences, argues that we need to provide opportunities for students to create content in new ways, so they don't just fall back on generative AI, such as Chat GPT. Grazia said "We don't need Hollywood", just very creative content. So I suggested we christen the new facility "Kambriwood" (Kambri is the name for the center of ANU). This follows the convention of naming film centers after Hollywood.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Australian Sovereign Research Wealth Fund

In a speech to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering, Professor Brian Schmidt, Australian National University Vice Chancellor is reported to have said: 
“We are the only country in the world crazy enough to prop up our sovereign research capability with international funds. It produces huge distortions and vulnerabilities in our higher education system." 
I suggest this could be addressed with an Australian Sovereign Research Wealth Fund. International student fees would be treated as a windfall, with a levy applied. The levy would go into the central research fund. This would be invested in developing the results of Australian research. The earnings from the fund would be distributed as competitive grants to universities. 

The levy would be calculated at a level which would allow university to retain a proportion of the surplus from international student fees. This could be set at a 75% share for universities initially, reducing to 25% over ten years.

It might be argued that taking away most of the revenue from international students would be a disincentive for universities to have them. But a university would still be receiving a reasonable return on each student. Also it could be argued that this is the government profiting from the hard work of universities. But the money would be going back to universities in the form of research grants. Also it is not the quality of individual institutions which attracts students, as Australia as a desirable destination.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Tech Central Sydney Needs Old Buildings, a Good Cafe, & Course Credit for Students

In Clamperdown Park, for the
Tech Central Sydney consultation.
Tom Worthington CC-BY 2023
This is to suggest planners of the Tech Central Sydney Camperdown Node ensure there are old industrial and commercial building for startups to re-purpose at low cost, a start-up center in one of them, a good cafe, and course credit for students working on entrepreneurial projects.

I went along today to a consultation in Camperdown park, about the Camperdown Node. The collection of government lanyards, and branding, would rival an episode of ABC TV's Utopia. There was even someone from the Greater Cities Commission, successor to the Greater Sydney Commission. This is worryingly close to the "Even Greater Sydney Planning Committee", which was a comedy sketch on ABC Radio Sydney each Friday, by HG Nelson and James Valentine. 

It was a little odd having planning staff of three agencies consulting the public about a high technology precinct. There was a map showing the area, but little in the way of detail of what was proposed, so not much to be consulted on. I was asked about my views, and couldn't resist asking the staff what they would like me to tell them about how to set up a high tech hub, as I had spent a few decades looking into this.

Building Arcadia: Emulating Cambridge's High Technology Success

In my closing address as chair of the 1998 Information Industry Outlook Conference,in Canberra,  I argued that Australia should create a cultured image to market information industries. I suggested Cambridge (England) as the model, as detailed in the report The Cambridge Phenomenon. It is now possible to use Canberra as a model, with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), and a cluster of high tech companies adjacent to the Australian National University (ANU).

Old Building and Egg Rolls

I told the staff at the consultations, what was needed for an innovation precinct were old low cost industry and commercial building for startups to re-purpose. The problem for planners is how to prevent this transition zone close to the Sydney CBD being filled with retail outlets, and high rise apartments, with no place for companies, and advanced manufacturing. Also there needs to be a really good cafe for entrepreneurs to meet in. One angel investor keeps singing the praises of the egg rolls at the Australian Technology Park Cafe.

The other ingredient is a nearby university to supply people with innovative ideas. University of Sydney can provide this. One point I had to NSW, Sydney and Inner West planning staff on was not relying on graduates to provide entrepreneurs. There needs to be schemes to encourage current students, and staff to become entrepreneurs, as well as graduates. Through programs such as Techlauncher, the ANU allows studnts to work on a commercial startup at CRBIN, while a student. The students can get course credit for working on their own, or someone else's  startup. 

Innovating for Health at Your Fingertips

Oximeter from RPA in Use, 
Tom Worthington CC-BY 2022
The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is located between the Sydney University campus and Clamperdown, making bio technology an obvious focus for the area. However, tech is tech, so there is no need to have particular policies, or restrictions on the area. Sydney's inner west has hosted diverse startups, including submarines and military drone builders. Developments don't need to be particularly tech intensive. As an example, I contracted COVID-19, and thus became a patient of RPA Virtual. After registering my location with NSW Health, I was contacted by a nurse at RPA, who took my details, and sent out an Oximeter. There is potential for companies offering more advanced forms of tele-medicine, to improve care, and lower costs.


Building Arcadia: Emulating Cambridge's High Technology Success, closing address to the ACS 1998 Information Industry Outlook Conference, Canberra,  7 November 1998

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Virtualize the Consumer Economy to Save the World?

Professor Sharon Friel
Professor Sharon Friel, chair of the  "climate change, social equity and health symposium at the ANU argues that consumption by the rich has to be reduced to combat global warming. The Professor suggests that social movements can accomplish this. However, asking rich powerful people to give up what they have has not proved successful so far. I suggest a better approach would be to redefine success and wealth. 

The Internet provides a way to virtualize wealth, decoupling it from material goods. As an example, art has very little physical substance, as does money. Marketers can label the same physical goods so they have more value for some people. We can make the wealthy continue to feel wealthy without having so much "stuff". That should make them feel better, and save the planet.

In a series of talks around the region I pointed out how this is routinely done in the automotive industry, selling versions of essentially the same car as a budget and luxury product. This can also be done in education with the same degree offered online in a low cost, low carbon emissions version, and on campus for those who can afford it. Those willing to pay for the on-campus experience will feel better about it, but receive the same learning as the online student. 

Climate change, social equity and health symposium now online

Paul Girrawah House, welcome to country,
Greetings from the "Extinction thwarted? The nexus between climate change, social equity and health" symposium at the ANU Research School of Physics theatre in Canberra. There is still time to join in free online. The symposium explores the interaction between climate change, social inequality, and disease. How do we fix that? One aspect was suggested Paul Girrawah House in his welcome to country, by learning from indigenous knowledge as part of Voice , Treaty and Truth. This was followed by the ANU Vice Chancellor, Brian Schmidt, pointing out the value of person to person learning. 
ANU Vice Chancellor, Brian Schmidt 

Friday, September 8, 2023

VR and Virtual internships and VR for Crisis Management

The Australian Crisis Simulation Summit at the Australian National University has wrapped up after a successful week's hard work. One reason I volunteered to mentor, was to see how this was done. I have done some training at Australian Staff College, back in the days when bits of paper were used, and wanted to see how teaching in this area has evolved. Some of these techniques might be used for computer students.

What was most striking about the ACSS, was the use of video conferencing for a hybrid mode. Base of operations was in Canberra, but with groups of students, and some presenters, distributed around Australia, and a couple of US universities. This format fitted well with the subject matter. The students at each remote site were playing the role of a government agency crisis team. In reality, each team would be communicating with their counterparts electronically. Those in the main venue were in separate rooms, and also used electronic means to communicate.

Conducttr crisis simulation software was used for the simulated news items, and social media. Zoom was used for 24 hour news service. Microsoft Teams was used for team to team video. Google dos was used for group document preparation. It might be worth considering the use of a tool such as Slack, which could incorporate all these functions. However, the use of the tools which are used in the real workplace is worthwhile.

It might be interesting to include specialist technical students in the simulations. This one features cyber security, satellites, submarines and other defence related technology. One of the problems experienced in a real crisis is to quickly get usable, understandable, relevant advice from experts. It would be useful to have teams of law, computer, and engineering students practicing providing time critical advice. 

A professional media company, Shoelace Creative, was brought in to produce live TV news for the simulations, using a student with media experience as the interviewer.  For smaller scale events, this might be replaced with an AI newsreader.

A difficult question is if such simulations could be incorporated into the curriculum. This requires assessment. There is a risk that assessing the simulation would take the fun out of it for the students, and the external mentors. I suggest this could be handled in a similar way to internships: documents generated as part of the process are used for group assessment, plus an individual personal reflection. Rubrics can be used to reduce the burden of assessment for staff. 

Some VR and AR might make the simulations more realistic. One gimmick demonstrated at EduTech 2023 Australia recently was a hologram-like booth, which showed a remote presenter. A simpler form of this could be done by positioning a conventional flat screen behind a podium, so the presenter appears to be standing there. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Cyberwar Breaks Out at Australian Crisis Simulation

ACSS Domestic Briefing, 
in the ANU Moot Court.
Photo by Tom Worthington CC-BY 2023
Greetings from the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit at in the Moot Court at the Australian National University in Canberra. Game play became very interesting in the last round, when one team took a fake news item as real and spread it through the government agencies, causing confusion and consternation. The game masters discussed intervening. I suggested letting the game run as this was a very realistic possibility and a good learning experience. But this was disrupting the play, and so a mentor provided some advice to teams to get things back on track. 

ANU Moot Court  tea urn & banana, 
Photo by Tom Worthington CC-BY 2023

Today is "domestic" with a focus on crisis in Australia, rather than the region. Ominously, the head game-master quoted 
General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Order of the Day (1944) "You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. ...". Amidst this drama I noticed the ANU's Moot Court was equipped with a tea urn, and a banana. ;-)

More drama occurred at the start of the domestic simulation, with a system glitch. This required the team to reschedule, and also was a useful learning experience of what happens when you depend on a computer based system.

Last night there was a celebration with Canberra participants, and sponsors. This was a slightly unusual combination of glamour event, with representatives from allied government, and displays from secret government agencies (who recruit the students). 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Cyber Crisis Simulated

James Weatherman interviewing
Tom Worthington on SBC. CC-BY
Greetings from the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit at in the Moot Court at the Australian National University in Canberra. A scripted simulated cyber attack has just happened, and the pretend company representative is being interviewed on the fictional SBC (Summit Broadcasting Corporation). I thought the student playing the role was putting on a fake american accent, but it turns out they are in a team at a US university. Earlier in the day I was interviewed. The fake news channel is being provided by Shoelace Creative, with one of the studnts providing the news anchor. 

This infrastructure takes a lot of work. A lower effort way to do this would be with a synthetic newsreader, working from a prepared script.

Crisis in the Moot Court

Briefing in the ANU Moot Court.
Tom Worthington CC-BY 2023
Greetings from the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit at in the Moot Court at the Australian National University in Canberra. A team of ANU students are running simulations of national security situations (with cyber-attacks, grey-zone & information warfare, plus natural disasters), for teams students across Australia to respond to in real time. I am mentoring some local teams, using my experience working at HQ ADF. 

The Moot Court turns out to be ideally suited to running such an exercise. The main room, which is set up like a mock courtroom is used for briefings, which are sent out via Zoom. The setup resembles the sort of government briefing rooms used for real briefings. The room has a folding wall which has been deployed, so one crisis team can work in half the room. Outside is an area used for breaks. Opposite are two small Harvard style tutorial rooms, being used for smaller mentor briefings, and team work. There is a glass walled kitchen at one side of the tutorial rooms, which the student team is using as their HQ. This way they can look out to see what is happening. 

The students are wearing black lanyards resembling those worn by public servants, adding to the authenticity. Some have earpieces and walkie-talkies, looking very James Bond. ;-)

ps: It easy to dismiss the simulation as just a training exercise, and the students as just students. But some of the students work in major government security agencies, and the mentors have experience in various government roles. The scenarios they have prepared are disturbingly close to current regional and world events. At the outbreak of the Falklands War the UK Royal Marines were conducting Mountain and Arctic Warfare training. The class and trainers were sent to the Falklands to put the training into immediate practice. Hopefully a crisis in the region will not require the ACSS participants to do the same.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

A Larger Role for Colleges in Australian Higher Education?

Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice Chancellor of the ANU, is reported as suggesting private for-profit colleges will take over educating new professionals. This would leave universities free to research, & educate advanced students, the VC envisaged. However, I suggest specialist colleges, associated with public universities, and TAFE, could provide undergraduate education just as efficiently as the private sector, and should be allowed to do so. 

Even a research-intensive university can accommodate undergraduate students. Twenty years ago, I accepted an invitation to be a visiting fellow at one of our universities. I had expected to be conducting research, but within five minutes of sitting down in my new office, I was asked to give "some lectures". This started two decades investigating how to provide professional education, linking universities, vocational education, and industry. I now help a team of researchers, professionals from different disciplines, educators, and people from industry, to provide work-integrated learning to undergraduates, and post-graduates. For my MEd, I investigated how to do this for a mix of domestic and international students, in a classroom, in the workplace, and online. Fortunately, my investigations uncovered the need to prepare to teach online in an emergency, which kept students from campus, and proved useful when COVID-19 struck.

As I wrote in my submission to the Higher Education Review, Australian universities should continue to be funded to focus on educating professionals, and conducting applied research for industry, while supported by fundamental research. A wholesale de-Dawkinsation and privatization of higher education is not needed, and I suggest not in the public interest.

There is a role for specialist educational institutions with expertise in teaching, rather than research. But, despite the views put to government by private sector lobbyists these don't have to be exclusively, or primarily, private for-profit institutions. Professor Schmidt, mentioned on of the lobbyists, former minister Christopher Pyne. Alongside private colleges, Australia's universities could expand the specialist teaching arms they already have, and our major TAFEs can grow into the role. Also, the dual sector institutions, which are both universities and vocational, can do more. 

Only a very few students need a research-intensive education. Even fewer need such education at the undergraduate level. Most students are destined for industry, education, or government work. They need to know, in general terms, what research is, but more so they need deep technical knowledge of their field, and broad people and project skills. This is not a new requirement, and Australia's universities were founded to turn out working professionals.

There is a myth that there was a golden age when Australian universities were well-funded to produce pure research, with students whose only aim was to explore new knowledge. However Australian governments established universities to produce working professionals and do research to support the economy. The golden age of Australian universities was more about engineering facilities funded by mining companies needing staff, and better ways to dig up stuff, than fundamental research.

In the Dawkins Revolution of the 1990s, specialist teaching colleges in Australia were merged into universities. To remain accredited, the new university could not specialize in teaching in one field but was required to also conduct research in multiple disciplines. The new universities adapted, by conducting both research and teaching. The for-profit Torrens University was able to be accommodated in this system.

It is a fallacy to suggest that having a generalist university results in high costs, or that in some way academic freedom is expensive. Also, it is untrue that online delivery results in poorer educational outcomes, or that for-profit companies naturally produce better outcomes for students. 

Recent experience of expanding funding for vocational education shows what can go wrong. Private for-profit vocational education providers were allowed to accept government funding, with insufficient regulation, resulting in billions of dollars wasted, through poor quality training delivery, and in some cases outright fraud.

Rather than a new education revolution, Australia could have an evolution, with existing universities allowed to establish specialist teaching institutions. Australia already permits for-profit universities, and there could be a mix of not, and for profit, under the one, tight, regulatory framework. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Crisis Simulation for Teaching Next Generation of Leaders

Barrie & Worthington
in ACSS Control Room, CC-BY 29/8/2023
Greetings from the Control Room of the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit at the Australian National University in Canberra. There is a team of ten students sitting at computers, in a horseshoe shaped room running through the scenarios. Next week, 100 students in teams around Australia and the USA will respond to these in real time. It is not quite as high-tech as the control room in the Hunger Games, but works much the same way. 

The game-masters are using Conducttr crisis simulation software, coordinating the release of made up news reports, and social media posts about a fictional future crisis. While all the teams participating share the same simulated world view, they have different scenarios to respond to. These involve cyber and kinetic (stuff blowing up) attacks, and the participants need to work out what to do. There are then scripted events to keep the participants busy.

I have the role of a mentor, pro diving advice to the game-masters and participants. This is a new experience. I have participated in a paper based version of a simulation at what is now Australian War College (AWC), but on a much smaller scale. Next to me providing advice is the patron for the ACSS, Professor Admiral Chris Barrie.

The scenarios the students have prepared are set about a decade in the future. Even so they reflect current events, to the extent when someone mentioned a Chinese submarine may be missing, I had to ask "Is this real world or exercise?". 

I am mentoring, for ACSS, using my experience from working at DoD. But also I would like to see how such exercises can be incorporated as part of student's formal learning and assessment. I talked about  "Projects & internships for student employability" at EduTECH, Australia last week. Simulations can provide a form of quicker, work relevant learning. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

New Student Modalities

David Kellermann from UNSW
Greetings from the last day of EdutTech 2023 in Melbourne. The session is on new modalities, this includes on studios specifically design for online learning. David Kellermann from UNSW is talking on what to do with online students post pandemic. His definition of hybrid has every student online and in the room can communicate with each other. He has had a classroom built for this mode. This was prototyped in a conventional lecture theater. Students can book to attend the face to face class, with a BBQ after as an incentive. This looks to me a good setup for the "sage on the stage", where students are focused on the instructor. A different room design, is needed for workshops with more student teamwork. I am on next on  "Projects & internships for student employability". 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Can't Get Away from AI

EduTech 2023 Australia Plenary
Greetings from day two of EdutTech 2023 in Melbourne. The exhibition is buzzing, with plenty of free coffee,. I tried to go to a panel on assessment, but it was standing room only. So I am in the plenary session, in a room that can seat thousands. I thought it was a panel on training more tech workers, but AI is being discussed. I suspect, whatever the official topic, the discussion is going to stray onto AI. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Using Generative AI for Education

Greetings from the Melbourne Convention Center, where EdutTech 2023 just started. This is a big conference with many streams, covering pre-school to professional development. One big question being asked, and perhaps answered, throughout many of the streams, is what do we do about generative AI? First up is Dan Hickmott with "Grok Academy - Unlocking the power of Generative AI in education".

A very useful technique is being used for the introduction of the workshop. The presenter is getting us to do paper based exercises, then demonstrating the AI equivalent. This avoids getting lost in the mechanics of the tool, and instead explore the concepts by which it works. One issue being explored is the bias built into the tools, due to the bias in the text it was trained on. What I find interesting is what the tools might tell us about ourselves. 

If you are in Melbourne, there is still time to come along to the free trade show with talks, or the paid conference. I am on Friday morning speaking on "Projects & internships for student employability". 

ps: I never thought "Go the Newcastle Knights", would be in an AI talk

Monday, August 14, 2023

Agile Thinking for Agile Projects

ANU Hive in action
Greetings from "The Hive" at the Australian National University, where Dr Sabrina Caldwell, running a workshop on agile development. There are a lot of myths about agile: it is not the same as making it up as you go along. Sabrina emphasized the value to the customer: there is no point building a product quickly, that no one wants. 

Presenting in The Hive is challenging, as there are people coming and going all the time in the open plan area. There is a low level mum of voices, with meetings of teams with clients going on in the background. Eminent academics and industry professionals can wander in, sit down, and join in. This is useful for emulating the industry environment. 

Rarely in government or industry will there be a polite fixed group sitting down listening to a presentation. Students need to cope with a slightly messy, changing, but therefore creative, environment. An extreme example of this were where I witnessed three people at a startup, all writing on a whiteboard at the same time, and shouting at each other, while a crowd watched them, like it was a competitive sport. Another was a hackerthon on weapons development for use in the South China Sea, where an Admiral suddenly appeared and "asked" for a briefing on progress.

For soft skills (or professional skills as careers expert Tempe Archer prefers), of communication, teamwork, leadership, emotional intelligence and relationship-building Dr Bernardo Pereira Nunes runs sessions in the Escape Room, in The Hive.

One of the communication skills I highlighted to the studnts is to identify all the issues without making the client feel you are getting at them. One team simply listed all the things they thought their client was doing wrong, and sent it to them. The team was surprised when the client stopped talking to them.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Designing Relationship Building Into University Programs

Lambert, Artze-Vega, and Tapia (2023) suggest five ways for college students (what in Australia are university undergraduates), to meet new friends and mentors. They suggest this is important to student success. I agree this is important, so important it should not be left as an ad-hoc extra curricular activity, it should be built into the core compulsory program. Rather than design courses and assessment where students learn alone, and are then punished for collaboration, instead teach studnts to work together, and reward them with grades for doing so. Delete technical content from the curriculum and replace it with vital teamwork skills.

The authors suggest that "Connections are everything" is good advice for new students. If that is the case, why don;t introductory courses devote more time to making connections? Perhaps the reason is that the experience of today's students differs from that of their professors. University marketing shows happy carefree studnts sitting around chatting in a leafy environment. Perhaps that was the case in the professor's day, but today's student is more likely to be rushing from their job to the classroom, then out to pick up their children.

The Conversation article accompanies the publication of a book by many of the same authors (Felten, Lambert, Artze-Vega, and Tapia, 2023). Whhile titled "Connections Are Everything: A College Student's Guide to Relationship-Rich Education", I couldn't help thinking a better tile would be "Education for the Rich: Time to Make Connections to Stay Rich". That may sound harsh, but the advice given will be hard for a low SES student from a disadvantaged background to follow:

1. Talk to a professor

If there is a professor for 200 , or more students, exactly when and how long do you talk to them for? As a student if you focus is on passing, as quickly as possible, any interaction with staff has to focus on that. You need exemptions, and extensions. There is no time for an idle chat. 

2. Make a friend in class

University is a lonely, frightening experience, and not just for young undergraduates. As a graduate student I had a decade of experience teaching at a university, and was an adult, but even so the old nightmares about assessment returned, and I found I had little in common with the rest of the class. What helped me was where there were class activities devoted to meeting other studnts, and group projects. But even so study was still a frightening, agonizingly lonely experience.

3. Use the resources that are there for you

Universities do have staff and resources to support student learning. But unless you are introduced to these in a course, and told to use them, students are unlikely to do so. As a student you are focused on studying enough to do the assessment. So the use of these resources have to be built into your assessed coursework to be useful. An example of this is the Techlauncher program at the ANU. Rather than suggest students go to see a career councilor before they graduate, the councilor are brought into the classroom to teach the students. In conjunction with the councilors, academic staff administer assessment which requires students to look at what they have learned, and possible futures. This empowers the time poor student to do what would otherwise be an option extra-curricular activity, which they therefore would not do. I will be talking about this at EduTech 2023.

4. Participate in a ‘relationship accelerator’

Internships, undergraduate research, writing-intensive seminars, study abroad, and campus employment are all good, but only if they are for credit. If they are not compulsory, or provide credit to the student's degree, there is little point in providing them.

5. Connect with yourself

Imposter syndrome is a real thing at university. Telling students who feel anxious to talk to a professor will compound the problem, not solve it. Professors are not trained in student counselling, and likely to make the student more anxious, not less. The first step I suggest is to admit that study is a stress inducing experience, not the happy go lucky one depicted in university marketing. This is hard surprising as most of the staff the student interacts with are casual, or on short term contracts. The staff are constantly anxious about their jobs. What can be done is help students cope with the anxiety, or at least understand this is a normal part of the university experience.


Leo M. Lambert, Isis Artze-Vega, & Oscar Miranda Tapia. "Building relationships is key for first-year college students – here are 5 easy ways to meet new friends and mentors", The Conversation, August 11, 2023 10.37pm AES. 

Felten, P., Lambert, L. M., Artze-Vega, I., & Tapia, O. R. M. (2023). Connections Are Everything: A College Student's Guide to Relationship-Rich Education. JHU Press.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Digitisation of Pacific Countries

Nick Thieberger
University of Melbourne
Greetings from "Digitisation for Pacific cultural materials" by Nick Thieberger from University of Melbourne, at ANU Department of Pacific Affairs. This is a fascinating presentation about Paradisec, an archive of digitized audio and other cultural material of the Pacific. One sad point was that Tuvalu is considering a digital backup of the country, if it disappears underwater, due to global warming. It will not be the first such endeavor as Estonia a ready backs up government data in some embassies in case the country is overrun, and government records are destroyed or must be erased to keep them out of enemy hands.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Funding Indigenous Students is Worthwhile if Suitable Courses Are Provided

The Australian Government has extended study funding of indigenous students to those in urban areas, as part of a package of changes in response to the  Interim Report of the Australian Universities Accord inquiry. Professor Andrew Norton has asked if it will make much of a difference? I suggest funding for indigenous students will be beneficial, but only if there are courses, & services, for their needs. As Professor Norton points out, indigenous Year 12 completion rates are low, so bridging will be needed, but the Australian Government is not going to pay for them. I suggest that problem can be sidestepped, by building the needed training into the degree curriculum. This will help all students: urban, rural, indigenous, non-indigenous, domestic, and international.

Professor Norton points out that sub-bachelor programs were excluded from funding previously. But there is an easy workaround which universities use for other studnts, the Professor did not mention: tell the student to enroll in a Bachelor program, then exit early with a diploma (or now the option of a certificate). However, at present such a sub-degree program will likely be just the introductory units of the bachelors degree. What is needed are enabling courses on how to study, and communicate. Such courses would also be of use to non-indigenous, domestic and international students. Particularly in STEM programs, there is a tendency to do the hard science first, and leave the communication and teamwork skills to second and third year. I suggest reversing this for all students, teaching them how to work and learn at the start.

Building what are normally part of enabling courses into degree programs will go some way to solve funding programs. Professors will grumble that all this non-core stuff is at the expect of core subjects. But learning very technical content is of no use if the graduate can't communicate it, can't work in a team, or can't get to graduate because they don't know how to learn. As I have discussed previously in this Blog, these communication, teamwork, and leadership skills are key to the success of any professional.

Another way to support indigenous and other studnts is with online and mobile learning. Students learn best when in the community, not on a campus. Universities can provide all courses online, by default. This allows studnts to meet work and cultural commitments more easily, while studying.

First Legislative Response to the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report

The Australian Government has reacted remarkably quickly to the Interim Report of the Australian Universities Accord inquiry, with legislation: "Response to the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report) Bill 2023". This abolished the rule that said a student had to pass 50% of their courses to keep getting government funding. But Professor Andrew Norton has raised concern about the measures added to ensure universities help these at-risk students may be a burden. However, I suggest good course and assessment design can reduce the need to provide special help to students, & better target when needed. For example regular small assessment tasks can be used to identify students needing help, but with a flexible assessment scheme which doesn't penalize them. Also students can be routinely provided with an online option for their studies (failing to do that, I suggest may breach anti-discrimination law).  

"Providers must have a support for students policy

             (1)  A higher education provider must have a policy (a support for students policy ) that deals with the support provided to the provider’s students to assist them to successfully complete the units of study in which they are enrolled.

             (2)  A higher education provider’s support for students policy must:

                     (a)  include information on:

                              (i)  the provider’s processes for identifying students that are at risk of not successfully completing their units of study; and

                             (ii)  the supports available from or on behalf of the provider to assist students to successfully complete the units of study in which they are enrolled; and

                     (b)  comply with any requirements specified in the Higher Education Provider Guidelines.

             (3)  Without limiting paragraph (2)(b), the requirements may relate to the following:

                     (a)  requirements for the higher education provider’s support for students policy to include specified information;

                     (b)  requirements about the presentation, format and availability of the policy.

Provider to comply with support for students policy

             (4)  A higher education provider must comply with its support for students policy.

Provider must report on compliance with support for students policy ..."

Offering help to studnts may be ineffective, if the studnts do not know it is available, don't know they are eligible for it, don't know they need it, or don't want to take it. As an example, it was only long after being a student I realized I fell into several of the disadvantaged categories. It would have never occurred to me to ask, or accept, help. I would have, and did, rather fail a course, than seek help. Later, with more maturity, I realized I could withdraw from a course before failing, but that was a very confronting, lonely experience. 

Australia an Exporter of Renewable Energy Embedded in AI Models?

The energy use of AI was discussed by Schwartz, Dodge, Smith, and Etzioni (2020). The authors noted that Amazon AWS was 50% powered by renewable energy. Perhaps Australia could become an exporter of renewable energy embedded in Green AI models.

In 2017 my colleagues at ANU initiated a project to cover large areas of northern Australia with solar panels, and export the energy. The university invested $10m in research, and some of it is now being commercialized.

Options investigated included a cable to Singapore, & synthetic fuel in tankers. But an alternative was "Green Steel". The energy would be used to refine iron ore in Australia. The embedded energy would, in effect, be exported in the steel. The steel is much easier to ship than electrons, hydrogen, or ammonia. The same thing might be done with AI.

The world would send AI requests to Australia. These would be forwarded
to data-centers located at high capacity grid connections to solar and wind farms. AI models would be trained using the renewable energy, making an "AI battery", with the embedded energy stored in the models.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Catastrophic Events as the New Normal

Greetings from the ANU Disaster Solutions Update 2023 at the Australian National University. This event from the ANU INSTITUTE FOR CLIMATE, ENERGY & DISASTER SOLUTIONS is a bit like a disaster move. The part where the scientists calmly tell the decision makers about all the terrible things which are going to happen, which can't be prevented due to previous inaction, just mitigated. We can take measures to lessen the impact of fires, floods, and storms, but we can't stop them increasing in frequency, and intensity.

ANU is also offering a  Disaster Solutions Professional Short Course16 August.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Billion Dollar UNSW Canberra Campus

Greetings from First Wednesday Connect in Building K at Canberra Institute of Technology. Normally this is at Canberra Innovation Network's office and I went there finding only two confused students. We found the event at the other side of the city, after a quick number 3 bus ride. We are here to celebrate approval of UNSW's new campus and new CIT courses.

The catering for this event was excellent, as Building K is the CIT Hospitality and Culinary School. ;-)

Canberra Triangle Super-cluster of Innovation

The CSIRO has identified a "triangle super-cluster" of innovation in Canberra (CSIRO, p. 35, 2023). The points of the triangle are Belconnen, Phillip and Canberra Airport, with Civic is the center. Previously in 2015, I identified a much more concentrated "Canberra Start-up Business Boomerang", on the eastern edge of the Australian National University campus.

The report argues that co-location is important, citing Silicon Valley, and Cambridge UK. 

"The Canberra triangle super-cluster is the workplace for 19,362 workers in digital occupations representing 3.3% of the national digital workforce. We estimate it contains the headquarters of 2 digital technology companies listed on the ASX with a combined market capitalisation of $60.14 million as of January 2023." 

However, the Australian examples are much less concentrated, than the USA, or UK. Segal Quince & Partners (1985) explored in detail the way the concentration of startups around Cambridge University came about. That approach has been applied in Canberra.


Segal (1985) The Cambridge phenomenon : the growth of high technology industry in a university town, Segal Quince & Partners, Hall Keeper's House, 42 Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AJ, England, 1985, ISBN 095102020X (copy in ANU HANCOCK Library, & summary available)

CSIRO and the Tech Council of Australia, The geography of Australia’s digital industries: Digital technology industry clusters in Australia’s capital cities and regions. 3 Jul 2023.

Manager, of Digital Capabilities Needed In Canberra

A few minutes ago, the Australian National University advertised on LinkedIn for a "Manager, Academic Competencies & Digital Capabilities".  The job is in the university library, but libraries are not what they used to be, teaching students (and staff) how to use digital technology both to find, and create, information.