Thursday, December 21, 2023

One Defence Data Overly Ambitious

The ABC reports that "$100m Defence contract with KPMG rife with governance failures, review finds" (Linton Besser, Andrew Greene, ABC, 20 December 2023). The contact concerned Defence ICT2284 "One Defence Data" (1DD). 1DD is an ambitious project to unify all Defence data. This project appears to have been overly ambitious, and should have been scaled back.

As it happens I was the Senior Policy Adviser on Data Administration Standards at DoD from 1990 to 1994, and know how hard bringing disparate data sources jealously guarded by different stakeholders is. 

1DD includes an enterprise-wide data catalogue.  

"The One Defence Data Program (Program) will establish and deliver the governance, standards and change management to drive information management transformation across the Department of Defence (Defence). Tranche 1 will develop the foundational and technical enablement capabilities that will continue to be built out over future tranches of the Program." ICT 2284 – One Defence Data Program – Tranche 1, KPMG Australia Technology Solutions Pty Limited (KTech), for DoD, Mon 02 May 2022. 

The Department has a Defence Data Strategy 2021-2023:

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Train Career Advises at TAFE to Provide More Balanced Advice

Felicia Jaremus, 
University of Newcastle
Jaremus, Sincock, Patfield, Fray, Prieto and Gore (2023) from the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, at University of Newcastle, have raised timely concerns about the dangers of pressuring young people into attending university, rather than vocational education. The researchers looked in detail at 22 Australian students during their schooling, and then 1 to 5 years after. The researchers found "... young people face immense pressure to attend university, even if their career aspirations do not require a degree, while other post-school pathways are derided...", and they warn of the risks to mental ill-health as a result. They suggest this is made worse by a lack of careers counselling. 

The researchers point out that professional jobs account for less than 20% of the total in Australia. However, they cite research by Gleeson, Walsh, Gallo Cordoba, Mikola, Waite, & Cutler, (2022) that 40% worried they would not have a professional career. With almost half of young Australians now having degrees, this is inevitably going to lead to frustration, when most of them cannot get a professional job.

One way to address the problem of a lack of careers advice, particularly on vocational education, I suggest, would be for schools to accept a Vocational Education Certificate IV, as a suitable qualification for careers advisors, as an alternative to a Graduate Certificate. That would acknowledge the role of vocational education, allow more advisors to become qualified, and also increase their familiarity with vocational education. 

Also it would be useful to integrate careers skills into the school curriculum, rather than having it as extra curricular activity. An example of where this is done in the higher education sector is the Australian National University's computing project and internship programs for work integrated learning. Students are guided through a series of exercises by professional careers advisers from ANU Careers, working in conjunction with academics. The student's last assignment is to write a job application for a real job, in which they detail the relevance to that job of the project, or internship they have just undertaken.

A corresponding problem exists in the higher education sector, where advanced research degrees are seen as the p goal for all students. Those who leave after a first degree, or peruse coursework postgraduate studies are made to feel inferior. This has the unfortunate consequence of pressuring students in to a a PhD, despite there being few well paid secure positions available after. I suggest that instead career advice should be integrated into degree programs, with students encouraged to first explore jobs outside research and academia. Universities have a vested interest in encouraging research students, and so may need an additional financial incentive to do otherwise.


Felicia Jaremus, Kristina Sincock, Sally Patfield, Leanne Fray, Elena Prieto & Jennifer Gore (13 Dec 2023): Pressure to attend university: beyond narrow conceptions of pathways to a “good life”, Educational Review, DOI:

Gleeson, J., Walsh, L., Gallo Cordoba, B., Mikola, M., Waite, C., & Cutler, B. (2022). Young women choosing careers: Who decidesMonash University, Melbourne, DOI10, 20448213. 

Monday, December 18, 2023

Defence Industry in National Defence

ANU National Space Testing Facility
Greetings from the Australian National University for the launch of "Defence Industry in National Defence: Rethinking the Future of Australian Defence Industry Policy". In his opening, ANU VC Brian Schmidt, pointed out that the university has a fully equipped "ANU National Space Testing Facility" (worth a visit: it looks like a Bond villain's lair). 

The report was prepared by the Australian Industry Group (AIG) and the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC) in the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at ANU. The report is very readable, and has just five recommendations:

1."The Australian defence industry should be considered a capability in its own right: A capability that supports the ADF force-in-being, but whose strategic value lies in those situations where that force is fully committed, needs to be rapidly reconstituted, and may need to expand. Domestic industrial capability should be developed to meet the demands of our defence planning scenarios, with foundation capabilities in place and capacity to scale with operational needs during conflict.

2. Defence industry should be embedded within and managed as part of Australia’s broader national industry structure and policy. Defence industry draws on resources such as capital, technology, infrastructure and skills from the civilian economy, and can achieve better scale and efficiencies when connected to their civilian peers. Industrial policy support for defence industry is integrated with, and not simply alongside that, support offered to its civilian counterparts.

3. Defence industries should be strategically prioritised, then supported to achieve scale and surge capabilities. Prioritisation will be required to identify where Australia has relevant capabilities, or might be able to efficiently develop them, that can contribute to our own and allies supply chains. These capabilities should also be aligned to existing areas of strength in Australia’s civilian industries and leverage new industrial policy programs. Scale in these prioritised areas should then be achieved by coordination across programs, the development of export markets, and/or the building of international technology partnerships.

4. Government should utilise the full range of policy levers at its disposal to shape defence industry outcomes. This including both formal and informal mechanisms for coordination between government and business, to ensure greater understanding, cooperative relationships, and two-way flow of information. Given the size of Australia’s defence effort, the selective use of single supplier (strategic partnering) arrangements will be crucial in some areas to achieve and sustain required industry outcomes.

5. Government should establish a Defence Industry Capability Manager. The Capability Manager would be responsible for defining the capability and capacity that government needs to develop, as well as for development of industry to meet the level of preparedness determined by the Government. Whilst close liaison within the Department of Defence and specific Capability Managers would be required, the Industry Capability Manager would have a wider ‘whole of government’ role to bring Defence, wider government and industry together for the achievement of strategic industrial outcomes."

The executive summary of the report starts on a sobering note: "As our geostrategic environment deteriorates ...". It goes on to argue the role for Australian industry, particularly hitech industry. However, one area in which the report is deficient is the role of training. This gets no mention in recommendations, although it is noted how this is central to other countries with successful defense industries. I suggest that vocational education, & universities are central to development of the Australian defence industry. 

This report draws lessons from Sweden, France, the UK, Israel and Canada. However, I suggest another country to look to: Australia. we already have some high tech defence companies. Unfortunately these are often overlooked by the Australian Government and ADF, looking for proven solutions, and summing they must come from overseas. 

Part of the solution, I suggest, is training for technical experts in defence related technology, and entrepreneurship. A problem has been that Australia produced excellent researchers, but told them their job ended when they write a paper with their results. We told them it was someone else's job to commercialize discoveries, then complain it didn't happen. Instead we have to train the technical experts in how to work with business and most leave academia to set up or work in, business.

Another part of the solution I suggest, is to train senior leaders in government and the military on use of tech for defence, and how to talk to business. As an example of this approach, I mentored students in the Australian Crisis Simulation Summit 2023, the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020, and Secure Supply Chains ADF/NZDF Hackerthon 2020. These brought together people from industry, government, & ADF working in a simulated high pressure environment. As well as creating new ideas, and providing valuable training, these events introduced people across sectors with comment interests so they could work better together for national defence.

While facing different strategic circumstances, their experiences illustrate how the possession of an independent but internationally linked defence industry is itself an asset during a period where the risk of major conflict is rising.

Their experiences offer pertinent lessons for Australia. This report identifies several factors that shape effective policy, argues that a fundamental rethink of Australian defence policy is required, and offers five recommendations.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Scholars, graduate students, policymakers and practitioners working in the fields of Defence and Strategic Studies.

This event is cohosted by the 

Image: HMAS Arunta and Naval Ship Management personnel on board the ship during its docking scheduled refit at Garden Island Defence Precinct, Sydney. Credit: Defence Imagery, LSIS Susan Mossop.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Attracting Australians to Military Service

Luke Townsend, 
 Managing Director at Outlook Industries
Luke Townsend Managing Director at Outlook Industries Pty Ltd, has proposed an Australian service questionnaire ("Revolutionising ADF recruiting: an opt-out system", Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 15 Dec 2023). This would be compulsory for all year 11 or 12 Australian students, to determine their suitability for military service. Those considered most suitable would be sent an offer of a full or part time position. He proposes this could be extended to also cover civilian government job offers as well. This is proposed to answer a chronic shortage of Australian Defence Force personnel. However, in this form, the idea is unlikely to receive widespread political support.

A service questionnaire is likely to meet opposition as being conscription by stealth. Compulsory military service is an issue which has divided Australian society, even in times of world war. Also the questionnaire would not address the reasons why young people are not volunteering, and not choosing to remain in military service. The military needs people with advanced technical skills, and are competing with civilian employers for those people. While all trained to fire a rifle, most now sit behind a computer console to do their job. The ADF needs to offer competitive pay and conditions to attract and retain personnel who can maintain and operated advanced systems. 

Mr Townsend gives examples of the Australian 1st Armoured Regiment being removed from the order of battle, and HMAS Anzac has now been mothballed due to lack of crew. However, in the next decade tanks, & most warships will be replaced with drones having no crews. These will new fewer people to operate, but those people will need advanced technical skills, and be supported by techncans to keep the systems running.

Mr Townsend gives the example of Finland with 5% of the population in the reserve forces. However, Finland has a long land boarder which can be defended by troops, in some cases on skis. Australia is an island, requiring ships, submarines, and aircraft as its primary defense, and which will be mostly automated and uncrewed. This will require an advanced workforce, of mostly civilians working in industry, to support.

This is not to say an Australian service questionnaire could not be useful. But I suggest it needs to be voluntary to avoid political opposition. Also the questionnaire could emphasize civilian roles, not military ones. At the same time the ADF could reform its training programs, to offer civilian standard vocational certificates to recruits, as well as the university degrees already offered.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Huston, we have a solution!

Greetings from the AI, ML and Friends Seminar at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr. Zak Kingston from Rice University is speaking on "Scaling Multi-Modal Planning".

That doesn't sound very exciting, but he is speaking from the USA, where he has been planning how to use a robot on the International Space Station. Robots can help with routine housekeeping tasks, on a space station, and presumably on earth, but it is tedious to have to program the robot to make every tiny motion. That works fine for a production line, where every car body will be locked into the same place, with an area reserved for the robot. But Dr. Kingston explained a space station is a confined space cluttered with stuff, which gets moved about. He is describing the use of the Open Motion Planning Library (OMPL) to solve this problem.

Austral autonomous ship
for USN & RAN.
This work has application for the Australian Defence Force. Suppliers to the ADF are working on ships, and submarines designed to be operated without a crew for weeks. These drone submarines and ships will need routine maintenance while at sea, with no one on board. A robot sailor could save the vessel having return to port to have a minor problem fixed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

AI in Society

Greetings from the Australian National University 2023 AI in Society Workshop. This is run by ANU Humanising Machine Intelligence. Some topics are Design Justice AI, Critical AI in the art museum, AITA and daily moral decisions, Robot Decision-making with Humans-in-the-loop. First up is James Bailie from Harvard University on Privacy, Data Privacy, and Differential Privacy 
(there is an earlier paper from him available). He started with the right to be let alone, then moved on to data privacy (although I don't know what non-data privacy is). Next was the concept of privacy via randomized responses, where randomness is added to protect individual privacy. 

ps: The subsequent presentations raised some interesting questions on timely topics. However, what is needed is to take the next step to practical implementation. As well as raising interesting areas for further research, this would also provide benifit to the community. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Sixteen Australian Universities in the top 100 for Sustainability Worldwide

Australian universities have done very well in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability 2024. There are 16 Australian universities in the top 100, based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges. This includes many large capital city universities, which I would have assumed would have more difficulty with sustainability, due to densely built inner city campuses. The regional universities have ranked lower. This may reflect the amount of specialist expertise needed to document sustainability, rather than level of sustainability itself. One way around that would be for students to undertake this as part of their coursework.

  1.  7 University of Sydney
  2.  9 University of Melbourne
  3. 11 University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney)
  4. 23 Monash University
  5. 30 Australian National University (ANU)
  6. 36 University of Queensland
  7. 40 Griffith University
  8. 43 University of Technology Sydney
  9. 49 University of Adelaide
  10. 57 Macquarie University
  11. 62 RMIT University
  12. 62 University of Wollongong
  13. 66 Deakin University.
  14. 74 University of Newcastle, Australia (UON)
  15. 89 Curtin University
  16. 100 Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Talking to the Media

A few weeks ago I woke to a media report that Optus customers had no landline, or mobile services. So I sent a message to the local ABC Canberra station to say I was available to talk. There was a text back within a minute to say could I speak on air in fifteen minutes. I have been on the Australian National University's list of experts to speak to the media for more than a decade, so this was a routine interview. But other ABC stations who monitor their own media, and rivals heard this, and I spent the next week talking to radio, and TV journalists (and ending up in print). 

The Australian Science Media Centre, which ANU subscribes to, sent out a comment from me:

"The Optus outage is most likely a regular software upgrade gone wrong. The problem is too widespread to be due to a cable break or equipment failure. " 

When it proved my diagnosis of the problem was correct featured me as their expert of the week. The result was mentions in 970 radio segments, 753 online articles, 169 on TV, and 22 in print. This is not as impressive as it looks, as many are local stations of the same network (each ABC local radio station is counted separately, when carrying the same item, for example).

The key to speaking to the media as an "expert" is not saying more than you know. In this case there was a national outage at Optus, effecting a large range of services. So I speculated it was due to a software upgrade in the routers (the specialized computers which send data around Optus' network). This turned out to be the case. I was asked if Optus could have had a backup, telecommunications but explained that because this was likely a problem with software, that would not have helped.

Another part is providing explanations which the public can understand. Technical jargon just confuses. It also helps to provide something the public can do. In this case I suggested if you have multiple phones at home have them on different networks (although this may cost more):

"This is a reminder to have backups for essential services. Even if you have another Internet connection, if you are using two-factor authentication to your bank, or employer, you will not be able to get the code on your phone to log in. If you buy a spare SIM card, check it is not using the same network as your usual telco, and your phone is not locked to them."

Also to keep the university happy it is important to ensure the interviewer mentions the name of the institution. The expert is not there to plug the university, I do like to tie the topic back to research, and education, where relevant:

"At the Australian National University, we are completing grading of the final assignment for computing students, before they graduate. The last thing they do is spend a year working in a team, building and testing, a real system for a real client. This is the ANU Techlauncher Program. An important part of this is to have more than one set of eyes on each line of code, and have students realize that failures of systems have real-world consequences for people."

If you are an academic, don't just pick up the phone and start talking to the media. First do the the media training offered by your media unit. Check on the rules for speaking publicly with your media unit. Get yourself added to the experts list

Friday, December 8, 2023

ACEN NSW/ACT WIL Summit in Sydney

Greetings from the ACEN NSW/ACT WIL Summit at University of Wollongong's Sydney campus. This is near Circular Quay, with a terrace view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The summit had people from NSW and ACT universities working in Work Integrated Learning (WIL). Formal presentations were eschewed for guided discussion. I won the prize for longest distance, having just come from ASCILITE 2023 in Christchurch. 

It was good to discuss common problems of finding enough places in industry for students, and how to keep them learning.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Curriculum innovation at the research-intensive university

Greetings from the last day of ASCILITE 2023 in Christchurch, where Dr Elisa Bone, Melbourne University is speakin on "More than the sum of its parts: reflections on a networked program supporting curriculum innovation at a research-intensive university". This is especially relevant to where I work at ANU. 

Dr Bone described how UOM planned a hub & spoke model, with instructional designers outposts. This brought central units and faculties together. Now they have triads of education fellows, developers & video production staff.

ps: At the break after I was in a discussion wil som of the ASCILITE MLSig of the influence of SC fi on mobile devices. This reminded me of the not quite real Milesham Organisation.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Flat-pack Learning Analytics

Greetings from ASCILITE 2023 where Leah Macfadyen just spoke on 'The “IKEA Model” for Pragmatic Development of a Customizable Learning Analytics'. The idea is a kit of code to do analysis from the learning management system, in this case Canvas. 

I spent the session wondering where I knew the speaker from. Perhaps when I gatecrashed a UBC staff meeting nine years ago.

Making sense of Learning Designer skills

Greetings from ASCILITE 2023, where Assoc Prof Gilmore from RMIT is talking on an international analysis of qalifications and skills asked for Learning Designers. These are people who help academics and academics produce courses. This is relatively new in school and university systems, but more common in vocational education.

Being effective is authentic

Greetings from ASCILITE 2023 in Christchurch, where David White, Dean of Academic Strategy (Online) at University of the Arts London, and President of the Association of Learning Technology, is speaking on "Being effective isn’t authentic: Building digital education culture". So far I am finding the talk annoying. Like many speakers in the last few years he talked about how well educational institutions did switching to online education and how important this was. I have no problem with that, but online learning was not a new thing these institutions stumbled across. Institutions and individual spent decades working on e-learning, including for deployment in an emergency, including an epidemic. 

Something I agreed with more that university staff's ideal student is one who lives nearby (or on campus), attends, and structures their life around their studies. This is also not a new thing. Distance education has provided for students who can't get to campus, and want an education to improve their life, not a lifestyle. This was thoroughly explored with the founding of the Open University

David White suggested the wish of employers to have staff return to the office, and academics have students back was power, not efficient work or learning. I suggest it is not necessarily that Machiavellian, it is just that this is what they are used to. If you spent your formative years in meetings, or lectures, then that is all you know and trust. A few months forced online in had hoc arrangements is not necessarily going to change your views. In contrast I was trained, educated and mentored online, to teach online, so this seems normal and natural. 

David White  ended by suggesting thinking of universities as "Digital institutions that also own buildings". I suggesting dropping "digital", as the virtual university was possible, and existed in the age of paper mail. This was discussed, at length, in Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". 

ASCILITE 2023 Day One

Kia ora tātou from ASCILITE 2023, in Tthe e Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, New Zealand and online. Unlike some organisations which abandoned the online option asap, ASCILITE has stuck with it. This is my first ASCILITE in person, although I have been a joint author on papers before, and presented via Zoom. I joined the ASCILITE Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (MLSig), in 2020, as a way to connect to people during the COVID-19 pandemic. I found myself drawn into ASCILITE, joining and attending conferences. 

ASCILITE went to considerable efforts to make virtual delegates feel part of the event. One way is to use the same app for Q&A in the room and online.

Due to the time zone differences I woke up early this morning and was listening to ABC Radio via their App. There was a discussion of how to get a job. When it got to soft skills, I called in (using VoWiFi) to talk about the students I teach. Now I am in a room of people who I feel to be my gang (my other gang are the computer professionals). 

The conference center is a short walk from where I am staying at the YHA Christchurch Backpackers. This was recently refurbished and only reopened last week. It happens to be across the road from the 1877 School of Arts, where some of the pre-conference workshops were held. This is now an art gallery, cinema, maker spaces, restaurant, and yes, they still teach art.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Join the Dots Career Planning

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society national office in Sydney. I am here for two days of meetings of the ACS Professional Standards Board, and the Accreditation Committee. I am on the Board, which sets standards for computing professional education in Australia, and am sitting in on the committee which accredits individual degrees at universities. 

During the break I went out for a coffee, and got chatting with an entrepreneur from a company in the start-up center ACS Harbor City Labs, at the other end of the floor. They said they were thinking of going back to finish their degree, which they left 15 years ago, and asked if that was feasible. I suggested their old university would be delighted to have them back, but they should not expect much credit for courses completed so long ago. They might instead apply for direct entry to a masters, based on experience. This got me thinking about the many staff in this situation, and how we can help them recognize their experience, and not have to do introductory courses.