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 phttps://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2023.2287417referred 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.

Reference

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: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2023.2287417

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
concepts
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 come from ASCILITE 2923 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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Broad Skills Needed for AUKUS

The Australian government has announced $128M for 4,001 STEM students with skills needed for the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine project. It should be noted most of the training, and jobs, will not be related to nuclear technology. The initial submarines will be purchased built from the USA and largely supported by US personnel. In my opinion, it is unlikely the followup AUKUS submarines will ever be built. By that time conventionally armed crewed submarines will have been rendered obsolete by drones. However the STEM skills the graduates learn in these courses will be critical to designing and building drone submarines as part of the evolved and expanded AUKUSJSK.

Professor Andrew Norton has criticized the level of funding, as it assumes a 25% attrition rate per year. He points out this is higher than is typical. This may reflect the demand for skills in industry. Universities may have difficulty keeping students in the program, when they could be earning in industry after only completing part of the program, especially those in the AUKUS courses who will be required to meet security vetting requirements. One approach would be to have nested work integrated programs, where students study while working on AUKUS, with their work being submitted for assessment. Students could complete the first part of the program, and be awarded a qualification to get them an entry level job. They would be then study while working for a promotion.

Batteries Included for Dunkelflaute: Future of Neighborhood Batteries in Australia Conference

Greetings from the 2nd Future of Neighborhood Batteries in Australia conference, at the Australian National University in Canberra. The event started with what we didn't know, which is if neighborhood batteries would "scale", that is with lots of them. One question I suggest needs to be answered is if there is value in community involvement in neighborhood batteries, or should these be something they just use.


ps: The word of the day is "Dunkelflaute". 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

ANU Energy Update 2023

Greetings from the ANU Energy Update 2023, from the Australian National University in Canberra. The mood of the event is relatively upbeat, with Australia progressing well with the transition of its electricity network to renewable energy, and in a strong position internationally to sell important materials, renewable energy, and green refined metals. Australia has also benefited from subsidies on solar panels and other renewable equipment in other countries. It is not all good news with Australian politics having ruled out a simple carbon tax.


Letting academics look after students

Professor Andrew Norton
In his blog, Andrew Norton has warned of "growing threats to academic decision making" from an interventionist approach to higher education by government. He worries about "micromanaged allocations of student places". One example is new business start-up programs, with specified course content. I am not as worried as Professor Norton about this. 

It is common to specify course content for a vocational program. These are standardized nationally between TAFEs and non-government vocational education institutions. In theory universities each decide what to teach, but for vocational courses they must all follow the requirements of external accreditation bodies. Academics serve on these bodies, accredit each others programs, and swap note on what and how to teach it. As a result there is not that much difference between universities.

The content requirements for START-UP HELP are reasonably generic, and much as I would specify from years working, teaching and mentoring in this field. I would have no problem designing courses which fitted with the government requirements, and university norms..

A more difficult issue Professor Norton raises is mandated student support policy which all universities must follow. However, any institution making a genuine effort to support students at risk should not have difficult complying with government requirements. Professor Norton gives the example of a student unable to keep up with studies, due to a high paid workload. If this is temporary, an appropriate academic adjustment would be to provide extensions for assignments. If it is a long term issue, other solutions would be work integrated learning and reduce their study load.

One way to reduce the impact of such problems is to catch them early, rather than a crisis at the end of semester. Progressive assessment helps with this. Small regular assessed tasks allows academics to identify studnts who are having difficulties, and offer help. Having trained teaching staff, and specialists they can refer studnts to also helps prevent a problem becoming a crisis. Also this can help force students to make difficult decisions. As an example a student who has 0 out of 2 on weekly tasks for each week of the semester has a clear signal they need to act, or fail.

Course and assessment design can have flexibility built in, rather than added post-hoc. This reduces workload, and stress for staff, as well as avoiding studnts being stigmatized. 

When designing assessment, I am ethically, and legally, required to ensure every student who passes meets the learning objectives for the course. This is not just a matter of equity, as Professor Norton suggests, but public safety. The public assumes a graduate is competent to do a job which livelihoods and lives depend on.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Best of ASCILITE 2023

The 

Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, 
Photo by Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education ASCILITE 2023 Conference starts next week at the Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre. I have to make difficult choice as to which of the parallel sessions to attend, and the luxury of not having to present (although I expect I will have to chair something). 

MONDAY 4 DECEMBER

0845 - 1000 Plenary - Rakaia Room
0930 -1030 Keynote address: Being effective isn’t authentic: Building digital education culture David White

1030-1100 Morning Tea + Poster Viewing

11:00 AM Conway 4, Assoc Prof Dawn Gilmore, Academic Director, RMIT Online

Qualifications, Interpersonal Skills, and Career Pathways: Building a Competency-Based Tool for the Recruitment and Career Development of Learning Designers

1:30 PM Rakaia Room Dr Shannon Rios, Lecturer, The University of Melbourne

Authorship Verification in Software Engineering Education: Forget ChatGPT and Focus on Students' Academic Writing Profiles

3:40 PM Conway 4 Dr Kashmira Dave, Lecturer, Academic Development, University of New England

Beyond Appearances: Unveiling the Hidden Biases in Hiring Academics in Australian Universities


ps: I will be in and around the 3 to 6 December. Happy to catch up with people, and give a talk, if someone has an audience and venue. 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

ANU Bandalang Studio Launch


Greetings from the launch of Bandalang Studio at the Australian National University in Canberra. The Bandalang Studio at the ANU School of Engineering will explore indigenous knowledge systems in innovation, design, research and teaching. I tried the VR headset with Lynette Wallworth's 'Collisions', a 3d immersive film.
We are having a reading from the book "The Visitors", by Jane Harrison. The point of this is that Bandalang Studio can teach non-indigenous people about how to live with country.

"What is Indigenous Engineering Design?

Indigenous engineering design demonstrates a highly sophisticated transdisciplinary systems thinking approach towards solving problems. ...

What is the Bandalang Studio?

Bandalang is a Wiradyuri language name which means ‘joining’ or ‘junction’. The name Bandalang was gifted to the studio by Ngambri (Walgalu), Wallaballooa (Ngunnawal), Wiradyuri (Erambie) custodian, Paul Girrawah House. The name symbolises the spirit of collaboration which is integral to the mission of the ANU Bandalang Studio. The Bandalang Studio is a place in which Indigenous Knowledge and traditional Western practice can collaborate to find sustainable solutions to our future in engineering. ...

Bandalang Studio Founding Principles

The Bandalang Studio is founded on four principles which guide our strategic priorities.

  • Principle of Bandalang (Collaboration) bandalang = joining, junction (noun)
  • Principle of Wudhagarbinya (Listening ) wudhagarbinya = listen or winhangarra = listen, hear, think or ngattai = listen
  • Principle of Dhurinya (Equality) dhurinya = being, continuing to being
  • Principle of Gurray (Change) gurray = change or refreshment

The above languages include Walgalu, Wiradyuri, Dhurga and Ngunnawal/Gundungarra.

Bandalang Studio Mission

  • platforming Indigenous Knowledge Systems in engineering nationally and internationally
  • building Indigenous ways of thinking, being and doing into the ANU School of Engineering course structure, curriculum development and delivery
  • fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships that support Indigenous projects and enterprises
  • create life-long learning support pathways for Indigenous students, practitioners and researchers in engineering
  • to critically address existing traditions, norms and values in engineering and technology"

From  About Bandalang Studio Indigenous Engineering Design, ANU, 2023

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Technological Security for Business Success

Craig Davis, Andrew McCallum,
Mandy Snashall, & Petr Adamek
Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network, where an .auDA panel is discussing "Unlocking Success: Harnessing Technological Disruption for Business Growth". Having spent much of the last week and a bit answering media enquirers about the Optus outage, as an ANU expert, I would like a little less technological disruption. The language of innovation talks about disruption, and failing early. However, failed systems the public rely on result in inconvenience, and at times deaths. We need technology which works reliably. AuDA is part of keeping the Internet reliable and secure, as Craig Davis joint pointed out. 

The discussion has got around to AI. Petr pointed out AI is not new, having written a PhD thesis on it, a long time ago. Craig pointed how smart phones were revolutionary, but are now normal. It occurs to me that the Optus outage was useful in pointing out to people how dependent they are. Craig points out there will be bad actors misusing AI, but suggests we need the good people innovating against this. Mandy wants to jettison some of her job into space. With several rocket startups in Canberra, that will soon be possible. ;-)

Petr worried about ChatGPT queries warming the planet. I just did a quick calculation, and worked out one query emits about 0.0002 g of CO2.


Wednesday, November 15, 2023

ACS Digital Pulse 2023

Greetings from the National Press club in Canberra, where the ACS Digital Pulse 2023 report was just launched by Mr Jerome Laxale MP, Member for Bennelong.  The report confirms a looming tech skills crisis, with 1.3 million additional skilled workers being needed. This is also bad news with women's share of the tech workforce going backwards in the last year. The ACS and the report by Deloitte call for training in AI, data analytics and robotics. These might sound like matters effecting only a small select section of the community. But I have spent the week talking to the media about the Optus network outage, with operations at Australian hospitals delayed, then a cyber attack at Australian ports stopping goods. The report also calls for more flexible credentialing with recognition of micro-credentials, and industry certifications.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Innovation at the ANU

Greetings from the award winning Birch Building at the Australian National University, where 60 second pitches are on. Think Shark Tank, but with a friendly audience of 300. This is the First Wednesday Connect event of the Canberra Innovation Network (first Wednesday of each month). 

I might be about to do something innovative. On the way to the event I stopped in at the ANU Library on the way and found myself looking up "Cambridge Phenomenon". This is a report I read 27 years ago, and changed my life. Perhaps it is time to work out what to do next.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Future of Australian Higher Education is the Stage on the Stage in Sydney's Inner West

Italian Forum Cultural Centre
Last night I attended a performance of "La Giara" (The Jar) by Luigi Pirandello at the The Italian Forum, Leichhardt, in Sydney's Inner West. Most know this as the location for Italian restaurants, a public library, and some apartments. But hidden underneath is a modern drama theater, with retractable seating. This is the home of Actors Centre Australia, a Registered Training Organisation, which teaches drama. 

Occasionally you might see the students run out into the forum's piazza and perform free-form routines (pretending to be a tree). What I hadn't realized, until picking up a brochure in the forum last night, is that they also offer bachelor degrees, through Torrens University Australia. This provides one useful model for Australian higher education. A local campus, where students can receive hands on tuition (literally), for vocational qualifications, and also study for a degree.

Torrens University is a non-government, for profit organisation. However, there is no reason why Australia's not-for-profit universities could not have similar arrangements with government TAFEs, and private vocational training organisations. Some Australian universities already do this, being dual sector, and some TAFEs are accredited to issues degrees. But at present this is on a small scale.

ps: The Actors Center students are putting on "Waiting For Godot" next May. Given concern in Sydney over recycling and affordable housing, perhaps they should put on Beckett's Endgame instead, with the actors in wheelie bins. ;-)

    Thursday, October 5, 2023

    TEQSA Masterclass Workshop on Detecting Contract Cheating

    Penny Wheeler, Amanda White, & Tom Worthington, at the TEQSA Masterclass

    Greetings from the TEQSA Masterclass Workshop on Contract cheating detection and deterrence, at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This builds on the online Detecting Contract Cheating course from TEQSA. The good points of the course and workshop is that they raise uncomfortable questions for university academics. But I am not so sure the answers presented are the correct ones. Rather than a "Law & Order - Cheating Investigation Unit", I suggest universities should focus on quality assessment to deter cheating, and structure it to prevent cheating studnts from ever graduating.

    I had some concerns about the legalistic approach in the online module leading to discrimination against vulnerable students, and even more so in the face to face workshop. Also TEQSA clearly envisages having centralized cheating investigation units. 

    There is also discussion of what are plea bargains, where studnts receive a lesser penalty, for admitting cheating. However, if there are to be professional investigators, I suggest they will need to be formally qualified. Also those making the decisions will have to have formal training how to make judicial decisions. It does not seem reasonable to deny a degree to a student, based on evidence collected and decided by people who do not even have a relevant TAFE certificate. 

    Having done an online course, and a face to face workshop, with no form of assessment is not sufficient. Government investigators at least have a vocational certificate, and something similar is required for university investigators. Similarly, those serving on tribunals have to have some form of training. 

    I suggest that universities should look to their vocational education colleagues, who are much more sued to dealing with nationally standardized regulations. 

    My preference would be to decriminalize cheating, much the way is being done with illicit drug use in Canberra. Students would be given a failing grade where they cheated, and given compulsory training.

    A related issue which came up during the workshop is educational institutions complicity in visa fraud. This where someone obtains a student visa, in order to be able to work in Australia. Those who accept such visas are at risk to being exploited by organised crime. It came as a surprise when I discovered the universities were processing visa applications on behalf of government. It would be tempting to return the function to government staff. But those staff may not have the specialized knowledge of education. It may be that educational institutions, particularly smaller ones, should form consortia and pool staff.

    The investigation processes illustrated by TEQSA depended on technical means involving Learn Management System logs, document metadata, Internet Protocols and the like. Such procedures will only catch relatively unsophisticated students, and commercial cheating services. It might be useful to build technical means into the university systems to deter such activities. As an example, the tool could ask the student when they login from a different IP address to explain where they are. Similarly when submitting a document, the system could check the metadada on the document for consistency. The contract cheating company could, of course, coach the studnts to provide plausible answered, but otherwise only the students who can't afford to pay for good cheating will be caught. 

    The course and workshop focused on contract cheating. They were designed before generative AI came to public attention. It is unfortunate TEQSA did not anticipate what was coming and so was required to instead react. They are now trying to catch up. An AI topic which has not yet been addresses is AI for teaching and assessment. I took part in a workshop on building an AI tutor chatbot in 2018, which had some interesting implications.

    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.