Thursday, March 23, 2023

Australian Coal Exports to China to Drop in 2025

Greetings from "Coal consumption in China" by Jorrit Gosens, creator of the "China Energy Portal" at the Australian National University. He predicts that by 2025 China will be able to meet much more of its requirements for coal domestically for energy and steel production. This is due to improvements in rail lines to get coal from west to east. 

Australia can sell much of its surplus coal China doesn't need, to Japan and South Korea, but not all. In the longer term coal consumption in China will go down, but it is unclear by how much, as Chinese provincial governments like to "build stuff".

Allow Students to use AI Generated Text in an Assignment Structured like a Systematic Review?

One of my students asked if they could use ChatGPT to write a report on their work experience. I checked the institutional rules, and found I had discretion as to what to do. I said "no", on the basis they would not be the author of the work, just an editor of it. But then their supervisor gave me a call to say they had suggested ChatGPT. This puts it in a new light, if this is an accepted, and encouraged, work practice.  So what I am now thinking is have the student prepare a report much like one used for a Systematic Review. 

The student framed their request in terms of using ChatGPT as a grammar checker. The problem is that ChatGPT does much more than simply correct grammar, it selects facts and concepts, drawn from a large collection of work from numerous authors, not always correct, or attributed. 

Universities provide advice and assistance with writing. Professor Inger Mewburn at ANU (the Thesis Whisperer), recommends Grammarly, and the free alternative Typely. I used Grammarly as a graduate student, and found it very useful (English is my first, and only, language, but I only barely passed the subject at school).

My experiences in using Chat GPT, and its predecessor GPT3, and other AI, have been mixed. Recently I reviewed a paper generated by Chat GPT. I gave the paper one out of five, and suggested the name of the author should be "Anonymous" with the person who submitted it listed as an editor, not author. But not everyone agreed, with an average review of 2.6 out of 5.

Using an approach similar to a systematic review, the student would set out what they are attempting to accomplish, what queries they tried, what the results they got were, how they selected the most appropriate result, what manual changes they made to the automated result, a critique of the result, and recommendations for improvements to the process. The idea would be the student would demonstrate skill in using a tool to produce a result, and value add to the automated output.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Redesigning University for All Students

Greetings from the ANU First Generation Welcome Alumni Week event. Staff and graduates, who's parents did not go to university were asked along to share their experience. Despite studying this topic during my MEd, it was only a couple of years ago, at one of these ANU events, I realized I was one. But I still have difficulty understanding how this made my university experience different.

The talks from staff who were fist generation was useful, in helping current students understand they are not alone. However, I suspect that people who go on to become academics have very different university experience to the average student. As an example, they seem to have attended a lot of universities, and completed multiple qualifications ( as have I). That would be daunting for a student just starting out. We need to tell them it is okay to go to one university, and then get a job outside: you don't have to aim to be an academic.

Also what was of use were group discussions around tables. This helps studnts meet others like themselves. It also helped me realise that there are those who have a more difficult time then themselves. Those of us from a low income, single parent first generation backgrounds may the we had it tough, but hearing from some whose parents were political prisoners, puts it in perspective.

While a one off, face to face event is useful, I suggest much more is needed to help first generation students. This has to be built into the curriculum, as a compulsory assessed, for-credit component, not an optional extra-curricular activity. 

One way for first generation students to be helped, I suggest, is to offer training in how to be a student as a formal compulsory initial course which counts towards their degree. As a student I would not do an optional activity, as it would be stealing time from my essential compulsory courses. I suspect that is a mindset which goes with being a first generation student.

There also small impediments which can be easily fixed. As an example, getting textbooks is said to be something first generation studnts have difficulty with. The last university I studied at provided textbooks (this is a common feature at open and distance universities). As a student I didn't have to pay extra, or do anything for books. A few weeks before the course started, a package of books arrived on my doorstep. This applied wherever you were. I was 13,000 km from the campus, but the books still turned up, on time. This is something more Australian universities could emulate.

The approach I suggest is to flip the thinking on first in family students. At present universities design on the assumption that students know about university, through having attended a private school, or from university educated parents. Special arrangements are then just needed for those who did not. This is similar to the approach which used to be made for those with a disability. That approach would no longer be acceptable: you can't build a classroom without wheelchair access, and the offer to carry disabled students up the stairs: that would be unlawful discrimination. The approach to first in family and other disadvantaged students should similarly change: provision for them should be built into the curriculum, as the default option. This will help all students.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Free University Lectures for All Australian Productivity Commission Report

Free broadcast lectures were proposed in the novel "And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks" by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs (1945). This idea has been resurrected, bizarrely, by the Australian Productivity Commission in its report "Advancing Prosperity" (17 March 2023), with recommendations (p. 6), "... requiring universities to provide all lectures online and for free ...". The Commission's reasoning is that "This would improve the transparency of teaching quality and provide an incentive to invest in, and improve, teaching performance" (Volume 1, P. 29). If this recommendation had been made last century, it would have had some merit. I gave up giving lectures in 2008, and moved my teaching online. Few followed this approach at the time. But in 2023, after three years of online learning brought about by a pandemic, it is difficult to comprehend how the commission could understand so little about how university education is now provided.

The Commission does make some relevant points about education:

"Digital communications can provide scale (say in university education) allowing for expansion of services at low marginal cost." (Volume 1, Page 21).

"Reforming university funding arrangements would facilitate expanded access for Australians to tertiary qualifications. It would also facilitate more competition and address the unintended consequences that result from university efforts to manage the course mix — a response to the poor incentives embedded in the current funding model." (Volume 1, Page 29).

"Notwithstanding the strong growth of higher education, VET remains the largest provider of formal post-school training, serving more than twice the number of university students. Given this, overcoming systemic flaws in VET design is important." (Volume 1, Page 30).

"Loan fee arrangements should also be equalised across the tertiary sector, levied on all students regardless of type (that is, extended from fee-for-service VET students and non-university higher education students to include subsidised VET students and university students). The loan fee rate should also be lowered reflecting application to a broader base of students." (Volume 1, Page 88).

One obvious way to increase the quality of university education, by requiring those teaching at universities to be qualified to teach, appears to have been missed by the commission.

The commission appears to be in the business of writing large, infrequent reports which make the same recommendations which were ignored previously. This doesn't appear very productive, if measured by the improvements made as a result of the reports. The commission might want to send their staff for some training in how to formulate and present recommendations in a way they will be accepted. This is a skill I help university students with.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Broad Range of Skills Needed for AUKUS Submarine Project

On 4 Mar 2023 the Australian government announced a plan to acquire three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines from 2030, with modified UK Astute "AUKUS" class submarines built in Australia from 2040. Commentary on the announcement has pointed out that nuclear physics graduates will be needed to build, maintain, and operate the submarines. However, there will be many more specialists in engineering and computing needed. A submarine is essentially a metal tube full of computers. The weapons launched are similarly increasingly computer controlled.

Defence personnel operating, and operating from, the submarines, will also need high level skills in computing, and communications. There is a role for Australian higher education in training these personnel, and helping the Australian Defence Force in making best use of the submarines. As an example, in 2020 I coached a team in the 
Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop. Mixed teams of navy, public service and defence industry personnel worked on new ways to counter threats, many of which used drones.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Paper Written by ChatGPT Get 2.6 out of 5 from Reviewers

Roger Clarke recently referred me a paper for review, knowing my interest in military matters, and AI. Apart from the topic, and how it was generated, the paper was also of interest as it was submitted to a public review forum, Qeios.

The paper was bland, much like other AI generated text. It was not really publishable as an academic work, as it didn't have anything new to say. But it was very much like many internal documents I had read, written by committee at the Australian Department of Defence. 

The other problem with the document was attribution. I suggested the author's name be changed to "Anonymous", as the content comes from a large corpus of online work by many authors. The person listed as author I suggested should be acknowledged as an editor. This would be a way, I suggest to acknowledge the contribute on people who generate such work.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

ANU New Research Showcase: Climate, Energy & Disasters

Greetings from the ANU New Research Showcase: Climate, Energy & Disasters. where the Vice Chancellor is opening the event. He mentioned recent "natural" disasters at ANU. This included a flood through the Library behind him, and a hailstorm, after which the roof is still being repaired (you can see the orange plastic wrap in the photo). 

Despite the topic, the symposium has an upbeat tone, as it is about what ANU researchers have been doing to help lessen the impact of severe weather events. An example is the first presentation is on AI for prediction of cyclones.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Submissions on The Future of Australian Universities

 Submissions Report,
Universities Accord,
Nous Group, 21 February 2023
The Australian Universities Accord Panel, chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane, has released a 118 page report of Submissions on priorities for the Australian Universities Accord (Nous Group, 21 February 2023). There is also the full text of most of the 185 submissions available. This includes my submission "Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education" (December, 2022).

The report found some common themes:

  • "Improving access to the higher education system, particularly for underrepresented cohorts and identifying programs to improve student outcomes.
  • Reviewing the current higher education funding model to ensure it supports the long-term success of teaching, learning and research, in line with national priorities.
  • Investigating the regulatory arrangements which govern the higher education system
  • Reviewing how the institutions within the higher education sector interact with each other, the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector and industry to deliver the skills needs of the future."

About all I would add is the interconnected issues of teacher training and online education. The issue of training staff to teach is particularly difficult for research universities, which have conflicting priorities. Measures of university quality are based primarily on research, not teaching. 

Australian universities have had a similar conundrum with online learning. Online learning provides a quality of education outcomes at least equal to classroom teaching, but is perceived as lower quality. Students like the idea of classroom learning, but in practice most do not turn up to lectures.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Kits to help teach computing to schoolkids

Sarah Washbrooke
presenting to ML Sig
Greetings from the ASCILITE Mobile Learning Special Interest Group where Sarah Washbrooke is presenting on Byteed Play Code Learn kits. These are for primary school students to learn computer programming. They use cards and board, like a game, plus augmented reality, based on tablets, or tablets. This looks a practical, low tech approach, which would not be too intimidating for teachers who are not confident with computers.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Anything Happening in Singapore or India in April?

Singapore Fintech Festival, 2022 
I will be in Singapore April 4 & 26 to 28, Goa 6 to 19, and Bengaluru 21 to 24. Any education or computing events I can help with, while there? Any conferences or events I can attend, or anyone, I should visit? I get a bit bored looking at museums. ;-)

On my visit to Singapore last year I have a talk on work integrated learning at the Singapore Institute of Technology, on Sustainable Computing at EduTech Asia, was on a panel about satellite data security with government officials, and attended the Fintech Festival, plus Predict22's Cyber-security Summit.

I see Microsoft Research is a few hundred meters from where I am staying in Bengaluru. Is that somewhere you can just wander into? I visited Microsoft Research Cambridge, but that was by invitation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Discussion Paper on The Future of Australian Universites

The Australian Universities Accord Panel, chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane, has released a 44 page Discussion Paper. I submitted Some Thoughts on the Future of Australian Higher Education in December.

There are a series of questions in the paper. Here is my attempt to answer some. An underlying these in these, I realised later, was to make Uni more like TAFE, with shorter, nested, competency based, work integrated courses, delivered by people trained to teach:

Role of higher education:

  1. "How should an Accord be structured and focused to meet the challenges facing Australia’s higher education system? What is needed to overcome limitations in the current approach to Australian higher education?
  2. How can the diverse missions of Australian higher education providers be supported, taking into account their different operating contexts and communities they serve (for example regional universities)?
  3. What should the long-term target/s be for Australia’s higher education attainment by 2030 and 2040, and how should these be set and adjusted over time?"

There is enough in just these three questions to keep academia busy for decades. I suggest the diverse mission of Australian higher education can be supported by allowing for a diversity of institutions. In particular vocational education needs to be strengthened, to become the first option for post-school education, not just something you do if you can't get into a  university. A reasonable aim would be to have 80% of the 25-34 year old population with at least an AQF Level 4 Qualification (Certificate IV). This would be more useful goal than aiming for a bachelor's degree for the majority of the population.

Challenges and opportunities for the higher education system

4. "Looking from now to 2030 and 2040, what major national challenges and opportunities should Australian higher education be focused on meeting?

5 How do the current structures of institutions, regulation and funding in higher education help or hinder Australia’s ability to meet these challenges? What needs to change?

6 What are the best ways to achieve and sustain future growth in Australian higher education, given the changing needs of the population and the current pressures on public funding?

7 How should the mix of providers evolve, considering the size and location of existing institutions and the future needs of communities?"

The challenge I suggested Australian universities face in 2016 was how to provide quality education online. I warned that international students could be prevented from getting to Australian campuses, due to a regional crisis. Unfortunately universities failed to heed this warning, and were largely unprepared when COVID-19 struck.

However, I also warned of a longer term challenge with competition for international and domestic students from offshore, and online universities. Australian universities are also failing to meet this challenge, assuming that with COVID-19 receding, they can scale back ad-hoc online learning. As a result, international and domestic studnts will choose to study elsewhere.

Challenges and opportunities for the higher education system

9 "How should Australia ensure enough students are studying courses that align with the changing needs of the economy and society?

10 What role should higher education play in helping to develop high quality general learning capabilities across all age groups and industries? 

11 How should Australia boost demand from people to study in the higher education system? 

12 How should an adequate supply of CSPs be sustained and funded, as population and demand increase?"

Australian governments can fund vocational education programs in areas of demand. Some of those students can then go on to university study. This will ensure that there are incentives for study in particular fields, without burdening the taxpayer with the entire cost.

Universities can provide work integrated, competency based, nested programs, which allow new and mature students to gain the skills they need quickly. A student should be able to undertake a microcredential which takes only a few weeks study, and have that count towards a certificate, diploma, and degree.

Collaboration with industry

13 "How could an Accord support cooperation between providers, accreditation bodies, government and industry to ensure graduates have relevant skills for the workforce?

14 How should placement arrangements and work-integrated learning (WIL) in higher education change in the decades ahead?"

Professional associations have a key role in setting the standards for the professions. 

Unpaid internships should be outlawed through state and federal legislation. Those industries willing to pay for trainees will get staff. Those companies unwilling to invest in their future will not have a future.

Lifelong Learning

15 "What changes are needed to grow a culture of lifelong learning in Australia?

16 What practical barriers are inhibiting lifelong learning, and how can they be fixed?"

A major impediment to life long learning is the assumption that school leavers attend a campus full time for three years to obtain a degree for a first job. Shorter qualifications, part time, and mature students are therefore seen as an afterthought by universities. This can be changed by requiring universities to offer online, nested, qualifications which suit mature working students. 

Connection between the vocational education and training and higher education systems

17 "How should better alignment and connection across Australia’s tertiary education system be achieved?

18 What role should reform of the AQF play in creating this alignment?

19 What would a more effective and collaborative national governance approach to tertiary education look like?

20 How can pathways between VET and higher education be improved, and how can students be helped to navigate these pathways? 

21 How can current examples of successful linkages between VET and higher education be integrated across the tertiary education system? 

22 What role do tertiary entrance and admissions systems play in matching learners to pathways and supporting a sustained increase in participation and tertiary success?"

Better alignment can be achieved by directing more of the funding to the vocational sector, so it becomes the first choice for students leaving school. That will then give the vocational sector the power to negotiate alignment with universities, as most university entrants will be coming from the vocational sector, and that sector will be able to influence which university they select.

The tertiary entrance and admissions systems are poor at matching learners to pathways, and should be scrapped.

Solving Big Challenges

23 "How should an Accord help Australia increase collaboration between industry, government and universities to solve big challenges?

24 What reforms will enable Australian research institutions to achieve excellence, scale and impact in particular fields?

25 How should Australia leverage its research capacity overall and use it more effectively to develop new capabilities and solve wicked problems?

26 How can Australia stimulate greater industry investment in research and more effective collaboration?"

Australian government can consult the education sector, as well as others, when setting national priorities.  They can then allocate funding for universities in accordance with those priorities.

Compulsory industry training for research students will help increase impact. There is little point in having excellent research if the researchers do not see it as part of their job, and do not have the skills, to put that research into practice.

Research Workforce

27 "How can we improve research training in Australia including improving pathways for researchers to gain experience and develop high-impact careers in government and industry?"

The Australian Government can improve pathways by transferring funding from research doctorates to professional doctorates. Professional doctorates provide more rounded, useful graduates for government and industry.

Academic Preparadness

28 "What is needed to increase the number of people from under-represented groups applying to and prepared for higher education, both from school and from other pathways?

29 What changes in provider practices and offerings are necessary to ensure all potential students can succeed in their chosen area of study?"

Open universities have for decades shown how to provide for under-represented groups, by offering part time, online studies, recognising prior experience as being as valuable as formal study.

Addressing barriers to access

30 "How can governments, institutions and employers assist students, widen opportunities and remove barriers to higher education?

31 How can the costs of participation, including living expenses, be most effectively alleviated?"

Governments can increase funding for vocational education, to make it the default pathway to university. Government can require universities to make online, part time, work integrated learning the default option.

Training can be provided to university program and course designers to show them how to design out the privileged assumptions built into current university programs. Government can require universities to built in study skills courses to programs, rather than have these an optional extra for disadvantaged students.

System-wide approaches to increasing access and equity

32 "How can best practice learning and teaching for students from under-represented groups be embedded across the higher education system, including the use of remote learning?

33 What changes to funding and regulatory settings would enable providers to better support students from under-represented groups in higher education?"

Governments, and professional accreditation bodies, can make teaching qualifications for university teaching staff mandatory. Staff will then have the skills needed to design out the discrimination currently built into courses, due to lack of competence.


34 "How should the contribution of higher education providers to community engagement be encouraged and promoted?

35 Where providers make a distinctive contribution to national objectives through community, location-based or specialised economic development, how should this contribution be identified and invested in?"

Community engagement can be fostered by building on social enterprise programs run through organisations such as the Canberra Innovation Network. Academics and their students, need specific training in how to identify community needs, and how to talk to the community. This can be built into professional curricular, as is done in the ANU School of Computing's Techlauncher Program.

Regulation and governance

36 "What regulatory and governance reforms would enable the higher education sector to better meet contemporary demands?

37 How could a more coherent and dynamic national governance system for higher education be achieved?"

One of the strengths of the Australian education system is the mix of federal state and non-government. The temptation to simplify, and centralise, should be resisted.

Academic workforce

38 "How can the Accord support higher education providers to adopt sector-leading employment practices?"

The Accord can recommend legislation making wage theft a crime, with jail terms for the Vice Chancellors where institutions deliberately, and systematically, steal money from their staff.

The problem of insecure employment can be addressed by ensuring that doctoral students are trained for jobs which exist in government, or industry, and not given the false impression they have a well paid secure future in academia. With the ability to get a job elsewhere, academic staff will be much harder for universities systematically to exploit.

Quality experience for students

39 "What reforms are needed to ensure that all students have a quality student experience?

40 What changes are needed to ensure all students are physically and culturally safe while studying?"

Having students first undertake vocational education, and paid employment, will ensure more maturity on entry to university. Compulsory courses on study skills can incorporate familiarly with what students can expect, and how to complain when they don't get it. Compulsory group work for new students can incorporate cultural sensitivity training.

Compulsory training for teachers in how to teach can incorporate cultural sensitivity training.

Research quality

41 "How should research quality be prioritised and supported most effectively over the next decade?"

The Australian Government can fund the development of an international university ranking scheme which prioritises education quality over research quantity. This will correct the current imbalance where universities strive to maximise the production of research papers, at the expense of quality, to achieve a high ranking, and thus attract students. 

Academic integrity

42 "What settings are needed to ensure academic integrity, and how can new technologies and innovative assessment practices be leveraged to improve academic integrity?"

Academics can be trained in how to design courses which incorporate authentic work integrated assessment, rather than essays and exams. This will be more effective than continuing the arms race between AI to create essays, and AI to detect them.

International Education

43 "How should the current recovery in international education be managed to increase the resilience and sustainability of Australia’s higher education system, including through diversification of student enrolments from source countries?

44 How can the benefits of international education be shared broadly across the system, including in regional areas, and what level of reporting should there be?"

The resilience of Australian Higher education can be increased by providing a quality online option. A condition of funding of Australian universities should be cooperation, not competition, with international marketing. Existing cultural contacts with Vietnam, Indonesia, and the region, should be exploited.

The Australian Government should scrap the New Colombo Plan, and instead fund a virtual Colombo program, which subsidises students from developing nations to study online alongside Australian students.  

Investment and affordability

45 "How should the contribution of different institutions and providers to key national objectives specific to their location, specialist expertise or community focus be appropriately financed?

Q46 How can infrastructure development for higher education be financed, especially in regional and outer urban locations?"

Government funding of regional campuses should be conditional on those campuses being shared, between institutions, and with the local community.

Commonwealth funding for higher education research and teaching and learning

47 "What structure of Commonwealth funding is needed for the higher education sector for the system to be sustainable over the next two decades?"

Funding for teaching and learning should continue to be limited to accredited institutions, public and private. Rather than open degree awarding to a larger range of institutions, students should be encouraged to obtain more vocationally relevant sub-degree qualifications. The current degree awarding institutions can then be incentivised to grant credit to a degree for these.

Student contributions and the Higher Education Loan Program

48 "What principles should underpin the setting of student contributions and Higher Education Loan Program arrangements?

Government should fully fund the equivalent of one Certificate IV for each Australian citizen, with subsidies reducing as the student completes each higher level of study.

Job-ready Graduates (JRG) package

49 "Which aspects of the JRG package should be altered, and which should be retained?"

Undergraduate Certificates should be retained as part of nested degree programs. However, the option of the student undertaking this in the vocational sector should be encouraged.

ANU First Year Teaching Good Practice Guide

Greetings from the Australian National University Center for Learning and Teaching, where Professor Maryanne Dever, ro Vice-Chancellor (Education & Digital) is launching the "ANU First Year Teaching Good Practice Guide". This complements the ANU Learning and Teaching Strategy

The Guide focuses on young people, but is applicable to helping those new to university of any age, and not so new. As a young, first in generation, low SES student, I experienced difficulties. But what surprised me was still having difficulties as a mature age student, decades later. I found study an exhausting, frustrating, and at times terrifying experience. This was particularly so for the three years I spent as an international online student. 

Some of what stresses students may seem silly to teaching staff, but is very stressful at the time. As an example, not knowing what size page to submit my assignments on: my US professors assumed everyone knows you use Letter size paper, whereas my Canadian professors (at the same university), assumed everyone knows you use A4. I spent days agonizing over what to do, and ended up using P4: a Canadian paper size which is a compromise between Letter & A4, but which unfortunately no one actually uses. ;-)

The Guide doesn't contain any revolutionary new insights. But is a good summary of conventional wisdom, and are tips every academic should learn during their basic teacher training.

One good point of the guide is that it doesn't distinguish between face to face and online teaching. What a decade learning to teach, teaching online, and setting education standards for my profession, has shown me is that there is very little difference teaching roomies and zoomies.


  1. Preface
  2. Transition
  3. Diversity
  4. Design
  5. Engagement
  6. Assessment
  7. Evaluation and monitoring
  8. Checklist
  9. References and further reading

Friday, February 17, 2023

How to change university assessment to take into account ChatGPT

I asked ChatGPT "How to change university assessment to take into account ChatGPT?". Here is the answer:

"It is important to note that the process of changing university assessments is complex and typically requires collaboration and approval from various stakeholders, such as faculty members, administrators, and governing bodies. Additionally, any changes to assessment methods should be made in a way that ensures the validity and reliability of the assessment.

That being said, if you are interested in exploring the possibility of incorporating ChatGPT into university assessments, here are some steps you could consider:

  1. Identify the specific assessments where ChatGPT could be a useful tool. For example, it could be used for essay writing assignments, multiple-choice questions, or short answer questions.

  2. Determine how ChatGPT would be integrated into the assessment process. For example, would it be used to provide feedback to students on their writing assignments, or would it be used to score answers to multiple-choice questions?

  3. Establish guidelines and criteria for how ChatGPT will be used. For example, will it be used as a primary grading tool, or as a tool to assist faculty in grading? What threshold will be used for accepting ChatGPT-generated responses?

  4. Consider the potential challenges of using ChatGPT in assessments, such as concerns about bias, accuracy, and reliability. It may be necessary to conduct a pilot study to assess these concerns.

  5. Seek input and feedback from faculty members, students, and other relevant stakeholders before implementing any changes to university assessments.

Ultimately, any changes to university assessments should be made in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, with a focus on improving the validity and reliability of the assessment process, as well as enhancing student learning outcomes."

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Computational methods for economics and finance

Greetings from "An introduction to computational methods for economics and finance", at the Australian National University's   Research School of Economics (CBE). This features Nobel Laureate Professor Thomas J. Sargent, of New York University and Professor John Stachurski, ANU. This is something of a masterclass in how to deliver modern classroom based teaching. Along with celebrity speakers, there are hands on exercises using an online code library, and an emphasis on real world applications. This format appeals to students, as indicated by good attendance, despite this being "O" week, with many fun attractions available to students.

As someone trained in FORTRAN it was good to hear it mentioned, in between much Python. ;-)  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Ukraine Choosing Freedom

Greetings from the ANU Centre for European Studies, where Dr Olesya Khromeychuk, is speaking on Choosing Freedom in Ukraine. In his introduction, His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ambassador of Ukraine, praised the role of "citizen ambassadors", to keep his nation in the spotlight.

Dr Khromeychuk related the view from her pre-independence childhood home, with the dismal remains of the soviet system crumbling outside. She later marched in an independence parade on the same street. Dr Khromeychuk then took us back through the history of Ukraine, then forward through multiple protests for independence. This is a useful message for the rest of the world: Ukraine's current struggle is not the first time the Ukrainian people have had to put their lives on the line.

Dr Khromeychuk related how she has her first year history students will draw a map of Europe with the Russian border through the middle of Ukraine. She suggests the mental map of Europeans needs to be redrawn.

Since 2022, ANU has hosted a series of seminars on the Ukraine war. There is very much the sense of history being written as it is happening. Sitting in the front row are ambassadors of nations of eastern europe. At a previous seminar one remarked "We are at war". 

At question time one interesting point was that indepdentent Ukraine should not be referred to as "The Ukraine", as that would indicate it was still part of someone were else. I asked what Australia could do to help. Dr Khromeychuk surprised me by asking for Ukrainian studies, and cultural links, rather than guns and tanks. She made the point that universite are being destroyed. I noticed this has even stopped some Chinese students from studying. The Ambassador thanked Australia for diplomatic and material support. He pointed out they are in the middle of winter and need more coal, but did not mention tanks. He said he was also keen on academic exchanges.

Monday, January 30, 2023

What is China's Tech Policy?

Greetings from the Australian Centre on China in the World,at The Australian National University, where Rogier Creemers from  Leiden University i speaking on China’s Techno-Developmental State: Achieving the Future. He began by noting there were few China tech policy watchers, despite there being plenty of Chinese government documents available to work from. Also Dr Creemers suggested China is a "future oriented authoritarian state", in contrast to Russia's "eternal present". 

Working out what the thinking is in the Chinese government is of vital interest to Australia. It is also of immediate interest to me, as yesterday new reports indicated China has banned their citizens studying online. But exactly what had the Chinese government decided, and why?

In 2003 I attended a conference in Beijing to provide advice on building the website for the 2008 Olympics. As a former Australian government technocrat, and academic, I felt very comfortable talking to Chinese technocrats and academics. The US representative, in contrast, seemed to expect everyone to be in Chinese tunics, waving little red books.

Dr Creemers argued that Chinese tech policy is shaped by being a late adopter. China had to have its Internet first hosted by a Western university, and accept its libertarian underpinnings. This is perhaps a little overstated. When we needed to set up the Australian Defence Department's web site, I turned to a university. Admittedly this was the Australian Defence Force Academy, but the Government bureaucracy could not cope with what to do, I bypassed it. Similarly, the laissez-faire ethos of the Internet is something which the Australian Government could not comprehend. In a Senate Internet inquiry we had to explain why there could not simply be a government agency which approved every document before it went online. In contrast, when I visited the People's Daily, they had a sophisticated view of how to guide discussion online. 

Dr Creemers suggest that the rise of the smartphone took the Chinese government by surprise, but an office was established to regulate this, and coordinate digital policy. 

As Dr Creemers explains it, the Chinese government had some surprises and made adjustments to policy. This reminded me of Juan Du's "The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City", which challenged the idea that the city's success was due to a single central policy decision. One insight was that China wants not to just master a technology, but apply it profitably. This is an approach the Australian Government could perhaps learn from. Successive Australian Governments have attempted to set up defence industries. However, these have failed, due to a lack of competitiveness. 

Dr Creemers argues that China is trying to design a new economic model which provides economic prosperity, but is not the same as western liberal capitalism. 

At question time I asked Dr Creemers: "Given how important China is to Australia, what should the Australian government be doing, apart from generously funding a tech policy unit at ANU? ;-) ". He explained he had just arrived, but would tell European governments to work out what they see as a long term acceptable relationship with China, rather than short term knee jerk reactions.

Philippa Jones, from China Policy asked about China's interest in the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA). Dr Creemers suggested China was heavy handed in expressing interest in this, and there would need to be involvement from the USA, for balance. He made the interesting point that DEPA is a rare example of an agreement to regulate trade of something which was not regulated, rather than removing trade barriers.

Back to the Campus Says Chinese Government

Greetings from the Coffee Grounds Cafe, at the Australian National University, on a wet monday morning. According to media reports, the government of China has placed restrictions on its citizens studying online at foreign universities (Australian universities welcome snap decision by China to ban online studies, The Guardian, 29 January 2023). Australia's universities were already preparing for the return of students, so this is not a major difficulty.

While media reports refer to online being "banned", the announcement from China's Ministry of Education, characterise this as a return to previous policy, and there is provision for students who are unable to get to campus. An example given is those who can't get to a Ukraine campus due to war:

In investigating how Australian universities might offer online learning to international students, I noticed China, in particular, was wary of this (Worthington, 2014). COVID-19 required a softening of attitudes to online learning, in Australia, China, and other countries. There is a wish to get back to "business as usual", however, what was usual, and is that the best for the students, or the community they aim to serve?


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

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Metaverse will Fail

Trying HoloLens
at LinkedIn Sydney
I am not a believer in the Metaverse, and doubt I ever will be. The same claims were made for previous generations of VR, and Iwas proven right to doubt them. Metaverse is too much like Second Life, Google Glass, and real life, so will fail.

The hype over Metaverse sounds all too familiar, and the reality far short of what is claimed for the technology. It is not that I am particularly skeptical of this form of VR, but when there have been so many waves of hype, making the same claims, and producing the same disappointment, it is hard not to have skepticism as your default position.

I recall eight years ago when we were all going to be wearing Google Glass. I sat in one presentation where I was the only one not wearing some sort of gadget. Google Glass went the way of the Apple Newton: the subject of ridicule.

There is a role for VT (or more likely AR) in education, and particuarly training. This especially applies to hands-on training. It also has potential in language learning. However, VR may not be needed for this. Dr Jinghong Zhang pointed to grass roots use of TikTok for language learning in her seminar at ANU yesterday.

Building an online campus has advantages. But that has been done for decades, very successfully, without VR. Attempts to add VR have failed, not due to a lack of the technology, but because it was missing the point. Virtual campuses work not by emulating physical ones, but by getting rid of the physical limitations.

For the last ten years people have been showing me demonstrations of how Second Life, Mozilla Hubs and other assorted VR could emulate a university campus. Apart from being clunky implementations these all seemed to be missing the point. Virtual universities work by not emulating the features of a real campus. The silliest implementation I saw was of a library in a virtual university, complete with a virtual card catalog (real libraries no longer have card catalogs). A virtual lecture theatre showing rows of avatars perhaps makes an out of date lecturer feel good, but is emulating a poor learning experience.

This is not to say some form of VR/AR will not work, just as the Apple iPhone succeeded where the Newton failed. But it will take some inspired design to make the Meta-verse more than just another clunky old VR application. As an example, I found Microsoft HoloLens much better than Google Glass, despite having a much bulkier headset.

Tea and Teaching

Dr Jinghong Zhang making tea 
Photo by Tom Worthington, 2023 CC-BY
Dr Jinghong Zhang, Associate Professor at Southern University of Science and Technology talked on "Gongfu Tea and Camera" a the Australian National University in Canberra, 25 January 2023. As a bonus they made tea after. There was a serious scholarly point to this. Dr Jinghong Zhang described an approach to anthropology where the camera becomes part of the introduction to people. In one of Dr Jinghong Zhang's videos, a family is explaining the local dialect, & that some learn it from TikTok. The parents were encouraging their children to learn local words through the use of TikTok. I thought this might be relevant to Manisha Khetarpal's study of learning language online.