Thursday, February 29, 2024

Australian Universities Accord report: Some Final Thoughts

Australian Universities Accord
Final Report
, 25 February 2024
It has taken me a full day to work my way through the 44 recommendations of the Australian Universities Accord final report (25 February 2024). The headline items are the later recommendations are the later ones to do with funding. What was disappointing was that the Panel did not explore new forms of tertiary education. There is mention of micro-credentials, stacked qualifications, regional education, and support for indigenous, low SES, and disabled students. However, there is a lack of recognition that the average student now learns primarily online, while working, undertaking many courses at different institutions. 

Much of the report is irrelevant to my recent experience of being a university, and TAFE, student. I did undertake a half semester on campus, but the rest of my studies were online. At one stage I was enrolled in three institutions at the same time. The fact that my university was in another state, or another country, made very little difference to my student experience. What mattered to me as a student was what credit I would get between systems. 

With increasing number of students undertaking micro-credentials, and other sub-degree programs, involving multiple institutions, I suggest more attention needs to be given to the administrative burden for government staff, institutions, and the students. When I attempted cross institutional enrollment in a course, I could not find any way to complete the required paperwork (each institution required me to get permission from the other first). The prospect of registering with the Australian government for student support for just a couple of courses was too daunting, so I paid the course fees with my credit card. Similarly, when enrolling as a TAFE student at the same time, I simply paid directly. As an international online student, I avoided any government paperwork, paying fees directly by credit card (the fees were lower than I had paid for similar courses as a domestic Australian student).

Some initiatives worth expanding did not get a mention in the report. One of these is Open Universities Australia, where institutions (not all universities) cooperate to provide flexible online education. Learning hubs in outer suburbs of cities, as well as regional areas, might be set up under a similar shared scheme. 

The Panel has made useful recommendations about Work Integrated Learning (WIL). However, what is lacking in this and several other areas are academic staff who are qualified to teach these subjects. The major challenge is to either implement mandatory requirements requiring academics to be qualified to teach using these techniques, incentives to encourage them, or both.

Universities Accord Report: No New funding model

Australian Universities Accord
Final Report
, 25 February 2024

Australian Universities Accord final report (25 February 2024), waited until recommendation 40 to get to what is always the big issue in tertiary education: the funding model. The Panel focuses on skills needs for Australia, equitable access for students, balanced with a demand driven approach. Part of this already mentioned are fee-free preparatory courses (although a convincing case has not been made as to why these need to be fee free).

The Panel also recommends to "stop the practice of providing only partial funding for additional students when a university is overenrolled". As an educator, rather than an administrator, I don;t really understand what this is about: if the system is demand driven, with students paying fees, how can a university be "over-enrolled"?

Recommendation 41 provides more detail on funding. One point is that the Panel refers to "publicly funded universities". However, is there any reason why the Australian government would not support eligible students at any accredited institution: public, private, for-profit, or overseas.

The Panel is not proposing to change the current system, where funding is partly to the institution, and partly a subsidized loan to students. In particular a voucher system, where the money only goes to the institution when a student enrolls. Also, while proposing more funding for the VET sector, this would be kept separate from allocations for universities. The Panel proposes students can choose a microcredential, diploma, bachelor degree, postgraduate degree, or other. However, if institutions don't provide these options, or make them hard to enroll in, students will not be able to do that. Flexibility may be contrary to the interests of larger institutions, who want to lock students into a full degree. There may need to be regulations requiring, or financial incentives to support, flexibility.

The Panel take a traditional, and flawed approach, of proposing additional funding for First Nations, low SES and students with disability. This assumes these are a tiny group of students who are in some way deficient, and need fixing. I suggest abandoning this approach and instead fund the design and delivery of students with a wide range of interests, and abilities.

Higher Education Future Fund

In Recommendation 43 the Panel proposes a $10B Higher Education Future Fund. This is a relatively modest sized fund. The uses for the fund also seem unadventurous: digital infrastructure and student housing. The cost of digital infrastructure for a university is tiny compared to salaries, and seems hardly worth setting up such a fund for (unless building of new software, data centers, and the like are proposed). Funding student housing seems an odd choice for funding. Most students study from home, while working part time, and so do not need student housing. Co-contributions from universities are likely not worth the political trouble it would cause, and the Federal Government is more likely to simply provide all the money for the fund, perhaps as part of a deal with the minor parties in the Senate. The Government could force a university co-contribution, by diverting part of additional funding for universities to the fund. This way the Government would get the political kudos for increased university funding, plus kudos from expenditure from the fund.

Universities Accord Report: International and Regional Education Needs Credible Online Offerings

Australian Universities Accord
Final Report
, 25 February 2024
Despite the export revenue from, and controversy over, international education, the Australian Universities Accord final report (25 February 2024), waited until recommendation 22 before addressing the topic. The focus of the recommendations is aligment between what Australian tertiary instutions, both universities and vocational education and training (VET) institutions teach, and Australian economic needs. This assumes that the international student's aim is to migrate to Australia (I was an international student but did not move to Canada). The Panel also proposes growing international education in regional and remote areas. Unless there are specific jobs for the students, such as in mining, this seems unrealistic.

Why would a student, particularly a young student, prefer to student in a remote area, which they could study in one of Australia's exciting cities? The mining industry has to provide very high salaries to attract workers. Will regional universities be prepared to offer cut price courses, or a guarantied high salary part time job to students?

More realistic are proposals from the panel to streamline visa processes. Australian universities are dependent two markets: China, and India. As I warned in 2016, a regional crisis could result in the loss of most on-campus international students. Universities need to diversify markets, and delivery methods.

The panel suggests improving alumni engagement in the region. This is certainly one way to boost links, but other more direct forms of marketing should also be used.

The recommendations on international students from the panel are excessively timid. Rather than see international students as a source of funds, and workers, it can be a way to provide a more vibrant environment for domestic students, who are preparing to be part of a global workforce. I presenting a proposal in 2018 to have students of the region working together online.

Producing new knowledge and using research capability

The panel rightly chose to put learning issues before research. With recommendation 24 the panel proposes a an examination of
national research funding. However Australian universities should have already being doping that, routinely, as part of their normal planning.

Professor Lachlan Blackhall,
Deputy Vice-Chancellor
(Research and Innovation).
Panel recommends Australian governments use university research output. However, that presupposes that universities have staff with consulting skills, which are different from research skills. If universities want the results of their research to be used, then academics have to learn new skills. Many universities have made a start with this, by establishing innovation centers to teach entrepreneurial skills. Some of promoted academics with exceptional entrepreneurial knowledge, such as Professor Lachlan Blackhall, the new ANU
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).

Unfortunately the most important recommendation for using research capability is buried down in 26:
"e. ensuring that training in entrepreneurial, business, teaching and leadership skills is offered through additional qualifications in parallel with research training in preparation for careers beyond academia"
However, it is not clear that professional skills should be optional for doctoral graduates, and not a core part of their training. The government could take an alternative approach, and require this training, or transfer some of the funding to support professional doctorates, which have as their primary purpose the application of knowledge.

Establish an Australian Tertiary Education Commission

The panel recommends an "Australian Tertiary Education Commission", as an umbrella agency over existing federal higher education bodies. The idea has some merit. However, I spent some time working for the Commonwealth Schools Commission (more on this later), which lacked the powers to be truly effective. Whatever the administrative structure, education will remain a highly political issue.

Improving workforce capability and capacity

Recommendation 31 "b. encourage minimum teaching qualifications for higher education teaching roles" would not be acceptable for schools, or VET, and I suggest should not be for universities. There should be mandatory minimum teaching qualifications for universities. A simple approach would be to set these at the same level as VET, with a Certificate IV, although universities might find it easier to offer undergraduate and graduate certificates (although I found my Cert IV in T&A of more practical use than my Grad Cert in HE).

Centre of Excellence in Higher Education and Research

Recommendations 32 to 36 I suggest could be addressed together. The first is for a "Centre of Excellence in Higher Education and Research". That could then work on the others: 33 Tertiary Education Racism Study, 34 A First Nations-led review, 35 First Nations governance, supported by the last: 36 Data, measurement, and reporting.

Planning the tertiary education system of the future

Recommendation 37 is for the Australian Tertiary Education Commission to look at what tertiary education providers are needed and where. However, there are more fundamental questions to be addressed, in terms of the mix of VET and university, the mix of online and on-campus, and the mix of not and for-profit universities. One major question the Panel did ask is if specialist university should be permitted, which address one area of research. A question the Panel did not ask is if non-research institutions should called universities.

Regional tertiary education and communities

Curiously, than recommendations appear to be listed in order of importance, with the lost important last. Recommendation 39 addresses higher education delivery in regional and remote Australia. Unfortunately the Panel had confused delivery to regional, rural and remote areas, with the location of campuses in those areas. Australia was a pioneer in paper based distance education, 50 years ago. That was enhanced with the Internet and made mainstream by the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea that a student's first consideration of where a campus is belongs in the past. The Panel have some useful recommendations, such as renaming and expanding Regional Study Hubs. However, Australian Government need to seek advice on how to structure higher education more widely, or risk building a system for last century.

In 2013, when considering further study, I first looked at universities in the city where I lived. I then looked at universities within commuting distance. But I quickly dismissed these options, and enrolled at a campus 1,700 km away. For follow on studies I enrolled 17,000 km away, in another country. This was much simpler to do, and cheaper, than enrolling at an Australian university. It is this world Australian universities need to be able to compete in. Campuses are still useful to supplement learning, and research, but are no longer the main game.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Teaching Green Computing Online: 15 Years of Student Engagement via Nudging

I will be speaking on "Teaching Green Computing Online: 15 Years of Student Engagement via Nudging" at the HERDSA Online Engagement in Higher Education Special Interest Group, 1pm, 10 April 2024.

"In 2008 the Australian Computer Society commissioned Tom Worthington to design an online course in green computing. This course formed part of the Australian Computer Society’s professional development program. This was later run at the Australian National University as a masters course, and is still offered fifteen years later through Athabasca University (Canada).

The course uses a conventional text-based distance education format, with no video, and no webinars. Why? What was the rationale? This presentation shares key design principles of this unique format that has positively impacted student engagement. As a means of facilitating student engagement nudging techniques have been employed.

This HERDSA Special Interest Group, Online Engagement in Higher Education, will discuss the factors that have improved online student engagement and consider implications and applications of their own online courses, including a coordinated nudging process. This event will provide insights for those looking to adopt a nudging approach to better facilitate student engagement and learning.

Join this to see how this works, and can be applied at your institution."

Presentation available.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Australian Universities Accord Final Report: Mostly Good

Australian Universities Accord
Final Report
, 25 February 2024
The Australian Universities Accord Panel, chaired by Professor Mary O’Kane, has released a 408 page final report (25 February 2024). Some of the suggestions I made in my submission (and no doubt many others made), found their way into the report).

There is also a Summary Report by the Department of Education, which at 34 pages is longer than the executive summary in the actual report, so seems a bit pointless (unless the department just wanted to put its own spin on things).

The report, while mentioning democracy and civic values, emphasizes the economic benefits of research and higher education. It raises issues of low demand from students, casualisation of the university workforce, and financial pressures. Equity also features prominently. The report makes 47 recommendations to address these, and other, issues.

Targets and VET

The recommendations under broad headings, the first of which is the "National Tertiary Education Objective". Interestingly this is proposed for both higher and vocational education, to:

a. "underpin a strong, equitable and resilient democracy
b. drive national economic and social development and environmental sustainability."

Vocational education is mentioned further in the Attainment targets:

a. "a skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of the economy through a tertiary education attainment target of at least 80% of the working age population with at least one tertiary qualification (Certificate III and above) by 2050 compared with 60% in 2023

b. growth in Commonwealth supported places in higher education to achieve this target, more than doubling the number of students in Commonwealth supported places from around 860,000 in 2022 to 1.8 million in 2050 across all age groups

c. growing numbers of younger Australians with a university education, through an attainment target of 55% of 25 to 34-year-olds with a bachelor degree qualification or above by 2050 compared with 45% in 2023, noting that many will also have a VET qualification

d. a strong and growing contribution to tertiary attainment driven by TAFE and the vocational system, with a planning assumption that 40% of 25 to 34-year-olds will have a tertiary level vocational or technical qualification in 2050, noting that some people have both a VET and higher education qualification ..."

As it happens, in my submission to the accord panel, I suggested an 80% vocational target but at a more ambitions Certificate IV level, rather than Certificate III. The panel's proposed target of 55% of young people with a bachelor degree may seem modest, given this is already at 45%. However, we may have already past peak degree, with enrollments dropping, as young people decide a degree is not their best investment. Government would do well to agree with this assessment, and decide to fund more flexible forms of education, rather than traditional bachelors degrees.

Flexible Courses and RPL

Under "A more flexible and responsive skills system" the panel recommends "working with tertiary education providers, industry and business to adopt a consistent, published, national approach to recognition of prior learning (RPL) and credit recognition":

i."address historical, cultural and institutional barriers to RPL and credit recognition

ii.make it easier for students to gain maximum credit for previous study and minimise

the time taken and cost to get a new qualification

iii.include recognising appropriate work experience

iv.improve student mobility to enter, exit and return to tertiary education"

While RPL is routine in VET, the difficulty will be in persuading and educating the university sector in how to do it. While universities could learn much from the VET sector, it will be difficult for the upper end of the university sector to accept this. Part of my day job for several years has been processing applications for credit for prior study, & RPL. This is something I have been formally trained to do in TAFE, & university programs, and though being on the accreditation standards board of my profession, but is not a skill many of my colleagues share, or value. Many universities in Australia share course designs across institutions, and international, where external professional recognition imposes standardization. However, this is not formally recognized, so a time consuming process is required to process every application for every course credit. This could be improved by giving incentives to universities to work together, and train staff.

The panel recognize the need for more flexible qualifications, with a recommendation for modular, stackable qualifications:

"5. That to help Australians quickly get the skills they need to fill jobs that are in shortage, the Australian Government establish a comprehensive system of modular, stackable and transferable qualifications, including microcredentials, consistent with a reformed Australian Qualifications Framework." (Page 19)

This one recommendation is worth a whole report in itself. In my submission, I recommended nested programs, rather than the more ambitious stackable. There is a subtle difference here. A university can create a set of qualifications which a student can undertake in sequence (nested). It is much harder to allow the student to assemble a larger qualification from an assortment of smaller ones (stackable). Even the much easier task of providing standalone micro-credentials is one that universities have been slow to achieve. The level of educational design skills would need to be considerably increased at Australian universities to achieve this aim.

Work Integrated Learning

The panel proposes to have studnts "earn and learn while studying" with a "Jobs Broker" for relevant part-time work, paid by employers.

"7. That to ensure students develop work relevant skills for employment after their study, the Australian Government increase opportunities for students to both earn and learn while studying by:

a. establishing a national brokerage system (‘Jobs Broker’) to support tertiary education students find part-time work and placements relevant to their fields of study. Delivery should be through a provider that charges paid subscriptions by employers. The service should be free for students, and allow them to earn income while studying and reduce cost of living pressures

b. promoting work-integrated learning (WIL) by working with peak bodies for employers, industry, business and tertiary education providers to deliver more WIL opportunities in curricula across all disciplines, and provide training to industry supervisors

c. improving measures of graduate generic skills as part of the Graduate Outcomes Survey and Employer Satisfaction Survey. The Australian Tertiary Education Commission should showcase best practice as part of its ‘State of the Tertiary Education System’ annual report

d. using models like degree apprenticeships that encourage an employment relationship as part of course design." (Page 19)

Again this is a recommendation which deserves a whole report itself, with implications for how higher education is provided. For students to be engaged in significant part time work requires them to be part time students. Flipping the Australian university system from a focus on full time study, to part time would seem radical, but is just a recognition of what has already happened. Much of the stress for students and staff comes from students who are holding down a job while studying full time.

For the last eight years I have been helping teach students undertaking Work Integrated Learning, mostly in groups, but also individual interns. Even in the vocationally orientated filed of computing, during a boom in demand for skills in areas such as cyber security, analytics, and AI, this is not easy. Outside vocationally orientated disciplines, such as computing, engineering, and business, this is going to be especially difficult. There is then the problem of training academic staff to design, teach and assess WIL.

Professional Accreditation

The Panel's recommendations on "Professional accreditation bodies", were slightly jarring for someone who has served on accreditation setting committees. As a member of my profession, I am used to telling universities, and governments, what they have to do, not the other way around.

"9. That to ensure professional accreditation including placement requirements are appropriate for industry and business skill needs, tertiary education providers and the Australian Government, through the Australian Tertiary Education Commission, work with professional accreditation bodies, to agree a code of conduct for these bodies. The code should ensure that any accreditation requirements are evidence-based and proportionate to the gain they provide and that placement requirements ensure that students gain industry relevant skills and experience without imposing onerous placement length and conditions." Page 20

That accreditation requirements should be evidence based is reasonable, and work placements not onerous. However this should be a mutual obligation, with the universities required to show they are teaching & assessing work relevant skills.

One example of where WIL assessment can go wrong is with e-portfolios. Students are told to reflect on what they learned on their placement, without training in how to write reflectively. The approach I have been using for the last few years is to frame the reflective e-portfolio in the form of an application for a job, so it is relevant to the student, and have the careers staff teach this.

Participation targets for First Nations, Low SES, Regional, Rural, Remote and Students with a Disability

In recommendation 10, the panel proposes participation targets for undergraduate university students by 2035: 3.3% First Nations, 20.2% low SES, 24.0% regional, rural, and remote, and current rate for students with disability. These are very modest targets, but even so no penalties for non-achievements, or incentives are proposed. Also by emphasizing university this may not be be in the best interests of studnts woH might benifit from attending VET first.

Building aspiration including through increasing readiness for tertiary education and providing career advice

In Recommendation 11, the panel proposes work by federal, and state governments on "... outreach programs designed to develop familiarity with tertiary education". Harder is to "... ensure post-school pathways are visible and integrated into secondary schooling ...".

Fee-free preparatory courses

The Panel calls for free university preparatory courses. One way to fit this in the current system, I suggest, would be to have the preparatory courses run by the VET sector.

Support to participate and succeed in learning

In recommendation 13 the Panel proposes funding for under-represented groups, to meet the targets set in Recommendation 10. It would have been a bit easier to follow the recommendations, if these had been together. No specific amounts are mentioned, or if this additional funding is to come out out of that already provided to universities. Also there is no mention of developing curricular, materials, delivery techniques to suit these students. As an example, it is likely many of the studnts would benifit from blended programs, delivered in part remotely at home, and on country. Also the content of courses may need to be different. Such course content and delivery techniques would also greatly enrich the leanring experience of other students.

Financial support for placements

The panel proposes in recommendation 14 government funding for work placements in nursing, care and teaching professions. The argument presented, that this would reduce financial hardship, makes no sense, unless the government support is extended to all disciplines.

Student income support

In recommendation 15 the panel asks the federal government increasing allowances and loosening rules. Hard to argue with that, except perhaps to suggest abolishing some of the rules.

Reducing student contributions and reforming HELP repayment arrangements

Of most interest to students will be the panels recommendation 16, to reduce the burden of HELP loans, and in particular the effect of the Job-ready Graduates (JRG) package. At the time it was introduced, many warned charging humanities students as a way to direct them to what the then government saw as more vocationally relevant programs would not work. It did not work, and the studnts should not be further punished for past bad government policy.

While previous recommendations were not specific about money, recommendation 17 proposes universities charging "high fees" (over $40,000) for graduate coursework (I assume a Masters), "be required to re-invest a proportion of income earned back into scholarships and bursaries to support students from under-represented backgrounds to access these courses". This Robinhood approach doesn't appear to be proposed for undergraduate courses, or for international student fees. Also it is a relatively mild levy, being retained within the institution.

Ensuring student safety and experience

The Panel calls for a National Student Ombudsman to handle complaints in recommendation 18. The Australian Government recently announced such an office would be established. It is usual for an industry ombudsman to be funded by the industry members, but there is no mention of funding in the announcement.

More controversial is recommendation 19, calling for student unions funded from student fees. This would go counter to the previous government's approach of cutting off funding to student unions. As an online student for seven years, I was slightly annoyed by services and amenities charges, when they went to the upgrading of facilities I had never seen, and would never use, because they were a thousand kilometers away.

Early at-school offers

Recommendation 20 reads like a cartel wanting to maintain the market share of its members. The panel recommends "early at-school offers for 2025 and 2026 should not be issued before September" to "maintain the integrity of senior secondary certificates". However, if universities are able to determine which students are likely to succeed at studies without certificates, they do not have integrity. If the certificates are no longer of value to universities, they should be modified to suit other users, such as employers, and VET. This would also certificates to emphasize work relevant skills.

Quality learning and teaching

Recommendation 21 shows the Panel placing hope over available evidence, by suggesting measures to "prepare the higher education sector for growth in student numbers". I suggest a further decrease in domestic student numbers is more likely, and would be a better outcome in terms of public policy. However, in any case I agree with the panel about "using proven innovative learning approaches which embrace online and hybrid teaching modalities". However, what is lacking is any proposal for university teachers being required to be qualified to teach. Paradoxically, while universities teach the highest level teachers they have the lowest requirements for teaching qualifications. The panel is not proposing to change that.

International education

At this point, it is time for a break ...

Thursday, February 22, 2024

What country does Generative AI use as much power and water as?

Generative AI is the new bitcoin. Pundits used to compete for which country they could compare Bitcoin's power use with. Some nominated were: Greece, Ireland, * Netherlands, and New Zealand. I put a section on this in my Sustainable Computing course.

I tried asking Copilot:

"What country does Microsoft Copilot use as much power and water as?"

It replied:
"Microsoft Copilot, like all datacenters, consumes energy and water. Let's delve into the specifics:

1. **Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)**: This metric gauges how efficiently a datacenter utilizes energy. The closer the PUE number is to "1," the more efficient the energy use. Microsoft tracks PUE globally and across operating geographies. While newer datacenters and those operating at peak utilization tend to be more efficient, the goal is to get as close to "1" as feasible¹.

2. **Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE)**: WUE measures the efficiency of water consumption for humidification and cooling in datacenters. It's calculated by dividing the liters of water used by the total annual power needed to operate datacenter IT equipment (measured in kWh)¹.

Now, let's address your question. Microsoft's water consumption for its cloud data centers increased by **34%** in 2022, totaling **6.4 million cubic meters** of water. Generative AI workloads are partly responsible for this surge³. However, it's essential to note that this data pertains to Microsoft's overall operations, not specifically to Microsoft Copilot.

In summary, Microsoft's datacenters, including those supporting Copilot, have a significant environmental impact. However, pinpointing a specific country for comparison would require more detailed data. 🌐💧🔌

Source: Conversation with Bing, 22/02/2024
(1) How Microsoft measures datacenter water and energy use to improve Azure ....
(2) Microsoft's water consumption jumps 34 percent amid AI boom.
(3) Microsoft 365 admin center Microsoft 365 Copilot usage - Microsoft 365 ....
(4) Measuring usage, adoption, and the impact of Microsoft Copilot."

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Learning to Reflect in the Age of AI


This semester I am aiming to take a tentative step into AI for teaching. This will be in three workshops planned at ANU, for the computer project student's capstone e-portfolio for the ANU Techlauncher program. The students have to prepare a portfolio in the form of an application for a real job. The question was: do we try to ban students from using generative AI to help them with this, or do we show them how to use it effectively and ethically? I will attempt to do the latter. 

The ANU now provides Microsoft Copilot, as part of the Office suite. This provides the opportunity to take studnts through exercises to use it, to help with their writing. I have not used Copilot, but have explored the technology it is based on since 2022. The idea is to get the students in workshop groups to ask a career related question of Copilot, then critique & improve the answer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a two-day Symposium at USyd on using AI this way, with team-based learning. One tip given at the symposium to stop students simply relying on the answers given by the AI. The idea is to prompt students with a very localized question, which the AI model can only answer with generalities: 

Last week I attended an ANU AI Assessment Question Drop In Session. The impression I got was that the ANU would not be averse to using AI this way. One of the other people who dropped in for advice was already proposing to run some team-based AI sessions along these lines.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Australia Can Offer Low Cost Online International Education and Premium On-campus at the Same Time

In a recent preprint, Heller and Leede (2024) find that the third of Australian university students who are on-campus international tend to come from high GDP countries. The researchers propose that instead Australia provide low cost online education for the benifit of developing nations of the region. While well meaning, I suggest Heller and Leede, need to consider how to make such a strategy palatable to the Australian Government, which would need to fund the strategy, and the Australian universities, which would need to implement it. The Australian Government has a brief to aid its own citizens, not those of other countries. Why would Australia voluntarily give up billions in export dollars from one of its major industries, and forego cherry picking the best and brightest minds of the region? Why would Australian universities give up a large part of their funding? Is there any reason why Australia should cut the price of this export commodity, and not others, such as wheat? 

I suggest, as hard as it is, it is possible to make a case for low cost online courses. Part of that case is geopolitical. Australia is competing for influence in its region. Since the days of the cold war, one way to compete has been with education. Under the Colombo Plan, Australia offered education to make influential friends in the region. A second argument is economic. One way to maximize revenue for sale of a commodity is to sell the same thing at different prices to different customers. This has been achieved by Australian supermarkets selling goods at higher prices in metropolitan areas through small boutique stores. It is also achieved by online retailers, who can set a different price for each retailer. Those offering services al often offer discounts for pensioners, ostensibly as an act of charity, but also because it is better to sell the product at a lower price that not at all to someone who can't afford a higher price. 

Australia could adopt a differential pricing strategy for students based on an ability to pay. This could be done first of all by offering low cost online courses. While online courses offer the same educational outcomes as face to face courses, they are perceived to be inferior. Also while the same course offered with the same staffing level costs about the same to deliver, they are perceived to be cheaper. As a result, Australia could offer low cost online courses, without significantly cannibalizing its on-campus enrollments. 

Australia did run the "Virtual Colombo Plan" (VCP), a $230M Australian Government/World Bank initiative from 2001 to 2006, for on-line education in developing nations (Curtain, 2004 and McCawley, Henry and Zurstrassen, 2002). The VCP ended in 2006 with little ceremony, but it did help fund the African Virtual University.

Tom Worthington addressing the
Computer Society of Sri Lanka
National IT Conference 2018 
In 2018, in a presentation in Colombo,  I suggested countries of the Indo-Pacific could jointly educate professionals using mobile devices, in to counter the influence of China's Belt and Road Education Plan. I provided more details in a formal paper (Worthington, 2018). Rather than creating free courses, dependent on intermittent foreign aid programs. I suggested that allied educational institutions, and entrepreneurs, could be assisted to set up not-for-profit, and for-profit programs.


Heller, R. F., & Leeder, S. R. (2024, January 2). A population perspective on international students in Australian universities.

Worthington, Tom. Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific. In Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), 2018 IEEE 7th International Conference on. IEEE. url

Friday, February 9, 2024

Effective Learning Techniques Versus Feeling in Education Policy Development

In the last short talk at Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community Symposium was by Prof Judy Currey at Deakin University. Professor Currey cited Deslauriers (2019), on the well known phenomenon that students prefer passive learning. It occurred to me that this might also apply to policy makers and legislators, who think that students learn best when listening to a teacher. Fortunately the head of the universities accord review, Professor O’Kane, gets it: "... stressed better tutorial-style teaching to provide for experiential learning and experimentation was needed ...' (Uni graduates lack crucial skills and online study is making it worse, Gus McCubbing and Tom Burton, AFR Aug 22, 2023).


Deslauriers L, McCarty LS, Miller K, Callaghan K, Kestin G. Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Sep 24;116(39):19251-19257. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1821936116. Epub 2019 Sep 4. PMID: 31484770; PMCID: PMC6765278  DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821936116.

Meet my AI alter ego

Phillip Parannik, and Finn Johnson
At day 2 of the Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community Symposium we have been learning how to create AI characters to be used as tutors, & simulated clients for students. I was very skeptical of the idea, but in a few minutes I created "Tom", a simulation of me, for teaching computer students. I can now retire. ;-)

This is using Inworld, which was originally created for use in computer games, but is now being used for teaching. The workshop is being run by Phillip Parannik, and Finn Johnson from University of Sydney. The process was very much simpler than the last workshop on AI tutors I took part in, 2018.

If anyone in Canberra would ;like a system built with this, the ANU computer project students could help. 

Team Based Learning Helped with Remote Learning

Larry K. Michaelsen
Greetings from day 2 of the Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community Symposium. The keynote today is Larry K. Michaelsen, pioneer of Team Based Learning (TBL). He said that teams formed slower online than face to face, also that technology had provided more options for prework. Also Dr Michaelsen reminisced about the marked sense card readers which were used for scanning student responses before laptops and smart phones were used. He pointed out that part of the team bonding process was filling out the one joint response. 

A key point for me was that this team building process could occur in asynchronous mode. That is Dr Michaelsen said that as long as there was a deadline for the team response to be submitted, the participants could be anywhere, arranging their own work. 

Dr Michaelsen suggested AI would have more difficulty answering TBL questions, as they are very specific. He gave the example of "Where would you locate a dry cleaning business in Norman Oklahoma, and why?". So I asked ChatGPT, and it gavce a very generic response, which an assor would not be impressed with. When I asked for more specific locations, it gave answers Dr Michaelsen said that anyone who knows Norman would know are not good locations:

"Determining the ideal location for a dry cleaning business in Norman, Oklahoma would depend on various factors such as target market, competition, accessibility, and zoning regulations. Here are some considerations to help you decide on a suitable location:

  1. Commercial Areas: Look for commercial areas with a mix of retail and service-oriented businesses. Areas with a high concentration of offices, hotels, or shopping centers can attract potential customers who may need dry cleaning services.

  2. Residential Neighborhoods: Consider placing the dry cleaning business in or near residential neighborhoods, as this would make it convenient for local residents to access your services. Proximity to residential areas can generate regular and loyal customers.

  3. Proximity to Offices or Corporate Parks: If you are targeting the professional working population, setting up near offices, corporate parks, or business districts may be advantageous. Many professionals require dry cleaning services for their work attire.

  4. Accessibility and Parking: Choose a location with easy access and sufficient parking space. Customers prefer convenience, and a location with ample parking makes it more convenient for them to drop off and pick up their items.

  5. Competitor Analysis: Assess the competition in different areas. If there are already established dry cleaning businesses in a particular location, evaluate whether there is room for another competitor or if there's an underserved market elsewhere.

  6. Demographics: Understand the demographics of the area. Consider factors such as income levels, age groups, and lifestyles of the residents to ensure that your services align with the needs of the local community.

  7. Zoning Regulations: Check local zoning regulations to ensure that the chosen location complies with any restrictions related to operating a dry cleaning business. Some areas may have specific zoning requirements for businesses that use certain chemicals.

  8. Visibility and Signage: Choose a location with good visibility from the road, and invest in clear and attractive signage. This will help attract passing traffic and make your business easily identifiable.

  9. Cost Considerations: Evaluate the cost of renting or purchasing space in different areas. Balance the costs with the potential customer base and revenue generation of each location.

  10. Future Growth: Consider the potential for future growth and development in the chosen location. An area that is experiencing growth may attract more customers over time.

Ultimately, a comprehensive analysis of the local market and careful consideration of these factors will help you determine the most suitable location for your dry cleaning business in Norman, Oklahoma."

One of the delegates suggested occasionally tell the students to turn off their gadgets. Dr Michaelsen suggested then asking studnts to reflect on the differences in the experience. However, I suggest the instructors need to also reflect on what technology they are dependent on: would the be willing to turn off the lights and air-conditioning in the room, turn off their hearing aid, take off their glasses? One generations new tech is just routine for the next. While is is tempting to think of the good old days, some technology is so useful it is worth becoming dependent on it.  

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Online Team Based Learning

Greetings from the first workshop at Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community SymposiumRosa Howard, University of Sydney, is talking on "Adapting TBL to Changing Times". This highlighted the benefits of providing text base input, as opposed from verbal. This raises an interesting issue as to if graduates need to be able to confidently talk in front of large groups. If it becomes routine to use computer mediated communication in the workplace talking to a group becomes an obsolete skill, like handwriting.

The Fear of Failure & TBL

Greetings from the first workshop at Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community Symposium. This is using Intedashboard software and ChatGPT. Something which slowly dawned on me during the morning session was that the medical educators were using Team Based Learning (TBL) not as a general term for learning in teams, but a very specific methodology. I felt a bit like the student who was not told there was to be a test.  At the start of the workshop we were asked to lo into Intedashboard, and was immediately asked a question I didn't understand, at which point I had the unprepared student panic. Having recovered from this I struggled with some of the acronyms MCQ (multiple choice questions), ILO (no idea). 

The workshop was modeled on TBL, and this was a familiar format for me. What I found fascinating were examples of giving ChatGPT very complex requests to create course material. Doing this never occurred to me, no more so that I would get a random person off the street and ask them to do so. Habitually I would consider the qualifications and experience of any person, company or organisation. But ChatGPT is essentially a black box. 

As a team we then used ChatGPT to create objectives for a learning exercise. It was interesting to see the range of experience with ChatGPT, with some participants having never used it, while others routinely used it to create course content. My team got a bit naughty, asking ChatGPT to write the evaluation of what we thought of ChatGPT. Another team accidentally ended up with a rubric for assessing learning objectives. One team found what ChatGPT too wordy, but another went further and told it to be less wordy, which it then was.

In terms of a TBL exercise I found this like the previous development exercises. The first is the worry of getting the software used to work. The next is how rushed everything seems to be. There is then the worry of getting the exercise done in time. My approach would always be to produce a draft answer, then refine it. However, that is an approach difficult to get a group to do. 

ps: One use for ChatGPT I hadn't thought of was suggested b y one of our team: planning an itinerary for a trip. 

Team Based Learning & AI

Professor Simon Buckingham Shum
Greetings from the University of Sydney where I am taking part in the Team-Based Learning Collaborative Asia Pacific Community Symposium. Most of the staff are from USyd medical schools, but I fell at home as we are talking about experiential learning. The keynote is Professor Simon Buckingham Shum, Director of the UTS  Connected Intelligence Centre, being provocative about AI. He suggested universities need to have their own generative AI tools, as it is not acceptable for staff and  students to have to enter their sensitive information into offshore commercial ones. One practical use is in debriefing students after they participate in a simulation. What is most useful about the Professor's analysis is that it treats AI as a tool, not a problem, and asks us how we might use it.

Professor Buckingham Shum pointed to a paper he wrote about how one such tool carried out a very good analysis of a complex policy paper (2024). There was one flaw in the Professor's analysis: he claimed the AI was in error by referring to an "Argument from ignorance" which did not exist. It turns out that this is known to philosophers such as John Locke, and politicians such as Donald Rumsfeld. When I asked about this the Professor suggested that students need to be gently introduced to the limitations of the AI, so they are not awed by it.

I am looking forward to workshops, and short talks later today and tomorrow, with people not only from Australia, but around the region.

ps: One area where TBL AI might be used is in helping students meet diffuse learning outcomes.


Buckingham Shum, S. (2024). Generative AI for Critical Analysis: Practical Tools, Cognitive Offloading and Human Agency. 1st International Workshop on Generative AI for Learning Analytics: 14th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference (LAK’24), March 18-22, 2024, Kyoto, Japan [PDF]