Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Researching Floods with AI

Dr Yossi Matias, 
Head of Google Research 
Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Yossi Matias,  Head of Google Research is visiting to talk about their work. 

One example is Google's flood and fire information for the public. I first came on Google's work in this area 10 years at an unconference at ANU. I had helped with an emergency management system so was bemused when someone I took to be a school student got up and talked about emergency management. It turned out they were a Google engineer with extensive experience.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Aligning Computer Professional Skills With the Nation's Needs

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society (ACS), Canberra Branch Hub, where I am taking part in an ACS Professional Standards Board meeting. ACS sets the standards for the education of computer professionals in Australia, and in conjunction with sister societies, world wide. In the usual bureaucratic processes of being on any committee, it is easy to forget how important the work is. We need to ensure what Australian universities and vocational institutions teach is what industry needs, and aligns with international standards. We also need to ensure that working professionals can keep up with developments in the industry, either individually or through their employer. All of this has to be acceptable to Australian governments, and industry. 

Being professionals, we first try to find an existing standard, but often have to enhance, or on occasion, write the standard from scratch. Not surprisingly new technology requires new skills of computer professionals, such as blockchain, and quantum computing. These are relatively easy to address. More surprising, and much harder, are soft skills, such as emotional intelligence. How do we define these, help professionals get them, and perhaps hardest, convince people they need them. Recently an assessment question I wrote for students was criticized by one of my colleagues as not being "academic", because it concerned soft skills. I look forward to being able to say "We are required to teach and test these professional skills".

The work of the board on skills standards goes all the way from high level definitions, down to how to document this, using digital badges, in electronic portfolios. This may all sound very esoteric, but it can result in someone being hired for a job much more quickly, a company getting a contract, a nation increasing productivity, and citizens being safer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Black Duck With Robots?

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Bruce Pascoe and Lyn Harwood are talking about their new book "Black Duck". Best known for "Dark Emu", this is a personal memoir of that experience, life and traditional farming. This is part of the ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author series

This is a very personal story of Australia, rediscovering achient knowledge of land management. One point emphasized was how labor intensive practices such as pulling out wattle saplings by hand after fire is. Perhaps, I suggest this can be combined with new technologies, such as robot gardeners.

PS: A few days ago I was in a Sydney bookstore looking for Black Duck for a friend. I didn't know a few days later I would be on a room with the authors, in an event run by Colin Steele. This is after discussing a talk on quantum computing I have been asked to give in Singapore. Before that I agreed to write procedures to assess prior experience of students and teach social media skills to academics. That is the nature of higher education.


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Nurturing an Academic Community Online

Much as been written about how the Internet is undermining scholarship, and isolating us, but it can also be a way to bring people with common interests together, especially when isolate physically. When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, I found myself physically cut off from colleagues. One thing I did was join the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (MLSIG) of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE). That proved useful in overcoming isolation, and productive, in writing conference papers, and giving presentations with members of the group. It was not for three years that I actually met any of the members of the SIG, face to face, when I attended an ASCILITE conference face to face. How the groups works is now published in an open access paper, from some of the members.

Reference

Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Stretton, T., Chanane, N., Alizadeh, M., Birt, J., … Vanderburg, R. (2024). A model for nurturing a networked academic community: #ASCILITEMLSIG mobile learning special interest group. International Journal for Academic Development, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2024.2349930

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Digital Concierges for Recruiting

Greetings from the Australian National University where Techlauncher students in "The Hive" are exploring possible future careers. They are hearing from Bryce Undy on how his company Grow Right Digital provides AI for analysis of job applications. He cautioned students not to leave generative AI to write their CV, as this may make claims they can't support. He claimed AI could be used to remove implicit and explicit bias, for example summarizing what qualifications the student has, while removing details of gender, and what school was attended. The students are learning about future careers under the guidance of ANU Careers & Employability.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Australia’s International Education and Skills Strategic Framework


The Australian Department of Education has released a 41 page draft "Australia’s InternationalEducation and SkillsStrategic Framework" for consultation (10 May 2024). The report has an odd mix of conflicting objectives, based on false premises. There is nothing wrong with the Australian Government setting targets to meet national priorities. This could be to maximize student fees, meet national skills needs, or to aid regional development. However, measures to do any one of these will work against the other two.

The report makes the claim several times that integrity issues are due to "unmanaged growth" (pages 5, & 15), rather than the obvious failure of government regulation. Also it blames international students for a housing shortage, rather than successive Australian governments failure to invest in public housing. However, the major problem with the report is that it doesn't seriously address the need to offer online education, and broaden the countries Australia draws students from. I suggest the way to broaden the market is with online education (Worthington, 2018). Also the report does not mention the threat, and opportunity, of Artificial Intelligence, at all. This is surprising, as it is not possible to attend an education forum at present, without AI dominating the discussion (I will be talking about it at EduTech Asia 2024).

The report envisages international students providing a trained workforce for Australian industry, as well as assisting economic development of the countries the students are from, and also strengthening ties with those countries. In the past these separate and conflicting objectives were supported by individual, separately funded and administered programs. This report does not acknowledge, let alone attempt to resolve, these competing mutually exclusive goals for international education.

The report highlights some of the measures previously introduced to address flaws in the system. However, it fails to acknowledge how the ad-hoc nature of the measures, where the Australian government went from under to over regulation, harmed students, and the reputation of the Australian high education system. As an example, in 2023, the Australian Government restricted students ability to switch education providers. This was done to address a practice where students would switch providers after arriving, to facilitate work, rather than study. Had effective measures been in place, this ad-hoc measure would not have been needed.

Previously the Australian Government introduced domestic student loans for Vocational Education and Training. This was followed by scamming of the system by unscrupulous providers. The Government seems to have not anticipated this, and took years to respond, resulting in hardship for students, and a loss of a large amount of public funds. It is surprising that government would repeat this experience, being caught unawares, repeatedly, by sharp practices by international training providers, and student agents. Assuming that organisations which can obtain large amounts of government money will act honestly, being surprised when they don't, then overreacting with restrictive regulations, doesn't make for a well ordered international education system.

To add to the conflicting aims in the report, it attempts to promote regional Australia, through international education (page 21). As the report notes international students are concentrated in metropolitan areas, particularly capital cities. However, this is also where domestic students prefer to study. Regional Australia might provide students students with "unique experiences", but these are ones they, domestic and international, don't want to have. Forcing students to study at regional campuses would be good for the local economy, but what incentives would be required for students to study where they do not want to? The report suggests promotion of sustainable energy jobs in regional Australia, but that is likely to have regional appeal.

An option not mentioned is to use regional campuses as part of the growth of non-capital Australian cities. As an example, the NSW government is considering high speed rail options from Sydney to Newcastle. Newcastle already offers an attractive location for students, with its beaches, and fast access to Sydney would make this a much better offering. One option would be a battery powered high speed rail line from Newcastle to Canberra, via Sydney and Woolongong, with trains recharging via overheard catenary while decelerating and accelerating for each station.

References
T. Worthington, "Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific," 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE), Wollongong, Australia, 2018, pp. 861-865. doi: 10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183 URL https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE.2018.8615183


Thursday, May 9, 2024

Generative AI to Boost Productivity?

Justin Hutchings, GitHub 
Greetings from Microsoft's Canberra office where I am attending a glitzy GitHub presentation. The bold claim made was that Copilot, Microsoft's implementation of ChatGPT, could end the computer productivity paradox. 

The paradox is that computers have not increased office productivity. We were invited to photograph the slide of claimed productivity increases. However, I can recall claims made decades ago for 4GL languages, not far from where we are, which would allow programs to write themselves. In practice they allowed amateurs to get into a mess. The current attempt is not like that, with tools for professionals. However, these tools only do the easy bits.

Some of the features demonstrated could be useful for teaching computing. In particular implementing rules about what code libraries can be used and what coding practices must be followed. The billing features might also be used for student hurdles, the idea being that to pass the course the student must put in a set amount of work (the quality of the work would determine their grade).

ps: At question time someone asked about legacy code. I guess we need Copilot COBOL. ;-)

pps: It is a long time since I have been in a corporate environment, and find sales pitches excruciating. One yesterday from a plagiarism detector company was particularly bad. But this Microsoft event today is okay.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Academic integrity through digital proctoring of assessment at EduTech Asia in Singapore in November

Looking forward to speaking on a panel on "Safety check: maintaining academic integrity through digital proctoring in assessments" in Singapore, at EDUtech Asia 2024, 7 November, 11am, Stage 4, with Girija Veerappan, & Mohd Rozi Ismail. I have lost count how many EduTechs I have been to. ;-)


ps: Edutech Asia 2024 asked me to make a video to invite you to my talk.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Australian Universities Need to be Ready with an Online Learning Option

NUS  eLearning Week Video, 2014
NUS eLearning Week Video, 2014

This is to suggest Australian universities test they have an online learning option ready for use in an emergency. There is no specific threat at this at this time, but it would be prudent to be ready. Two developing situations are Avian influenza being tracked by the World Health Organisation, and military tension in the Yellow Sea.

Universities were forced to implement adhoc online teaching in 2020, due to the SARS-COVID-2 virus. This was ad-hoc, because university academics and administrators failed to learn from the experience of universities in our region, which a decade before were shut down due to the SARS-COVID-1 (Chandran, 2010). After that experience some Singapore campuses implemented annual e-learning emergency drills. Unfortunately the experience with COVID-2 at Australian campuses is now fading from memory, without the staff training, and procedures, in place.

A natural disaster could close down a campus at any time. A disease outbreak could happen without warning. Regional tensions could cause international students to leave Australian within days, as well as forcing all Australian staff to evacuate overseas campuses.

References

Chandran, R. (2010, May). National University of Singapore's Campus-Wide ELearning Week. In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blog.nus.edu.sg/dist/0/119/files/2011/03/national-university-of-singapores-campus-wide-elearning-week.pdf



Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Secret Lecturer: A book of what goes on in the head of one windging British academic

"The Secret Lecturer : What Really Goes on at University" (Anon, 2024), is a very annoying book. I would like to say, despite that, it makes some good points, but it doesn't. The book is innovative in that a UK academic, who wisely chooses to remain anonymous, has taken the sort of thing we might think, and in a lapse of judgement write in a Tweet, and set it all down in a book for people to buy. 

When a graduate student. I made the mistake of accepting the instructor's invitation to the class to provide comment and suggestions on the program. They were so upset by my comments, I had to study at another university, for a year, until they calmed down. After that, I used a private journal to express my frustrations, with the though some researcher might be able to use it for background one day*. However, Anon has taken their stream of consciousness, about everything wrong with UK universities (real and imagined) and put it out for all to read.

This work is not a particularly engaging read, it doesn't make suggestions for improving the university system, nor does it suggest alternatives. Hopefully it was cathartic for the author, assuming it wasn't written by generative AI. This book becomes tiresome long before the end of its 224 pages.

This book should not be confused with "The Secret Lecturer: An Insider's Guide to Working in a Modern University" (Anon, 2016). Despite the same main title, this appears to be by a different annoyed academic: Australian, rather than British.

* In three years study wrote 1,200 postings in my journal, made up of about 100,000 words: enough for me to write my own tell all book, if I did not have more sense. ;-)