Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bus Rapid Transit for Canberra

Artist's impression of Light Rail Transit in Gurgarlin Town Centre, CanberraThe ACT Government has released details of a "City to Gungahlin Transit Corridor Study" with two options for public transport between Canberra's city center and its northern satellite town. There is a project update, a concept report and view a fact sheet. There is an online survey and a Feedback Form. Also consultations will be held in the Civic Canberra Centre (ground floor near Supa Barn), 11am to 2pm 4 and 5 May 2012 and The Artist's impression of a Bus Rapid Transit route in Northborne Avenue , Canberra.Market Place Shopping Centre, Gungahlin (near Woolworths), 11am to 2pm 11 and 12 May 2012.

The two options being considered are Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit. LRT and BRT are fancy terms for trams and buses running in their own dedicated lanes, not mixed with other traffic. Both options would use the same route down Northborne Avenue (Canberra's main street). My preference would be for BRT, due to the lower cost and greater flexibility over LRT. As the BRT vehicles are buses, they can run on ordinary roads, as well as on the bus-way. Also as the bus-way is just a road reserved for buses it can be used by ordinary buses, as well as special high capacity ones. In contrast the trams used for a LRT can only run where tracks have been installed. Brisbane has an extensive BRT system, with the South-East, Inner Northern, Northern, Eastern and Boggo Road Busways. Adelaide has the O-Bahn Busway.

The ACT Government give a good overview of the options. One choice to be made is if vehicles should run along the outside lanes of Northborne avenue, or though the median strip in the center. The median strip in the center of Northborne avenue was made very wide so trams could be added later, so I suggest it be used for the busway. This will require the removal of an extensive grassed area and many mature trees, but this area is of no use to the community, as access is cut off by three lanes of traffic on either side. New trees can be planted along side the busway and the footpaths increased in size providing a better look and more useful space for pedestrians and cyclists.

The more difficult choice to be made is between trams and buses. As the ACT Government points out, trams are more popular, but buses are cheaper and can be designed to be as comfortable as trams. Also trams are more efficient in use of energy, but buses can be made almost as fuel efficient with the use of hybrid engines (diesel/electric) and renewable fuel (such as compressed methane). In addition, if trams are run from coal fired electricity, they will be just as polluting (perhaps more so) than a bus. Running trams from green electricity would be more expensive than using renewable fuel in a bus. In particular, solar power for trams would be prohibitively expensive.

My suggestion is to run a BRT with mild-hybrid buses. Mild hybrids have electric motors powered from small, low cost battery, to supplement the internal combustion engine. This is efficient and gives smooth, rapid acceleration, comparable to a tram. There is no need for the vehicles to run on battery power alone, as they will be on dedicated roads most of the time, not in stop-start traffic. BRT vehicles could be Australian made, by the existing vehicle industry, whereas LRT vehicles would need to be imported. The engines can be powered from the same diesel or Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as the rest of the Canberra bus fleet. When bio-diesel or synthetic methane become available (made from crop and domestic waste) this can be used, with no changes to the vehicles needed.

The ACT Government states that "Passenger capacity per BRT vehicle is half that of LRT vehicles". However, this is not correct. BRT buses can be made with two trailers. Such a double articulated "bendy bus" is as long as three standard buses, is a similar size and has a similar passenger capacity to an articulated LRT vehicle. Buses require extra space for an internal combustion engine and fuel, but this can be accommodated beneath the floor and on the roof, without compromising passenger space. LRT allows for multiple units to be coupled and run by one driver, but it is unlikely Canberra will require this capacity in the foreseeable future (and it could be matched by advances in BRT).

One area where the ACT Government plans are deficient is in ticketing and passenger information systems. One of the major ways to encourage use of transit systems is with integrated ticketing and good real-time information for passengers. The ACT Government appears to be underestimating the importance an difficulty of ICT systems for transport. Several Australian governments have failed to implement ICT for transport on time and on budget, resulting in billions of dollars extra cost, years of delay and resulting inadequate transport systems. There may be value in a strategy which concentrates on the ICT systems for Canberra transport and leaving the vehicles and roadways as a secondary issue.

Evolutionary BRT

Much of the benefit of the BRT can be achieved before new vehicles and extensive roadwork are implemented. I suggest the ACT Government commence work now on an advanced ICT system and some simple changes to the existing road system with the existing bus fleet. This could see improvements to the system from the beginning of 2013, with the full BRT progressively introduced in later years.

This would take advantage of one of the features of BRT: that it can be progressively introduced. Unlike LRT, which requires all new vehicles, newly trained drivers and a completed track, BRT can use a mix of old and new vehicles with the current drivers on mixed sections old and new roadway.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Academics Need Teacher Training

In Lost professors: we won’t need academics in 60 years, Professor Chris Lloyd, University of Melbourne, predicts the number of "genuine" academic positions in Australia will return to 1952 levels. Here are some comments on the article:

Researching and teaching

"... Academics create knowledge through largely unfunded research ..."
Professor George Walker, has been discussing the relationship between teaching and research in Canberra this week.
"... generate curriculum; they deliver lectures; they accredit ... "
Academics have been largely untrained in how to design and deliver education. There are now teacher training programs in place at many Australian universities and these will make a big difference to the quality of education.

Knowledge middle men

"When I started lecturing in 1978, I would take one or two textbooks and write out my own lecture notes. ... "
Yes, there are many disciplines which started out in such an ad-hoc way. But it is time we did things more professionally in tertiary education.
"These days, I design new courses by trawling the web ... "
It is one of the dirty little secrets of education that teachers use the Wikipedia but then penalize their students for doing the same. In some courses I have got students to critique and edit a Wikipedia entry to give them an appreciation of its good and bad points.
"I deliver the course to the students in a big hall. ... "
In 2008 I decided that lectures were not a good way to do education, so stopped giving lectures.
"Surely, 60 years from now, the very best curriculum and audio visual presentations will be collected, digitised and organised ..."
Videos of lectures are not that much more useful than live lectures. There are better ways to do education. Techniques for new teaching styles are explained in tertiary teaching courses run by many universities.
"I am not sure that there is much interaction in most lectures anyway. ..."
"Lecture 2.0" is the general term for more interactive lecture
techniques (my "last lecture" gets a mention).

Could it really happen?

"Electronic interactions through small groups ... "
Small groups work well, face-to-face, or online. But we can't handle an increased volume of students this way, without improved tools and techniques. Routine tasks of helping students with academic writing, for example, can be automated with an artificial intelligence tutor.

What about accreditation?

"Accreditation is another core function of universities which they currently monopolise. ..."
Professional bodies also run courses, certify professional training and accredit university courses. I was commissioned in 2008 to write an online ICT Sustainability course for the Australian Computer Society. This is designed to meet a global skills standard and delivered as part of a globally certified professional program, accredited through national professional bodies. It was later adapted for use at university in Australia and North America.
"A degree is a quality guarantee ... I cannot see the private sector usurping this role. "
There is little distinction drawn between public and private sector tertiary institutions when it comes to quality, they have to meet the same standards.

The major issue is local versus global: if a student is studying
on-line, will their teaching be outsourced to a low cost country?

Brave new world

"Many may argue that it is daft to predict what will happen in 60 years. ... "
We do not have to wait 60 years: changes to education are happening now and will become very apparent in the next five to ten years. Australia is well placed to benefit from this change, as for example, one of the leading Learning Management System products (Moodle) was developed here and there are many deep thinkers on how to do education better.

The current situation reminds me of the Internet in the mid 1990s, when technology was available and worked. But most IT professionals were in a state of denial, saying the Internet was just an academic experiment and not suitable for serious use. Within a few years the Internet came to dominate IT. The hard part was integrating the Internet way of working into traditional corporate culture.

Some academics are now saying that the more systematic approaches to education are threatening their academic freedom and that online learning is untested. But I expect that within a few years these will become the normal and obvious ways to do university education. Hopefully Australian universities will be part of that change, or they will become just satellite campuses for overseas institutions.

My suggestion to my colleagues on how to get to the new world of university education is "Integrating Online Learning into Campus Life".

Changes to Australian eWaste Regulations

An Exposure Draft of the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Amendment Regulation 2012 and associated commentary was released on 26 April 2012. Written submissions to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities can be made by 17 May 2012.

Background to the Amendment Regulation

The Regulations came into effect on 8 November 2011. In conjunction with the Product Stewardship Act 2011, they provide the basis for national, industry-run arrangements for the collection and recycling of televisions, computers and computer products.

Under the Regulations, companies that imported or manufactured more than a specified number of covered products in the previous financial year are ‘liable parties’. Under section 18 of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, a liable party is obliged to contribute to industry collection and recycling efforts by becoming a member of an ‘approved co-regulatory arrangement’.

Schedule 1 of the Regulations sets out the products covered by the Regulations. For each product there is a product description and a product code. The product descriptions and product codes are drawn from the Combined Australian Customs Tariff Nomenclature and Statistical Classification (commonly known as the Working Tariff) published by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

This use of Working Tariff product codes ensures that data from import declarations can be used to assess the number and type of covered products that are imported. This data is used to calculate annual recycling targets for industry-run co-regulatory arrangements. This is administratively efficient because it avoids two sets of reporting, but it does mean that the Regulations need to be updated from time to time to maintain consistency with the Working Tariff.

In conjunction with the Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Bureau of Statistics periodically updates the Working Tariff to keep it statistically relevant in the context of the changing composition of Australia’s imports. Due to changes initiated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics the Working Tariff has been amended, effective from 1 January 2012. The changes involve consolidation and removal of product codes that, due to changes in technology, only represent a small number of imports. For example, the categories for cathode ray tube televisions have been consolidated from 20 to 6.

The Amendment Regulation would update the product codes and descriptions to align with the changes to the Working Tariff, and make consequential changes to the Regulations.

One of the consequential changes is to insert ‘conversion factors’ for the new product codes. Conversion factors represent the average weight of a product within a product code, and are used to calculate recycling targets.

Appendix A summarises how conversion factors would change as a result of the Amendment Regulation.

The conversion factors in the Amendment Regulation were developed based on an assessment of products were imported under relevant product codes. The supporting research for this assessment is contained in the report Import Conversion Factors for the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. This report is available at

The Amendment Regulation will not affect the rollout of collection and recycling services. The 30% recycling target for 2012-13 remains unchanged, as does the requirement for reasonable access to collection services to be provided in accordance with the Regulations by 31 December 2013.

It is anticipated that the product codes will change again for products imported and manufactured from 1 July 2012. The changes to apply from 1 July 2012 would address industry requests for greater discrimination within product categories to more accurately reflect the weight of those products. This will require a further set of amendments in 2012-13.

Fact sheets and other materials providing background on the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme are available at ...

From: Commentary on the Exposure Draft of the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Amendment Regulation 2012, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 26 April 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Building University Research Capacity

Greetings from the University of Canberra, where Professor George Walker, is talking on "Tactics for Research Capacity Building", based on his experience at Cleveland State University and Florida International University. Yesterday he talked on "Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate-inspired strategies for program evaluation and improvement: focus on student learning outcomes". Today's is his last talk in Canberra, before returning to the USA.

Professor Walker discussed his experience in improving the quality and productivity of research programs at US universities. The use of the term "productivity" got my attention , as I am looking at applying on-line pedagogy to research supervision. Also the use of the word "tactical" was interesting.

Professor Walker advocated universities having a strategic plan for research. He suggested that building capably involved selecting good staff, concentrating on interdisciplinary projects crossing the usual boundaries and involved internationally. Existing staff may resist such initiatives and feel left behind, unless there are explicit strategies to have them involved.

Professor Walker advocated explicit performance measures for research and teaching negotiated with each faculty member. He acknowledged also involving unions and suggested that many assumed impediments to such metrics do not exist. He also discussed how to reallocate university building space by charging academics rent. These are very topical issues in Australia, with universities setting metrics in response to new national standards.

Professor Walker pointed out that there is a subsidy from undergraduate fees to research and graduate education at most US universities. He argued that this will result in more specialized staff at university, with some doing more teaching of undergraduates. I asked the professor why a specialist teaching organization which does not subsidize research would not undercut university, offering cheaper courses. The professor replied that universities promote themselves based on research reputation. So students are prepared to pay more for a prestigious research university, even though the actual teaching is not done by those researchers and is of a lower quality than a specialist teaching organization. This is an effective strategy, but it may not survive increased competition and consumer law.

Professor Walker pointed out that many staff hired by US universities are from other countries, particularly in the technical fields. Nation states still want to have their own universities, but this will become more "complicated" with internationalization.

Professor Walker pointed out the different roles for fully online teaching only universities and traditional institutions. He suggested that they need to be separate and distinct. I am not sure if this is the case and we can have a blend. While traditional universities emphasize their full formal degree choruses. But universites also offer all sorts of other forms of education, including short and vocational courses. There is no reason why a traditional university cannot also offer online courses, without sacrificing reputation or quality.

Professor Walker has co-authored a number of publications on how to reform postgraduate education, including "The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century" (with Chris M. Golde, Laura Jones, Andrea Conklin Bueschel, Pat Hutchings. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008). There is also the Carnegie Foundation Professional Graduate Education website.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pedagogy of Research

Professor George Walker, talked in Canberra today on "Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate-inspired strategies for program evaluation and improvement: focus on student learning outcomes". Professor Walker got my attention by mentioning the "Pedagogy of Research", as I am looking at applying on-line pedagogy to research supervision. There is also the Carnegie Foundation Professional Graduate Education website.

Professor Walker has co-authored a number of publications on how to reform postgraduate education, including "The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century" (with Chris M. Golde, Laura Jones, Andrea Conklin Bueschel, Pat Hutchings. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008).

The "Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate" did not fund the university departments, but instead sponsored essays on the topic in selected fields. This included science teaching and writing. A search for papers found about 300 mentioning "Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate".

Professor Walker described a process where staff of universities were taken through a process where they were asked to describe the attributes of those how completed a doctoral program in a demonstrable way. I commented to Professor Walker that this sounded remarkably like what teachers do when designing a course and researchers would see this level of detail as not applicable to research supervision. He responded that teaching and research were both having the student learn and universities need to "get over" the distinction between teaching and research staff categories.

Professor Walker emphasized life long learning, as what doctoral students learn in their actual course will be quickly obsolete. He nominated: Scholarly Integration, Intellectual Community, Apprenticeship. This sounds much like the "Community of Interest" discussed by educators. The "Big Bang Theory" TV show, also got a mention as an example of a collaborating group of nerds (the point being that even nerds with poor social skills need colleagues).

Professor Walker argued that staff can learn how to have a robust intellectual community and then pass this on to the students. He described "Pea" and "Snake-pit" exercises. The pea exercise has the participants study a new topic together and be supportive. After the group has learned to be supportive they can then have a snake-pit, where a presentation from on member is subjected to constructive criticism by the others.

Professor Walker will be speaking tomorrow on "Tactics for Research Capacity Building", Friday 27 April 2012 at 10:30am, at the University of Canberra. This will be his last talk in Canberra, before returning to the USA.

e-Postbus For Suburban Transport

Postbus: Dodge Spacevan 2090P (1983) at the British Postal Museum & ArchiveOne solution for public transport in suburban areas could be a "Postbus". This is a combined passenger and mail delivery service, used in rural areas, where the population density is too low for a regular bus service.

Urban areas with a high population density can use a timetable-less public transport system is generally known as a "metro". An Australian example is the Sydney Metrobus, which runs every 10 minutes
in peak times.

Where trams or buses are used the system can be used in a much lowerpopulation density than a heavier "metro" railway. However, to be
viable it still requires a population living in higher density housingthan an Australian suburb of detached houses. A typical suburb will only have enough passengers for a bus every hour, or more, at off peak times. In contrast, due to the population density, the Istanbul Metrobüs has some routes with a bus every 20 seconds.

The suburban postbus could be based at transport interchanges to servicethe surrounding suburbs off-peak. Passengers and parcels would arrive at the interchange on the same buses, trams or trains. The system would be able to transport items as large as a dishwasher (and pallets of goods for shops), but would most commonly be used for delivery of groceries and small packages ordered online.

As the postbus would cover only a small area and have a permanent depot,it could be fueled by renewable energy, either using batteries or
compressed methane. Postbusses can be as large as a regular suburbanbus, but something like a wheelchair accessible taxi, based on asmall van, would be more suitable. This could replace most off peak buses, taxis and some private cars, as well as many truck and courier deliveries.

The service would be booked by phone or via the Internet, with the customer able to negotiate time and price. The service would cost as little as a regular bus, or as much as a taxi, depending on how long the customer was prepared to wait. If the customer traveled in a booked group, the service would be cheaper than a regular bus.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

GovHack and GovCamp 2012 Venue and Accommodation

Greetings from a GovHack/GovCamp Canberra 2012 organizing meeting. One of my tasks is to provide information on the venue. So while the event website is being set up I thought I would raft the details here in my blog (corrections and additions welcome).


INSPIRE Centre for ICT Education
Building 25, Pantowora Street
University of Canberra
Bruce ACT 2617

Campus Map


Parking is available in Pantowora St, then walk 200m South on Pantowora St, to the Inspire Centre building.


University of Canberra is on the main ACTION bus route from Civic to Belconnen. Alight at the College Street stop. Weekday buses: 3, 7, 30, 31, 56, 58, 59, 73, 74, Blue Rapid, 312, 313, 314, 315, 318, 319 Weekend: Blue Rapid 900, 952


  1. Belconnen Premier Inn 
  2. Canberra City YHA

Power Off and Standby Switch Symbols

New Scientist's Feedback column for 21 March 2012 features an item on many devices consuming power when supposedly turned "off". The article suggests having a requirement that "off really means off". But this is already the case. There are two different international standard symbols for a power switch. The one for a true on/off switch has a circle with a vertical stoke in it. This is the IEC 5010 power on-off symbol: the circle represents the number zero and the stroke the number one, the switch representing the binary status of the switch: on or off.
on/off switch symbolA device with a standby state has a broken circle, with the vertical stroke through the break, indicating that the device is never truly off (IEC 5009 standby symbol).

Many power saving initiatives incorrectly use the standby symbol as the logo of their campaign, when they should use the true on/off switch if they really want to save power.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Green ICT Awareness in China But Limited Action

The report "Green Information Communications Technology in China " from Tsinghua University (April 2012) shows that Chinese ICT professionals are mostly aware of green ICT and its benefits, but with limited strategies in place to achieve these.
The survey results showed 96 percent of IT professionals had heard about green ICT. Respondents confirmed that green science and technology can help low-carbon economic development. They also acknowledged that the development of green science and technology can reduce energy consumption and stimulate society to further reduce emissions. Over 90 percent of respondents from enterprises affirmed that green science and technology is part of an enterprise’s social responsibility. Ninety-six percent of enterprise respondents also saw energy conservation as key to achieving China’s economic and social goals ...

Eighteen percent of enterprises site energy savings as a key drive for green ICT. Reduction targets vary by organization, with over half of respondents reporting reduction targets of 1 percent to 15 percent in the next three to five years. ...

From: Green Information Communications Technology in China " Tsinghua University, for Alcatel-Lucent, April 2012

Give Online Students a Headset with Push-to-Talk Microphone

Just about every computer based video/audio-conference I attend has a few minutes at the start where people sort out audio problems. Rather than giving new online students a useless gift (such as a fridge magnet), a headset with a push to talk microphone (costing about $10) would be useful. Headsets are readily available, some with push-to-mute buttons, but ones with push-to-talk are rare. Such a unit would overcome several problems:
  1. Poorly placed microphone: Many people try to use the microphone built into their laptop computer. This results in noise from the room, the computer, keyboard and desk. A headset microphone up near the mouth cuts out noise.
  2. Feedback from loudspeaker: May people try to use the speakers on their computer. The result is feedback, with sound from the loudspeaker being picked up by the microphone and relayed back to the speakers. This results in an echo chamber effect. Some systems offer echo cancellation but this is not entirely effective. A headset isolates the sound from the microphone and eliminates the problem.
  3. Background sound: For a small group, all microphones can be live at once. However, if there a dozen or more parties in the conference it is best if those not speaking switch off their microphones, otherwise background noise can be heard. Video conference systems offer click-on/click-off setting for microphones, but it can be difficult to tell when the microphone is on and easy to forget to turn it off. A spring loaded push-to-talk switch on the headset cable provides tactile feedback and resets to the off position when the user lets go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art Building

The new Museum of Contemporary Art building has opened in Sydney. The best part of the new building is the MCA Cafe and Sculpture Terrace on the fourth floor, with views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Rocks, the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay. The Menu includes "Mulloway with Quinoa, Broad Bean & Preserved Lemon Salad". The cafe has one of the great gallery cafe views of the world, comparable with the clock tower cafe in Musee D'orsay, Paris.

National Centre for Creative Learning
The new building also has an extensive education facility called the "National Centre for Creative Learning" and a small library. Unfortunately the learning centre and library appear to being still fitted out.

The most disappointing part of the building are the galleries in the old section. These have a sterile and claustrophobic feel. Some of the blinds are up, showing harbor and city views, which helps relieve the oppressive feel of the galleries.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Smart Grid, Smart City Seminar Electric cars

Ausgrid are running a seminar on Electric cars, at their "Smart Grid, Smart City " center, 26 April 2012 in Newcastle, NSW. Unfortunately you would have difficulty working that out from their very poorly designed web site. So appended are the details from the PDF document emailed to me (I could not find this on the web site).

Of course an electric car will cost several times as much as an equivalent petrol car and cause more pollution when charged from the coal fired power provided by Ausgrid. So electric cars are not a practical replacement for privately owned cars, but they may be useful for company fleets and share car schemes, where renewable power is available on-site.
Smart Grid, Smart City Seminar
Electric cars: The journey so far

Ausgrid is delighted to invite you to a seminar Who should attend on electric cars at the Smart Grid, Smart City
Centre on Thursday, 26 April.

The Smart Grid, Smart City project is an exciting Australian Government initiative led by Ausgrid. The project is trialling
new innovations in electricity generation and household
energy management – including an electric car trial in and
around the area.

A fleet of electric cars are driving the streets in the Hunter as
part of the trial.

We will share:
• What is an electric car
• Why we are doing the trial and how
• Charge point infrastructure deployment
• The impact on the electricity grid
• The project status to date

Also, hear first-hand, personal anecdotes of driving the
electric car daily up and down the Coast. Our driver has
unique experiences to share of driving the electric car in
various conditions.

At the Smart Grid, Smart City Centre you can also experience
all our brightest ideas – the Centre is an interactive, educational and fun way to look at electricity from its sources to the appliances in your home.

This event will provide some interesting insights into the latest in electric cars and provide an overview of their role in the Smart Grid, Smart City project.

Thursday, 26 April 2012
Time 12.30pm-1.30pm OR 6.00pm-7.00pm
Venue: Smart Grid, Smart City Centre
19 Honeysuckle Drive, Newcastle 2300
(located west of the Honeysuckle Hotel)
Cost: Free.
Finger food will be provided.
RSVP by Monday, 23 April 2012

Registration is essential as places are limited. Register via or call
1300 922 746.

Further information
Margot Smith on 02 8288 7820 or
We will have an electric car at the event – come and see it on display!

Free Professional Develop Workshops for Vocational Teachers

The Australian state and federal government fund an excellent free E-leanring Professional Development Workshop Program for vocational teachers. This is run by the Canberra Institute of Technology, but many of the events are online and available anywhere. There are also recordings of past events (some featuring me), notes and free e-learning software.

Coming up:
  1. From classroom to online, 10 May 2012
  2. Creating “easy to access” resources: What formats work best for your students, 22 May 2012
  3. Learning Design Tool, 14 June 2012
Past events:
  1. Learning activities Using QR code
  2. Free web 2.0 code generators
  3. “Deconstructing” Moodle for better learning design
  4. e-Explorers - E-learning Basics
  5. Creating and reusing web based learning resources
  6. Mini course designs for mobile devices

Monday, April 16, 2012

Integrating Online Learning into Campus Life

In "The growing pace of online education" (29 February 2012), Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Young, asked what might be the role of on-line education at the Australian National University (ANU). In my view online education should be integrated into campus life and not seen as separate. Students should not need to choose if they are "distance" or "local" when starting a program, but instead be able to select topics of interest and decide if they with be on or off campus, as their circumstances change. All students should be able to mix in the same classes, not be segregated by teaching mode, as is done at some institutions.

At Research School of Computer Science (RSCS) I teach a course which was designed from the ground up to be entirely online: COMP7310 ("ICT Sustainability"). This has been running since 2009 and won an award from the Australian Computer Society for ICT Education in 2010. While some of my students are in other countries, many are on campus and come in for face-to-face help with their studies.

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), which RSCS is part of, also has been pioneering "blended" courses, with both online and off-line components, as part of the Engineering Hubs and Spokes Project. I suggest extending this blended approach to flexible learning, to allow students to undertake parts of courses either online or in the classroom, depending on their needs, day to day.

Flexible Learning

With the flexible approach, the on-line system would provide a framework for courses, dealing with the day to day administrative detail, freeing teachers to teach and students to learn. Components of courses which are suitable for online delivery can be placed online. Those components which do not suit online delivery can remain in the classroom. Many components will be offered with both options: online or in the classroom. The students should be able to choose from the options, day to day, based on circumstances.

Simple Template for Courses

My ICT Sustainability course was designed using a template from the Australian Computer Society's Computer Professional Education Program. This uses a constructivist approach to education, derived from the UK Open University. Subsequently I have been a student of courses at USQ, which use a similar format. This approach should suit many task oriented courses.

My ICT Sustainability course consists of a book of course notes and a Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) site (ANU brands its implementation of Moodle as "Wattle"). This approach can be used to ease the development of online courses, providing a familar framework of a "book" combined with class activities, translated to the online environment.

Book of Course Content

The course notes (equivalent to about 130 A4 pages for a one semester coruse) are provided to the student at the beginning of the course. The notes are provided via the LMS as an eBook, in web format. The notes contain all the assessment items, weekly notes (about eight pages a week), a list of suggested readings and weekly activities for the students.

The eBook is formatted like a conventional printed book (and is also available as a printed book). There is a table of contents, an introduction, sections, chapters, headings and sub headings. There is only one column of text to make the notes easy to read on screen, including on a smart phone or tablet computer. Each module of the course corresponds to one week's work and to a chapter in the book.

The student can take an electronic copy of a chapter, or the whole book, of off-line use, or print out a chapter or the whole book. The notes are checked before each semester and unless a correction is required, no changes are made to the book during the course. This gives the student a solid point of reference in what otherwise can be a confusing shifting cloud of online materials. The student can see where they are up to in the course and what come next.

The document format is not important and any web based formats could be used, and I have produced my course notes in as an IMS Content Package, Kindle and ePub eBook formats, as ordinary web pages and in PDF, as well as a paperback book. But as ANU use Moodle, I found the Moodle Book Module format, built into Moodle, the easiest to use. This allows the student to view a chapter on screen and download or print it, or the whole book.

Ideally, all the course content should be in one file, so the student can download it all at once. But a reasonable alternative is one file per module or week of the course, with a table of contents to link all the modules. The important point is not the technical format, but to provide the course material in one clearly laid out package.

LMS for Course Coordination and Activities, Not Content

The content for the IT Sustainability course is provided in the book of course notes. This then frees up the LMS to be use for coordination and activities. I use a simple course design, which has a link to the course notes, the message system for contacting the tutor and a list of assignments at the top of the screen, then an entry for each week of the course in sequence below.

The entry for each week of the course in the LMS is only a few lines of text. This has a title, a couple of sentences of description, a link to the course notes for that week and a forum for that week's activities. Some weeks have additional material, but mostly there are just the two entries.

Each module is revealed progressively at the start of the week for that module, so as not to overwhelm the student with material (but they can read ahead in the course notes). Each week the forum is loaded with a thread for each student task, with text copied from the course notes. This provides a place for students to post their answers and discuss.

Small Weekly Assessment for Formative Feedback

On-line courses can make the students feel disconnected and they may neglect their studies as a result. One way to overcome this is with online forums where the students interact with their tutor and each other. But students still need an incentive to take part and a way to know how they are doing.

The ICT Sustainability course allocates 24% of the assessment (2% per week) to small student tasks. This is enough to keep the students studying, and have them pay attention to weekly feedback from the tutor. Automated quizzes could also be used for part of this feedback and assessment.

On-line submission of Assignments

The ICT Sustainability course has two assignments as the major assessment, at mid semester and end of semester. These are submitted online using the LMS.

RSCS has its own submission system designed for complex computer projects having large numbers of files, which is more suitable for some assignments. USQ uses a bespoke submission system, rather than the LMS.

The submission system used is not important, provided it allows for the student to resubmit updates to their assignment up until the deadline. Students can then be encouraged to submit an early draft and then refine their assignment.

One problem for educators is late submission of student work. One way I have found with my ICT Sustainability course to encourage submission on time is to impose a 100% penalty for late submission (unless there are genuine grounds for special consideration). Students submit early because they have to, but then go back and refine their work.

Real-time events face-to-face, store and forward forums online

The ICT Sustainability course was not adapted from a lecture based course, so there were no lectures to provide as video. Instead the students read the text based notes. Where pre-made videos on the topic are avialable, these are used, but not relied upon.

If lectures are provided for a course, these can be recorded and provided to the students. The ANU has its own bespoke Digital Lecture Delivery (DLD) System. This system has the advantage of offering a downloaded version of the recording which the student can play off-line later. However, the details of the system used to record and provide video or audio lectures are not of great importance, what is important is providing cross-references between the video and the course notes.

On its own, a recording of a lecture is of little us, so the content of the recorded lectures has to be accompanied by course notes and there has to be some way for the students to match what is in the lectures to the notes. Current digital video formats do not make it easy to index digital video, but new HTML5 features could improve this. In the interim, the lecturer should provide a run-sheet for each lecture, which gives the time when each major topic in the notes is discussed in the recording. If additional material not in the notes is discussed in a lecture, accompanying material for that should be added to the LMS.

I suggest avoiding the use of live videoconferences for lectures and large student workshops. These live events are inconvenient for the student and the technology is still unreliable. The Engineering Hubs and Spokes Project has made good use of short, prerecorded, scripted and edited audio/visual presentations in place of some lectures. Audio or videoconferencing can be used for individual students or small groups.

Teach Students and Staff to Communicate On-line

Current online learning is mostly text based. This is challenging for international students and for students of technical disciplines, such as computer science, who are used to communicating in computer code and equations, rather than formal academic English. This is also challenging for staff who are used to talking in a lecture theater or a tutorial room, not an online forum. Being able to communicate online is a new basic skill for academia and industry and so should be part of all university education programs.

Many of my students require help with writing. This involves small exercises in the first few weeks to see who needs help and then referring those to the ANU Academic Skills & Learning Centre. Such services will need to expand to cater for online students and to help with the forms of writing used in online forums.

The Educational Development Group of CECS, run a Teaching Quality Program (TQP) for tutors each semester. This is a total of seven hours, with a three hour induction session ("Introduction to Tutoring in CECS") at the start of each semester and a one hour seminar every second week for four weeks. This teaches time management, plain English and marking, small group teaching and codes of practice. This program could be adapted for flexible delivery, expanded to the equivalent of a full week (10 hours) and offered to all students and staff. The ANU currently offers teaching staff a 20 hour, intensive mode introductory course on university teaching. This could be enhanced with a flexible version of the CECS Teaching Quality Program, followed two new 10 hour advanced flexible teaching modules. Staff would then progress through three stages of teaching: first as a tutor, then more intensive teaching and finally (for some) designing courses themselves.

Flat-pack Townhouses and Apartments for Energy Efficient Affordable Housing

Flat-pack furniture company also sells prefabricated homes. Ikea is building "Strand East" with 1,200 new homes on 10.5 hectare site in London, between Stratford High Street, Three Mills Wall River and the River Lea (see "IKEA breaks ground on its Utopian village within London", By Eric Mack, 11:08 April 13, 2012). Ikea developed the Boklok building process with a Swedish building company. While this emphasizes wooden construction (like the flat-pack furniture) of freestanding houses, townhoueses and walk-up flats housing, the London development incorporates high rise and so will not be using that system entirely. What is still applicable is Ikea's approach to maximum use of space and minimum use of materials through design, with modular components allowing a custom result using mass produced standard components.

Media reports indicate that the victorian government may scrap requirements for 6-star thermal efficiency on new homes and renovations. A useful compramise might be to lower the efficiency requirements for renovations, but retain them for new built homes. At the same time the regulations on demolition of old buildings could be relaxed. In many cases it will be cheaper, quicker and more environmentally efficient to demolish a building and replace it with an energy efficient new one, than try to retrofit an old building. The materials of the old building can be recycled and the components for a new prefabricated one assembled in a factory, then shipped to the site and erected quickly.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Surveillance Style Headset for Video Conferences

Recently I have been taking part in numerous video conferences using my laptop. These require use of a headset to get reasonable quality sound. But you look a silly on camera with a big headset on. Also headsets can be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. I found an air-tube headset in my local electronics shop. These are also called Surveillance Headsets (or security headsets) and are also used by TV presenters.

The surveillance headset has a soft ear plug which fits in one ear, connected to a clear plastic tube up over the ear and down the back of the neck with a curly tube. The tube ends in a clip attached to the collar. The neck clip has a wire which runs to a small box with clip to attach to your lapel, a push-to-talk (PTT) switch and microphone. This box has a second cable with a plug for the computer (some units have a separate lapel microphone).

That sounds complicated and it is a bit fiddly to put on. But once fitted, the ear-piece is very comfortable and not noticeable on camera. The unit I bought has a PTT switch. This is very handy for events with large numbers of participants where you only speak occasionally: you hold the switch to talk and so can't accidentally leave it on. Some units are designed for "VOX" so the microphone is on all the time and some have a VOX/PTT switch to select either mode. My unit has no VOX switch but I find a rubber band works fine to keep the microphone switch down for extended periods.

The tricky part is to find a surveillance headset with the plug for your computer. Most of the headsets have just one 3.5mm stereo style male plug, some have two mono 3.5mm male plugs, some a 3.5mm and a 2.5 mm plug. Most computers have two 3.5mm stereo sockets: one for the microphone and one for the earphone.

I made my own adapter cable. Otherwise you can make a connector from Cable Adapters. For mine this would be one 3.5mm Stereo Female to Two Male RCA Y-Cable (to split the 3.5mm stereo from the headset into two mono channels) and then two RCA Female to 3.5mm Stereo Male Adapters.

Also I found the headset works fine with my mobile phone, using a 3.5 mm to 2.5mm stereo adapter.

Training University Tutors

Recently I took part in an online discussion on if postgraduate university students should be trained to teach. This discussion started from a US perspective where many postgraduate students supplement their income by teaching. Opinions ranged from those which said that only those who are going to be teaching need teacher training, to those arguing that teaching is an inherent part of being an academic. In my view this goes beyond just academia: many teaching skills are useful even if you are not intended to be a researcher. In business, government or industry you will need to communicate knowledge and skills, then assess how successful that communication has been, which is what education is about. So being trained how to teach will help professionals generally. My preference would be to have a formal course at university which those who are going to teach and also graduate students do.

But that is all very abstract. From a practical point of view, the Educational Development Group at the Australian National University (ANU), College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), run a CECS Teaching Quality Program (TQP), as a Community of Practice for CECS tutors. This is a total of seven hours, with a three hour induction session ("Introduction to Tutoring in CECS") at the start of each semester and a one hour seminar every second week for four weeks.

  1. Time management and priority setting
  2. Being a student centred tutor
  3. Plain English for Computer Scientists and Engineers: What it is and how to give feedback so that students improve
  4. Marking effectively

The New Tutor Induction covers:

  1. Rights and Responsibilities in teaching and learning: This session will cover the policies that govern small group teaching practice in each Research, the Code of Practice for Tutors
  2. Good practice and the role of the facilitator: individual reflections on the different ways in which students learn and the role of the tutor or demonstrator to facilitate student learning.
  3. What student’s might already know and dealing with misconceptions: why students might have difficulties in class and how misconceptions or preconceived ideas that students bring to class may contribute to these difficulties.
  4. Managing expectations: This session will be shaped around active group work and discussions to explore what you expect of yourself, your students and how you can go about conveying those expectations to your class.
  5. Starting off on the right foot and motivating students: A practical discussion focusing on how to set up organised, interactive and meaningful learning experiences for your students from the very first lesson.
Tutors are provided with a two page code of practice, with versions for Computer Science and Engineering tutors:

It should be noted these sessions are for tutors and there are further programs for lecturers, up to a PHD in education.

Friday, April 13, 2012

UK Professional Standards for Higher Education Staff

The UK Higher Education Academy has issued a "UK Professional Standards Framework" (UKPSF) to define the roles of teaching and learning support staff in UK universities. The framework has three Dimensions of Practice: Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values.

The Academy also provides four levels of accreditation, in increasing order:

  1. Associate Fellow AFHEA
  2. Fellow FHEA
  3. Senior Fellow SFHEA
  4. Principal Fellow PFHEA

The only formal qualification required seems to be a certificate in higher education teaching and similar Academy-accredited professional development.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Computers alone do not improve a child's education

The study "Technology and Child Development" found no evidence is that providing One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computers to Peruvian primary school children improved their maths or language. There were some improvements in general cognitive skills.

This finding should not be surprising, as there is no reason why providing a computer to a child should improve education results. What is needed is educational content on the computers and also education for teachers on how to make use of the computers. In terms of education policy, providing computers to impoverished children may be harmful, as the cost of the computers will have to come from the education budget and so will reduce other educational resources available to those children.

I suggest a higher priority should be the provision of a computer to each teacher, along with Internet access and online educational materials. The teacher can use the computer to improve their teaching skills and to obtain materials for their students. Only after teachers have computers and are trained in their educational use, should computers for students be considered.

Also as smart phones become cheaper and widely available in developed nations, they may provide a more affordable way to provide online educational resources. Also low-cost web terminals, which use mobile phone components and a home TV as the screen, would be a useful option. Some new TVs come with a web terminal built-in (increasing the cost of the TV by about $25).

The OLPC program did not set out to enhance traditional education. It was an experiment using the children of less developed nations as unwitting experimental subjects, to see if a low-cost computer could be built and could provide a new form of education. That experiment has shown that low-cost computers can be built and can provide some general cognitive benefit. But that experiment was ethically questionable. Those receiving the OLPCs had assumed these were to help with education as they knew it to be, that is not the case and the OLPC project should be terminated.

Although many countries are aggressively implementing the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program, there is a lack of empirical evidence on its effects. This paper presents the impact of the first large-scale randomized evaluation of the OLPC program, using data collected after 15 months of implementation in 319 primary schools in rural Peru. The results indicate that the program increased the ratio of computers per student from 0.12 to 1.18 in treatment schools. This expansion in access translated into substantial increases in use both at school and at home. No evidence is found of effects on enrollment and test scores in Math and Language. Some positive effects are found, however, in general cognitive
skills as measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices, a verbal fluency test and a Coding test.

From: Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop per Child Program, by Julián P. Cristia, Pablo Ibarrarán, Santiago Cueto, Ana Santiago and Eugenio Severín, published by the World Bank, February 2012.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Indian Ocean Wide Tsunami Watch

Map of Magnitude 8.7 earthquake off the western coast of Northern Sumatra (Indonesia) at 08:39 UTC 11 April 2012The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a Indian Ocean Wide Tsunami Watch at 08:45 UTC on 11 April 2012. This followed a Magnitude 8.7 earthquake off the western coast of Northern Sumatra (Indonesia) at 08:39 UTC. The latest bulletin, number 4 at 10:54 UTC, reported a tsunami wave of 1.06 m at Meulaboh, capital of West Aceh, Indonesia. A magnitude 8.3 aftershock was also reported. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre has not issued any warning for Australia.

Solar Power Value Proposition

Greetings from the Australian National University where Dr Allen Barnett, University of New South Wales, is speaking on "VALUE OF PHOTOVOLTAIC SOLAR CELL EFFICIENCY TO ACHIEVE LOW COST SOLAR ELECTRICITY". His research shows that the cost of PV solar energy production is related to the efficiency of the solar cells. So the more efficient the cells, the lower the overall cost. He argues that the "Levelized Cost of Energy" (LCOE), as commonly used in government funded research is the wrong measure to use. LOCE is biased towards wind energy and biased against high efficiency solar panels. One axis tracking (so the panels are rotated during the day to follow the sun) is worthwhile in terms of cost.

One question I had, was if there was an exception to Dr Barnett's analysis where low efficiency PV panels are used as the roofing material. Dr Barnett replied that this analysis still applied and the current approach of high cost mounting for solar panels using tempered glass were not the correct approach. But even where low-cost techniques are used to apply a solar coating to roof material, efficiency still counts: the higher the efficiency, the greater the cost effectiveness. He is researching solar cells built on a steel plate, so that this could be used as a low-cost roof.

However, in my view, if it is the area available for the PV panels is not limited and the substrate material is free (because the roof of a building has to be covered with something anyway and is not being used for anything else), than "efficiency" in terms of light converted to electricity is less important. If using a less efficient coating lowers the cost per Watt, it does not matter how much area this uses, as long as it is cost-effective to install.

If using solar panels as building roofs is to be feasible, then what will be more important is not the efficiency of the solar coating, but the cost and compatibility of roofing and re-roofing buildings. As an example, research is needed into what the panels should look like. Some panels will need to be disguised as exiting roofing material, such as tiles and slate. Other cases the panels will need to be conspicuous to give an environmentally responsible look.
The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is used to compare different energy generation technologies or systems. The relatively high LCOE of photovoltaics (PV) can be an obstacle to adopting it as a significant electricity source for terrestrial applications. In a conventional PV system, the cost of the module contributes approximately half of the expense and the other costs are together summarized as balance of system (BOS). A large portion of the BOS is not related to the peak power of the system, but can be either proportional to or independent of the total installation area. Across different PV systems with the same installation area, this part of BOS ($/W) is directly dependent on the module efficiency. Therefore, the LCOE is affected by the module efficiency even if the module price ($/W) remains the same. In this paper, the LCOE across PV systems with equal installation areas but with modules of different efficiencies installed with fixed tilt, 1-axis tracking or 2-axis tracking are compared. It is concluded that at a given module price in $/W, more efficient PV modules lead to lower LCOE systems. Two examples of new high efficiency solar cell modules; thin crystalline silicon (20+%) and tandem solar cells on silicon (30+%) will be presented.
Allen Barnett joined the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2057 Australia as Professor of Advanced Photovoltaics in September 2011. At UNSW his research is focused on new high efficiency solar cell modules; thin crystalline silicon (20+%) and tandem solar cells on silicon (30+%). He joined the University of Delaware in 1976 as Director of the Institute of Energy Conversion and Professor of Electrical Engineering. He left UD in 1993 to devote full time to AstroPower, Inc, which became the largest independent solar cell manufacturer and the 4th largest in the World. He returned ot UD in 2003 and was Executive Director, Solar Power Program; Research Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware, Newark Delaware. Barnett has supervised 26 Ph.D. theses including 7 Ph.D.s and 3 M.S. degrees in 2011.

Barnett received his M.S. and B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and his Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). He received the IEEE William R. Cherry Award for outstanding contributions to the advancement of photovoltaic science and technology and the Karl W. BAer Solar Energy Medal of Merit. He is on committees for the two largest photovoltaic conferences. He has more than 280 publications, 28 U.S. patents, and 7 R&D 100 Awards for new industrial products. He actively consults for government agencies, institutional investors, and private companies. He was named one of aThe 50 Most Influential Delawareans (State of Delaware) of the Past 50 Yearsa in 2012.

Broadband and Train to Replace Second Sydney Airport

The NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has proposed to use a high-speed rail line from Sydney to Canberra in place of a second Sydney airport. Canberra's airport could then be used for Sydney. This is technically feasible, but it might be necessary to extend the rail line to Melbourne to make it viable. Also I suggest the use of broadband to make new settlements along the route viable and to pay the cost of the rail line.

European experience suggested that a rail service between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne would replace most air travel. Broadband access on the train would also make this form of travel more attractive and something much harder for an aircraft to provide. This would free up the existing Sydney airport for longer trips. Also some international passengers who currently land in Sydney and transfer to Canberra or Melbourne by air, would then instead land in Canberra or Melbourne.

Sydney to Melbourne is the second busiest passenger air route in the world, with 950 aircraft movements per week. A high-speed train could be expected to replace 90% of flights between Canberra and Sydney and 80% between Sydney and Melbourne. Assuming that also 20% of the international flights to Sydney were replaced with ones to Canberra and Melbourne, this would free up significant capacity in Sydney. The use of larger A380 aircraft will also increase Sydney's capacity.

The high-speed train could make new and expanded settlements in inland NSW viable, reducing infrastructure pressure on Sydney. The sale of improved land in the new settlements would be sufficient to pay for the rail line. Broadband Internet could be used to provide jobs and services quickly and at low-cost in the new settlements, making them more attractive to residents. As an example, shared offices could be provided for workers to telecommute from. New schools, TAFEs and university campuses could be built with computer equipped classrooms, allowing access to global education. Medical facilities with instant on-line access to remote specialists could be provided.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Real-world Accessibility with Roger Hudson

Roger HudsonRoger Hudson is presetting "Real-world Accessibility" in Canberra, 16 May 2012.

... A new generation accessibility workshop which focuses on two key questions:
  • Can we use the new, exciting and dynamic features of the web and still make accessible sites?
  • How do we determine if a site or application is accessible?

In answering these questions, the workshop will push the boundaries of web accessibility with practical exercises in developing modern accessible sites and evaluating the accessibility of web content. ...

ASIO Natural Gas Generator for Backup

An interesting item which came up recently is that the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) wants to store 660,000 litres of diesel fuel for the backup generators at its new Canberra Headquarters (see: "Bid to store fuel at ASIO site" by Ewa Kretowicz, Canberra Times,April 7, 2012). There has been public concern expressed about the safety of storing this much fuel near a residential area. But in addition, if they need this much fuel, how large is the carbon footprint of the building going to be?

The Canberra Hospital are proposing to install a 3 MW trigeneration plant, powered by natural gas to produce electricity, hot water and air conditioning. Such plants are much more energy efficient (and less polluting) than cola fired mains electricity. The Hospital will retain its backup diesel generators, but with the gas powered trigeneration plant providing the main power source, the electricity grid will act in effect as a backup power supply for the hospital. Perhaps ASIO should consider this approach.

A reasonable setup for ASIO would be to have a gas powered trigeneration plant large rough to provide electricity heating and cooling for most days. The diesel generators and fuel supply could be reduced in size to just provide emergency power for the ICT systems and lighting (no air-conditioning) in the unlikely event that both the gas and mains electricity supplies fail simultaneously.

ASIO could also make use of the same technology as on ACTON buses, to store natural gas under pressure. A relatively small set of tanks could be used to provide one hour of gas supply, which would be sufficient to cover most interruptions to supply.

Monday, April 09, 2012

APS Innovation Action Plan

The Australian Government released an APS Innovation Action Plan in June 2011. There is also:
  1. Public Sector Innovation Toolkit.
  2. Background to Public Sector Innovation Project
  3. Context for public sector innovation in Australia
  4. Resources on Public Sector Innovation
  5. Twitter account @PSInnovate
In my view, the most effective way to foster innovation is through education. For several years the ACT Government, Australian National University and University of Canberra have been running an program, where students learn about innovation, for teams and compete for prizes. As a presenter and a mentor, I learned a lot from the program. Also in 1996 I visited Cambridge University, discussed their approach to innovation with the staff and later for an Australian Engineering Study.

Here is a copy of the plan, converted to HTML:

APS Innovation Action Plan



The role of the Australian Public Service (APS) is to support the Australian Government in responding to economic, social and environmental challenges, through effective policy development and service delivery. It needs to employ the most up-to-date thinking and approaches to deal with increasingly complex issues including demographic pressures, fiscal constraint, and ever-increasing expectations of the public and the business community. To thrive in the continually changing world environment, the APS needs the leadership and mandate to deliver innovative solutions to address multidimensional issues and problems.
The Innovation Action Plan, endorsed by the highest levels of the APS, provides that mandate. It acknowledges that harnessing the innovative potential of the APS and the wider citizenry is critical to success, and so it sets out principles and a structure to achieve this. Complementing other APS reform initiatives, the Action Plan provides a framework for embedding innovation in the APS to achieve better outcomes.
The Innovation Action Plan provides the platform and agenda to build an innovative culture in the APS by supporting creativity, responsiveness and delivery excellence. Innovation is not new to the APS, with many agencies having implemented innovative initiatives and many individuals having embraced innovation. However, efforts to systematically embed innovation into the operation of the APS are relatively recent.
Openness to ideas and new ways of doing things will keep the APS at the forefront of public administration. Our aim is that the APS will be a stimulating and rewarding environment for our staff and this will be reflected in our results and achievements.
To formally demonstrate our commitment to a more innovative APS, we, the members of the Secretaries Board, commit to implementing and adhering to an Innovation Compact and Innovation Action Plan for our organisations. We recognise that implementing the Innovation Compact and the Innovation Action Plan is a crucial step on the ongoing journey to position the APS for the future.

Innovation compact for APS leaders

  1. Recognise innovation as a process that can and should be systematically pursued
  2. Involve the user and the citizen in the design and development of our services and policies
  3. Pursue open processes that encompass a wide range of experience and expertise
  4. Generate results through involvement, utilising partnerships and collaboration
  5. Facilitate the creativity inherent in our organisations, and welcome tests, pilots and experiments
  6. Recognise risk as an inherent part of innovation
  7. Promote and celebrate innovation successes
  8. Acknowledge that not all innovation will succeed, but that we can learn from failures
  9. Use procurement to spur the generation and uptake of innovative solutions
  10. Be accountable for delivering and implementing the Action Plan and successor initiatives

Members of the Secretaries Board

  • Mr Ian Campbell PSM
    Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • Mr Drew Clarke PSM
    Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism
  • Ms Jane Halton PSM
    Department of Health and Ageing
  • Mr Finn Pratt PSM
    Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Mr Peter Harris
    Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
  • Dr Martin Parkinson PSM
    Department of the Treasury
  • Dr Paul Grimes PSM
    Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
  • Mr Andrew Metcalfe
    Department of Immigration and Citizenship
  • Mr Terry Moran AO
    Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Mr Mike Mrdak
    Department of Infrastructure and Transport
  • Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM
    Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government
  • Dr Conall O'Connell
    Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Mr Blair Comley
    Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
  • Dr Don Russell
    Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
  • Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM
    Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
  • Ms Kathryn Campbell CSC
    Department of Human Services
  • Mr Dennis Richardson AO
    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Mr Steve Sedgwick
    Australian Public Service Commission
  • Mr David Tune PSM
    Department of Finance and Deregulation
  • Dr Ian Watt AO
    Department of Defence
  • Mr Roger Wilkins AO
    Attorney-General's Department

Action areas

The APS Innovation Action Plan is designed to assist the APS to develop an innovative culture. It will build innovation performance within the APS to provide better outcomes for the broader constituency.
The generation, selection, implementation, sustainment and diffusion of ideas will be explicitly supported at all levels, and agencies will formulate and implement strategies to harness innovation for delivery of high quality policy and services.
The Action Plan will better mobilise resources in the APS to respond to challenges through collaboration, experimentation and ongoing learning. It supports harnessing new technologies, analytical disciplines and applying new perspectives.
The Action Plan focuses on the following four action areas:1
Developing an innovation consciousness within the APS
Building innovation capacity
Leveraging the power of co-creation
Strengthening leadership so there is the courage to innovate at all levels
Initiatives associated with each action area are outlined overleaf.

1 Consciousness

To embed innovation in public sector organisations we need to build, share and maintain a common language about what innovation means and create awareness of key innovative practices and insights. Without shared concepts and notions of what it means to engage in innovation, a climate receptive to change will not take hold. The Consciousness component of the Action Plan provides a framework to embed a common understanding of what innovation means and why it is important in the public sector context. To improve connectivity, access to information, and communicate the importance of innovation, which are critical to raising consciousness, this Action Plan proposes the following initiatives.

Innovation Network

The Public Sector Innovation Network is a community of public servants, academics and practitioners interested in innovation in the public sector. Innovation is rarely easy and requires support, advice and encouragement.
The Network provides a community of peers who can assist each other in creating, applying and sharing innovative ideas and will, over time, provide a rich source of innovative capability. Public servants (including state, territory and local government employees) who wish to join the Network can email the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research at:
The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research also facilitates a practitioner sub-network of those responsible for driving innovation in their agency.

Innovation Blog and Innovation Showcase

The Public Sector Innovation Blog is a platform to assist innovation practitioners in the APS to share experiences of, and insi1 Consciousness
2 Capacity
3 Co-creation
4 Courageghts into, public sector innovation.
The Public Sector Innovation Showcase will enable government agencies and departments to share and celebrate case studies of innovation, and to consider how they might apply such innovative practices within their own operations to achieve better outcomes.
Agencies are encouraged to contribute to both of these platforms and share their stories about how innovation is being applied in their organisation. These platforms are open to state, territory and local government agencies and can be accessed through the Blog at and the Showcase at

Public Sector Innovation Events

Recognising that long term value is captured through dissemination and diffusion of innovations, the APS and its agencies will institute mechanisms to recognise, celebrate and share innovation efforts. This will be done by:
  • agencies being encouraged to introduce their own innovation awards, potentially as a part of the existing Australia Day Awards processes
  • supporting the Australian Public Service Commission to include public sector innovation as a key theme in its event planning, including for SES breakfasts and APS 200 events
  • supporting the Australian Public Service Commission in organising innovation related events around key opportunities such as visiting experts
  • agencies holding innovation themed events to discuss, share and celebrate public sector innovation within their agencies.

Agency Corporate Plans

In order to build the broader case for innovation and to explain why it is important, agencies will incorporate innovation into their strategic plans. This will help agencies harness the power of innovation and help staff know how they can contribute to the innovation efforts of their agency. This process will begin immediately.

2 Capacity

Building innovation capacity increases the ability of public sector organisations to effectively generate and execute new solutions to today's complex problems. The Capacity component of the Action Plan aims to enhance the public sector innovation skills and knowledge base. As new skills will be needed and agencies will need to monitor innovation capabilities, this Action Plan supports innovation skills development through the following initiatives.

Innovation Toolkit

The Innovation Toolkit is a package of practical innovation resources to support the APS at all levels to generate innovative solutions. It will include:
  • advice to help people understand innovation and how it can be harnessed
  • guidance on how to implement innovative ideas
  • a description of innovation tools and how they may be best utilised
  • information that assists agencies to adopt the tools as needed
  • links to other resources.
The Toolkit resources will be evolutionary, recognising that we still have much to learn about these approaches and how they are best used. Further information on the Innovation Toolkit can be obtained by emailing the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research at:
The Innovation Toolkit can be accessed through


The Australian Public Service Commission, as part of its considerations in enhancing APS capability, will look to develop secondment/mobility options for APS staff to expose them to new ideas and influences from the public, private and community sectors.
Secondment and mobility options will broaden the knowledge of APS staff and enable better connections with the broader community. Participants will bring different perspectives, knowledge and networks to their work in the public service.

Australian Public Sector Innovation Indicators Project (APSII)

The APSII project will develop indicators to facilitate the measurement of innovation performance by public agencies. The project will survey innovation in the APS to better understand our innovation capability and to enable agencies to better assess their innovation capabilities and performance.

3 Co-creation

Until recently, the innovation process was primarily thought of in 'black box'' terms, with organisations utilising unique, internalised capabilities to turn inputs into innovative outputs. This view has shifted towards a recognition that the public sector now needs to more effectively use the innovative capacity of a much broader base. Co-creation, through design and experimentation, embodies this thinking, with the public sector requiring new processes and platforms to more effectively integrate design, delivery and user areas. To enable the APS to meet the challenge of delivering solutions to today's complex problems and to explore new methods in solution formulation, development and delivery, this Action Plan proposes the following initiatives.

APS Design Centre

A centre (or centres) dedicated to innovative approaches could assist to:
  • develop and test new approaches to complex policy challenges and to enhance government program delivery
  • build agency and institutional capability for collaboration and innovation
  • apply and test tools/processes and bring new skills to support innovation in the APS
  • capture, synthesise and disseminate examples of best practice in Australia and overseas
  • respond to citizen demand for responsive and innovative services.
The proposed initiative could inspire creativity and collaboration and provide a platform to test innovative solutions. It could help practitioners to adopt new perspectives in thinking about a problem.
Such an approach would facilitate cross-agency interaction involving public servants, academics, citizens and businesses to create solutions for societal problems. It could fast track building the capacity of the APS to develop innovative policy and service delivery, keeping the APS at the forefront of citizen delivery and responsiveness.
Development work on this approach is underway, with an outcome expected in late 2011.

Innovation Outreach

All members of the APS are potential innovators. As part of the broad responsibility for efficiency initiatives the Department of Finance and Deregulation will look to identify and communicate across government, innovative suggestions for efficiency gains and productivity improvements which may be made by public servants or the public. In doing this the Department of Finance and Deregulation will investigate the merits of (a) an Improvements Register which is able to be shared across agencies to build expertise and momentum, and (b) public sector outreach initiatives like the US SAVE Awards.

4 Courage

To generate transformational change the APS must display the courage to innovate, despite day to day pressures and entrenched constraints. The Courage component seeks to embody this ethos through measures that recognise leadership, and reward innovative achievement. To provide a platform for the APS leadership, this Action Plan proposes the following initiatives.

Leadership Mandate

The APS Innovation Action Plan and its attendant Innovation Compact, developed by the APS200 Project on Public Sector Innovation, are endorsed by our Agency Secretaries. This is a major commitment to the future role for innovation within the APS. It is a commitment to making our APS agencies responsive and agile. The Compact will take effect immediately.

Ongoing leadership

The APS200 as a whole is responsible for implementing the Action Plan and embedding a culture welcoming of innovation in the APS. Senior APS executives will be responsible for implementing the innovation agenda within their agencies by including innovation as a key component of organisational performance systems, and hardwiring innovation into agency leadership systems.
The Secretaries Board, as the pre-eminent body for issues affecting the APS, will oversee the implementation of the Innovation Action Plan's initiatives and recommendations from Empowering Change: Fostering Innovation in the Australian Public Service. Reporting on the implementation of the Action Plan to the Minister for Innovation and the Secretaries Board will begin in 2012 (undertaken by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the Australian Public Service Commission).


Awards to celebrate and share the best innovations from Australia's public sector are important, as they signal our celebration of success and effectiveness. They are important to enable others to see how it can be done and to provide models for others to adopt.
Beginning in 2011, innovative public sector projects, initiatives or change processes will be assessed for recognition as part of the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management (run by the Institute of Public Administration Australia, ACT Division).
Agencies are encouraged to nominate relevant activities or projects and to also introduce their own innovation awards, potentially as a part of the existing Australia Day Awards processes.


With the pressing need to act and to ensure that the Innovation Action Plan is sustained, the Secretaries Board will oversee the implementation of the Innovation Action Plan and monitor its progress.
Recognising the variation of innovation approaches and opportunities within the APS, implementation of the initiatives will proceed based on each agency's specific opportunities and needs. This offers the potential for agencies to learn and build on successes as well as create momentum for future initiatives.


This Action Plan should be seen as the next step in work that has gone before. The APS has a long history of innovation, and a tradition of striving to become better. The development and realisation of an APS culture that welcomes and seeks innovative solutions will be an ongoing journey, not something that can be declared as 'done'.
Innovation involves iteration - trying new ideas, seeing if they work, and then trying further ideas to do even better. Just as innovation requires repeated attempts, the APS will need to try a number of approaches to foster innovation and each agency will have to assess what is most appropriate to its operations.
An innovative APS starts with individual public servants wanting to try new ideas. Following are some of the resources available to help you innovate:

Other initiatives

Innovation Showcase

As part of the response to recommendation 12 of Empowering Change, a Public Sector Innovation Showcase has been developed by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the Australian Government Information Management Office to showcase innovation and Gov 2.0 initiatives across the public sector.
The aim is to help government agencies and departments to share examples of innovation and to consider how innovative practice may be applied in their context to achieve better outcomes.
The Showcase went live on 4 March 2011, with a small number of examples, designed to demonstrate areas of existing innovative capabilities across both the APS and the states. We encourage agencies to support the Showcase and ensure ongoing interest by providing further examples of innovation from their experience. Examples can be provided via the Showcase site, or by emailing the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research at:

Innovation Toolkit

The Toolkit is an online resource centre hosted on govspace (an online communications platform which hosts blogs and other websites on behalf of government agencies) that provides resources to support innovation in the APS. The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the Australian Government Information Management Office are jointly developing the Toolkit platform and functionality, with consultation from external stakeholders. The Toolkit will provide an avenue for APS staff and innovation experts to contribute to build a living body of knowledge.
The Innovation Toolkit can be accessed through
Further information on the Innovation Toolkit can be obtained by emailing the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research at:

© Copyright 2011 DIISR

Unless otherwise noted in the 'Materials Excluded and Rights Reserved' list below, the text in the APS Innovation Action Plan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.
ISBN 978-1-921916-18-3
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1 The four action areas have been adapted from Christian Bason, 2010, Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a better society, The Policy Press, Bristol