Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teaching and Learning at University of Queensland

Greetings from University of Queensland, where it apparently is "Teaching and Learning Week". The Learning Innovation Building (LIB), next to the book-store, is about three months old. LIB is home to the  Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology (CEIT), Teaching and Educational Development Institute (TEDI) and the Centre for Innovation in Professional Learning (CIPL). This makes a change from the tradition of putting the education development unit in a demountable shed out the back of the chancellery.

The technicians are fine tuning the energy efficient climate control system. After a presentation when the blinds are raised, the system will check if the  weather is clement, and then turn off the air-conditioning and open the windows.

The building has a modern teaching room, with a flat floor, hexagonal tables on wheels (for up to six students each), touch and projections screens. The room can be divided into two with a movable wall.

Barramundi and Blended Learning By the Brisbane River

Greetings from Wordsmiths, "The Writer's Café", next to the Bookshop and University of Queensland Press, on the banks of the Brisbane River. The cafe has tables under Jacaranda trees (unfortunately not in flower). I am at the University of Queensland to help out on the steering committee of a project developing some learning assessment software. But after the meeting there is time to wander the campus. The antiquities museum is worth a visit, as is a walk through the old quad. After the grilled baramundi, I was going to look at the UQ's new high-tech Learning Innovation Building next door.

MoodlePosium 2012 Canberra with Moodle Founder

Martin Dougiamas at the Parthenon
The University of Canberra is hosting MoodlePosium 2012, 22 to 23 November 2012 in Canberra. The key speaker is, of course, Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder and Lead Developer, Moodle HQ. I will be leading an open discussion on "Online Research Supervision" on the first day. On the second day I will give a short talk on "Green Computing Professional Education Course Online", being just back from seeing how to do this in Indonesia.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Australia in the Asian Century

On Sunday, the Australian Government released the long awaited and much anticipated "Australia in the Asian Century White Paper". This seems to have with general acceptance, with criticism being limited to it lacking detail and in particular funding detail. However, this is a white paper, which is intended to set a broad policy direction, not implementation detail.

The paper sets ambition goals for Australian education, including Asian language and cultural studies in schools and increasing the number of top ranking universities in Australia. The former is easier to achieve, by the use of online technology.

Improving the ranking of Australian universities would appear an all but impossible task. A more realistic task would be to maintain 50% of the current ranking. Asian universities are putting considerable financial and intellectual efforts into improving the quality of their universities and there is no reason to think they will not be successful. This is not just a matter of throwing money at the problem, but also applying the same sort of quality management processes to academia which made the Japanese car industry (and more recently Korea), world beating.

ps: By coincidence, I am off to an Indonesian university next week to discuss online ICT sustainability education.
Australia in the Asian Century White Paper


Monday, October 29, 2012

Australian Energy Expertise In the Asian Century

Greetings from the ANU Energy Change Institute Open Day at the Australian National University in Canberra. Speakers are discussing the technology and policy of how to reduce the climate change effects of energy production and tours of real working systems. After lunch I will be discussing "Cloud computing and energy efficiency".

One theme which seems to be emerging is responding to Asia's energy demand. This is timely with the release yesterday of the "Australia in the Asian Century White Paper" by the Prime Minister. Dr Paul Burke is talking on "Greening Indonesia’s energy". My colleague Dr Idris F. Sulaiman, is currently working on a green development project in Indonesia. Next week I will be presenting a seminar on Teaching Green ICT Online in Indonesia at the Faculty of Science and Technology, UIN Suska University of Riau.

ANU Energy Change Institute – Open Day 2012

Climate Change is the challenge.

Energy Change is the key.

Open Day Programme: Monday 29th October, 2012 
09.00 – 09.20 Highlights of the year,  Professor Ken Baldwin, ECI Director
09.20 – 09.30 Address by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, Professor Margaret Harding, RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR
09.30 – 10.00 Energy economics & policy, Climate economics and policy, Dr Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School, College of, Asia and the Pacific
Greening Indonesia’s energy, Dr Paul Burke, Research Fellow, Crawford School, College of Asia and the Pacific
10.00 – 10.45 Solar (Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems – CSES), Introductory overview, Dr Tom White, Research Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Silicon engineering, Fiacre Rougieux, ASI Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Laser processing, Dr Andreas Fell, ASI Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Plasmonics and nanostructures, Dr Niraj Lal, ASI Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science
III-V materials, Dr Sudha Mokkapati, Super Science Fellow, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Sliver solar cells, Dr Evan Franklin, Research Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Back contact solar cells, Dr Evan Franklin, Post-Doctoral Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Thin films, Dr Andy Thomson, ASI Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Micro-modules, Dr Liz Thomsen, ASI Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Micro-concentrators, Dr Vernie Everett, Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Solar cooling, Dr Mike Dennis, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Hi-temperature thermal, Dr John Pye, ASI Exchange Fellow, CSES, College of Engineering and Computer Science
10.45 – 11.15 Morning tea and posters
11.15 – 11.30 Artificial Photosynthesis, Bio-mimetic challenges for artificial photosynthesis and hydrogen production - current prospects, Dr Ron Pace, Research School of Chemistry, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Plasma technologies for hydrogen fuel cells and artificial photosynthesis, Professor Christine Charles, Head, Sp3, Research School of Physics and Engineering, College of, Physical and Mathematical Sciences
11.30 – 12.00 Energy regulation & governance, Scientific and governance challenges for global artificial photosynthesis, Professor Tom Faunce, ARC Future Fellow, College of Law and College of Medicine, Biology and, Environment

Winds farms and planning law, Dr James Prest, Lecturer, Centre for Climate Law and Policy, Australian Centre for Environmental, Law, College of Law

Global energy governance, Professor Neil Gunningham, Regulatory Institutions Network and Fenner School of Environment, and Society, College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Medicine, Biology and Environment
Energy, technology and property: how they fit together, Professor Peter Drahos, Regulatory Institutions Network, College of Asia and the Pacific
12.00 – 12.15 Biosolar, The cultivation of microalgae to produce liquid biofuels: assessing the prospects, Associate Professor Michael Djordjevic, Research School of Biology, College of Medicine, Biology, and Environment

The cultivation of thermophilic cyanobacteria for biofuels, Dr Warwick Hillier, Research School of Biology, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment
12.15 – 12.30 Nuclear Science, Nuclear energy post-Fukushima, Vanessa Robertson, Master of Nuclear Science, Research School of Physics and Engineering,, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
12.30 – 13.30 Lunch and posters
13.30 – 13.45 Carbon capture and storage and Enhanced oil and gas extraction, Why energy conservation policies are unnecessary, Dr Rowena Ball, ARC Future Fellow, Mathematical Sciences Institute, College of Physical and, Mathematical Sciences, Using the ANU X-ray micro-CT to better understand the microscopic mechanisms of oil recovery, and subsurface CO2 trapping, Dr. Adrian Sheppard, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Physics and Engineering, College of, Physical and Mathematical Sciences
13.45 – 14.00 Fusion Power, The physics of burning plasmas, Dr Matthew Hole, Fellow, Research School of Physics and Engineering, College of Physical and, Mathematical Sciences

Development of optical diagnostics for enhancing fusion power performance: from ANU H-1 to, ITER, Dr Clive Michael, Research Fellow, Research School of Physics and Engineering, College of, Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Plasma surface interactions for fusion plasmas, Cameron Samuell, Research School of Physics and Engineering, College of Physical and, Mathematical Sciences
14.00 – 14.15 Energy Efficiency and Demand Management, The ECI launches a new research group focusing on energy efficiency and demand management, bringing together ANU expertise in this field across the College of Engineering and Computer, Science and the Fenner School of Environment and Society. Michael Smith will provide an, overview of the breadth of research being undertaken in this field by ANU researchers, lecturers, and policy experts. The work on energy efficiency and ICT will be featured as an example of ANU, expertise in this field. Tom Worthington, will discuss topical issues such as how cloud computing, is growing in popularity, but what are its energy demand profile and level of greenhouse gas, emissions? He will discuss how to measure and reduce ICT energy use and show how these, techniques are researched at ANU and used for training students on practical projects in industry, and government., Energy efficiency and demand management research group - an overview of recent achievements
Dr Michael Smith, Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, College of, Medicine, Biology and Environment, Cloud computing and energy efficiency,

Tom Worthington, Adjunct Lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, College of, Engineering and Computer Science
14.15 – 14.30 Energy Sociology and Risk, Energy change raises a host of social and political issues. How are risks associated with existing, energy systems, and their alternatives, distributed? Why do some risks capture our collective, attention more than others? How best can transformation in the consumption of energy be, facilitated? The ANU School of Sociology hosts a range of projects concerned with the social, dimensions of safety, risk and disasters as well as the social dimensions of consumption. This, presentation will address current research in the sociology of risk management and energy, consumption and with a view to clarifying barriers to acceptance and action., Safety in design, Dr Jan Hayes, Senior Research Fellow, School of Sociology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Institutionalizing risk management in the nuclear power industry, Catherine Wong, School of Sociology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Consumption as social practice, Professor, Stewart Lockie, Head, School of Sociology, College of Arts and Social Sciences
14.30 – 15.30 Posters and afternoon tea
15.30 – 17.00 Tours of ECI facilities:

Tour 1: RSPE energy facilities / Big dish
Tour 2: PV Solar / Biosolar

Friday, October 26, 2012

Concepts of Research

The sixth, and last, fortnightly topic for the research supervision course I am undertaking is the conceptions of research which students and their supervisors have. Somehow half way through I strayed from the topic, into the area of student diversity:

What The Candidates Think

As part of the ANU Information & Human Centred Computing group, I attend fortnightly research presentations (this week: “Computer games for rehabilitation”). In this area "research" is synonymous with "experimentation" using the scientific method. Students do literature searches and build hardware, but only as a precursor to experiments, where they carry out repeated tests under controlled conditions using human subjects. Students are expected to have already conducted such research as an undergraduate, typically in Honours. Some are doing research into policy, but only after proving themselves in experimental work.


Course Notes

"HDR candidates" divides the topic into four:

1. Student Motivation

The notes distinguish between those interested in research and those interested in a qualification for career advancement. International candidates are singled out as being typically motived by career advancement. But this analysis of student motivations is not then linked to practical outcomes.
The research presented suggests that about half of doctoral graduates go on to work in higher education, but no split between administrative, teaching and research positions is provided. The notes appear to be trying to obscure the fact that most research graduates do not go on to a career in research.

2. Conceptions of research

The notes discuss common student misconceptions as to what research is, such as only gathering data to support preconceived ideas and suggests it is critical for a supervisor to discover if students hold such misconceptions. But if such misconceptions are as common as indicated, then I suggest the appropriate action is to have a formal test for all students and then set work to correct the misconceptions. This should not be left to some informal fireside chat between supervisor and student.

3. Student experience

The notes suggest that as well as supervisors, others will be important to the student, such as librarians, technical support and lab staff, family, friends and peers. The importance of written and oral communication skills is emphasised.

The "Ideas & tools" section of the notes references "Life as a doctoral student - more than research" (Oxford Learning Institute, 2011), which shows a page out of a student diary to emphasise that university is about social as well as study activities. It suggests these steps:
  1. Building relationships
  2. Learning to be proactive
  3. Developing new skills and identities
  4. Communicating one's research
  5. Imagining a future beyond the doctorate
Perhaps the university could update this approach by making the student's e-journal part of the assessment.

4. Diversity

The notes point out that about 14% of Australian doctoral candidates are international students. The top three countries for international PHDs in 2008 were: Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Also 36% of students were part time for at least part of their program, with the proportion of part time students increasing over time. The notes point out that full-time candidates are more likely to complete, but the part-time candidates who do complete do so in less time.

Oxford's "Student diversity" points out that UK Higher education institutions are subject to legislation protecting against discrimination by age, race, sexual orientation, religion and gender. Australian universities are subject to similar legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and are required to anticipate the requirements of their students. It is not lawful to wait for a student to ask for special access. This principle was confirmed in the case of "Maguire v SOCOG 2000" (for which I was one of the expert witnesses).

As a part-time coursework student I have faced considerable impediments to study, where courses and administrative procedures have been designed on the assumption that the typical student is on-campus, full time, young, nimble and has good eyesight. It must be much more difficult for a student from a remote part of Australia, or overseas, who has work, family, religious or cultural commitments, which prevent them studying to a fixed timetable and location. This contrasts with studies at an online university, which I found set up for a diverse student population.

Other Readings

Åkerlind  (2008) point out that there is much less literature on academics' experience of research, than of teaching. They point out that the increasing emphasis on measurement and accountability of academic research activity, in‐depth exploration of the ways in which academics experience research, and of their underlying intentions in being a researcher and undertaking research, become important.

Åkerlind  (2008) examines ten phenomenographic studies using interviews of students and supervisors, mostly in technology disciplines. Studies looked at the extent to which academic value research in terms of contributing to goals of individual researchers and the research team. In addition they looked at the quality of the research, how it contributes to knowledge and is of general benefit and solves practical problems.
The authors note a difference in outlook of those conducting research into research, in terms of outcomesprocess, or intentions. They then conducted their own research of of 28 academics at an "research‐intensive university in Australia" (most likely ANU). The results were summarised as "Being a researcher as ...":
  1. fulfilling academic requirements
  2. establishing oneself in the field
  3. developing oneself personally
  4. enabling broader change
Bills (2007) investigated the questions: what is research, what is good research and what qualities make a good researcher, what makes a good research student and why do research? Rather than interviews or surveys an ethnomethodology, with analysis of focus group discussion was applied. The major finding of Bills (2007) was that it is the supervisor's own concepts of how research is conducted (and in particular who is in charge), which can cause problems for students, as much as the student's perceptions. Also it is suggested that undertaking a research degree is largely a process of socialisation into a discipline.


Bills, D. (2007). Supervisors' conceptions of research and the implications for supervisor development. doi: International Journal for Academic Development, Vol. 9, No. 1, May 2004, pp. 85–97 Retrieved from

Åkerlind, G. S. (2008). An academic perspective on research and being a researcher: an integration of the literature. doi: Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 33, No. 1, February 2008, pp. 17-31. Retrieved rom:

Teaching Woodworking Online

Pauline Farrell from Box Hill Institute of TAFE, has produced an excellent example of e-learning with the course "Hand make timber joints" (LMFFM2006B). All the materials for the course, including the assessment tasks and eBook, are available.

The eBook includes videos showing woodworking techniques. One issue is that the videos make up most of the 284 Mbytes of the eBook. It might be good to have an option where they are separate and where the video can be offered at a lower resolution.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ninety Seconds to Business Success

Greetings from the first Semi-Final Pitch Night of the Innovation ACT competition at the Australian National University in Canberra. Teams are competing with ninety second pitches of business ideas to expert venture capital judges. It is a fun night with an audience throwing questions at the competitors. There is then a later phase for assessment of business plans.

Ideas pitched were from the areas of entertainment, education, transport and tourism. Many are web based e-commerce intermediates, providing a connection between the retail customer and supplier. Also there is much mention of the use of social media. Many are offering products to university students, which is not surprising as the competitors are students (and it turns out that students are a good market).

Some ideas are for not-for-profit ventures for community benefit. These are allowed under the rules of the competition, but the judges from for-profit venture capital companies appear a little uncomfortable with the idea.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reduce Funding to Increase Innovation

Greetings from University House at the Australian National University where "Inside the Researchers Lab" is being held. Professor John HOSKING is interviewing Professors Hugh Durrant-Whyte and Bob Williamson from NICTA National ICT Centre, on what makes a good researcher. They are discussing some counter-intuitive approaches to research, including that funding is an impediment to good research. Both professors argue that limited funding improves innovation. That could be good news for the Australian Government which wishes to reduce research funding. NICTA received $65M last year, so there would appear to be scope for savings.

There is some evidence for to support the idea that less secure funding helps innovation in "The Cambridge Phenomenon"

At question time I asked the panel how to increase the inclusiveness of research programs and and diversity of  the candidates (this is the topic for the Research Supervision course I am studying at the moment). The response was essentially to concentrate on interesting research problems and not have set programs.

Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System Issuing False Alarms

The Indonesia METEOROLOGICAL CLIMATOLOGICAL AND GEOPHYSICAL AGENCY (BMKG) has started issuing warnings online from the Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (InaTEWS). Unfortunately, InaTEWS is relaying bulletins issued from other regional warning systems. These bulletins are already relayed by UNESCO, so that multiple copies of irrelevant Tsunami warnings are received. As an example InaTEWS issued a bulletin about an earthquake near Nicaragua on 24 Oct 2012 at 0045 UTC. It would be a very long time, if ever, before this effected Indonesia, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

University of the Future Envisioned by Consulting Company

Business consulting company Ernst & Young has released the report "University of the Future". This, not surprisingly, sees a larger role of the private sector in education and use of online education.

Much of what the report predicts has already started at universities, but is taking time to become mainstream. Australian universities have already started transforming their physical campuses, replacing libraries with learning commons and moving routine study materials online.

Innovations such as Massively Online Open Access Courses (MOOCs) are not as revolutionary as they sound. Universities have been in the business of producing low cost mass market packaged versions of learning materials for hundreds of years (called "textbooks"). The MOOC is just an update to the idea of the book, with pre-packaged materials for self study (a useful slogan would be "MOOCs are like Books").

Students soon realise that just the course materials on their own do not make for a course: you also need a tutor, assessment and other students to work with. The tutor and assessment will continue to be a major part of the cost of a course, even if these are done online. Since 2009 I have been teaching and assessing ICT Sustainability at ANU on-line. This was a successful transition to online work integrated learning.

Ernst & Young may have underestimated the sophistication of the business models beyond modern universities, their ability to adapt to change and the work already done to make that change. E&Y predict change in the next 10 to 15 years, but I expect that change to be all but complete in the next five to ten years.

Introduction and executive summary

The current Australian university model — a broad-based teaching and research institution, with a large base of assets and back office — will prove unviable in all but a few cases.
Ernst  Young’s view is that the higher education sector is undergoing a fundamental transformation in terms of its role in society, mode of operation, and economic structure and value. To explore these themes and future directions, we have conducted an industry-wide study of the main forces impacting the higher education industry globally and locally, and the opportunities, challenges and implications for Australian universities. ...

Our primary hypothesis is that the dominant university model in Australia — a broad-based teaching and research institution, supported by a large asset base and a large, predominantly in-house back office — will prove unviable in all but a few cases over the next 10-15 years.

At a minimum, incumbent universities will need to significantly streamline their operations and asset base, at the same time as incorporating new teaching and learning delivery mechanisms, a diffusion of channels to market, and stakeholder expectations for increased impact.

At its extreme, private universities and possibly some incumbent public universities will create new products and markets that merge parts of the education sector with other sectors, such as media, technology, innovation, and venture capital. Exciting times are ahead — and challenges too.
We have summarised the drivers of change of this brave new world into five key trends:
  1. Democratisation of knowledge and access — The massive increase in the availability of ‘knowledge’ online and the mass expansion of access to university education in developed and developing markets means a fundamental change in the role of universities as originators and keepers of knowledge.
  2. Contestability of markets and funding — Competition for students, in Australia and abroad, is reaching new levels of intensity, at the same time as governments globally face tight budgetary environments. Universities will need to compete for students and government funds as never before.
  3. Digital technologies — Digital technologies have transformed media, retail, entertainment and many other industries — higher education is next. Campuses will remain, but digital technologies will transform the way education is delivered and accessed, and the way ‘value’ is created by higher education 
  4. Global mobility — Global mobility will grow for students, academics, and university brands. This will not only intensify competition, but also create opportunities for much deeper global partnerships and broader access to student and academic talent.
  5. Integration with industry — Universities will need to build significantly deeper relationships with industry in the decade ahead — to differentiate teaching and learning programs, support the funding and application of research, and reinforce the role of universities as drivers of innovation and growth.
The university sector is critical to Australia’s future. Universities educate our leaders and entrepreneurs of the future, create new ideas and knowledge, and earn much needed export income. Universities provide opportunities for students of all backgrounds to increase standards of living for themselves and future generations. But, to succeed, universities will need to forge new business models that are dynamic, modern and fit for the decades ahead.
We see university business models becoming more diverse, and anticipate three broad lines of evolution.
  1. Streamlined Status Quo’ — Some established universities will continue to operate as broad-based teaching and research institutions, but will progressively transform the way they deliver their services and administer their organisations — with major implications for the way they engage with students, government, industry stakeholders, TAFEs, secondary schools, and the community.
  2. Niche Dominators’ — Some established universities and new entrants will fundamentally reshape and refine the range of services and markets they operate in, targeting particular ‘customer’ segments with tailored education, research and related services — with a concurrent shift in the business model, organisation and operations.
  3. Transformers’ — Private providers and new entrants will carve out new positions in the ‘traditional’ sector and also create new market spaces that merge parts of the higher education sector with other sectors, such as media, technology, innovation, venture capital and the like. This will create new markets, new segments and new sources of economic value. Incumbent universities that partner with the right new entrants will create new lines of business that deliver much needed incremental revenue to invest in the core business — internationally competitive teaching and research. ...
From: "University of the Future", Justin Bokor, Ernst & Young, 2012

Designing a Decision Support Centre

The computer labs on the ground floor of the Computer Science and Information Technology Building (CSIT) at the Australian National University are due to be re-equipped. Rather than just replace the old computers with new ones, I have suggested turning part of the ground floor (about 300 square metres) into a teaching and learning commons, modelled on a military Decision Support Centre.
As well as regular teaching, this would be used to expose senior public servants from the Australian Public Service and senior military officers, to new technology supported decision making techniques. This would be done in much the same way that the the University of Canberra Inspire Centre is used to allow teachers new technology based educational techniques. Also the facility would showcase the latest in low energy technology. Apart from the environmental benefits such energy saving technology saves lives in military operations by reducing the logistics tail and so putting fewer support personnel in harm's way.
Current Building Design

The award winning CSIT Building was purpose designed for computer science in the mid 1990s, with input by computer scientist Dr. David Hawking.

The building was ahead of its time being designed for high performance computer data cabling and work environments have been provided for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, as well as project work.

The ground floor area originally had a seminar room (the famous N101), two smaller project rooms N118, N102), a computer museum in the foyer (N120), two tutorial rooms (N108, N109), five smaller prac rooms (N110 to N114), and two larger prac rooms (N115, N116).

Later N110 and N111 were re-purposed as postgraduate rooms. Half the dividing wall between the larger prac rooms (N115, N116) was removed to make a larger computer equipped teaching space.

The remaining prac rooms (N112 to N116) are equipped with parallel benches running down the room fitted with desktop computers. There are projection screens at the front of the rooms.

There is a student foyer near the main entrance, this has a notice board shared printers.

Issues With the Spaces

The computer equipment is due for replacement. However, this provides the opportunity to rethink the use of the space.

Changes in Teaching Practice

The facility was designed with a bifurcation of teaching practice on the main axis. There are tutorial rooms on the southern side of the main corridor and prac rooms (computer labs) on the northern side. The tutorial rooms were designed for medium sized groups using conventional face to face teaching techniques lead by a tutor (without computers). The prac rooms were designed for individuals or small groups of students to work, with or without supervision, but without formal presentations.

The prac rooms have now evolved to allow for group instruction, with a presenter at the front of the room, as well as continuing to be used for small group and individual work.
The changes in teaching practice are also reflected more widely in organisations (including the public service and the military), with the regimented approach of "offices" and "meeting" breaking down. A change in the physical design will better prepare students for the world in which they will work.

Changes In Technology

The ANU Research School of Computer Science is a leader in the development of open source software and operating systems. ANU uses a mix of operating systems. There are also new options with students using their own laptops, net books and tablet computers.

The use of "cloud" computing and web based interfaces is rendering the issues of the desktop hardware and operating system used to be largely irrelevant. Students, increasingly have their own mobile computing device, be it a laptop or tablet. The university needs to provide wireless networking to the learning management system and major computing resources. This approach is now reflected in business and government with increasing use of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD).

Computer Assisted Learning

In the last few years ANU has made a major investment in e-learning with the development of the "Wattle" system using the Moodle learning management system and related software. CECS is a leader in the use of this technology for blended learning with the Engineering Hubs and Spokes Project and for e-learning with the award winning ICT Sustainability course.

As a result the University will require fewer large lecture theatres seating hundreds of students and more small computer equipped flexible teaching rooms seating 24 to 48 students. Also space will be required for students to work alone or in small groups with computer access.

This creates an opportunity to skip generations of high cost specialised classroom design and adopt a general purpose open plan layout in the CIST building.

Suggested Approach: Design a Learning Centre

The suggested approach is to remodel the western ground floor of the CIST building as a learning centre, reorienting the space to use the existing entrance on the southern side:

1. Cafe Reception: The existing foyer would be equipped as an informal "cafe" with tables and benches with power points for student laptops. Some spaces would be equipped with wall mounted screens for small group work by students. These could be modelled on the UNSW Eora Exchange (by lahznimmo architects) and the Southbank Institute of Technology Library. Other useful examples are the University of Canberra Teaching and Learning Commons, ANU Hancock West, and University of Adelaide Hub Central.

2. TEAL Room: The internal walls would be removed from the western end of the ground floor to create one large square 18 x 18 m "TEAL" room, like that at the University of Canberra Inspire Centre. This would accommodate classes of up to 120 people. The room could be divided into four smaller rooms with movable partitions.

To accommodate computer based examinations, then the TEAL room would be lined with metal foil insulation, blocking external wireless data access. Students could use their own laptop, a specially filtered WiFi system and a monitored, hosted IT system for their examinations. Students would only be permitted to use their laptops as terminals to the examination server, with any data copied from elsewhere detected and reported by the system. The same system would be available for classes made up of senior public servants and military officers, where sensitive topics may be discussed.
3.  Decision Support: The TEAL room would have a flat floor with a rubber surface making it suitable for movable wheeled furniture. The walls would be plain white-board surfaces and equipped with projectors. This would allow the room to be laid out with movable furniture to emulate a civilian office, or a military command centre. Additional support software would be hosted locally, or accessed from a remote server, such as the Grouputer system. Students would interact with scenarios prepared, including live and simulated content transmitted to the room. Such systems are discussed in "Electronic meeting systems – what they are and how they could benefit Australian government organisations" (S. Lesley Hodges , 2010).
  1. Classroom Design
  2. Flexible learning centre
  3. Learning commons
  4. Command Centre Design

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Computer games for rehabilitation

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Martin Henschke is talking on "Serious computer games for motor rehabilitation". He discussed how computer games and game techniques are used for conditions such as Cerebral palsy. Some games are used unaltered or with specialised interface hardware, such as large controllers. However, game techniques can also be used to keep the patient entertained while making better use of the therapist's time. Martin was part of a team which won a Australian Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Association (ARATA) Soft Technology Award. He described the game Terraformers which is a first person shooter game designed for the blind.
Serious computer games developed for motor rehabilitation produce a more engaging and enjoyable method to participate in physical therapy, but lack of variation and a secondary focus on fun limit long-term appeal. Traditionally, the focus of serious games in a health context is on the rehabilitation of motor function, neglecting the often-absent or impaired sensory function of the patient. This paper discusses a series of approaches used to develop appropriate serious games for children with cerebral palsy targeted at the impaired sensory system, taking into consideration longevity of play experience, requirements from therapists or researchers, and the interface requirements of the participants themselves. Two of the games that were developed are provided as examples, including data and feedback from one child with cerebral palsy who evaluated the games for entertainment, engagement and replay value.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Promoting research through open access

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Danny Kingsley, Manager Scholarly Communication & ePublishing, is talking on "Promoting research through open access" as part of Open Access Week. She is pointing out how Australia is a leader is a leader in open access and that Australian academics are benefiting from this.
In my view university libraries need to be more had headed on this and have a fund of money to help promote open access. Otherwise this will cost the universality money, as academic authors will sign away their rights before they know what has happened and the university library will then have to pay to access the material. It would be better in the log term if the libraries invested funds up front to educate their authors about this.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Open Access Week

It is Open Access Week from 22 to 28 October 2012. During the week, university libraries will be hosting talks on making scholarly research more widely available. Some in Australia are:

22 October, Australian National University Promoting research through open access – everything you ever wanted to know
Monday 22nd October – 2.30pm
McDonald Room, Menzies Library
Speaker: Dr Danny Kingsley, Manager Scholarly Communication & ePublishing, with ANU researchers
Summary: This talk aims to provide the background for anyone who wanted to know more about open access but were afraid to ask. The general philosophy of open access is that publicly funded research should be publicly available. The talk will describe the mechanisms for achieving open access, the benefits afforded those who make their work available and the concerns people have about open access. ANU researchers who actively make their work available will discuss their experiences.

23 October Australian National University Copyright and open access in a fast changing landscape
Tuesday 23rd October - 12.30pm
Law Sparke Helmore T2
Speaker: Ellen Broad, Executive Officer, Australian Digital Alliance
Summary: This talk will look at recent issues relating to copyright both overseas and in Australia. Copyright determines what we can and cannot share and recent attempts in the US to enforce copyright online saw an online protest by Wikipedia turning 'off' for 24 hours. In January a proposal for the US Research Works Act - which would make it illegal to have open access a condition of federal research funding - was met with a storm of online protest. Not only was the bill retracted but it spawned an academic boycott of Elsevier in protest of their financial support of the bill. The Australian Law Reform Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy. This is an area to watch. 

24 October
Setting the Default to Open Access: Three Points of ViewBaillieu Library, University of Melbourne This year VALA is celebrating Open Access Week with a panel of three fabulous guest speakers. Each has their own unique perspective on Open Access: the research librarian, the academic and a provider Organized by VALA - Libraries, Technology and the Future Inc

 The NHMRC mandate and you – a guide
Thursday 25th October – 2.30pm
Manning Clarke Lecture Theatre 4
Speaker: Dr Danny Kingsley, Manager Scholarly Communication & ePublishing, ANU
Summary: The National Health & Medical Research Council has recently commenced its open access policy, and things appear to be moving in this direction at the Australian Research Council. But what is a mandate? And how does it affect researchers? This talk will explore the NHMRC mandate, and look at how mandates are managed by publishers, institutions and funders around the world. 

25 October 
Open Scholarship: Research and Publication
from 10am to 12:30pm – Richard Searby Room - hd2.006.1 Melbourne Burwood Campus Deakin University At Deakin University Australia we are celebrating Open Access Week with a symposium on open scholarship, focusing on open access research and publication. Join with other members of the education com

Friday, October 19, 2012

Green ICT Seminar in Indonesia

Faculty of Science and Technology, UIN Suska University of Riau
The Faculty of Science and Technology, UIN Suska University of Riau (Fakultas Sains Dan Teknologi, Universitas Islam Negeri Sultan Syarif Kasim Riau) has invited me to speak at a seminar on Green ICT in early November 2012. This will be held in Pekanbaru, capital of the province of Riau, on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The seminar organisers are interested in hearing from academics, government and industry personnel who may wish to attend. The event will be of interest to the energy and resource industries, as well as finance, telecommunications, Internet service providers and NGOs. If you are interested in taking part, please  contact the Faculty.

Large Screen Netbooks Better for Students than Tablets

Samsung have released a range of  small low cost laptop computers running the Google Chrome operating system. The cheapest is But more practical looking is the $450 Samsung Series 5 Chromebook. This has a 12.1 inch screen and is the size of laptop I use and have found ideal for university study. It is small enough to fit in a bag alongside an A4 pad and has a big enough keyboard to be usable. There is no point in having a smaller tablet computer with a 10 inch screen, as by the time you a carry case and a keyboard, it is not much smaller than the laptop and costs more.

The Smasung computer runs Google's Chrome operating system, which has been an unpopular cousin to Google Android. The unit has a low performance processor and limited memory compared to a larger laptop, but comparable to tablet computers.

The  Kogan Agora Laptop I use has a full version of Linux and more storage, but still only cost about $400.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What makes a successful researcher?

In the style of Inside the Actors Studio, the Australian National University is holding "Inside the Researchers Lab", with Professors Hugh Durrant-Whyte and Bob Williamson 24 October 2012 in Canberra.

ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science 

Inside the Researchers Lab

Profs Hugh Durrant-Whyte and Bob Williamson 

DATE: 2012-10-24
TIME: 16:00:00 - 18:00:00


This series of colloquia aims to provide insights into successful research by successful researchers. In the style of Inside the Actors Studio, and modelled on Proust's Questionnaire, each of our guests will go head-to-head and answer 10 pithy questions on what makes a good research problem. Join us for the first in a series of master classes with a difference to gather new and personal insights from leading scientists. Afterwards, network with friends, colleagues and alumni at drinks! More info on speakers in this series:

RSVP essential:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Teaching Online Working to Public Servants

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society's Green ICT Special Interest Group  Environmental Issues Discussion in Canberra. This is an informal discussion of possible areas for the ACS to address.  Much of the discussion was around green ICT being a by-product of business efficiency initiatives, such as teleworking. National Telework Week is 12 to16 November 2012 and perhaps ACS should join in.

One aspect of teleworking is the new skills which staff need to work online. It happens I am looking at how to teach such skills to postgraduate university students and staff. The same courses could be also offered to public servants and office staff generally.

Another issue which came up at the meeting was the question of where federal government agencies were with sustainability reporting environmental metrics in their annual reports ("Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan"). However, these reports do not appear to being extracted and summarised to give an overall view of how the Australian Government is doing with sustainability. Perhaps the ACS could extract the details from all the published annual reports and publish the results. Those agencies doing well can then be recommended for an award in recognition. Where an agency fails to perform, or report, the Minister responsible can be alerted to replace the senior staff.

Australian Technical Standards for e-Learning Materials

The National VET E-learning Strategy has released a draft of "New Generation Technologies for Learning incorporating E-standards for Training". This provides technical standards for e-learning materials and is a minor update of the current standards. While intended for the vocational education sector (including TAFE), these standards are also applicable to education in Australia more generally. In particular this would be of use in Higher Education, which has tended to neglect the need for standards. That lack of standardisation risks making Australian universities uncompetitive in the global education market. Not only will that result in a loss of international students, but also the loss of Australian students to lower cost, higher quality, overseas on-line courses.

Table of Contents

  1. Background
  2. Accessibility
  3. Content Formats
  4. Content Packaging
  5. Intellectual Property Management
  6. Metadata
  7. Platforms
    • Desktop Platforms
    • Mobile Platforms
  8. Repositories
  9. Web Services/Data Exchange
  10. More Information
From: "New Generation Technologies for Learning incorporating E-standards for Training" (Draft), National VET E-learning Strategy, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dejan Andrevski on Pitching an Innovation

Greetings from Innovation ACT at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dejan Andrevski is facilitating a workshop on Refining Your Pitch. This is to help teams of Canberra university students and staff who are competing for prizes based on their presentation of a business idea.

The six questions Dejan suggested you need to present are: what is the product, who is the market, where will revenue come from, who are you, who is the competition and what is you advantage. He suggested limiting the pitch to about 200 words. It seems to me that the pitch needs to be about as long as  Tweet, which is 140 characters (allowing for abbreviations used in text messages this is about the same as 200 words of spoken text). Dejan suggests including something visual, preferably a demonstration.

At question time the participants put Dejan on the spot by asking him to give the pitch for one of his start-ups. I did a quick search and found a video made about one of these "GiftaBall". It is not a video of the pitch, but instead an short video about the product.

Last week, at the 2012 Walter Burley Griffin Memorial Lecture, both Lucy Turnbull and and Professor Alastair Swayn (ACT Government Architect) mentioned the role of universities in promoting innovation and spinning off new industries. The ANU was mentioned in particular. The Innovation ACT events are held at ANU Commons, a new building on the edge of the campus, in the innovation zone between the formal campus and the Canberra CBD. This is becoming a zone for innovation industry.

As part of the learning experience I made up a product idea, so I had something to try pitching:
Team BooKs: Our product is online accredited courses for masters and PHD university students. Universities now have to compete globally for students. Those students want vocationally relevant and accredited qualifications, usable across the world. We offer universities packaged on-line courses branded with their logo, pre-approved by global and leading national professional standards setting body. This allows universities to avoid complex national approval processes and offer a global qualification as part of their program. We charge the university a fee to use the course. We are a team of award winning professional educators, with the contacts to navigate the complex approvals processes. Individual universities and some consortia offer accredited courses for some countries, but tend not to address global requirements. Some universities and non-profit bodies now offer free online courses, but these are not recognised by accreditation bodies and have a high drop-out rate.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Online Educational Developer Job at Australian National University

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) in Canberra is looking for a specialist educational developer to provide support, advice and assistance on the design and use of on-line materials for degree programs. Applications can be made on-line and close 21 October 2012.

For an example of an existing on-line CECS course, see my "ICT Sustainability: COMP7310" (course notes are available in the book "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future").

  1. Degree in a relevant field or an equivalent combination of extensive relevant experience and education/training in one or more of the following: Teaching; Facilitation of learning; Design and development of curricula in higher education; technology enhanced education; Evaluation.
  2. Demonstrated ability to work in a web-based learning environment as well as experience with other desktop applications.
  3. Effective organisational, analytical, interpretive and problem solving skills.
  4. Excellent interpersonal skills and a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively and efficiently (orally and in writing) with staff, students and external institutions while maintaining confidentiality, tact and discretion.
  5. Proven ability to work effectively as part of a team and independently as required.
  6. Demonstrated initiative and ability to think strategically.
  7. A demonstrated understanding of equal opportunity principles and policies and a commitment to their application in a university context. ...

From: Specialist Educational Developer, G472-12MY, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, closing 21 October 2012

Cloud Computing and Energy Efficiency

Tom Worthington with his display Power to the People!
The ANU Energy Change Institute Open Day is 29 October 2012. During the day I will be discussing "Cloud Computing and Energy Efficiency", including how this can be addressed using techniques in my course "ICT Sustainability" (starting again at ANU in February 2013).

Computers > electricity > fossil fuel > CO2 > global warming.

Also my solar power demonstration "Power to the People!" is on display at the Leichhardt Library in Sydney as part of Eco-Annandale October 2012 until 3 November 2012.

Friday, October 12, 2012

ICT Sustainability Global Benchmark Report

A drop of 2.2% in the global ICT Sustainability Index (ITSx) over the last year indicates that CIOs have made little headway implementing power saving measures in the computer systems. The figures are contained in the "ICT Sustainability: The Global Benchmark 2012 Report" was sponsored by Fujitsu and used a methodology developed by Connection Research and RMIT University. The USA did well (ITSx of 57.3) , compared to Australia with 50.1.

The report recommends that organizations should track their ICT energy use, however I suggest this will not lead directly to savings. As has been shows with domestic smart meters, the monitoring may simply cause frustration as energy saving primarily requires capital investment and so there is little to be gained from real time monitoring. I teach students of  my ICT Sustainability course to prepare back-of-the envelope estimates of energy use and then concentrate their efforts on convincing senior management of the need for changes in investment.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Life in Technology

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where computer industry pioneer, Peter James, is speaking at Innovation ACT on "Managing Growth & Exit Strategies". Peter is Chairman and Co-Founder of Ninefold, a Director of Macquarie Telecom and a Director of iiNet. I know Peter from the days when he worked for Computer Power in Canberra, decades ago.

Peter made the point that a start-up company has to be about business, not just a hobby. The company has to have a a global outlook, even if it is initially aiming for a local market. Also there needs to be a clear and simple message about what the company does and how it can grow. He reminded the audience  that they need to ask their customer what they need, rather than telling them.

Peter gave the example of his cloud computing company Ninefold, which offers an Australian hosted service. They have no sales people making cold calls on businesses, instead attracting business on-line. When I went to their website I noticed a box pop up offering a real time conversation with the sales or support staff.

Peter argues that a start-up should not have an "exit" strategy, as the focus should be on building the business and wait for someone to approach who has an interest in investing and in what the business does.

Peter was disparaging about the adulation of Silicon Valley USA and gave the example of "Startup Saturday India". He mentioned Startup Saturday Bangalore , but I see there is also a Startup Saturday Goa the same day (if you go also visit the Kala Academy).

Internet Society Out of Favour with Australian Government

Greetings from the sixteenth Annual General Meeting of the Internet Society of Australia in Canberra. This is the second ISOC GM I have attended, the first was the founding meeting in 1996, when I attended online from Cambridge, UK. This time I thought I would come in person, as the meeting is in Canberra. One point of note is that ISOC-AU is not getting money from the government, perhaps due to its strong lobbying on privacy. Perhaps ISOC-AU needs to form an alliance with the Australian Computer Society, which has a good relationship with government and is cashed up.

Some Approaches to Selecting Examiners

The fifth fortnightly topic for the research supervision course I am undertaking is the selection of examiners and the examination process for doctoral theses. I asked a couple of experienced academics. They responded that they choose examiners, based on their expertise in the field, as well as international education, PHD supervision and examination, known personally, reliable and are likely to be sympathetic to the approach taken in the thesis. The last is most interesting, that the examiner needs to be matched to the candidate, much the way the supervisor should be:
I select examiners on the following basis:
  • they are experts in the field of research, preferably with a strong international education
  • they have experience themselves in PhD supervision (preferably examination as well), and are likely to have realistic expectations of a PhD thesis
  • preferably I know their personality, and they are balanced and reliable
  • they are likely to be sympathetic to the line of research taken in the thesis
  • main thing: match of field of thesis to fields of interest of potential examiner (not necessarily main publishing field, but other knowledge comes into play) - previous collaborators of the superviso, and, 
  • use of network of known people in related areas to ask for examiners in the specific area (If you can't do this one do you know of someone who you would recommend?) and sometimes this brings up a relatively early career person for whom the examination is itself a part of their further development - needs some extra judgement about the recommender as well
  • track record of returning exams in reasonable turnaround time in the past, if previously used and track record of not being overly tough if previously used (some pedants get no further invitations) - recognition that a PhD is not a final word but is itself an educational stage
  • match the quality of the thesis to the examiners quality - to some extent, reinforce good thesis with good examiner, but not use of goodwill of best researchers with mediocre theses (yes there are some) for a better than average good candidate thesis, also consider the future networking/patronage for the students' benefit (which redounds on the supervisor and home university) as a prescribed authority in the chain of turning recommended examiners list into actual invitations: also consider the standing of the examiner, and if necessary widen the supervisors' choice to a better quality than first choice of colleagues.

Online Support for Evaluating Postgraduate Student Skills

My reading of research on postgraduate students indicates that "generic" skills are important to the student and to prospective employers. The issue then is how students gain these skills and how they are assessed. The "Student Practice Evaluation Form" (SPEF-R) shows one approach. SPEF-R is a paper based and later online system for supervisors to evaluate students on occupational therapy professional practice placements (Turpin, Fitzgerald, and Rodger, 2011) As well as supporting Formative and Summative assessment, the tool also supports Criterion-referenced assessment (CRA), as outlined in the a policy at the University of Queensland's Assessment Policy and Practices. With this each individual student is assessed against set criteria, rather than by relative performance against other students in a program. SPEF-R targets eight learning domains:
  1. Professional Behaviour
  2. Self Management Skills
  3. Co-worker Communication
  4. Communication Skills
  5. Documentation
  6. Information Gathering
  7. Service Provision
  8. Service Evaluation
These have much in common with the generic skills described for higher degree research students by other programs:

National Postdoctoral Association six core competencies:

1. Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge2. Research skill development
3. Communication skills4. Professionalism
5. Leadership and management skills
6. Responsible conduct of research

UK Vitae "Researcher Development Framework" four domains:
  1. Knowledge and intellectual abilities: The knowledge, intellectual abilities and techniques to do research.
  2. Personal effectiveness:           
    The personal qualities and approach to be an effective researcher.
  3. Research governance and organisation: The knowledge of the standards, requirements and professionalism to do research.
  4. Engagement, influence and impact: The knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research.
SPEF-R  has an "item bank" for each learning objective, made up of "items" describing how the student demonstrates they have the skill. While it is not clear from the documentation, the learning objectives do not appear to be hard coded into the software and others could be entered. There are different sets ("streams") of items students learning "Direct Service Provision" or "Project Management / Consultancy". This should be able to be generalised to apply to a broader set of professions which need variations of the same skills.

Feedback is provided in SPEF-R  by way of a numerical ranking on a five point scale, and text based qualitative comment’s. The five point scale may be programmatic, as it could be difficult to differentiate many of the skills to this level of detail. It is not clear if a different scale can be substituted, such as the  three point scale I use for ICT Sustainability.

SPEF-R  has minimum requirements for each learning objective and the supervisor provides a summary statement.

Perhaps more important than the recording function which SPEF-R provides is the introduction to modern teaching and assessment practices provided, such as the Feedback Cycle.

Lessons from SPEF-R for Higher Education

The approach used for SPEF-R might be generalised for Higher Education using off-the-shelf learning management software, in particular a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Moodle and/or a SCORM package.

Moodle 2 supports advanced assessment techniques, including rubrics. SCORM packages allow for portable assessment, across different learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard.

The student could be provided with an e-Portfolio (such as Mahara), loaded with a template of skills definitions, which they are then required to fill in with evidence. The evidence would include results of assessment from courses, imported from the LMS (Moodle 2) and examples of their practical work, plus any papers or thesis produced.

The same system could be used for coursework postgraduate students and professional degree students, as well as research Masters and PHD students. Different programs would use different discipline templates of skills, but the same core set of "generic" skills.


Turpin, M., Fitzgerald, C. and Rodger, S. (2011), Development of the Student Practice Evaluation Form Revised Edition Package. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 58: 67–73. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1630.2010.00890.x Retrieved from

Turnbull Advocates A More Compact Liveable Canberra

Presenting the 2012 Walter Burley Griffin Memorial Lecture at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra last night, Ms Lucy Turnbull, called for more densely populated Australian cities. Turnbull is familiar with planning issues, having been the Deputy Chair of the COAG Capital city strategic planning expert advisory panel, Lord Mayor of Sydney and is currently an independent member of the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority. She praised the work of Canberra's planners is providing a coherent view of the city, which follows on from Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony's design for the city.

Turnbull singled out the Affordable Housing work of CIC Australia for praise. She noted that Australia's ageing population will require a new mix of housing stock and more single person houses will be needed. The role of the urban environment to support the innovation sector of the economy was also mentioned.

After the talk I asked Ms Turnbull and Professor Alastair Swayn (ACT Government Architect) if sufficient account was being taken of the effect of high speed broadband on city design. Also I pointed to the innovation precinct forming between the ANU and Civic in Canberra. They mentioned the effect which teleworking is having on cities.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Environmental ICT Issues Discussion in Canberra

The Australian Computer Society's Green ICT Special Interest Group will host an Environmental Issues Discussion in Canberra, 5:30pm 17 October 2012. The event is intended as an informal discussion of possible areas for the ACS to address. It is free for ACS members, plus ANU staff and students.

Australian Computer Society - Canberra Branch

Green ICT Special Interest Group

Environmental Issues Discussion


  • Environmental Education for children
  • Environmental Education for the office
  • Environmental Education for households
  • Corporate Responsibility for environmental issues
Online registration Event Prices (Inc GST) 
  • Regular Fee: ACS Members, ANU staff and students: $0.00 
  • Non Members: $40.00 
  • Regular Fee - Guest: Guest: $20.00 

Using iPads and eBooks For Training

The Canberra Institute of Technology will host a forum on Using iPads and eBooks For Training, 4:30 pm 24 October 2012.
ACT - e-Rated Networking Forum (face-to-face) 
When: Wednesday, October 24, 2012, 4:30 – 6:30pm 
Where: Canberra Institute of Technology, Reid Campus. Further details will be emailed to registrants closer to date.
Note: Interested in using iPads and eBooks in your training delivery?\ 
Join us at this ACT's e-Rated Networking Forum to hear how Box Hill Institute is using iPads with their apprentices! 
Guest Speakers: 

  • Pauline Farrell, Executive Manager - Blended E-learning Solutions, Box Hill Institute
  • Steven McMahon, Teacher - Metal Fabrication Trades, Canberra Institute of Technology

You must register (sign up) to attend this FREE face-to-face event.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Looking to Defence for Broadband Future

The last session of "Converging on an NBN Future" was a general discussion. I commented that the NBN was conceived and is being built by experienced experts who can relied on to build a system which works. The unanswered question as I see it, is what the nation will do with the NBN. While areas such as education and health are considered likely uses, is there a well funded and planned process to make this happen?

One of the speakers responded to me that we should look to the Defence Department for possible future uses of broadband. This is ironic as when at the Department of Defence I looked to academia for ideas of how the Internet could be used and to formulate Defence and government policy. Now it was being suggested doing the opposite.

One participant pointed out that the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a new "Internet Activity, Australia Survey" at 11:30am today (covering June 2012). The ABS report an annual growth rate in Internet subscribers in Australia of 10% and 96% of Internet connections being broadband. The volume of data downloaded via mobile handsets is increasing at 32% a year.

The last comment for the day was from respected IT journalist John Hilvert, who suggested that when the school parents and citizens association routinely meets on-line, the NBN will have been a success.

NBN as a Critical Infrastructure

Professor Catherine Middleton, Ryerson University,  talked at "Converging on an NBN Future". She pointed out a difference between  Australia's NBN and North American provision of broadband is that the NBN can be a Critical Infrastructure. Broadband access is being provided in most countries as a "best effort" service with patchy provision. Even so Dr. Middleton points out that provision is either a monopoly or quasi monopoly in the USA. As NBN is one national engineered service it can be relied on for provision of essential public services. This is a reasonable argument, but it is not clear if the NBN has been engineered as a safety critical system which, for example, will continue to operate during power failures and will automatically give essential services priority.

Examination process for doctoral theses

As part of my learning about tertiary teaching  I am looking at the process used for the selection of thesis examiners and the examination process for doctoral theses. After some readings (appended) I am to ask experienced academics how they select examiners for their students and how they go about examining others. I would welcome any comments on the topic.


Course Notes

The Research Supervision Notes (customised by a consortium of ANU, Oxford and McGill Universities) divide the topic into four steps:
  1. Preparing Students
  2. Selecting Examiners
  3. Examination Process
  4. Following Examination

Preparing Students

The notes suggest that Australian examiners take a formative approach, to help the candidate, rather than a simple pass/fail summative approach. However, this seems to me to be at odds with the official rules for examination of a thesis (discussed later) which are strictly summative in nature. If a formative approach as intended, then the examiner would be brought in well before the end of the thesis preparation and would not be barred from communicating directly with the candidate.

Selecting Examiners

The notes suggest the supervisor and candidate discuss potential examiners. However, university rules prohibit this: the candidate is not to know who the examiners are. The notes also suggest the examiners are potential sponsors for post-doctoral positions. This would also appear to be contrary to examination rules and expose all those involved to charges of misconduct.

Examination Process

The notes suggest examiners are motivated by a wish to maintain standards, an obligation to academia in general and reciprocal oblation to have their own students examined. The last of these is a source of potential corruption, with examiners being tempted to pass students in return for having their students passed.

It is curious that in the motivations of examiners there is no mention of it simply being part of their job. Such an incentive could raise the quality of examination as then the examiner would not be seen as doing a favour for a colleague, but instead doing a professional job and so could have formal requirements set which they are required to meet. In particular, if examiners do not complete an examination on time, then payment, or promotion could be withheld.

Following Examination

There appears to be no systematic process within or across universities to monitor thesis examiners. Given the importance of the examination, it would seem reasonable to at least keep a record of the mark given by each examiner for each thesis so as to detect trends, including official corruption. It would seem reasonable to have the marks of all examiners published, along with statistical trends for institutions and disciplines.

Higher Degree Research Guide

The ANU Higher Degree Research Guide also provides an overview of the formal process. This sounds a somewhat dated, pre-internet process with the thesis "... despatched to examiners by the quickest and most secure means possible..." and examiners asked to provide reports "... within 2 months...".

Recent discussion with collogues indicates difficulty in having examiners respond by the time limit, which is not surprising give the lack of structure to the process.The procedure discourages examiners from submitting a preliminary report. As a result the examiner would be discouraged from starting work on such a large monolithic task.

It would seem reasonable to update the process to a similar one to that now used for submission of papers to conferences and journals. That is the examiner would be provided with access to the thesis online and would enter their comments there. As a thesis is large, the examiner should be asked to enter comments for each major section separately, with a time limit for each. The work-flow system would automatically track the progress of each thesis examination and remind the examiner if they are behind schedule.

The university procedures allow for an oral examination, but his seems to be only if the examiner requests it.

The university procedures require that the examiners names are not revealed to the candidate or other examiners.   Any communication is through the ANU Higher Degrees Research Officer. This process might be able to be updated now with a computer mediated system allowing for anonymous communication between the examiners and candidate (identified as for example "Examiner 1", "Examiner 2", "Candidate"). This would allow for a form of text based "Oral" examination. The Rules allow for "correspondence" between the examiners and the candidate for an oral examination.

There appears to be an inconsistency between university rules and practice, with the rules requiring an oral examination, unless there is an exemption, but the practice being to routinely exempt the oral. This appears to be done for administrative convenience, to save the cost and complexity of arranging the oral examination, given the candidate and examiners are likely to be spread around the world. The rules allow for telephone or video conference. I suggest a viable alternative would be a text based store and forward "oral" could be incorporated routinely into the process.

Examiners provide a written report, as well as  "Quality of Work" and "Recommendation of Examiner" forms. In addition they can recommend the thesis for a University prize. The possible recommendations for the thesis are similar to those for a paper review:
  1. admitted to the degree;
  2. admitted to the degree, subject to amendments;
  3. submit a revised thesis for re-examination;
  4. failed: Failed PHD students may be offered a Masters.
Where the examiners do not agree, the College Dean arbitrates.

Anonymous examiner's reports are provided to the candidate. Successful candidates are required to supply the university library with paper copies of the thesis. These are steps in the process which could be simplified with an online system (there is already a digital thesis system in place, but its use is voluntary).

One way this process might be simplified is where the candidate has has had refereed papers published and delivered conference or seminar presentations. Where these are judged to be at a suitable level, they could be considered as a suitable alternative to much of the written and oral examination. It is likely that examiners do this informally in practice, but it could be included in the rules.

Assessment Pedagogy for Thesis Examination

One striking feature of thesis examination is the limited level of resources devoted to it, compared to coursework programs where assessment is typically 40% of the staff cost.

The Universities Australia recommended fee for examining Higher Doctorates is $425, where the thesis is more that 66% of the assessment. Assuming the thesis is 66% of the doctorate and there are three examiners, that would put the total cost of the assessment of a doctorate at $1,932. The international fees for a typical three year Doctor of Philosophy are $90,288. Even allowing for a 50% profit margin on the course and 50% staff cost, this indicates that the assessment is only 8% of the cost of the course.

Some allowance would have to be made for the supervision component of the degree, which provides a form of progressive assessment, but even so there would appear to be a lack of assessment in a research doctorate, as compared to coursework.
It may be argued that the fee for examining a higher degree is not intended to cover the true cost and academic assessors undertake this work for other than financial remuneration. However, this introduces the potential for corruption, with examiners passing a student in the expectation that the favour will be returned. This could be made worse due to the lack of a clear assessment process for a thesis, as compared with coursework. There appear to be no clear learning objectives and no assessment rubric. It might be argued that these are not possible as each thesis is unique, however in that case a unique set of criteria for marking should be developed for each thesis and agreed with the candidate in advance.

Other Readings

Mullins and Kiley (2002) looked at the experience of thirty examiners who had examined at least five theses each. They note that while there is a an increase in formal courses undertaken by research students, these courses is not considered in the final assessment, only the thesis.

Mullins and Kiley (2002) states: "The research project on which this article is bored set out to answer two questions" (presumably "bored" is meant to be "based"):
  1. Is it possible to define one aspect of the pedagogy for postgraduate learning, i.e. assessment?
  2. What advice might there be for students, supervisors, examiners and institutions related to the examination of postgraduate research theses?
It is not clear if the authors intend the first point on assessment to refer to only research higher degrees, as clearly possible to define assessment for postgraduate coursework programs (they having a similar assessment scheme to undergraduate courses, but with more emphasis on independent student work).

For the second point on advice on examinations, it is curious that the authors confine themselves to the examination of theses, rather than considering other ways to assess postgraduate research work. It would be very unusual to have a coursework program where the assessment consisted solely of one written examination at the end of three years, as applies to a thesis.

Mullins and Kiley (2002) provide a number of observations about what examiners find important in a thesis and this is useful advice for candidates. However, these do not show any significant differences from coursework experience. But it is useful to see that pedagogy developed for coursework can be applied to research supervision.
Tinkler and Jackson (2000) argue that PhD examination is less transparent than other levels of British higher education. They attribute much of the lack of transparency to the use of the "viva" (oral examination), wit only one "new" university where the candidate gets any indication of what they may be asked. The concern over the viva is interesting in the Australia context as some Australian academics see the use of an original examination as a way to improve the quality of assessment, but it may cause more problems than it solves.

The authors looked at processes in 20 UK universities (Scotland, England and Wales). They found common agreement as to what a PhD was and what the assessment criteria were. The results appear consistent with Mullins and Kiley's later work in Australia (2002).

Unusual Source of Input

On a flight back from Sydney on 8 October there was a tap on my shoulder and I was handed a note addressed to "Tom seat 16c". This was handwritten on an airline sick bag and was from my tutor (sitting several seats away), suggesting that the research supervisor provides the "real" assessment of the candidate and the external examiners are a form of conformation of this. That would seem a useful and workable approach, but university rules would need to be recast to say that is actually what is intended.
Guidelines could be introduced to formalise the formative feedback and assessment provided to the student, mush as is done in coursework. Also the proportion of the staff time allocated to this could be accounted for (and most likely would be around the 40% for coursework). Supervisors could then also undertake the same courses which coursework lecturers undertake to learn how to design and deliver such assessment.

This might be hard for some research supervisors to accept as it would reduce the proportion of the assessment for the thesis and in particular the proportion for "originality" in the assessment. A workable arrangement might be that the thesis is 20% of the overall assessment (and 5% for originality), but that the student has to "pass" both these to pass overall.


Mullins, G., & Kiley, M. (2002). 'It's a PhD, not a Nobel Prize': How experienced examiners assess research theses. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 369-386. doi: 10.1080/0307507022000011507 Retrieved from
Tinkler, P., & Jackson, C. (2000). Examining the Doctorate: Institutional policy and the PhD examination process in Britain. Studies in Higher Education, 25(2), 167-180. doi: 10.1080/713696136 Retrieved from