Sunday, April 28, 2013

Building a Remote Collaborative Learning Course

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Hampton C. Gabler is speaking on  "Building a Remote Collaborative Learning Course in Computational Modeling of Car Crash Injury Prevention". He is looking at how to better teach students across two campuses. He commented students did not like forming teams across campuses (which is also the ANU experience). But it seemed to me that the teaching approach was still too much tied to a traditional lecture based mode, but with video. I suggested the video time could be better used for students talking to each other. Earlier in the day I discussed how we could flip the teaching approach to use asynchronous e-learning with very limited synchronous.
This paper describes an approach for the design of coursework in crash injury biomechanics based on a remote collaborative learning environment. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University (VT-WFU) have formed the Center for Injury Biomechanics, a unique partnership, which offers a graduate curriculum in crash injury biomechanics to prepare graduate biomechanics students to address this critical public health issue. A challenge however has been how to integrate students at these two geographically separated organizations. This paper describes our experiences in designing and conduct a highly interactive class which revolved around open-ended design and analysis problems. The result has been a course conducted in the collaborative problem-solving environment characteristic of modern interdisciplinary research organizations distributed across geographically disparate regions. From: Building a Remote Collaborative Learning Course in Computational Modeling of Car Crash Injury Prevention, Hampton C. Gabler, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ., ICCSE 2013, pp. 751-754.

Delivering Educational Services Using Home Theatre

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Luis Anido is speaking on "Delivering Educational Services Using Home Theatre Personal Computers - A Solution for People with Special Needs". Essentially they have adapted a smart TV with a special hardware interface to Moodle 2. This might have wider applicability for providing education to those who do not have a profound disability, but would benefit from e-leaning. As an example, the elderly with some visual impairment and limited hand movement might be able to use e-learning on a smart TV with no special hardware or software. This could be useful for the University of the Third Age.
We introduce an e-learning system specifically designed for disabled people. This system is implemented on top of a home theatre personal computer (HTPC), a small computer connected to a TV set to offer interactive services. This hardware platform also facilitated the integration of control devices designed for disabled people. An adapted version of Moodle, one of the most popular e-learning management solutions, provides the required e-learning functionalities and access to educational content. From: Delivering Educational Services Using Home Theatre Personal Computers - A Solution for People with Special Needs, Luis Anido, Universidade de Vigo, Carlos Rivas, Universidade de Vigo, Miguel Gomez, Universidade de Vigo, Sonia Valladares, Universidade de Vigo, Manuel J. Fernandez-Iglesias, Universidade de Vigo, ICCSE 2013, pp. 719-724.

Attitude Analysis and Development Tool from Sri Lanka

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where V.Mohanadarshan is speaking on "Symphony: Attitude Analysis and Development Tool". The idea is to use games with a wholesome content to teach students good behavior and assess it. This may seem a little like brainwashing, but otherwise the child might only be exposed to games which do not include socially beneficial values.
The presence of good behavioural and positive attitudes in human beings is extremely important to lead a life of respect. This paper gives a detailed description about using an IT based solution for attitude development in children. The main goal of this tool is to encourage healthy attitude development in a child and to motivate good attitude based knowledge improvement through interactive learning environments. The tool developed is based on the affective domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It will deliver attitude development to children effectively, efficiently and interactively.
From: Symphony: Attitude Analysis and Development Tool, pp. 603-608. V.Mohanadarshan Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. S.I.Praveen Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. M.M.Shareek Ahamed Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. M.S.M.Zayan Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. Prasanna S.Haddela Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. P.Fernando Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech.

Training Challenges in National eHealth Initiatives in Sri Lanka

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where NadishKariyawasam is talking on "Training Challenges in National eHealth Initiatives - Insights from a case study on the Implementation of an Electronic Hospital Separation Record System in Sri Lanka". The major issue found was user training, rather than software design. I was impressed they have a publicly accessible demonstration system. In addition they have built an e-learning system for doctors. They expect this will be approved by the medical association as part of doctor training, but there is still the question as if they will do the training. A similar issue has arisen with the computerization of the Student Practice Evaluation Form (SPEF)-Revised Edition: can we get doctors to use it?
To present insights on training challenges arising during the development and implementation of one of Sri Lanka’s first national ehealth initiatives: the national electronic hospital separation record system. Methods and procedures: This system aims to improve the reporting of separation diagnosis in public hospitals and was developed through an Agile software methodology. Initially users at 7 hospitals were engaged in the system design and iteratively trained in system use. Subsequently the national roll-out began with a further 8 hospitals trained in the system by October 2012. More than 150 hospitals are expected to have the system in place by January 1st 2014 and nation-wide implementation is expected to complete by 2017. Analysis of training challenges is based on data from both the first 7 hospitals and the second 8 hospitals. It is anticipated insights presented will support an improved national roll-out of the system. Results: Training approaches and user training requirements varied considerably between users involved in the initial development and the users to whom the developed system was subsequently introduced. Significantly, the system changed medical workflow such that the project had to extend training beyond system usage and into the medical processes of diagnostic records management. Engagement of system users through the Agile methodology imparts system knowledge and training not readily available to subsequent users exposed during roll-out. This posed a number of training challenges that had not been foreseen during project planning. The paper highlights the need for comprehensive consideration of all aspects of workflow including non-technical dimensions to support a smooth national roll-out. Conclusions: eHealth system training should not be limited to system use without a detailed consideration of how clinical practice and clinical workflow will be transformed. Recognising differences between training needs of initial users involved in system design and those subsequently expected to use a system needs attention. On-going iterative evaluation of system use and system outputs is required to iteratively refining training programs. 
From: "Training Challenges in National eHealth Initiatives - Insights from a case study on the Implementation of an Electronic Hospital Separation Record System in Sri Lanka",  Nadish Kariyawasam Univ. of Tasmania Paul Turner Univ. of Tasmania Buddika Dayaratne Management Development & Planning Unit Ministry of Health, ICCSE 2013, pp. 484-489.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Automated Water Management System for Irrigation Department, Sri Lanka

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where S.Lucksman is speaking on "Ralapanawa RND - Automated Water Management System for Irrigation Department, Sri Lanka". They are building a system to provide water supply information to farmers who use the water and government officials who manage it, using smart phones. An interesting question for me is if farmers can understand the same sort of tables and graphs which the government administrators are used to reading, or will new formats be needed.
Ralapanawa RND is a flood disaster management system with an automated water management componentfor water reservoirs. The system was implemented specifically aiming the requirements of Irrigation Department of Sri Lanka. In the rainy seasons of the year most areas of the country were affected by continuous floods and overnight rain. Many families were victimized by these chaotic disasters. Still there is no proper disaster warning or management system in Sri Lanka. This solution introduced in this paper is a fully automated water management system which will pre-warn far away before these kinds of disasters arise. The system also involves in automating manual driven functions currently undertaken by Irrigation Department management process. The system consist with a Electronic Embedded System (getting water levels from Tank) interconnected to a PC, Android and Windows Mobile Application for Mobility purpose, Telco Based SMS Application for famers, Centralized Web Service plus a Enterprise Web Site. Graphical Illustrations (Graphs and Charts), CCTV live Stream of Tanks, GPS positioning of Irrigators and many functionalities consist in this System.

From: Ralapanawa RND - Automated Water Management System for Irrigation Department, Sri Lanka., by  S.Lucksman Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. P.Subramaniyam,  H.Suntharalingam, S.G.S.Fernando, C.D.Manawadu Sri Lanka Inst. of Info. Tech. ICCSE2013 pp. 213-217.

SMS for Long Student Messages

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where H.K.S. Premadasa is speaking on "Implementation of Concatenated Short Messaging Service in a Campus Environment". The idea is to send a long teXt messages to students where the messages is broken up into a series of short SMS text messages which are automatically reassembled for display on the student's device. This could work well with my proposal for synchronized asynchronous e-learning, to be discussed at the conference tomorrow. Where bandwidth is at a premium, the relatively slow SMS system could be used to send small amounts of information to keep students on track with their learning. This could then key students to refer to locally stored materials such as videos and e-books. It would be interesting to see how hard it would be to interface a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle, to send messages via SMS as an alternative to email.

Integrating a secure short messaging system with message concatenation into a learning management system (LMS), provides a facility for teachers to communicate with students effectively. In this paper, we propose an open-source mobile-based short messaging system with message concatenation that can be easily integrated into the Moodle LMS. Initially, a database is integrated into the LMS that holds message information such as recipient’s phone number, message body, user data header (UDH), etc. The UDH associated message concatenation with short messaging service is used to transmit data in the SMS for the students. Authenticated users can create extensive text messages using a mobile device connected to the Internet. Statistical analysis of results during a campus-wide implementation of the system reveals positive feedback of students in using SMS for academic activities.

From: "Implementation of Concatenated Short Messaging Service in a Campus Environment, H.K.S. Premadasa,  Sabaragamuwa Univ. of Sri Lanka, R.G.N. Meegama, Univ. of Sri Jayewardenepura, ICCSE 2013, pp. 207-212.

Optical Network Architectures

Greetings from the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Professor Wen-De Zhong is speaking on "Optical Network Architectures". This is a hot topic in Australia, with the national political discussion of the merit of the ALP's National Broadband Network fiber to the home and the rival hybrid fibre to the node from the Liberal Party. The professor pointed out that FTTH was increasing at 25% annually in Asia Pacific, which leads the world in implementation of the technology. He discussed BPON, EPON, and GPON. Hybrid optical/copper systems were not discussed.

MOOCs from Singapore

In the discussion of "MOOCs with Books" in Singapore on Wednesday, it was mentioend that National University of Singapore had joined Coursera, one of the US based Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) consortia.They have a course in "Unpredictable? Randomness, Chance and Free Will", by Valerio Scarani and "Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition", by Peter Edwards. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have an interesting series of articles about e-learning, including MOOCs, in their Momentum Newsletter.

Information Technology Education in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan drummers at the opening of ICCSE 2013.
Sri Lankan drummers
at the opening of ICCSE 2013.
Greetings from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where I am attending the opening of the 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Education (ICCSE 2013).
We started with a display of traditional Sri Lankan dancing and drums, followed by the national anthem and the lighting of an oil lamp. In his opening speech, the Sri Lanka Minister of Technology Research and Atomic Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, emphasized the economic, environmental and social benefits of national investment in education.  The conference is organized by the China Research Council of Computer Education in Colleges & Universities, Foreign Affair Committee (CRC-CE), co-sponsored by IEEE's Sri Lankan chapter and hosted by the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT). I will chairing the e-learning session on Sunday and presenting on "Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: MOOCs with Books".

Boats on Canal in Colombo
Yesterday, before the formal conference, we had a tour of the main campus of SLIIT. This private institution is affiliated with numerous Australian universities, some UK ones and accredited to deliver programs in Sri Lanaka. SLIIT focuses on ICT and business courses. The main campus looks like that of an Australian vocational institution in the tropics.

The introductory briefing was conducted in a small lecture room for about 72 students. Interestingly they had very narrow tables (about 300 mm, which was just enough to accommodate my laptop) each seating four students in a row. There is a raised stage at the front. Video projection is direct to a white wall, with a freestanding white-board alongside.

I noticed a sign about mid semester one hour  examinations. SLIIT use Moodle for e-learning, but the primary teaching mode appears to be face-to-face in conventional classrooms. There is also a library seating about 140. The library appears to primarily provide multiple copies of textbooks for the students.We also looked at several computer labs with desktop PCs with LCD screens.

I noticed one course offered was Introduction to Renewable Energy from Curtin University. There may be scope for offering my ICT Sustainability course to the engineering, ICT and business students.

SLIIT has a startup incubator "Conceptnursery.Com", where students can lease a small office to work on their own start-up company. This is more lavishly equipped than Australian equivalents such as Fishburners and Entry 29. SLIIT provide a lockable office big enough for four staff, whereas the Australian equivalents offer just a time-shared desk in an open office for the base level. SLIIT might consider this option, as it would allow for many more startups.

An interesting issue is what effect will e-learning have on institutions like SLIIT.  Currently SLIIT acts as a satellite campus and feeder to for overseas institutions. Students can complete lower level qualifications at SLIIT and also travel to the overseas institution for advanced studies. However, if students can undertake much or all of their studies on-line, there may be less need for these partnerships. However, I think it is more likely that the services offered at campuses will change, as they are in Australia, with fewer lecture theaters and more informal spaces for small groups of students.

Samsui Woman and Mobile Cinema

As you enter the National Museum of Singapore there is temporary free display area on the right (just next to the gift store). This currently has has an excellent exhibition with " Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Pioneering Tradesmen". This includes "Sanshui Women" originally from Guangdong Province of China, who worked as a female collective in Singapore. Also there is a Mobile Cinema, being a rickshaw with a box on the back containing a movie projector and small screen. For a small fee locals could watch short movie through windows in the box.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From a Film Set in Colombo

Greetings from the foyer of the Galadari Hotel by the beach in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I just arrived for ICCSE 2013, which starts tomorrow.It is a little surreal: there appears to be a wedding party having dinner in the restaurant on one side of me, while a young man with a very spiky hairstyle in an orange suit is being filmed on the other. I thought they might be making an advertisement for the hotel, as I stepped past a waiter standing in the middle of the foyer with a tray of drinks, looked around and found myself on camera.

Correction: it is not a wedding, the pianist (who was doing very sugary renditions of love songs, just broke into "Happy Birthday").

Just to add to the mix tomorrow several hundred computer scientists (mostly from China) are turning up. Should be entertaining.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mobile Learning Research Project

USQ are conducting a Mobile Learning Research Project as part of their Digital Futures Project. The first question is: "What is mobile learning". I filled in a survey form, but could not say much more than m-learning involved a hand held computer and some form of education (formal or informal). But I guess you could do mobile learning through the computer in the dashboard in your car (which is mobile, but not hand held). In my view mobile learning does not imply a different style of learning, although the places and times you use a mobile device are going to require much shorter periods of study, than sitting at a desk.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tea in The Church Hall

Greetings from the Church Hall of the Hunter Baillie Church in Annandale, Sydney, where a "Heritage Festival" is being held. There is tea and scones and a display of historic photos. The photo is courtesy of Councilor Kogoy. Marghanita Da Cruz, is also conducting a history walk of the area.

Next Sunday, 26 May, 2013 3.00 pm, Roger Woodward will give a concert in the church.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Google Shutting Down Cost-per-action Advertising

Google have advised they are closing down the "Google Affiliate Network". This Cost-per-action (CPA) advertising service, allowed web publishers, such as myself, to earn revenue when someone carried out a specified action (such as booking a trip). This is separate to the Google AdSense service, where the viewer just has to click on the ad for the publisher to receive a payment. Google purchased DoubleClick, which had a controversial history. Renamed "Affiliate Network", the system was never fully integrated into their other advertising system (AdWords) and never quite worked for me. In theory you could get a lot of revenue if someone carried out the specified action, perhaps a hundred times as much as for them just clicking on an ad. But hardly anyone ever did and the system required more manual intervention than Adsense (which essentially runs itself). I expect Google are working on expanding Adsense with an integrated CPA function.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Military intervention in Mali by French

Professor Clive Williams
Australian National University in Canberra where Professor Clive Williams is speaking on "The French Military intervention in Mali", with Operation Serval. He commented the Sahel semi-arid region acts as a conduit for militants across Africa. Professor Williams commented the French military wheeled vehicles were suitable for such interventions. Equipment includes the ERC 90 Sagaie "Engin de Reconnaissance à Canon de 90 mm"  and  VBCI "Armoured vehicle for infantry combat"). Even so France needed assistance from the US Air Force to fly their equipment in. Air strikes were conducted out of metropolitan France and then from neighboring countries using the Dassault Rafale. The French also had Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters equipped with a 20 mm cannon (which Professor Williams incorrectly identified as a machine gun).
France is planning to withdraw at the end of April, with Professor Williams commenting the issue of north versus south will not be solved. There are oil and gas installations in the Maghreb and Sahel which will need protection. It is not clear who will be willing to pay to keep the peace.

There are about 5,000 Australians in Africa working in the energy industry, who are potential hostages. Australia will be expected to contribute a small number of intelligence experts or military trainers to UN supported forces. Professor Williams commented that France paid ransom to release hostages and this money was funding rebellions. Also Australia would be in a difficult situation if any of their nationals would be held hostage: does Australia maintain their no ransom policy?

Professor Williams suggests that if the French stay too long they may become unpopular and subject to roadside bombs. There is also a risk of alienating parts of the domestic French population.
Interestingly at question time one of the audience said they were a former member of the French foreign legion and served in Africa (the audience had an interesting assortment of accents).  They asked about Chinese investment in Africa.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

US, Australian UK Naval Interoperability for the Next War

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Steven Paget is speaking on "The Special Relationship at Sea: Naval Gunfire Support Interoperability during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq Warsnot only to the nations navies require compatibility with each other, but with other forces of their own and each other countries. Not all ships in warfare are operated by the navy. There are ships operated by coastguards, the army, reserves, the army and civilian contractors. In previous times these ships were not considered combatants and were assumed to be kept safely in the rear. But just as a front line is less clear in modern land warfare it will be less clear in future naval warfare. Also navies will need to cooperate with forces they do not entirely trust. In the case of Australia,  the RAAF are purchasing US aircraft with minimal customization, providing good interoperability. However, the RAN is purchasing Spanish ships with a mix of European and US weapons systems, which will make interoperability more complex. Also the two new RAN two Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHDs) will create complex issues. These ships are purpose designed for amphibious assault in the littoral zone, transporting, supporting the Australian Army and acting as the flag ships for support vessels. 

One of hallmarks of modern naval operations – from the 1991 Gulf War to ongoing anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden – is the formation of multi-national task forces to pursue common interests. In particular, the navies of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom have a long history of operating together which continues to this day. This trend is set to continue given the reduction in fleet sizes worldwide, which may see allied nations seeking to build complimentary force elements that can produce combined capabilities.
In this public lecture, Steven Paget will explore the cooperation between the Royal Australian Navy, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy in the provision of naval gunfire support to operations ashore in the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. These historical case studies will open a window on the broader issue of interoperability between the three navies and assess the effectiveness of their efforts to work together, and what lessons can be learned for future operations.
Steven Paget is a graduate of St Andrews University and a doctoral student in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. In 2012 he was awarded the Royal United Services Institute of Australia’s Leo Mahony Scholarship to support the research on which this lecture is based.

Lessons for Public Education from a US For-profit University

"The Idea of the Digital University: Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education" by Frank Bryce McCluskey and Melanie Lynn Winter (2012) is a book which is thought provoking, but does not quite live up to the subtitle's promise of "Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education".

The authors describe the traditional university, with the professor as a sole practitioner, with no formal training in education, teaching in an isolated classroom of students, year in year out. They discuss the push for on-line education and performance indicators threating this professor. The author's solution appears to be some sort of hybrid system, where the professor accepts a form of team teaching with their colleagues and some  monitoring by professional administrators, but with the academics retaining control of the curriculum.

While the authors start with the idea of a university in ancient Greece, the Library of Alexandra and medieval universities of Europe, the quickly jump to higher education in the USA. The point that the US university is strongly influenced by the German model of 200 years ago is well made. But much has happened with universities in Europe and elsewhere outside of the USA in the last 200 years, which the authors do not address.

The book is from a very narrow perspective: academics involved in a US for-profit US university, suggesting how the US university system can be improved . This book is really about what the "American Public University System" (which is a for-profit company, not a public system), can teach the US state based non-profit universities. The book has some points which may be of global interest, but with insufficient detail.

The description of the European universities of pure centers of learning uninterested in profit seems to not accord with reality. Institutions such as Cambridge University have been making money from their intellectual output and inventions for hundreds of years. Also tutoring was a private for-profit business at Oxbridge for hundreds of years.

The authors also seem to have skipped over significant non-US distance education institutions, such as the UK Open University, which has adapted its techniques from paper and post, through TV to the Internet.

The issue of inclusiveness is an important one covered by the authors. They point out that the metrics on student completion used to measure the effectiveness of universities assume students enroll, study and complete at one institution. Universities which cater for students who would not previously been able to attend university, such as military personnel who are moved so often they can't maintain a program at one physical campus, either rate badly on the conventional measures or are excluded from them.

While an interesting read, there are some problems with the structure of The Idea of the Digital University". The very short chapters are written in a style which reminds me of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (which is also about the nature of education in the USA). The numerous summaries are repetitive (I am sure I read some sentence at least three times). There also appear to be some problems with the Index, referring to incorrect page numbers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

OUA Free Online Courses Look Good

Singapore 24 April, Colombo 28 April, CSIRO 8 July, and Canberra 12 November 2013.

Monday, April 15, 2013

MOOCs with Books in Canberra, Colombo and Singapore

I will be speaking on "ICT trends in Education" at the Australian Computer Society meeting in Canberra, 12 November 2013. Also at the CSIRO in Canberra on 8 July, ICCSE 2013 Colombo 28 April and in Singapore 24 April.

Australian School Performance Institute

Largely unnoticed alongside the proposed changes to schools funding in the "National Plan for School Improvement", Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, announced an Australian School Performance Institute (ASPI) to "collect better data about school performance and provide expert help to schools and school systems to help them improve results" (9 April 2013). There were no details of funding for the ASPI, where or when it would be established, or how it would work with existing state, national and international education standards bodies.
It would:
  • Lead the development of a new National Data Program to collect a stronger evidence base about how our schools are performing. This new data collection will include information on student results, school and system performance, and the teaching workforce
  • Evaluate the data so we get a clear picture of schools that are performing well or are improving, and coordinate and conduct new research to better understand what makes a difference in these schools
  • Share information on successful programs and policies with every school in Australia through a new online portal. Schools and education systems would be encouraged to share information about what is working and implement school improvement strategies in their schools.
 From: Australian School Performance InstituteThe Hon Peter Garrett MP, Media Release

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Five to Seven Search Results Per Page Please

Most web search engines return a minimum of ten search results. Following Miller's Law, I suggest the default number of search results be reduced from ten to seven for desktop screens and five for mobiles.

Google's web search has an "I'm Feeling Lucky" button to request just one result, but you can't change the default setting to less than 10 results. Miller's Law suggests people are comfortable with five to seven items. So I suggest reducing the default number of web pages displayed to seven for desktop display and five for mobile devices. The user should in addition be able to set the number of results to three,  five and seven, as well as ten, or more.

Apart from making it easier for people to read, fewer items would use fewer network and server resources.

Cut in Federal Funding for Australian Universities

Craig Emerson , Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, announced a $300M cut in annual university funding, in a "Statement on Higher Education", 13 Apr 2013. Also students will no longer receive a 10% discount on university fees for upfront payment and start-up scholarships will be replaced with repayable loans. A Fact Sheet with more details is available. The funding is to be redirected to primary and secondary education.

These cuts are relatively small, but do come at a time when universities are under threat from new technology. We are likely to see 75% of university education move on-line in the next five years. The question is if this will be a move of students from Australian physical campuses to Australian virtual ones,  rather than see 75% of Australian tertiary education disappear overseas. Australian universities need to make a large investment in re-training of staff, re-equipment and reconfiguration of buildings now, to remain competitive. This will be more difficult with fewer funds, although a reduction in funding may provide the rationale the vice-chancellors need to make rapid changes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

MOOCs with Books Talk in Singapore 24 April

I will be giving a free talk on "MOOCs with Books" in Singapore 24 April 2013, hosted by Pearson. Anyone interested in attending, please contact Teck Chuan, Ang at Pearson Singapore. This is a short version of my talk "Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" for the 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2013), 28 April 2013, in Colombo.

MOOCs with Books

Tom Worthington will discuss the implications of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for traditional university education. He will outline why he believes textbooks, in the form of eBooks, will still be key to education, be it on-line or in the classroom. Tom will illustrate this with his own globally accredited on-line course run by Australia's leading university.
  1. What is a MOOC?
  2. Some MOOC Examples
  3. Software and Training for MOOCs
  4. Implications for Universities
  5. Adapting Traditional Courses for Online Use with books
Tom Worthington is an independent certified computer consultant, and an Adjunct Lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science, College of Engineering and Computer Science at the Australian National University. He teaches ICT sustainability, the design of web sites and use of e-commerce systems. In 1999 Tom was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy and he was Canberra ICT Educator of the Year for 2010. Tom an ACS Past President, Honorary Life Member, Certified Professional and a Certified Computer Professional of the society as well as a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Google's Dead Man's Switch

With Google Inactive Account Manager you can nominate someone else to access your Google services if you have not used them for an extended period (the default is three months). Google will send a trusted person an email and also a mobile phone verification code, so they can then access your data. The primary purpose for this is for when you die, although Google is sensitive enough not to mention this. The technical term for this feature is a "Dead Man's Switch".

It would be a good idea if other service providers implemented a Dead Man's Switch. The providers of services such as Facebook and LinkedIn appear to be currently avoiding the issue. It would be best if the account user themselves can decide this, rather than leaving it for grief-stricken relatives to have to go through an extended bureaucratic process to convince the service provider to hand over access.

Also it does not make sense in most cases for social media accounts to simply disappear, just because the person they are about is dead. Some details should remain and it would be best if the person themselves decided that. Google's approach could be applied, with information still available, but the account publicly marked "inactive". It would then be left to the trusted person if they wish to change the status to "deceased", or to delete the account. There could be a powerful commercial incentive for social media companies to support such a feature as there are services which could be advertised to the family and friends of the deceased.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scalable learning with massive open online courses

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where a panel, including a Nobel Laureate is discussing "Scalable learning: the beautiful paradox of massive open online courses (MOOCs)". The ANU joined the edX consortium a few weeks ago to develop Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The first two MOOCs from ANU will be "Engaging India" and "Astrophysics" taught by Nobel Laureate Professor Schmidt. On the way to the event I picked up a copy of "The Idea of the Digital University: Ancient Traditions, Disruptive Technologies and the Battle for the Soul of Higher Education" I had asked the  ANU Library to purchase, which is very relevant to the panel's deliberations:
ANU has become the only Australian member of, the online learning enterprise founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the aim of providing free education to one billion people worldwide within 10 years.
In this seminar, we will hear from the two pairs of academics behind the first ANUx courses:  Professor Brian Schmidt and  Dr Paul Francis, who will be teaching Astrophysics; and Dr McComas Taylor and Dr Peter Friedlander, whose MOOC is called Engaging India.
We will also hear from Dr Lyndsay Agans, Convenor of the CAP Digital Learning Project, who will discuss some of the organisational thinking and approach behind the development of Engaging India. Lyndsay will open a dialogue on the 'paradox' of distance learning and mass scale as one that actually allows for a more personalised design of education for individual needs, and in particular, the implications of the evolving educational theory of teaching in an open and massive online environment.
One analogy used by the panel for the early days of MOOCs is that it is like "flying a plane while still designing it". As someone with a professional technical background, this analogy is troubling: if I subject my clients to an untested system I can expect appear before an ethics committee, or a court. Similar ethical principles should apply to educators. When designing courses, educators need to confirm they are competent to do so and are using proven techniques: to do otherwise is unethical and may be unlawful. What is reasonable to do is create MOOCs using approaches from decades of previous work on e-learning. The way the MOOC runs can be recorded for research purposes, provided the participants are informed and give permission.

The issue of the purpose of MOOCs was also raised in the seminar. The point was made that at present most of those undertaking MOOCs are already at least undergraduate students at a conventional university. So MOOCs are not brining university education to a new group. The MOOCs may be a marketing exercise for universities to attract students away from other institutions, or to attract high school students to a particular discipline.

Those promoting MOOCs may have the idea of opening education and improving the world. However, there is little evidence to suggest this will work in practice, or that the MOOCs have a sustainable business model. However, it should be noted that there are many claims made for MOOCs with new technology, the reality by ANU is likely to be more conservative, based on existing courses, using proven technology and practices, not just made up on the spot.

The MOOCs are obviously not conventional courses. MOOCs will be a blend of course, research project and marketing campaign. But policies and procedures will be needed to see that, whatever they are, MOOCs are well designed, tested and run. Institutional  policies and procedures may need to be adapted and to be applicable to the MOOCs. As an example, a MOOC may use the institution's standard new course proposal form, where the learning objectives, teaching techniques and assessment plan are outlined, but to this may be added a focus group, as usually used for a marketing campaign.

It should be kept in mind that while institutions are not charging for MOOCs, they are still required to conform to various consumer protection, educational and other laws. As an example, all video must have closed captions for the deaf and the web interface must meet accessibility requirements. Also student information is subject to privacy principles, which will limit its use and may prevent the MOOC being hosted in a country which does not have comparable privacy protection.

The format of the MOOC will need to suit its purpose. One model which might suit a broad audience is that of a TV documentary series. This could start with a shot of the professor in the classroom with students, to establish their credentials as an academic. But within a few seconds we would see them in the outside world, demonstrating the topic. This does not require the professor to go to India or outer space, they could be in the library showing a  manuscript, or standing next to the university telescope.

This was an interesting event, at which the nature of education was being redefined. The audience was made up of a who's-who of educational designers and researchers in Canberra, not just from ANU. I will be discussing some of these topics in a free talk on "MOOCs with Books" in Singapore 24 April 2013. This is a short version of my talk "Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" for the 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2013), 28 April 2013, in Colombo.

Australian Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design

The Australian Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design (DesignGov)  was set up by the Australian Public Service in July 2012 as an 18 month pilot with a charter to apply design thinking and innovation to public sector processes. Unfortunately the description of what the centre does is so full of jargon, it is all but intelligible.  The useful and the examples of projects is not much more helpful. The first demonstration project is the "Business Government Interactions Project" to dramatically improve business government interactions.  This appears to be to
to conduct ethnographic research and apply it to Australian business. Conducting basic research would not be a fast process and is not where I would start. It would be quicker, cheaper and simpler to commission a meta-study of existing research.

High Speed Rail For South-East Australia

Mr. Anthony Albanese , the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, released the High speed rail study phase 2 report, 11 April 2013. This looked at the feasibility of Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane being linked by high speed passenger trains. The report finds this technically feasible, with economic and environmental benefits, but media reports have concentrated on the high cost and long time scale of such a project. In my view the project would be politically and financially feasible if built in stages. The Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne sector could be politically justified by eliminating the need for a second Sydney airport and the treat of further aircraft noise over politically sensitive western Sydney electorates. The project could be funded from the sale of land in new "i-Towns" along the route.

Providing a high speed passenger train from Sydney to Canberra and Melbourne would eliminate most flights on one of the world's busiest aircraft corridors. This would free up slots at Sydney airport for other interstate and international flights. It would also allow Canberra to be the second Sydney airport.

Fast train access to regional Australia would allow the rapid development of new "i-Towns". This would relieve development pressure from Sydney and the sale of the developed land in the new towns would pay for the cost of the railway. The new towns would exploit broadband technology to the maximum, to make them attractive and also low cost to develop. Facilities such as an advanced hospital, university campus, offices and entertainment facilities would be integrated and on-line. The railway would provide rapid access to the city for services not available in town. The towns could be built at the same time as the railway, so that revinue from land sales would be avialabl;e quickly.

Role of Community Groups in Disaster Management

The Australian Council of Social Service has released the report "Adapting the Community Sector for Climate Extremes " by Karl Mallon, Emily Hamilton, Manu Black, Betsi Beem and Julius Abs of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF):
Given its size, scope and the critical role the Australian community sector plays in building client and community resilience and in assisting communities to respond to and recover from the devastating impacts of extreme weather events and natural disasters, the research identifies serious gaps in both the policy frameworks and the research base required to ensure the sector’s resilience and adaptive capacity – gaps which appear to have already had serious consequences. To address these gaps, a series of recommendations has been prepared to enable the development and implementation of a comprehensive, sector-specific adaptation and preparedness program, which includes mechanisms to institutionalise knowledge and skills, streamlined tools appropriate to the needs and capacity of a diverse range of organisations and a benchmarking system to allow progress towards resilience and preparedness to be monitored. Future research priorities for adaptation in this sector have also been identified.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Smartphone Mobile App Mapping APIs

Professor Hanan Samet, from University of Maryland, will speak on "Duking it out at the Smartphone Mobile App Mapping API Corral: Apple, Google, and the Competition",  at the Australian National University in Canberra, 17 April 2013.
The recent introduction of the Apple iPhone 5 and the accompanying iOS6 software environment which, among other changes, replaced the use of the Google Maps API in iOS5 by Apple's own Maps API, has led to significant changes in the user experience with apps that make use of maps and has resulted in closer scrutiny of mapping applications on mobile devices. Many of these changes in the user experience deal with the quality of the data that is being produced and presented to the user, and has led to a wide ranging discussion of data quality and the seeming lack of quality assurance policies and protocols by Apple. These are widely documented in web postings. However, equally important are significant changes in the manner in which the data is presented to the user, but, surprisingly, not much attention has been paid to this aspect of the user experience which is somewhat analogous to the concept of the ``last mile'' when discussing the bandwidth of communications networks and its associated costs. The changes in the presentation and in the amount of data that are presented to the user on the Apple mapping platform, with an emphasis on mobile devices with a small form factor such as smartphones, are tabulated and compared along with other mapping platforms such as the iOS apps of ESRI, MapQuest, and OpenSeaMap (using the open source map data of OpenStreetMap), as well as Bing Maps and Nokia Maps for which no iOS app exists and thus the corresponding mobile web versions are used. Both the pre-iOS6 and post-iOS6 versions of the Google Maps API are included. * Best Paper Award, 1st ACM SIGSPATIAL International Workshop on Mobile Geographic Information Systems (MobiGIS 2012), Redondo Beach, CA, November 2012 ** Joint work with Brendan C. Fruin and Sarana Nutanong

Australia Supporting Indonesian Tertiary Education with $110M

AusAID are inviting comment on the concept note "Supporting Indonesia’s Tertiary Education" detailing a $110M program for tertiary education in Indonesia, over four years (with a possible four year second phase). The aim is "knowledge-driven growth that is sustainable and equitable for a prosperous Indonesia", by improving tertiary education outcomes and enabling disadvantaged students to complete tertiary education. The "note" is a detailed thirty six page document. It notes Indonesia is a lower-middle income country, the 17th largest economy in the world with GDP per capita of over USD $3,200.

Last year I was invited to speak at Universitas Islam Negeri Sultan Syarif Kasim Riau in Indonesia, on "Sustainable Development Through Green ICT: The Role of Education and the Business Sector". What I found was a well equipped institution with competent trained staff. There did not seem to be much that Australia, could help them with, in terms of conventional classroom teaching.

The obvious ways to improve tertiary education in Indonesia are much the same as in Australia and elsewhere: teach the staff how to teach, teach them online, teach them how to teach online and teach them how to teach to international professional standards.

Many university staff lack formal education in how to design and deliver courses. Even those who receive some teacher training lack experience with, and training in, on-line courses. University teachers tend to be inducted into a process of ad-hoc creation of courses, rather than a systematic process designed to meet a set of standard skills specified by an international professional standards.

Sending Australian staff to Indonesia to sit in meetings and conduct legacy training courses involving power-point slides would be a waste resources and entrench bad work practices. Instead the Australian government could fund the development of on-line teacher training courses, to do conducted with mixed on-line classes of Australian and Indonesian academics. These courses should be designed in accordance with international professional standards and include rigorous assessment, leading to formal qualifications. This would foster good on-line working habits and also closer cooperation between Australia and Indonesia and also between academics at different Australian institutions.

The Australian Department of Finance is planning a series of short courses on social media for the Australian Public Service ("Proposed online engagement courses for the APS"). Such material could be used to help academics with the transition to on-line teaching. In the longer term online communication skills could be incorporated in graduate courses, as a basic skill for academics.

Australian government could fund the development of policies and systems to encourage institutions to share on-line courses and to allow students to undertake online courses from a range of institutions. This could then be implemented across Australia and Indonesia, allowing both Australian and Indonesian students to include courses from both countries universities in their program.

An example of an online course designed systematically to meet international skills standards, see my "ICT Sustainability" offered through the Australian National University (COMP7310), Open Universities Australia (ACS25) and Athabasca University (COMP 635).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wireless Energy Consumption to Exceed Data Centres

The report "THE POWER OF WIRELESS CLOUD: An analysis of the energy consumption of wireless cloud" by the University of Melbourne (2013) suggests that energy used by WiFi and mobile data networks will exceed that of Data centres.There is a good sumamry of the report in "Massive energy cost hidden in the cloud" (Graeme Philipson, 11 April 2013).

Coalition’s Proposed Alternative to the NBN

The Australian opposition have released "Fast. Affordable. Sooner. The Coalition’s Plan for a better NBN". This proposes halting the roll-out of the NBN Fibre to the Home in Australia and using Fibre to the Node instead. We have had TFFN in Canberra for just over a decade, with the Transact system. If you have power poles handy, and the citizens don't mind more overhead wires, it is a cost effective system. Also it works okay in new buildings. My apartment building has a fibre optic node in the basement and twisted pair copper to each unit. But if you are going to the trouble of putting new cables underground, then they might as well be fiber-optic, as most of the cost is in digging the trenches.

If the government, whoever they are, want to save money, they could prioritize fibre roll-out in greenfield sites and areas with no, or poor broadband. The areas with copper phone and Pay TV cable could be left for last, where it is working okay. This would be a slight change to the current government's NBN FTTH to achieve cost savings proposed by the opposition.

Australian and US Naval Gunfire Off Korea

Steven Paget, will speak on "The Special Relationship at Sea: Naval Gunfire Support Interoperability during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq Wars
One of hallmarks of modern naval operations – from the 1991 Gulf War to ongoing anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden – is the formation of multi-national task forces to pursue common interests. In particular, the navies of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom have a long history of operating together which continues to this day. This trend is set to continue given the reduction in fleet sizes worldwide, which may see allied nations seeking to build complimentary force elements that can produce combined capabilities.
In this public lecture, Steven Paget will explore the cooperation between the Royal Australian Navy, the United States Navy and the Royal Navy in the provision of naval gunfire support to operations ashore in the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. These historical case studies will open a window on the broader issue of interoperability between the three navies and assess the effectiveness of their efforts to work together, and what lessons can be learned for future operations.

Steven Paget is a graduate of St Andrews University and a doctoral student in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. In 2012 he was awarded the Royal United Services Institute of Australia’s Leo Mahony Scholarship to support the research on which this lecture is based.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Open public sector information

Greetings from the CSIRO Discovery centre in Canberra where Professor John McMillan (AO), Australian Information Commissioner is speaking on "Is your Agency on the list?". He looks at the 191 Australian Government agencies and their handling of information, as discussed in the report "Open Public Sector Information". The Commissioner mentioned that agencies are now using social media (the Department of Finance is planning training for staff). Also the Commissioner found that many agency staff don't know how to attach metadata to documents to make it easy to find (I designed a course "Electronic Document and Records Management, COMP7420" on how to do this, but it was not popular). Later I will then be talking about the ACS Computer Professional Education Program.

Earlier today I attended a seminar by Alexander Hayes at the ANU (just across the road from CSIRO) about his research into "body worn video technologies in an educational context". The privacy implications of wearable sensors, as popularized by "Google Glass", have not yet been resolved. Some pioneering researchers have been wearing devices which track their movements, take photographs and record sound wherever they are as well as providing a head-up display. I wore an early such device when visiting computer labs in Cambridge. Universities and other institutions will soon have to confront the issues with people wearing such devices: Where and when will they be permitted? What for? How will you know?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Recognition of Prior Learning for University Teachers

Greetings from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where Richard Brawn, Head of the HEA's Teacher Excellence Team, is speaking on "Recognising and Promoting Staff Expertise in Teaching and Learning: the UK experience". The ANU is a subscribing institution of the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA). The HEA has a Professional Standards Framework (PSF) and HEA Fellowship. It should be noted that this is a separate program to the Certified Membership Scheme run by UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT), which was extended to Australia last year.

HEA's process is similar to Recognition to Prior Learning using an e-portfolio for Australian vocation teachers. In terms of positioning the organization, the ANU would see itself similar to the UK University of Cambridge, at least in the field of computing. Richard did not mention Cambridge, but I did a quick search and found a Higher Education Academy Briefing, scheduled for 13 May 2013.

The process, as Richard describes it, also has similarities to the Australian Computer Society's processes for promoting professionalism. It would be interesting to explore coordination between education certification and other professional certifications, including computing.

HEA Fellowships do not replace tertiary qualifications in Higher Education for ANU staff. The ANU Certificate of Higher Education was discontinued, but ANU staff can enroll in a program at another university to obtain tertiary qualifications in Higher Education (I undertook half my GCHE at USQ on-line).

At present I am certified by the ACS as a computer professional, have just finished the current ANU HE Certificate, applied for certification to teach in the vocational sector. If I need to be certified again through a UK based process to teach in a university, the regulatory burden starts to become high. It would be useful if these certifications were aligned. The ACS has achieved such an alignment internationally, through the "Seoul Accord", for IT professionals.

What can make such RPL processes easier is good on-line support. Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle, with  an e-portfolio package, such as Mahara, can be used for this.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Stealth Innovation for University Education

How do you speed up the implementation of e-learning, while maintain high educational standards? The worry was that initiatives such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may distract from the need for universities to have staff who know how to teach and design courses. The temptation is to think you just need some web designers to customize the pre-prepared educational content purchased (or obtained free) from elsewhere.

The urge for the teacher-less university is reminiscent of the proposals for 5th generation programmer-less computing almost thirty years ago. It was thought that computer programs would write themselves, so programmers would not be needed. The reality was that easy tasks could be programed by non-programmers, but computer programmers with very advanced skills were still needed for the hard tasks. The advent of programming languages for non-programmers resulted in poorly written programs by untrained personnel. In the same way, web tools for e-learning may result in poorlydesigned online courses.

Many university academics receive little education in how to teach and have none in how to design online courses and may never have completed a formal on-line university course. How then can universities have staff who can teach in and design on-line course?

The typical university student needs to be on campus for about one quarter of their program, with the balance of their education on-line from any location. One possibility is Australian students undertaking part of their education at Australian government funded Asian universities. This form of blended learning could provide the students with a balanced education, useful in a connected world, with Australian universities producing suitable courses. Alternatively Australian universities might be reduced to agents for off-shore campuses and courses.

The future of Australian university education should be decided, in part, by the educators. Those who claim to be "professionals", in any field, have a responsibility to act in the public interest, setting standards and policies for the profession and then implementing them. As an example of this in 1995 I outlined for IT professionals how Internet policy was developed and implemented in the Australian Government ("Internet in Government - for IT Practitioners"). A process similar to this is described by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg  in"The Case for Stealth Innovation" (Harvard Business Review, March 2013).

Asia-Bound Study Grants

The Australian Prime Minister announced that applications were open for small grants to help students study in Asia ("Applications Open for AsiaBound Study", 6 April 2013). The "AsiaBound Grants Program 2014" opens on 8 April 2013.
The grants will be made through Australian universities and vocational education institutions who partner with an overseas institution. Amounts of up to $2,000 per vocational student and $5,000 per university student are offered. It is not clear why vocational students receive less money than university students. The grants are to "... offset some of the costs involved in participating in an international study in Asia of one or two semesters ...".

The AsiaBound Grants Program Guidelines require that the student has to study on a campus in the nominated Asian country. However, the guidelines do not say how long the student has to be there for. It is likely that most new students will be undertaking studies in blended mode, with about 75% of their time on-line and 25% in the classroom. The optimal location for the student when studying on-line, or in the classroom, may differ from course to course. The student could be physically on the Asian campus to absorb the local culture informally, while their formal study is on-line with an Australian university. Alternatively the student might be at the Asian campus for a short intensive part of the program and undertake the rest of the course on-line in Australia. Some blend of the two is likely.

The Asia-Bound Study Grants may have the unintended effect of subsidizing the outsourcing of Australian university education to lower cost Asian countries. Australian universities will be paid extra to have their students studying at partner universities in Asia for up to two semesters. So Australian universities could use a lower cost Asian partner to provide up to one third of a university degree for Australian students. The Australian students might do the rest of their degree on-line and never set foot on a campus in Australia.

In announcing the new grants, Prime Minister Julia Gillard compared them to the the Colombo plan: "What we do today dwarfs in size and scale the work that was done under the Colombo plan." This is not quite correct, as the Colombo plan was an international program for aid and did not just bring overseas students to Australia. Also the Prime Minister is incorrect in implying that Colombo Plan has ended, as a small secretariat still operates from Colombo coordinating some programs.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

NBN Digital Hub Gungahlin

Greetings from the NBN Digital Hub Gungahlin, at the ACT Public Library in Gungahlin (just across the corridor from the CIT Learning Centre Gungahlin). There are series of community rooms equipped with high speed wired and wireless broadband. There are also some large flat screen displays on wheels, with Apple computers attached and wireless keyboard for presentations. There are white-board walls. The furniture includes individual chairs equipped with desks. Also there is some colorful plastic children's furniture. The overall look is of a high-tech primary school classroom. I am taking part in a meeting for GovCamp 2013.

edX MOOC Software Open Source

The edX consortium have announced they will release their edX software as open source 1 June and Stanford will integrate its Class2Go software with this. However, it is not clear what the functionality of this software is and how it will work alongside existing open source Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle. The emphasis with MOOCs at present seems to be on video and automated testing, much like 1960s computer assisted instruction. Some of the announcements from MOOC consortia are less than credible, such as edX claiming to be able to automatically grade essays (Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break, JOHN MARKOFF, April 4, 2013, NY Times).  There seems to be little regard given to the effort needed to design content for a course and particularly text based materials, nor to what the research on effective on-line pedagogy tells us.  I will discuss some of this in my conference talk on "MOOCs with Books", in late April, in Colombo.

Friday, April 05, 2013

GovCamp and GovHack 2013 Open for Ideas

For the last few months I have been helping organize GovCamp and GovHack 2013 and we are now up to the stage of inviting expressions of interest from those interested in taking part. This is an annual event  part conference, part un-conference and part hacking competition, on how to make government better with technology. At GovCamp/GovHack 2012 150 developers in Canberra and Sydney worked on 40 projects. This year prizes for the best hacks will be announced at GovCamp 2013, 6 June. As well as Canberra, there will be satellite events in Adelaide, Sydney, Tasmania, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, see the website for details or to register your own site.

Greening IT

Professor San Murugesan, University of Western Sydney, has guest edited the IEEE-CS "Computing Now" magazine, on the topic “How Green is Your IT?". I was delighted to see the Green IT Resources lists my book ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future. Papers include:
  1. Enabling Green IT through Energy-Aware Software, Manuj Sabharwal, Abhishek Agrawal, and Grace Metri
  2. HolisticDatacenter Design in the Open Compute Project, Eitan Frachtenberg
  3. "Using Datacenter Simulation to Evaluate Green Energy Integration, Baris Aksanli, Jagannathan Venkatesh, and Tajana Šimuni
  4. Automating a Building's Carbon Management, Geetha Thiagarajan et. al.
  5. A Smarter Smart Home: Case Studies of Ambient Intelligence, Stephen Makonin, Lyn Bartram, and Fred Popowich
  6. Creating Green Awareness Using IT: The Case of Hong Kong, Wai-Ming To, Andy W.L. Chung, and Linda S.L. Lai
  7. Sustainable IT: Challenges, Postures, and Outcomes", Edward Curry , et. al.

University Flipped Faculty

Universities are adopting open access and flipped classroom techniques to improve education. The same  techniques could be used to improve the running of the university, removing the time wasting tedium of many academic meetings, by adopting a "Flipped Faculty". In "What if You Flipped Your Faculty Meetings?" Bill Ferriter discusses the benefits of this (TLN, 7 July 2012).

In particular I suggest:
  1. Open Access Paperwork: Place the meeting paperwork on the university's public web site. Distribute the small amount of material which needs to be confidential separately.
  2. Provide Short Clear Online Documents in Advance of Meetings: Documents should be designed for on-line reading, not on paper, with the style changed to place the conclusion first and remove unnecessary detail. HTML should be used in preference to PDF and hyperlinks should be included to other documents.
  3. Request Input in Advance: There should be specific requests for action in documents, such as requesting input, selecting from options in a survey. This information should be collected online and collated in advance of any face-to-face meeting.
  4. Provide Online Forums: There should be an online forum to discuss and provide feedback. Also online surveys should be used for specific questions.
  5. Reserve face-to-face meeting for activities: It should be assumed participants have read the paperwork in advance and the face-to-face events should be confined to group work, with an emphasis on the participants contributing, not wasting their time listening to speeches.
These techniques will require new skills to implement, but could boost university efficiency and effectiveness significantly, just as implementation of new pedagogy has been shown to improve education. Old habits can be hard to break, but I suggest it will be worth the effort.

As well as saving staff time, these measures will allow those who can't attend in person to have meaningful input. Just as universities has an obligation to aim for social inclusion in education, they have an obligation to provide an inclusive workplace. Universities more than any other organizations have the technology and training to include people who can't attend a meeting and is therefore obliged to use it. In particular Australian and international law prohibits discrimination on the basis gender, religion, age or disability and failing to use available technology to include people is unlawful discrimination.

Putting an e-Learning Course on Auto-pilot

As I will be overseas at a conference and perhaps unable to access the Internet for some days, I had to consider how to look after the students in my on-line ICT Sustainability course. Obviously, there is a second lecturer, as with any course, to step in. But I took the opportunity to see how much of the course routine could be automated. This also requires dealing with the confronting fact that much of what a teacher does the students do not notice or value.
  1. De-clutter the course page:  On-line courses can suffer from confusing content. Moodle in particular has by default one long web page, which can result in all the important information disappearing off the bottom of the screen. I arranged the course page with future modules hidden until the week they are presented. Each week I would manually reveal them. But even so I realized I had a paragraph of summary text for each module which took up space, but was not really needed. So I put this text in the HTML "TITLE" tag of the module name. This way the description will popup when the student puts their pointer over the title. Also I put a hypertext link on the title to the relevant section of the course e-book, for student who wants to read ahead. This way students can prepare for later sections of the course, but are not confronted with a lot of intimidating looking material they do not need to worry about yet.
  2. Set dates on the weekly content, so it will be revealed automatically each week: Rather than manually reveal the content of the module each week, I used the feature of Moodle which allows this to be hidden until a set date. Unfortunally Moodle does not seem to have a way to do this by default. If using a weekly course format, it would seem logical to have a way to hide each week's content until that week starts. But instead I had to set a date on each item of content for the week. This does allow for fine tuning, as I actually reveal the new week's work on Saturday, although the course weeks officially starts on the Monday (some students students like to get a head start working on the weekend).
  3. Set dates for assignment and survey reminders: Normally I would post a reminder a few weeks before assignments are due and a stronger one in the final week. I was able to use the same hide feature to automate these as well.  Also I included a reminder to do fill in the student feedback survey in the final week. One problem is that these reminders only appear on the web page. There does not seem to be any easy way to have them sent as notifications to students (such as by email).
These may sound like obvious and easy steps to take. But getting automated reveals to work is error prone. It could be very confusing for students if the forum needed to post their work does not appear at the right time, or the notes to help them disappear.

It would be interesting to take this automated approach further. As an example, the weekly marks for student forum postings could be changed from tutor to student peer assessment. This just requires a simple change in the Moodle settings. The education research literature shows that peer assessment is at least as good as tutor assessment. But would require providing the students with more guidelines on how to peer assess.

It may hurt my pride as an educator, I suspect that student's learning will not suffer from such automation. Feedback for common problems (such as forgetting to contribute to weekly forums) could be automated and also perhaps an automatic  "congratulations" to students getting top marks. While education forums are full of discussion of MOOCs with video lectures and highly sophisticated AI feedback, I suspect it is these simple techniques which will make the difference.

On the subject of Massive Open On-line Courses, after giving my "MOOCs with Books" talk at CPUG last night, I popped into the computer student club room next to the famous room N101 at the ANU Research School of Computer Science. Several of the students mentioned how they were taking MOOCs, as part of their ANU degree. There seem to be some informal arrangements where lecturers agree students can do a MOOC instead of part of the ANU course. Obviously the student would still have to provide evidence of their learning at the end of the course, as most MOOCs have no formal assessment. But this shows the students are leading the way with new educational techniques, and the staff have much to learn from them.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Python for Tsunami Warnings

Greetings from the Canberra Python Users Group (CPUG) meeting in the famous Room N101 in the Australian National University's Computer Science and Information Technology Building, in Canberra. I gave a short talk on "MOOCS with Books". This was followed by Fei Zhangon on "Python at Geoscience Australia", who use Python for the Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS).

Sally Gabori Art Opening in Canberra

Greetings from the Australian National University, in Canberra where "Sally Gabori 2005 – 2012: This is my Land, this is my Sea. This is who I am" opened this evening at the Drill Hall Gallery. If visiting the gallery, don't miss Sidney Noland's spectacular "Riverbend". This nine panel work is the largest and least know of the artist's Ned Kelly series.

MOOCs with Books at CPUG Canberra Tonight

I will be giving a short talk on "MOOCS with Books" at the Canberra Python Users Group (CPUG), 7pm tonight, 4 April 2013 . The meeting is free and is in the famous Room N101 in the Australian National University's Computer Science and Information Technology Building, North Road, Canberra. As this is a short talk it will be more like my "MOOCs with Books at BarCamp Canberra", than the extended scholarly version I have planned as "MOOCs with Books in Colombo: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning.

What is a MOOC?

  • Massive: 100,000 students or more. Australia's large university has less than 50,000 students.
  • Open: No scholastic or financial barrier to enrollment. Materials may also be  open educational resources.
  • On-line: Materials delivered and students interact via the Internet.
  • Course: Similar in size to an Australian university subject of about a 12 week semester one quarter full time student load (a US course). But does not provide a credential on completion.

Some MOOC Suppliers

  1. udacity
  2. edX: ANU joined recently
  3. Coursera 
  4. MOOC List (course aggregator). 

Python Related MOOCs

Software and Training for MOOCs


  1. Massive: Systems and software need to scale to deliver materials, provide automated student support and ways for students to interact.
  2. Open: Wider range of students will need more help. Ways for students to find their group needed.
  3. On-line: Ways to support students who have limited and intermittent Internet access are required.
  4. Course: Will need to integrate with conventional university programs or create a whole new on-line university system. Ways to credential students on-line required.

Traditional Teaching On-line

  1. Books: Course content provided in a down-loadable standalone structured module (textbook), using existing e-Book formats (web, Moodle Book Module, EPUB, IMS Content Package).
  2. Formative Feedback: Short tests can be used to aid learning by student.
  3. Groups: Students can be formed into groups for mutual support, on-line and off-line.

How Books Can Help

  • On-line courses tend to present material in small chunks which the designer decided
  • A book provides a carefully structured set of materials for the course, which can be used off-line.

How Software Can Help

  1. Massive: Develop plug-ins and upgrades for free open source systems, such as Moodle and Mahara, to allow the to handle millions of students.
  2. Open: Develop software which uses existing e-learning and e-book standards (web, Moodle Book Module, EPUB, IMS Content Package, SCORM Package).
  3. On-line: Develop off-line support for e-learning, using mobile devices.
  4. Course: Develop software which supports an integrated program, course module development process, not just delivery of isolated courses, so students get an education which meets community standards.

More Information

  1. "MOOCs with Books in Colombo: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning.
  2. Demonstration of Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smart phones
  3. A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online 
  4. Demonstration of Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smart phones
  5. On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century
  6. Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques