Sunday, March 31, 2013

University preparation courses

The UK Open University (OU) has an "Access to Success Route". The starting fee of £25 (US $38) for a semester long course, to those with up to £25,000 income (US $38,000) looks very generous. The course content appears similar to university preparation courses run in Australia.

Tomorrow When the War Began

The Australian film "Tomorrow When the War Began" might be best described as "Red Dawn" meets "Home and Away". The acting is not great, the characters are too well groomed for a group of guerrilla fighters and the plot is silly and the action sequences just lest than credible.

The movie is based on the first book in John Marsden's series "Tomorrow, When the War Began". The plot has an invasion of a Australian country town by an unidentified Asian military force. A group of teenagers escape to the hills and begin a guerrilla campaign. If the plot sounds familiar, it is essentially the same as Red Dawn, except in that case the teenagers were in a southern USA town.

I found Marsden's book very slow going and did not more than a third of the way through (perhaps because I am not in the intended teenage readership). The film is much more fast paced, getting the war underway more quickly. However, the main character and self-appointed leader of the 
guerrilla group is just as annoying in the film as the book.

The teenagers are impossibly well groomed for guerrilla fighters, looking more like extras from the TV teenage soap opera "Home and Away". The woodenness of the acting is brought in to sharp contrast by the all too brief appearance of Colin Friels, who has more screen presence even when not speaking or moving, than the rest of the cast in their most active scene.

The action sequences are impressive but just a little too action packed to be credible. At one point the the fuel tank of a ride-on mower explodes with incredible force. In another scene the teenagers in a dump truck out maneuvers two Light Strike Vehicles.

The sets are very well done, depicting a typical country town. The military vehicles and equipment are also very credible. The soldiers uniforms and personal equipment look realistic without being recognizable as from any current army. The soldiers wear helmets with a flared rear lip, reminisent of a Japanese samurai.

Some of the plot of the film makes little sense. In one scene a helicopter with searchlight looks for the teenagers hiding in a deserted house. Rather than lying on the floor well away from the windows and remain motionless, the teenagers stand next to the windows and move from window to window. After one teenager shoots out the searchlight with one burst from an assault rifle, the helicopter fires flares to mark the target (which is credible), but then a ground attack aircraft appears withing seconds to bomb it (which is not credible). Also the teenagers escape to a large barn which is only a few tens of meters from the house but is not attacked.

There are several more books in Marsden's series, but rather than film sequels, this night be good material for a TV series. They would be more credible than the "Last Resort" TV series currently being shown on Australian free-to-air TV.

Retirement Income Calculator

AustralianSuper provide an on-line Retirement Income Calculator. Unfortunately this is implemented using "Flash", making it slow and hard to use. The text is tiny and it can take several seconds to respond to clicking a button. At one point I got a warning from the web browser that a script was taking too long to respond. At this point the text went blurry and then I noticed a pop-up box down the bottom of the page, with a button I had to click on to continue. At this point I gave up on the calculator. Given that it is likely to be used by older people, closer to retirement, it needs to be designed with accessibility in mind, ideally using HTML5.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Google Shopping Express

Google are trialling "Google Shopping Express" in the USA's San Francisco Bay Area. This is one of many services which will deliver goods you order on-line. It is not clear if Google is offering to deliver perishable goods, such as fresh food. One service Google might consider, to differentiate it from others, is a Google PostBus. A postbus is a combined passenger and mail delivery service.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Open Universities Australia MOOCs

Open Universities Australia (OUA), are offering nine free on-line courses on their Open2Study page. This appears to be OUA's response to the media attention over Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Open2Study appears to be implemented with Drupal. One of the courses which got my attention is "Writing for the Web" by Frankie Madden. This is run over four weeks, with about nine videos and quizzes per week. The suggested study time is 2 to 4 hours per week, which is much less than a typical university course (about 12 hours a week).

What I could not find out from the web site was how members of the OUA consortia of universities offer a course. The Green Technology Strategies course I designed for the Australian Computer Society's Computer Professional Education Program, is offered through OUA. I was thinking of creating some video content and quizzes, which could be used as part of that course and be used on their own as a short free MOOC. I did create a short version of the course "How Green is My Computer?" but this assumed the student would read text notes and respond to a text based forum with a human tutor.

It might be interesting to see if the cost of creating the video and quizzes for a MOOC could be funded with Crowdfunding. Matthew Benetti at is interested in hearing from universities interested in Crowdfunding a MOOC.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Online Higher Education Working Group

A Coalition Online Higher Education Working Group, chaired by Alan Tudge MP, is looking at how "... online technology improve existing campus-based teaching with all the benefits of interaction, in the classroom and beyond...". Here are my quick thoughts on the topics raised by the working group:

1. Trends in online learning both in Australia and internationally and how this might unfold over the next decade:

Online learning will be integrated into most university courses, with blended learning (on-line plus classroom), using the "flipped classroom" model being  the norm. Pure on-line learning with no classroom will be available as an option, particularly for more advanced and mature students. However, face-to-face instruction will still be required for younger, less experienced students. As a rough guide about one quarter of the students will turn up to optional face-to-face classes, with thre quarters finding the on-line mode adequate. The Australian Computer Society is a leader in on-line learning with its masters level, globally certified CPEP Program. The use of online learning at a traditional university is discussed in: "A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online", for 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2012), July 2012, Melbourne, Australia.

2. Assess the benefits of online learning for Australian students and the Australian economy, including the potential:

a. Impact on cost, flexibility, customisation and quality: Online learning is lower cost when used with large volumes of students. However, this requires a high initial investment in course design and highly trained staff. Most Australian university academics are not currently qualified to design or deliver on-line courses.

b. Benefits of enhanced choice, including from global players: Global choice of online courses will be limited by accreditation requirements. There is likely to be a flood of poor quality, unaccredited courses.

c. Impact on workforce participation and democratisation of learning: Online learning allows for learning while employed and in remote areas. However, being a student is still hard work and requires considerable amounts of time.

3. Assess the challenges of online learning and how they could be overcome, including:

a. The challenges to existing institutions and their preparedness to face them: Institutions will require staff to be retrained in online pedagogy and use of technology. This retraining can make use of online technology. A stepwise approach, which would see graduate tutors trained in basic online teaching, is proposed in "Report on Incorporating Professional Skills in the ANU Master of Computing", February 2013.

b. The maintenance of quality and standards: Online learning can enhance quality and standards through more detailed and frequent monitoring. However, measures to prevent cheating by students will need to be enhanced. Also teaching staff and students will require explicit training in how to communicate online.

c. The technological and infrastructure requirements of online courses: The learning technology already being introduced to universities and vocational institutions can be ungraded for larger scale use. In particular, Australia is a world leader in learning management systems, by virtue of the locally developed Moodle system. Ways to leverage this technology for MOOCs is discussed in "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning",  for 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2013), April 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

4. Assess what policy measures are required to capture the benefits for Australian students and the economy, including:

a. How do deal with accreditation: Current accreditation processes for domestic courses will require minor modification for online courses. International accreditation will require government or industry agreements. Work by the Australian Computer Society in accrediting global professional qualifications can serve as a model.

b. How to best assist Australian providers: Governments can assist Australian providers by removing barriers which prevent online courses from being undertaken by students. Government can also set an example by allowing their own staff to undertake online courses and teach in them. As an example, the online engagement courses proposed by the Department of Finance for all Australian Public Servants could be delivered online by Australian tertiary institutions.

c. How to capture the opportunities that international institutions provide while fostering Australian ones: Australian institutions can be encouraged to join international partnerships for online course creation.

d. What other regulatory changes are required to capture the benefits of the emerging environment: Visa restrictions which limit International students undertaking online courses should be relaxed. Currently an international student is expected to be on campus for about three quarters of a full time course. This should be reduced to one quarter.

5. Determine how Australia’s tertiary institutions can best capture the growing online international market, particularly in Asia. This would include:

a. Assessing the size of the opportunity: Australian experience suggests that all university courses will be delivered at least in part online, with the typical student spending about 25% of their time in a face-to-face class and 75% online. Undergraduate degrees will have more face to face components, and  postgraduate courses less. This will result in a drop in Australian students on campus, but allow for millions more online from our region.

b. Determining how Australia can grow an online international market without compromising our on-shore market: With most education online, Australian and international students will be able to choose courses from anywhere in the world. Retaining a proportion of the Australian students and capturing part of the international market will require maintaining Australia's very high standards for accreditation. A national course recognition program, so students can combine courses from multiple Australian universities, would be useful to promote "Brand Australia"  (I undertook a combination of ANU blended courses and USQ pure online ones for a Certificate in Higher Education). The Australian government can also fund Australian academics to reach out to the region.In November 2012 I was invited to talk on "Sustainable Development Through Green ICT: The Role of Education and the Business Sector", in Indonesia. The proposed "new Colombo Plan" has potential as a way to help promote Australian education in the region. However, as with the existing Colombo Plan, this may become enmeshed in geopolitics.

c. Determining what measures should be put in place to help capture the opportunities. Australian universities are already reconfiguring their campuses with accommodation and "learning commons" to suit the new blended learning. Campuses are being redesigned to be pleasant places to be, not just study. See also: "On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century", November 2012.

d. Identifying regulatory barriers that need to be addressed: No specific regulatory barriers exist, with online courses being covered by existing regulations on education. However, it would be useful for the Australian Government to advance bilateral and multilateral agreements on mutual recognition of educational standards. Support to professional bodies to advance standards for disciplines would also be of assistance.

ICT trends in Education

I will be speaking on "ICT trends in Education" at the Australian Computer Society meeting in Canberra, 12th November 2013. This will be a less academic version of my "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" talk for the ICCSE conference in Colombo.
ACS Canberra Branch Forum

ICT trends in Education

A quiet revolution is taking place in Australia's schools, TAFEs and universities, with education moving on-line. Award winning education designer Tom Worthington will provide an overview of the trends and its implications for education.
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS)
  • Social media for education
  • Open Source e-Portfolio software
  • Cloud based Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • e-Book textbooks
  • Portable course-ware formats

Biography: Tom Worthington FACS CP

Tom Worthington is an independent ICT consultant and an adjunct lecturer in computer science at the Australian National University. Tom designed the on-line sustainability courses for both the ACS certification program and the ANU Master of IT. In 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy.   Tom is a Past President of the Australian Computer Society, Fellow, Honorary Life Member and Certified Computer Professional, as well as a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

See also:

Wikimedia in Higher Education Symposium in Sydney

The University of Sydney is hosting a free one-day "Wikimedia in Higher Education Symposium" 5 April 2013,  on the use of Wikipedia for teaching in universities. Speakers include Toby Hudson, School of Chemistry, (USYD),  Kerry Kilner, Research Fellow, School of English, Media Studies and  Art History, University of Queensland (UQ),  Liam Wyatt, Queensland University of Technology, James Neill, University of Canberra,  Kathryn Barwick and Mylee Joseph (State Library  of New South Wales).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Crowd-funding for Creative Work

Greetings from the Canberra Business Council where Matt Benetti from Pozible is speaking on Crowdfunding for film making. With crowd-funding, projects can solicit large amounts of money on-line, trough many small contributions. The talk is hosted by the ACT Office of Film, Television & Digital Media (Screen ACT). Matt commented that film, music and fine are make up about 60% of the projects for Pozible (with an average of $10,000 raised), whereas other crowd-funding services tend to have more IT projects. Matt pointed out that about 80% of the finding for your project will likely come from family and friends, rather than strangers.

When I first saw the announcement I read it as "Ponzi-ble", a "Ponzi scheme" being a form of fraudulent pyramid selling scheme which is illegal in Australia. ASIC issued guidance on crowd funding, 14 August 2012. Matt pointed out that Pozible has staff to check each applicant to deter fraud. Unlike most on-line services, Pozible require the applicant to provide identification documentation. In return Pozible charge a fee on the money received.

Matt suggested having a good video to get the message across for the project and provide no more than about eight "rewards", starting with low monetary amount ones ($5 for an acknowledgement for example). He suggested that "experiences" are powerful rewards, such as meeting the cast of the film. He suggested having some high value rewards (such as $10,000) and running a campaign for no more than 60 days.

The Innovation ACT Competition is sponsored by the ACT government to encourage university students to commercialize their inventions. The students prepare a pitch about their project, a business plan and other documentation. It would be interesting to have an option for them to prepare a crowd-sourcing campaign.

Also Matt mentioned that Pozible are discussing with a university how to crowd-fund research. It occurs to me that this could also be a good way to fund the development of free on-line courses and other open source and open access materials.

ps:  Pozible might need to do some work on their website. I ran the usual tests on their home page and encountered some problems:
  1. W3C Markup Validation Service:  153 errors in the HTML,
  2. W3C mobileOK Checker: score of 0 out of 100 for mobile compatibility with 4 critical failures.
  3. A-Content Accessibility Review (Guidelines: WCAG 2.0 Level AA): 74 known problems.
 Pozible may want to make the changes these tools suggest to improve access for people on mobile devices and those with a disability.

Prototyping Combat Workstations for Submarines

Greetings from the Information & Human Centred Computing Group at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Bruce Thomas, from University of South Australia is speaking. on building prototype workstations to try put the interface for systems, such as the combat system on a submarine. Using the standard techniques applied in interface design a non functioning "mock-up of the interface would be first built, then a prototype with real controls. The mock-up is very flexible but cannot be used for more than very early tests. The prototype can be very close to the look and operation of a production device, but cannot be easily changed. Bruce is looking at using sensors which can detect the position of the operator's fingers, with simulations of controls which can be changed quickly. As interesting aspect of this is that the interfaces for real devices, such as combat systems are using the sort of interfaces Bruce is designing for prototypes. Military consoles are tending replace special purpose switches and buttons with a touch screen, a general purpose pointing device.

While Austrlaia does not design a new submarine very day, there are many other military systems which need interfaces to electronic systems. The pratice has been to simply add a new control panel for each new items of equipment. However, the physical space in aircraft, ships and vehicles, and the capacity of the operator to uses the assorted controls is limited. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pillow-man Not So Soft

The play "The Pillowman" at the New Theatre Sydney, is billed as a black comedy. But I found Sunday's performace very hard work, more black than comedy. The depictions of torture before the interval are harrowing (and should have a warning at the door). Those who can make it trough the first half are rewarded with some humor in the second half and commentary on families and society.

The play The Pillowman is by Martin McDonagh. It opens with an author detained by the police in an unnamed totalitarian state (which reminded me a little of Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland). We are introduced to two bumbling, at times casually violent, but in the end almost likable police, trying to investigate a series of murders. The apparently innocent author is slowly shown to be not so innocent.

The cast do an outstanding job with difficult material. I was not sure if the routine with one of the police continually dropping their gun with an intimidating thud and casually picking it up was part of the script, but it was effective. The stark stage, which doubled;ed as a police interrogation room and cell was used to full effect and the translucent backdrop allowed the world outside to be hinted at. All the character were believable and unfortunately a police state with casual violence is all too believable.

However, playwrights who write about struggling writers and have their characters indulge in lengthy monologues about the value of storytelling deserve a special level of hell reserved for them. This play is overly long, the depictions of torture excessive and the monologues almost as painful. An hour cut out of the work would make it a much better play.

If the New Theater wants to portray a corrupt political system, with people who are not so much evil as simply inept or misguided by mate-ship, then perhaps a reading from any of the recent corruption inquiries would be sufficient.

 "The Pillowman" is on at the New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney, until 13 April 2013.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Student Loans

As someone from outside the USA I find the discussion of the “gainful employment” regulations made by the U.S. Department of Education a little hard to understand. As I understand it, the US government provides low interest student loans to students to study, much like Australia and other countries. These loan schemes are frequently controversial, with issues of if students take on more than they will be able to repay.

In "Now What?" (Inside Higher ED, March 21, 2013), Paul Fain writes that U.S. Department of Education “gainful employment” regulations,have been struck down by a court. The regulations were to measure performance of vocational programs in education institutions. One measure was the percentage of graduates repaying their loans. This seems a curious measure to use and one a court might well strike out, as the educational institution would have little say on if its graduates pay their loans or not. It would be reasonable to see if the courses provided a qualification in a job category in demand, what the rate of employment of graduates was and how much their salary went up. However, such measures are used in Australia only to provide potential students with information when choosing courses, it is left to the students to decide what courses to take.

As an example, here are the statistics for Computer Science graduates from the Australian National University (where I teach),  as reported by the Australian Government's "My University" website:
Overall satisfaction rate View the methodology used for this data(opens in a new window) 79.2%
Good Teaching Scale View the methodology used for this data (opens in a new window) 45.8%
Generic Skills Scale View the methodology used for this data (opens in a new window) 85.4%
Graduate Outcomes (Average of 2009 to 2011)
Graduate Outcomes (Average of 2009 to 2011)
Graduates in full time employment View the methodology used for this data (opens in a new window) 77.9%
Graduates in full time study View the methodology used for this data (opens in a new window) 9.6%
Median graduate salary View the methodology used for this data (opens in a new window) $54,000
The ANU rates well, except on the "Good Teaching Scale (45.8%). Staff have been encouraged to get trained in the latest education techniques and make full use of technology, to improve teaching and I have found this works Even before finishing the ANU's certificate in Higher Education, my student satisfaction scores increased, after applying what I learned on the program. I discuss some of what can be done, in "MOOCs with Books".

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Concurrent Computing as a Metaphor for Flipped Learning

This is to suggest Concurrent computing be used as a metaphor for forms of e-learning, including a more advanced form of Flipped Learning. In "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" I discuss how the terms synchronous and asynchronous from computer science, have been adopted by are used by educators to described forms of on-line learning. Concurrent computing provides a rich set of concepts which could be applied to help create and measure more efficient on-line courses. This could be sued to address problems with , particularly large scale on-line courses, including Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs).

With conventional teaching, the teacher (or university lecturer) first gives a verbal discourse (lecture) to the class of students "live" in a classroom face-to-face, or remotely via a video link. The students then are set homework tasks to undertake outside class. What is described as "Flipped Learning", "flipped classroom", "flip teaching" (or less commonly backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching), is a technique where the student first watches a video recording of a lecture on their own outside the classroom and then undertakes exercises in the classroom (face-to-face or via a video link) with the teacher and other students. This is "flipped" in the sense that the order is reversed: the individual work comes before the group activity.

A fuller version of Flipped Learning is described by Person Education in their Flipped Learning Professional Development, which adds a third mentoring stage after the classroom:
  1. On-line prework
  2. Onsite
  3. Remote mentoring
While Pearson refer to "Onsite" (ie: classroom work)  the same process can be used with pure on-line learning. In the terminology of e-learning, the pre-work is asynchronous, the on-site synchronous and the remote mentoring could be either synchronous or asynchronous.

Concurrent computing as a Metaphor for Flipped Learning

 The "Flipped Learning" metaphor breaks down when three stages are reached. While it makes sense to talk about flipping the sequence of classroom followed by homework, it does not work for classroom followed by homework followed by mentoring.  A more general metaphor might be derived from computer science, as were the terms "asynchronous" and "synchronous" used to describe e-learning. In computer science, Concurrent computing allows  many tasks to be carried out simultaneously using a computer with multiple processors. Synchronization is used to allow two or more tasks to coordinate their work. Granularity is the ratio of computation to communication for the tasks. A supervisory program or supervisor is a computer program which schedules other programs, in concurrent computing this is a particularly difficult task and may result in a large Parallel Overhead, with excessive time taken up  coordinating the parallel tasks. The overhead can lower scalability, where adding more processors does not increase the output proportionally, as the coordination task gets more complex.  Of most relevance a Rendezvous defines when two tasks synchronize, perhaps to exchange information. In concurrent computing, the aim is to maximize the parallelism, with multiple processors each being able to carry out work, without having to wait for each other. Massively parallel computing aims to have thousands, or tens of thousands, of processors working together.

Concurrent computing could be used as a metaphor for education, with each student as a processor and the teacher as the supervisor program. As with concurrent processing, the aim in education is to allow each student to learn independently at their own pace (maxim parallelism), not being slowed down by the teacher or other students. The tasks set in the course will need to be designed with maximum granularity, so that the student spends their time on task and not checking back with the teacher. Suitable points for rendezvous will need to be built in, so that the student has required interaction with other students and teachers, but is not held up unnecessarily waiting for a responses from them. The scalability of the course will depend on minimizing work for the supervisor/teacher,  while meeting the student's needs. Just as an optimized program could be sued for massive parallel computing, an optimized course design could be used for a massive on-line course, such as a MOOC.

The concurrent computing metaphor could be taken further with some of the numerical measures used to assess the performance of parallel systems applied to education. This could be applied to assess how technically efficient a course is, in terms of the processing and communications capacity needed and its educational efficiency, in terms of how much teacher and student communications is needed. This might also be applied more broadly to conventional off-line courses, as there appears to currently be little rigorous analysis of even the most basic aspects of courses, such as how many pages of reading a student has to do or how many hours of staff time is required to respond to student queries. Instead teachers and students appear to fall into the trap of complaining they have too much to do, without any clear idea how much it is or what to do about it.

Synchronization—the Production of the Present

In researching this topic I stumbled across "Synchronization: the Production of the Present", which is the Annual Research Topic (2012 to 2013) at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM), Bauhaus-Universität,  (Bauhaus University), Weimar, Germany. What drew my attention was the linking of synchronization to the definition of 'real-time':
"The process of synchronization is also called “real-time”. This denotes the opening of a temporal window, in which information is distributed, prepared, eventually visualized and which in the process allows intervention in the communicated process. Communication and the communicated become indistinguishable in the frame of the real-time window. Even a few decades ago, these real-time windows were bound to singular locations, which were highly specialized media installations and strictly secretive like military operations centers or government headquarters. Now they tend to detach themselves from a specialized fixed infrastructure. Instead they turn into “shells”, in which the individual moves more and more. The modern media habitat can therefore not be understood as a mere category of location (of a spatially shaped milieu). Rather, it becomes effective as a category of action, which is determined by a particular space-time. ..."
From: "Synchronization: the Production of the Present", IKKM, 2012

This  philosophical approach seem to have close parallels to the idea of synchronized asynchronous communication I have proposed for e-learning. That is, if the communication is synchronized sufficiently. 

It should be noted that Bauhaus University Weimar, is at the original location of the "Bauhaus" designed school named by  Walter Gropius in 1919. The Bauhaus design school moved to  Dessau in 1925, where it came to prominence and it is this (moving again, to Berlin, in 1932). The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation hosts research and education (I gave a talk on ICT and architecture for the Bauhaus Dessau 3rd trimester", in 2002.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Big Data Strategy

An Australian Government Big DataStrategy — Issues Paper has been released for comment. The term "Big data" is used for datasets larger than those usually used in an application and which are difficult to analysis with conventional techniques. The older term used for this is "Data mining". Government can use data analysis for  "evidence-based" policy and services: that is where the policy and service deliver is based on real world information, rather than just theory. The leading agency for data mining is the Australian Taxation Office, using "Rattle" developed by Graham J William at the ATO, as a front end for the R statistical programming language. The Australian National University has an ANU Data Mining Group and courses in:
  1. COMP3420 Advanced Databases and Data Mining
  2. COMP8400 Algorithms and Techniques for Data Mining
  3. COMP7410 Data Mining and Matching
  4. MATH3346 Data Mining Honours

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Paul Ehrlich on Avoiding Collapse of Civilisation

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where  Professor Paul Ehrlich and a panel is addressing the topic "Avoiding a collapse of civilisation. Our chances, prospects and pathways forward".

Professor Ehrlich is making his promised controversial points on climate science on global warming being clear and the business and political leaders failing to act. He has criticized universities for failing to educate university students adequately. He pointed out that about four earths would be needed to bring the global population up to the Australian standard. He worried about the quantity of nonsense on-line compared to accurate scientific information. Professor Ehrlich advocated equal rights for women to reduce population growth.

I teach ICT Sustainability to graduate students at ANU. The basics of how computers and telecommunication cause environmental problems, and can be part of the solution, are not difficult for engineering and science students to grasp. What is difficult is to do is to then put the well researched recommendations into a form which business and political leaders find palatable. I suggest to my students to find a business or political benefit, along with the environmental benefits, to back up their recommendations. There is no point in carrying out months or years of work on the hard science and ignoring the motivations of the decision makers.

My question for Professor Ehrlich was to be "The science on climate change is clear and yet business and political decision makes fail to act. More science is unlikely to change their views. So should the priority be on social science to understand decision making processes, rather than environmental science?". But he anticipated this by telling a story of research by a social scientist that people respond to local peer pressure, be it about reusing towels in a hotel ("A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels", GOLDSTEIN, CIALDINI, GRISKEVICIUS, 2008) or saving power with a smart meter ("Better neighbors and basic knowledge: a field experiment on the role of non-pecuniary incentives on energy consumption", ).  I have seen this effect myself after introducing billing for mainframe CPU use (what now would be called a "cloud server"): use went down even though the billing was notional.

In terms of communicating science to the public, the leaders in Australia are the  Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC), in Adelaide. One of the problems is that those from the physical sciences can be dismissive of the level and amount of work needed to communicate a message. ANU teaches and researches Science Communication as a undergraduate and postgraduate subject. As part of the ANU Course "Unravelling Complexity" I have a group fo students working out what to do about e-waste, with people from various disciplines.

The panel of speakers got on to the topic of how influential scientists are in changing public opinion. Of course, a scientist's obligation to communicate their research results has limits. Scientists should not try to run the world and must communicate their findings to the broader society and leave it to others to make the decisions. Some of humanity's greatest disasters have involved scientist's who thought they knew better than the average person. This came to mind when one of the panelists advocated use of nuclear power, pointing out that no one died as a result of radiation from the exploding nuclear power plants.

One question from the audience brought the topic closer to home, by asking about the environmental sensitivity of the ANU's own financial investments, following public criticism of ANU investment in coal seam gas exaction. Unfortunately I was unable to find any mention of environmental or ethical criteria in the ANU Investments Policy.

Caribbean Tsunami Warning Exercise

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is currently conducting a Caribbean tsunami warning system test. The Participant Handbook for "EXERCISE CARIBE WAVE/LANTEX 13: A Caribbean Tsunami Warning" is available. Here is the start message I received for the exercise:

Subject: [Tsunami Message - IOC] Local Tsunami Watch Message
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2013 13:03:18 +0000

ISSUED AT 1302Z 20 MAR 2013




MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning

This is to invite corrections and suggestions for my presentation "MOOCs with Books: Syncronisation of Large Scale Asynchronous e-Learning" for the 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2013) in Colombo in late April (web slides also available). The basic idea is that use of "real time" delivery of e-learning places an unnecessary burden on the Learning Management System (LMS) and networks used and is also not good for the students. Most supposedly "synchronous" education, on-line and in the classroom, is not really "real time". Relaxing the restrictions this imposes on the system will allow millions of students to be accommodated and also provide better learning. An easy way to explain this is with the example of an eBook, which the student can download and read when they want, attempt the exercises in the book and check their answers. It is only after doing their "homework" that the student needs to interact with the LMS, their fellow students and perhaps a teacher. Rather than build complete new Learning Management Systems for MOOCs, packages such as Moodle, can be upgraded to handle the load, using existing technology, such as SCORM and HTML5.

 This started as a scholarly paper on "Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning". But since submitting the paper last year, I have given a few presentations on how to have large on-line courses scale (both in terms of software and pedagogy), under the title "MOOCs with Books", so I added this to the conference presentation as a postscript. If anyone is interested I can give a practice run of the talk in Canberra, Sydney or Singapore.
Description: On-line learning uses the terms synchronous and asynchronous to describe tools and learning activities. This research looks into the origins of these terms, their use today and asks if these are the correct terms to use and if the use of these terms has held up the development of better tools and techniques. It is proposed that the use of syncronisation of asynchronous learning is particularly applicable to address issues with large scale e-learning, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Keywords: Asynchronous Learning; Synchronous Learning; Electronic Learning; Web Conference; Videoconferencing; Pedagogy; Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC.
Please cite as:
Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka.
Preprint available at:

Hanwha Solar's Advanced R&D Laboratory in Silicon Valley

Dr Simeon Baker-Finch, from Hanwha Solar America, will be speaking on "Hanwha Solar's Advanced R&D Laboratory in Silicon Valley", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 10am, 26 March 2013

Hanwha Solar's Advanced R and D Laboratory in Silicon Valley

Dr Simeon Baker-Finch (Hanwha Solar America)


DATE: 2013-03-26
TIME: 10:00:00 - 11:00:00
LOCATION: RSISE Seminar Room, ground floor, building 115, cnr. North and Daley Roads, ANU

"Hanwha Solar's Advanced R&D Laboratory in Silicon Valley". A brief history of the lab, its role within Hanwha's global solar strategy, and current projects.
Dr Simeon Baker-Finch graduated with a PhD in Engineering from the Australian National University in 2012. His thesis title was "Rules and Tools for Understanding, Modelling and Designing Textured Silicon Solar Cells". Simeon won the University Medal in Engineering in 2008, and was a past recipient of a IEEE Student Award at the PVSC conference in Washington, 2011. He's currently working at Hanwha Solar R&D in Silicon Valley.

Lightning Calendar Extension for Thunderbird Email

For years I have been relieving those annoying emails from scheduling systems asking to insert an appointment in my calendar.   I tried an integrated email/calendar package for Linux, but it did not do email very well (or anything else). So I was reduced to either ignoring the messages or trying to decode what they said. Recently I installed the Lightning calendar extension for Thunderbird email. This is small and works well. It decodes the incoming invitations,  lets you accept or reject, puts them in your calendar and sends a reply. It may do other things, but that was all I wanted. The extension is also available for Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X.

Tribute to Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony in Sydney

The Incinerator Art Space is featuring "The Unity of Art and Life - A Tribute to Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin" in Sydney, 20 March to 7 April  2013. The exhibition the centenary of the arrival of the Griffins in Sydney,  after winning the competition to design the city of Canberra. The exhibition is in the Willoughby Incinerator, one of the few remaining public buildings in Australia designed by Walter Burley Griffin and now a cultural center.

The Unity of Art and Life - A Tribute to Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin
20 Mar 2013-7 Mar 2013

Leading Sydney designers and architects present new work in a tribute exhibition to mark the centenary of the Griffins’ arrival in Australia in 1913.
A show at the Burley Griffin designed Incinerator Art Space in Willoughby, “The exhibition is a tribute to the Griffins rather than a show about them,” says curator Dr Mark Stiles. “A number of other exhibitions on during the year, especially in Canberra, will cover the Griffins' lives and work in detail. 
“In contrast The Unity of Life and Art will respond to the Griffins' ideals by presenting work made in the same spirit,” he says. “The Griffins brought the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement with them when they came to Australia - truth to materials, respect for handicraft, honesty in purpose and simplicity in design - and it is these principles that the exhibition also seeks to honour.
“As well as architecture and town planning the Griffins' work covered landscape architecture, furniture and lighting design, and draftsmanship and illustration. The Unity of Life and Art will cover a range of creative practice nearly as diverse as the Griffins' own.”
For further information regarding the show, contact Mark Stiles on or 9660 1158

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Past the e-learning tipping point

It has been reported that California is considering legislation to require public universities to accept on-line courses for credit in introductory courses. (CA bill could make online education worth college credit, Lauren Hepler, Mar 13, 2013). In one sense this is hardly news, as on-line courses have been run and accepted by universities for decades. Legislators requiring universities to accept particular courses sounds like an imposition, but the detail of the proposed bill seems to be more a case of allowing them to accept the courses: academics at the university would still have the say as to if a particular course from elsewhere met the required standard. The article mentions Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but most of these have no form of assessment which would be accepted by a university.

The issue in California appears to be an underinvestment in tuition for introductory courses, leading to very large classes and a shortage of places. The obvious solution would be for Californian universities to form a consortium of their own and offer on-line introductory blended courses. They could combine the on-line components with face-to-face components on their own campuses. This would take investment.

We are well past the e-learning "tipping point". Last week I invited my class in for a face-to-face session where they could discuss issues raised by the course they started some months ago. They found this an interesting novelty and we will be doing it again later in the course. The course is normally on-line and these "tutorials" follow the same format as used for the on-line discussions.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tablet Computers Launched from the Same Padd

Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BC
In "Samsung Note 8 tablet to undercut iPad mini" (The Australian, March 19, 2013) David Frith writes that the Galaxy Note 8 tablet has a screen, about the same size as the iPad mini. David suggests Apple "hit on" the ideal size for a tablet computer. However,this is hardly a new idea. In "Australia: The Networked Nation" (1996) I predicted that tablet computers (called "PADDs" after those in StarTrek) would be about about the size of a B5 paperback book. The Apple iPad mini is 200×134.7×7.2 mm, smaller than B5 I predicted (and 2.8 mm thinner), but about the size of a trade paperback book. This is about the size of some of the wax tablets used in Ancient Greece thousands of years ago.

The size of a tablet computer is dictated by what is comfortable to hold in a human hand. So it is not surprising that tablet computers are the size of paperback books and ancient wax tablets (the human hand has not changed significantly for thousands of years). For the same reason, the size of smart phones has stabilized around that of a device with a screen about that of a credit card, as both credit cards and smart phones are "pocket size" (and pockets hand sized).

ps:  The 2009 film Agora depicts students at the ancient Library of Alexandra using wax tablets in a classroom in a scene not that different to tablet computers in a modern university classroom.

Australian Politics in a Digital Age

Australian Politics in a Digital Age by Dr Peter Chen
Dr Peter Chen's book "Australian Politics in a Digital Age" is available free on-line as well as a conventional paperback. It provides a scholarly, but still readable overview of the way Australian political parties, and others, have made use of the Internet over the last decade.  The book ends with Chapter 7 — "Policy in an age of information", which mentions of "GovHack 2012". This event was held in Canberra (and at satellite locations), with a completion to produce new government related on-line services. However, Peter did not mention the companion event GovCamp 2012, which was designed to educate senior public servants about use of such technology. That event blended a traditional conference with an "un-conference". I helped with GovCamp/Hack 2012 and planning is underway for 2013.
Information and communications technologies are increasingly important in the Australian political landscape. From the adoption of new forms of electoral campaigning to the use of networking technology to organise social movements, media technology has the potential to radically change the way politics is conducted and experienced in this country. The first comprehensive volume on the impact of digital media on Australian politics, this book examines the way these technologies shape political communication, alter key public and private institutions, and serve as the new arena in which discursive and expressive political life is performed. Employing a range of theoretical perspectives, empirical data, and case examples, the book provides insights on political behaviour of Australia’s elites, as well as the increasingly important politics of mirco-activism and social media. Energetic and fast-paced, the book draws together a wide range of Australian and international scholarship on the interface between communications technology and politics. Crossing several genres, the book will find a wide audience amongst scholars of both politics and communication, among public relations professionals, and with members of the media themselves.

ACT Assembly Inquiry into Energy Billing and overcharging by ActewAGL

This is to request the ACT Assembly conduct an inquiry into the adequacy of laws on oversight of energy billing. By my estimate ActewAGL is overcharging by a factor of five to ten on its hot water supply service charge. I do not actually have a gas connection, instead having hot water provided by a communal system in the apartment basement at City Edge, O'Connor.

ActewAGL reads the amount of hot water I use via a smart meter and calculates my share of the gas used to heat the water. This is an efficient and cost effective system, except for the "service charge" imposed by ActewAGL: the service charge exceeds the cost of the gas used.

As I don't actually have a gas connection to my apartment and the one connection is shared by 30 apartments, it is unclear how ActewAGL can justify charging each apartment the equivalent of a gas connection. However, this arrangement has been made legal through legislation passed by the ACT Assembly. I request the Assembly review this.

The relatively high service charge makes the use of shared systems less cost effective. Not only does this increase energy costs to ACT citizens, but also discourages the use of energy efficient and less polluting forms of hot water supply, thus increasing Canberra's greenhouse gas emissions.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ships, submarines and aircraft: Naval and aerial aspects of the Gallipoli War

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Serhat Güvenç, Kadir Has University, Istanbul is speaking on "Ships, submarines and aircraft: Naval and aerial aspects of the Gallipoli War". Professor Güvenç discussed the arms race with Dreadnought battleships before World War Two. In 1911 Dodecanese Islands were lost by the Ottoman Empire. In 1913 the Ottomans outbid Greece and Russia to purchase a British dreadnought, the Sultan Osman-i Evvel, but the ship and another was retained by the UK. The German battlecrusers SMS Goeben and Moltke escaped the British Mediterranean fleet to Ottoman territory and were  transfered to Ottoman control. Professor Güvenç argued that these circumstances effectively decided the Ottaman's would side with Germany, against the UK.

Heavy artillery from the German armoured cruiser Roon, 1915 mounted onshore at Gallipoli
Only obsolete ships were used for the UK's Gallipoli Campaign as the Ottamans were seen as not having a significant military force. The available Ottaman ships were required to counter the Russian threat. Instead Gallipoli was defended with shore mounted obsolete naval guns and sea mines. Guns and mines were carefully positioned in anticipation of the likely lines of approach for UK ships. The UK forces used Greek  (notionally neutral) islands. Professor Güvenç argued that the Minelayer Nusrat while a small ship was very significant to the Gallipoli War. One aircraft available to the Turks, was also significant in providing advice on the status of the mines. Australian submarine AE-2 penetrated to the Sea of Marinaras, which was a morale boost for UK forces, but not militarily significant. German submarine U-21 was more effective in forcing K ships from the Gallipoli area. UK submarine E-11 in the Marmara Sea severely disrupted Turkish shipping (and attacked a train with gunfire).

Professor Güvenç argued the Turks won the Gallipoli War because they had better military leadership, but also were well prepared. The Ottoman Empire in effect won their war with Russia, but ultimately lost with the allied victory in WWI. From another perspective the modern Turkish state arose partly from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's rise to prominence in the Gallipoli War.

Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock ships
Professor Güvenç's analysis of the Gallipoli is significant not only historically but for the world today. One lesson is that major warships are at a disadvantage in the littoral zone close to shore. Ships are vulnerable to relatively unsophisticated sea mines, land based aircraft and gunfire. Large ships are also vulnerable on approach to shore from submarine attack. There are significant issues for Australia, which has ordered two Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHDs). These ships are purpose designed for amphibious assault in the littoral zone as flagship of an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG). But the LHDs are very vulnerable and must be protected by mine-clearing, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft defenses. This will require a significant investment by Australia, not only in ships, but in specialized highly trained personnel. Australia is building Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers and upgrading Anzac-class frigates, to provide air defense, but does not have sufficient mine or submarine countermeasures.
The Gallipoli Peninsula stands as one of the earliest theatres of joint military operations in the modern era. At Gallipoli, both the Allies and the Ottomans employed their naval, land and air power assets in pursuit of a decisive victory. The campaign, which opened with a naval assault to force a quick capitulation of the Ottoman Empire, turned into a massive land campaign as a result of the allied amphibious landing. However, the naval assault failed, and degenerated into a war of attrition waged increasingly by submarines and aircraft to the end of World War I.
This presentation has three objectives. The first is to provide an overall assessment of the factors that contributed to the Ottoman decision to go to war. The second is to discuss the reasons how and why the submarine and aircraft, as new and largely untested weapons, gradually succeeded the battleship, as principal means of warfare upon which both sides continued to rely until the end of the conflict. The third objective is to discuss the legacy of the Gallipoli Wars in shaping the contours of the subsequent Turkish War of Liberation and the Republic of Turkey.
Dr Serhat Güvenç is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.  He has a BA in International Relations and an MA in European Studies from Marmara University, Istanbul and a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Bosphorus University. He has worked at Koç University, Istanbul Bilgi University and the University of Chicago as a Visiting Assistant Professor of History in 2006.
Dr Güvenç’s research interests include Turkish defence policy and modern Turkish military/naval history. He is the author of Ottomans’ Quest for Dreadnoughts on the eve of the First World War, Istanbul: Is Kultur Yayinlari, 2009, and Turkey in the Mediterranean during the Interwar Era: The Paradox of Middle Power Diplomacy and Minor Power Naval Policy, Indiana: Indiana University Turkish Studies, 2010 (co-authored with Dilek Barlas). He has published in the Middle Eastern Studies, International Journal of Naval History, Uluslararasi Iliskiler (Turkish Journal of International Relations), Exotierika Themata (in Greek) and the Journal of Strategic Studies. He guest-edited a special issue of Uluslararasi Iliskiler on the 60 Years of Turkey’s NATO Membership.

UK Government Service Design Manual

The UK Government Service Design Manual has been issued by the UK Cabinet Office.  This sets out four phases for services: Discovery, Alpha, Beta, and Live. While being very clear (and making use of graphics), the manual is somewhat cryptic and also lacking in important metadata. In particular the manual does not explain who or what type of services it is provided for, when it was released, which version it is or who is responsible for it.

On-line Courses for Higher Education Study, Research, Teaching, Leadership and Management Skills

The UK company "Epigeum" provides on-line courses for Higher Education institutions to help students and staff with study, research, teaching, leadership and management skills. They use IMS Content Packages which can be installed in Moodle.
Epigeum was founded in 2005 as a spin-out company from Imperial College London, and our London office is still based close to the College's main campus in Kensington.

These days we offer over 50 online courses – with many more in the pipeline. Our courses are organised into programmes grouped around key skills areas in higher education: studying, researching, teaching, and leadership and management. We are proud to say that tens of thousands of staff and students in over 150 different institutions throughout the world now benefit from our courses. ...

Automated Analysis of Corruption Commission Transcripts in Canberra Today

Simon Kravis
Simon Kravis will discuss automated analysis the transcripts from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), in Canberra today, 4pm, 18 March 2013. Each fortnight those interested in Information Retrieval (IR) and web searching meet to discuss the latest research at "IR and Friends", in the CSIRO seminar room, 2nd Floor, Computer Science and Information Technology Building, Australian National University, North Road, Canberra.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Dream of a Century: the Griffins in Australia’s Capital

The free exhibition Dream of a Century: the Griffins in Australia’s Capital  is at the National Library of Australia in Canberra until 10 June 2013. This has original works by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony, tracing their work leading up to the winning of the design competition for the plan of the city of Canberra and afterwards in Australia and India. Most striking are the architectural renderings on silk. Also the furniture and stained glass windows designed by Walter Burley Griffin, including Griffin's drafting table, is a must see for Griffin enthusiasts. Last week was the centenary of Canberra and this is one of a number of displays on to commemorate the event. The display of other entries for the design of Canberra, as well as more of Walter  and Marion 's work is on display at the nearby Archives Australia office in "Design 29 and the making of Australia’s national capital". The NLA display does not suffer from some of the problems of the Archives: the captions on each work are easy to read (a book of large captions is also available) and there are no augmented reality gimmicks. However, the low light level need to preserve the delicate works makes the architectural renderings very hard to see. The Library might have provided reproductions of the works alongside to show them as they would have been originally

Saturday, March 16, 2013

MOOCs with Books at BarCamp Canberra

Greetings from the Inspire Centre at the University of Canberra where BarCamp Canberra 2013 just started. This is an "un-conference" with a more spontaneous presentations. My talk on how to blend traditional and on-line education last week in Sydney went well, so I thought I would do an expanded version today.

What is a MOOC?

  1. Massive: 100,000 students or more. Australia's large university has less than 50,000 students.
  2. Open: No scholastic or financial barrier to enrollment. Materials may also be  open educational resources.
  3. On-line: Materials delivered and students interact via the Internet.
  4. 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

Some MOOC Courses

  1. Harvard edX CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science 

  2. MIT edX 6.00x: Introduction to Computer Science and Programming (uses a textbook)

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

Australia Disaster Management Platform

Diagram of Australia Disaster Management Platform
Work to develop an Australia Disaster Management Platform (ADMP) was announced 14 March 2013 by University of Melbourne, IBM, and NICTA. This is intended to bring together geo-spatial data to help with planning before, and management during, disasters.It is not clear if the system will be made freely available or restricted to paying customers. The Ushahidi visualization and interactive mapping system is already available as free open source software and has been used in disaster management. Also the free open source Sahana Eden disaster management software  has a Mapping module built in.  - Also it is not clear if ADMP will include provision for crowd sourcing data, or will be limited to official technical sources. Recent disasters have shown that the usual official sources of data are limited and in many cases incorrect, with "group truth" provided by the general public being more accurate and up to date.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Entrepreneurs at the Australian National University

Greeting from the Australian National University in Canberra where Peter Davison, founder of the Fishburners Start-up Space, is speaking to the ANU Entrepreneurs Society. Peter described Fishburners as "tech but not too tech". He argues there are two types of Entrepreneurs: naive tech silicon valley types who mostly fail and the Jedi knights with skills, knowledge of their field and a network of trusted colleagues. He argues that Silicon Valley is unique and attempts to emulate it elsewhere are unlikely to succeed. For Australia he suggests an alternative strategy of encouraging entrepreneurs to look at a problem in depth, build a network of stakeholders and be prepared to change their idea. He recommended the work of Saras D. Sarasvathy. Peter ended with some suggestions to get started, many of which revolved around leveraging the university for business. Peter was surprisingly ambivalent about not-for-profit ventures, given that the funded the non-profit Fishburners.

ps: It happens I was at Fishburners in Sydney last week and the ANU is opening its own co-working space "Entry 29 Co-working Space" in a few weeks time. This will offer office space for as low as $200 a month. The new venture is named after Griffin's entry in the competition to design Canberra, which was "Entry 29" (Canberra was founded 100 years ago this week). The Entry 29 building is at 17 Childers Street Acton ACT (behind the Conservation Council), ideally located between the ANU campus and the Canberra CBD.

Building on ANU Excellence

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where the Vice Chancellor, Ian Young is speaking on "Building on ANU Excellence". This essentially an update of his presentation "New Strategic Direction for ANU" in 2011. The VC issued an "Invitation to join a discussion forum", including adjunct staff such as myself.

The VC showed several tables indicating that ANU was performing well in comparison to other universities in Australia and world wide. This is in line with the ANU by 2020 Strategic Plan. ANU does well in terms of the excellence of its research and the satisfaction of student's with teaching. However, an area in which there is room for improvement is "Generic Skills". It happens that for my final assignment in the ANU Certificate in Higher Education earlier this year, I looked at how to provide "generic skills" (see: On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century and Report on Incorporating Professional Skills in the ANU Master of Computing).

One recent ANU innovation isn "vertical degrees" with students signing up for a bachelor followed by a masters, allowing six months to be shaved off the overall time, while improving the quality. Also "Flexible Double Degrees" will be added, allowing students to choose from a grater range of double degrees.

The VC explained that ANU's funds come from: 24% HECS, 20% International students, 6% postgraduate, 15% research block grants and 35% national institutes grant. Within the university about 60% of the revenue from students goes to the individual colleges, with the rest for the central provision of services across the university. In contrast almost all of the national institutes grants are directed to specific research areas. The research block grants are mostly allocated to the researcher's college. Curiously, unlike undergraduates, where the money is received each year the student studies, the ANU receives the bulk of the money for a postgraduate student only when the student completes (which I assume the government does to encourage completion).

The VC went on to talk about ANU joining the edX MOOC consortium. He said he did not anticipate this replacing formal degree programs. edX will provide a taste of ANU for potential students. This is also a marking exercise, positioning ANU alongside world leading universities. ANU will also look more at on-line education for international and mature students. He expected that young undergraduates will still attend campus, but will do some of their students on-line (called blended mode in the educational jargon). I find in teaching students on-line that the students with more experience cope better. The VC pointed out that one benefit of the interest in MOOCs is fostering a discussion of how to provide high quality education which incorporates e-learning.

A less glamorous but important aspect the VC then addressed was administrative processes. He pointed out a need for clarity but noted this will be difficult due to the ANU's devolved administration. One thing the VC said he would not do is restructure the university but instead make the existing units processes consistent.  An "ANU Services Improvement Program", run by a ANU Service Improvement Group has been set up. To me the obvious solution to this is to provide good quality corporate on-line systems and training for their use.

At question time one issue which came up was how to make more use of the skills of adjunct staff. This was pleasing to hear as one of these.

Comming Bubble

In "The Real Winners of the Coming Revolution in Higher Education" (Forbes, 12 March 2013) Bruce Guile provides an analysis of a business sector, the likes of which I have not seen for more than a decade. This reminds very much of the late 1990s when business pundits wrote glowing reports about the revolution, not understating what the web was, or how it could make money, but raved about it none the less.  It appears we are now at the start of a bubble, where millions are poured into providing free courses on-line without any clear business model. This will be very good for those who can take the free courses and who sell products and services to the MOOC consortia: those selling shovels always do well in a gold rush, whereas most of the prospectors do not.  There real winners in the education revolution will be educators who work out a sustainable business model, which blends free and paid components of a course, their students, their institution and the community.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Software for MOOCs

After looking at the technology and techniques used for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), it would be useful to see if these could be applied to the ordinary e-learning courses I run and in turn if those courses could be adapted to MOOCs. My courses are already on-line and open (in the sense that anyone can download the content. They are not "Massive" in that they are designed to have a human tutor interact with the students, which is not feasible with hundreds of thousands of students (especially were the students are not paying for the course and thus there are not funds to pay for the tutor). Also it is not clear if the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) will support large numbers of students (especially where the students are no paying for the course and so there are not funds for a large server).

Course Releases

The issue of supporting large numbers of students on a server should be able to be dealt with by using project management techniques applied in software development. Software is carefully planned, tested and released in versions: you do not simply make changes and hope for the best. Similarly courses which have large number of students can't be developed in an ad-hoc way. A change in a course will effect hundreds of thousands of students and so needs to be carefully tested before release. This then allows the LMS to be more efficient. An LMS, such as Moodle, is designed on the assumption that the tutor may make a change to a course at any time and that change has to be instantly reflected in the live system. Also it is assumed the student will be supplied with the latest live content interactively.

An LMS could instead use a "release" approach, where changes are made in a test environment and then "released". The student would be advised of the new release and may have to download a new module (or their computer will do that automatically). This way the student does not need to interact continuously with the LMS, instead they work on a downloaded module and upload their contribution. This would greatly lessen the computing requirements for the LMS server. It would also reduce the technical database requirements, as the LMS just as to make sure the student gets the module and the LMS uploads the students input as one chunk of data.

Also some of the security restrictions of the LMS could be relaxed. As the course content is "open" there is less need to be able to hide it from the student. For educational purposes you might still only show a little at a time, but this need not be via a highly secure system. As an example, I set Moodle to show students the course material a week at a time, so as not to overload them. But the entire course content is also available in an e-book, so the students can read ahead if they want.

As a thought exercise, it would be interesting to see what Moodle (or any LMS) would look like if modified for this approach.

Less Reliance on Video: Text First

Most MOOCs seem to be heavily reliant on delivery of content through recorded video. This is understandable as it mimics conventional classroom lectures. However, the video requires large volumes of data to be streamed from a server and may overload the system.

An alternative I propose is "Text First": that is a text based document (with still images) in a format such as a web page or e-Book (preferably not PDF and not Flash) is used to provide the educational content. This then has optional video. The student should be able to undertake the entire course without downloading any video.

However, research indicates that video does not improve students results. The students may like the video, but it does not improve their learning. In addition some students can't see the video, due to limited bandwidth or disability. The students who can't see the video require it in a different form (Australian disability law and that of some other countries require this). Some people can't hear the sound and for which closed captions can be provided. However, if the closed captions and text alternatives are embedded in the video, this may still block access.

Interactive Lessons

The most common way for MOOCs to provide interactivity is with short quizzes. These have been shown to greatly improve learning, when interspersed with the content. Moodle has a "Lesson Module" which allows content to be presented to the student, interspersed with short quizzes. However, there is no need to have the quizes delivered live from the LMS, if they are used for formative purposes (that is help the student with their learning during the course), rather than summative assessment (that is test the student at the end). The quiz content can be downloaded to the student's computer, either on its own, or as part of a lesson module. Any results which need to be recorded can then be uploaded.

It should be noted that LMS, such as Moodle, are not designed for creating course content, but for controlling its delivery to the student (along with other interaction). There are packaged formats which can be used, such as IMS Content Packages (an education specific form of eBook) and SCORM Packages (which can include quizzes as well as course content). Moodle (and other LMS) have provision for installing IMS Content Packages and SCORM, then delivering it to the student interactively. However, this will then place a load on the LMS and so it might be better to have a standalone IMS and SCORM program on the student's computer.

Moodle can create some packaged content for export, in a limited way. As an example, Moodle Book modules can be exported as IMS Content Packages. However, rather than use the Moodle Lesson Module, more specialized tools may be needed for Creating SCORM Content.

One problem is that most SCORM delivery software is designed to be part of a centralized LMS such as Moodle. While a SCORM "reader" would not be much more complex to develop than an e-Book reader (like the eBook ePub format, SCORM uses zipped folders of HTML). However, most SCROM software is written for closed for-fee education with centralized administration and student tracking, so an open down-loadable reader would not be welcome.

An alternative to a standalone SCORM reader, would be to convert the SCORM package into HTML, which could then be downloaded. A careful selection of HTML5 features should allow for content which can be downloaded and used off-line in the web browser and with the student's results of the quiz then uploaded next time they are on-line. This could be made compatible with desktop computers, tablets and smart phones, without the need for any extra "App" or custom software, just the standard web browser.

As the course content is open and the quiz results are for formative purposes a high level of security is not needed off-line course reader. HTML5 has built in features for caching content off-line and storing data locally. The results of a quiz will take very little storage and only the simplest form off-line storage will be needed. The course content can be retained as native HTML. Content in other formats, such as PDF or Powerpoint can be retained in their original format and the default viewer used, thus avoiding complex conversions which are usually used with course creation systems.