Monday, April 04, 2011

Hi-Tech Higher Education

There are about 700 people registered for CCA-EDUCAUSE Australasia 2011 at Darling Harbour in Sydney this week. They are from universities, mostly librarians and ICT managers, plus a few educators, such as myself. The conference started Sunday with meetings of representatives from organisations such as CAUDIT and a tall ship harbour cruse for the rest of us. We then had twilight drinks at the exhibition venue. The conference proper started Monday morning with keynote addresses.

Tall Ships

The tall ship cruse was on the Southern Swan. It was pleasant to motor out from the Sydney Rocks past the Sydney Opera House and then return up the harbour under sail, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, then docking at Darling Harbour. It was fun to help pull up the sails.

CCA-Educause Day 1

As I was busy having my poster on "International Graduate Level Sustainable ICT Course" printed, I missed the keynote addresses. But I was told the take home message was that joint development of software by consortia of universities and companies requires genuine collaboration. In my view, there would be many more successful projects if good software engineering and ICT governance practices were applied. But I would then get less work as an expert witness in court cases where these projects go wrong. ;-)


A quick count showed that organisations sending ten or more delegates were:

OrganisationNumber of Delegates
Australian Catholic University10
Curtin University13
Flinders University11
Griffith University19
Macquarie University23
University of Auckland19
University of Melbourne17
University of Sydney19
University of Newcastle12
University of Wollongong10

Innovative Federation: Telescopes, Labs and Clouds

Michel de la Vilefromoy, UTS, UTS, talked about "Remote Labs", where students can use real laboratory equipment remotely over the Internet. The most important reason for doing this is scheduling: students can use the equipment 24 hours a day from wherever they are. This allows for much more intensive use of the equipment: 70% of the time rather than less than 20%.

Several universities can share a remote lab, reducing costs and allowing for efficient use, when in different time zones. One issue is the issuing of security credentials for students at other universities. The same techniques can be applied to instruments for physics experiments, telescopes and the like.

Michel praised the "Australian Access Federation" (AAF) which allows staff and students to be issued with security credentials for use between institutions. Several later speakers mentioned the AAF. This was a little frustrating as none of them explained what it was. At question time I asked what it was, but took several attempts to get the presenters to explain it.

The next session discussed federated systems at the business level. This seemed to be the public part of a detailed discussion going on inside CAUDIT about how universities can get together to get a better price from cloud vendors such as Microsoft and Google. Some issues here were how visible to the end user should the products be; should the university, consortium (such as CAUDIT) or the vendor be branding the product. Other issues were if individual or even consortia of universities were large enough to be a viable market, or do they just have to use what the industry offers.

What seemed to me to be lacking was the business model: who is going to pay for this and will they see it as worth paying for? Universities naturally think in terms of products for their students on their campus. They do not want to point out to their students that there is a wider world out there they could get educational services from.

External Hosting of Unviersity IT Facilities

This is very much a conference about the relationship between academia and business. This was best illustrated by the session on "Managing Relationships with External Learning Management System Providers". Allan Sieper, ANU, talked about the need to understand what is in the contract with the LMS provider (ANU uses NetSpot to provide Moodle). In my view having an external provider can be good for internal university ICT management as it makes the processes explicit. The external provider costs money and so this encourages thought into what is important to provide and what is not.

Alan Arnold from University of Canberra (who also use NetSpot to provide Moodle) explained how it took only six months to migrate from Web CT to Moodle. UoC avoids the term LMS and refers to edgeless support for learning and teaching (ANU re-badged its LMS as "Wattle"). The UoC system has over 400,000 quiz questions in it and so gets used "a lot". NetSpot staff sit on the same governance board with senior unviersity educational staff. It occurs to me that this could be as valuable as the LMS itself, as the vendor can help educate unviersity people on governance of ICT projects. Alan showed a graph with LMS use increasing exponentially (40% per year), while the cost per user is decreasing steadily.

Minh-Tam Nguyen, UoC, mentioned that they use Yammer for staff discussion of the facilities.

Marina Lobastov, ANU, talked about the distributed approach where educational designers are located in the university's colleges, with a relatively small central support unit. She pointed out some interesting and unusual uses, such as teaching Sanskrit online.

One of the audience asked about the implications of student data hosted off-site. Minh-Tam replied that UoC does authentication at the unviersity, so NetSpot does not have the student's passwords. Also marsk are in a separate system. Allan explained that ANU addressed privacy in the contract, requiring the contractor to meet Austrlaian privacy laws. To me this seems a non-issue for data hosted in Australia, but is an important issue if the data is sent out of the country (I cover this in my records management course at ANU).


There is an extensive and excellent exhibition of vendors associated with the conference. One vendor which got my attention was Symplectic, a UK based company which supplies software to help academics get their papers published. Daniel Hook will be in Australia until 10 April 2011 and is happy to talk to people about this.

Microsoft were demonstrating a coffee table touch screen, simialr to (but not as good as) the "MultiTouch Cell" units used for the National Museum of Australia (NMA) Yiwarra Kuju Exhibition.

Up Coming Events

The conference pack contained details of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education 2011 conference (ascilite 2011), in Hobart 4-7 December 2011 and Questnet 2011 is 12-15 July 2011.

ps: I had to post this after day one, as the WiFi at the conference was not working reliably. This is a disappointing for a conference which is about the use of ICT. Perhaps in future these events should be held at a university campus.

1 comment:

Leigh Blackall said...

You'd struggle to get everyone connected at a university too though Tom.. you know that!

I think connectivity is a measure of a conference's (and a university's) relevance and.. well, connection to things.

If they can't open that up, then I find almost all else under it is overly controlled, prescribed, and centralised without connection.

Thanks for your post. Enjoy the nibbles, tallships, conversation and views.