Saturday, May 05, 2012

How to Design a Higher Education Institution: Part 1

Greetings from Adelaide, where I am attending the annual joint academic and facility board meeting of Australian Computer Society Education. The ACS is a professional body, which carries out the usual accreditation of university courses suitable for membership. However, in addition it also runs its own postgraduate courses, to fill in gaps in the professional skills of members. The education is mostly online using part time tutors (who are from industry or academia). The organizing to the courses is also mostly does online using email, real time and store-and-forward online forums.

It is interesting to see how the same educational and administrative issues which come up at ACS and in my role as an adjunct lecturer at ANU. But as ACS done not have conventional face-to-face courses, lecturer theaters and bureaucracy and so can take some new approaches. As a result ACS is starting by introducing they type of techniques universities are struggling to introduce. The use of pure on-line education allows strong integration with practical skills, progressive assessment, student discussion and reflection.

Some challenging issues, to which ACS is looking for new solutions are dealing with are: plagiarism, student's marking expectations and coordination of content between separate units.

The ACS previously commissioned research on the practicalities of ethics in the ICT industry. This brought fresh insights to an area which has been looked at for thousands of years. Perhaps some research is warranted to the areas challenging education, to produce new techniques and software to implement it.

As an example the current approach to plagiarism in Australian universities is not sustainable, in my view. Students are told not to plagiarize, threatened with severe penalties, given some vague guidelines and then blamed when they go wrong. In my experience very few students are deliberately acting dishonestly, it is just that they have not been trained and tested in what to do. If academics believe how to write is important, then this must be given a significant proportion of resources in an education program, with formal teaching, assignments and testing. This would be an area where new online educational techniques could be applied. In my view the investment in this area would have large benefits.

ACS CPEP students have to communicate professionally online with their peer and tutor, and are assessed on this. Also most students do an introductory unit on professional communication and ethics. They have to write professional reports, which are assessed. This fits them better for a role in industry, or academia, than a student who has just passed an examination.

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