Monday, July 23, 2012

Sustainable Professional Education

CSIRO were short a speaker for their regular "Information Retrieval and Friends" and asked if anyone had something to present from a recent conference. I am just back from presenting a paper at the the 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2012) in Melbourne, so volunteered to speak. My conference paper was "A green computing professional education course online: designing and delivering a course in ICT Sustainability using Internet and eBooks". The full text is available on-line, but the presentation notes are more readable.

About The Conference

ICCSE has been organized annually since 2006, by the National Research Council of Computer Education in Colleges and Universities of China (NRCCE). The first few conferences were held in China, then Singapore and most recently in Australia. The proceedings are published by IEEE.

While CS and engineering are international disciplines, some differences were noticeable for a conference organizes in China and held in Australia.

The standard IEEE Manuscript Templates for Conference Proceedings was used. However, the Yeedao paper submission system is primarily designed for Chinese users and I found the interface kept slipping from English into Chinese. Also the paper title and abstract were requested in both English and Chinense (I used Google Translate for the Chinese version).

Similarly, the conference arrangements were designed for traveler from China. As an example, payment of fees was by bank transfer to an Australian bank, but only the code for international, not domestic transfer was provided. I missed the welcoming lunch for the event as this assumed deligates were arriving via the international airport.

Papers were presented in English although most of the audience had this as a second language (and a Chinese to Hellish translator was required for the opening address).

I counted about two hundred delegates at the opening session, but by the last session of the second day there were about six delegates left. It may be that traditional oral presentations for such event should be abandoned and replaced with enhanced poster sessions, "un-conferecnes" and on-line sessions.

Real-time computer control as a metaphor for online education

The keynote address for ICCSE 2012 was from Professor Pedro Albertos,
Instituto Universitario de Automática e Informática Industrial Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (Spain) on "Interaction between computer control design and its implementation". He discussed the problems with the real-time computer control, arguing that real-time computing and control engineering need to be unified. Traditionally control engineering used analogue electronics with continuous measurements. Digital real-time control uses discrete time intervals. It is usually assumed that if there is a timing problem with a real time computer program, the solution is simply to speed up the processing so the time intervals are smaller. Professor Albertos argues that simply speeding up the process is not necessary, as where a feedback loop is used, most of the time the process is within parameters and no changes are required. Instead event based processing can be used, where processing is done when required.

It occurred to me that Professor Albertos' analysis might be a useful metaphor for online education. Face-to-face education, like control engineering assumes the tutor can see the class at all times and provide feedback. "Asynchronous" online education does not have all the students in the same place at the same time. The usually proposed solution to problems with online education is to provide quicker feedback, and ideally to use "synchronous" mode, where the student and tutor are online at the same time. However, this is inconvenient for the student and tutor (just as speeding up real-time computer processes wastes resources). Instead it might be better to have the online education event based, with time limited, so the student and tutor can be confident they will get a response when needed. Control theory has concepts such as "control effort", "open loop" and "closed loop", which could be applied to education.

Melbourne Model of Professional Education

Professor Iven Mareels, Dean of Engineering at University of Melbourne gave an overview of the changes to engineering and computer science programs brought about by the "Melbourne University Model". With this system, students choose from one of only six undergraduate degrees (engineering and computer sciecne students would normally undertake a Bachelor of Science).

Unlike undergraduate degrees from other Australian universities, the Melbourne degrees do not meet the requirements of professional bodies for entry. Students are expected to undertake a further 18 months study for CS or two years for Engineering to complete a masters.

Professor Mareels commented that this program was intended to meet the needs of international students. Many international students were undertaking the undergraduate degree in their own country and then coming to Melbourne University for the masters.

The courses are part student directed problem based learning. However, Professor Mareels commented that traditional lecture based courses have to be used in part, due to their lower cost. I though this a curious comment, as it is possible to design cost effective student directed problem based-courses by using on-line techniques.

Professor Mareels commented that University of Melbourne had invested in new learning faciltiies for the new teraching techniques. It happened that I also attended a "Climate Services Think Tank" while in Melbourne. This was at the Melbourne Business School (MBS), and so I was able to experience the new facilities firsthand. UoM appears to be following the same model of learning facility as used by other Australian universities.

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