Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learning to teach in the virtual classroom

Greeting from the ANU Menzies Library Flex Lab (which appears to have been designed by a dentist), where I am in a course on how to use Wimba products for online education. At the moment we are learning about "Wimba Classroom" which appears to be an adaptation of a classic video conferencing interface (and similar to DimDim). This provides audio, video, electronic whiteboard, text chat and similar. This appears intended for real time classes, but does include an "archive" option which records all the interactions. It is suggested to have at least 56kbps. It can also be used in a physical classroom. What is interesting about this is the assumed educational and business model behind the mode of teaching.

Apart from Wimba Classroom, there are an assortment of other Wimba products. What surprised me was that these do not appear to be integrated: Wimba seems to have bought a series of separate applications for creating course content and different forms of communication and then just re-branded them all with "Wimba". As an example Wimba Pronto is a course content creation tool, previously sold under another name and similar to USQ ICE.

Wimba Classroom seems to work as well as other video conference products. It also has the same limitations as other such products. Sufficient bandwidth is required and also low enough latency if video or audio is used. There is an appreciable delay in slide dis-play even when we are all in the same physical room, connected to the ANU's very high speed network.

In addition the application emphasises visual aspects, as an example, slides are displayed for a presentation as bit mapped images. Apart for requiring more bandwidth, this precludes reading of the slides by people with a limited (or no) vision. Even with the presenter's slides in the demonstration I had difficulty seeing. Web pages and documents in some other formats can be designed to allow use with assistive technology. But this assumes there is some text in the content for a Braille or text-to-speech system to use. The bit-map images in Wimba Classroom and similar system do not allow for this. Institutions using such facilities need to keep in mind that Australian law requires access for the disabled, where possible: this is possible and so required.

Wimba Classroom can be integrated with Moodle (also used by ANU). I was easlity able to add an entry in a Moodle course for a Wimba Classroom. The idea is the students can read notes and then at the scheduled time enter the real time online classroom. Unfortunately at this point Wimba Classroom failed. I was impressed with the real time support provided by the company supporting ANU's e-learning system. Within seconds we were in contact with the support staff by real time chat, they excluded the problem to the "NOC" (Network Operations Centre) somewhere, who diagnosed a new problem with the interface between Moodle and Wimba and got to work to fix it. This incident highlights the need for good support for these e-learning facilities, particularly those working in real time.

There appears to be much more work needed in the design of the integration of e-learning tools. This is not just a matter of ensuring that the software works and the links are fast enough. Currently there appears to be a disconnect between the text rich non-real time tools such as Moodle, and graphic rich real time tools such as Wimba Classroom. Some continuum between the two should be technically possible. This would allow for more graceful dealing with technical problems: rather than the student being simply cut off, the system would degrade into a non-real time mode. Students who could not see images, because of limited bandwidth (or because they are blind) would get alternative content. Also this would allow for more andragogical modes of teaching: students could select a form of content and interaction which suited them.

Wimba Classroom and similar products force the participant to select a mode of communication, such as text, audio or video, rather than being able to communicate using whatever media is avialable and suitable.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010

The ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 (Melbourne, 3 to 4 November 2010), has issued a call for papers on the use of electronic portfolios in the vocational education and training (VET), higher education (HE) and adult and community education (ACE) sectors. Abstracts for Full papers, Works in Progress reports, Case Studies and Posters are due 4 June 2010

ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010

Submission for proposals

The theme of the ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 is Widening participation - engaging the learner (see:

Submission of proposal:

The ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 Organising Committee invites the submission of proposals for:

  • Full papers or Works in progress reports (peer-reviewed); full papers or works in progress reports of research findings and progress;
  • Case studies (abstract only); discussions of key directions and findings of action research or current practice and ;
  • Posters (abstract only): highly visual media communicating information about an innovation, tool, process or development.

Session duration:

  • Paper presentations and Case studies: 25 minutes
  • Posters: Posters will be displayed for the duration of the conference. There will be an hour allocated in the programme when poster presenters will be available near their posters to interact with conference participants.

Proposal themes:

Papers, reports, case studies and posters should relate to one or more of the following sub-themes:

  • Key government educational initiatives:
    • Quality outcomes and standards;
    • Learner mobility and transitions between educational sectors; and
    • Supporting learners accessing the Compact for Young Australians and Retrenched Workers initiatives;
    • Learner study experiences, retention and course completions.
  • Responsive learning and assessment practices:
    • Learning outcomes and reflective skills;
    • Recognition of prior learning (RPL), workplace learning and assessment processes;
    • Assessing graduate attributes and employability skills;
    • Discipline-specific initiatives;
    • Work-integrated learning, fieldwork and practicum experiences.
  • Career pathways and lifelong learning:
    • Continuing professional development (CPD) leading to professional standards, reaccreditation and/or workforce development;
    • Gaining employment
    • Supporting non-traditional learners
    • Improved partnerships with industry;
  • Implementing e-portfolios - successes and sustainability:
    • E-portfolios in the Web 2.0 environment
    • Technical standards supporting e-portfolios
    • Challenges and opportunities in e-portfolio implementation
    • Accessibility and e-portfolios
    • Sustainability and e-portfolios
    • Communities of practice

Papers, reports, case studies and posters not falling under these sub-themes may also be submitted for consideration, but should justify how the proposal complements the 'Widening Participation' conference theme.

Guidelines for Proposals:

Full Papers and Work in Progress reports are proposed by submission of an abstract (up to 400 words), and the full text of the paper which must be no more than 4,000 words including, appendices and references. As a general guide, a full paper should include an introduction, literature review and methodology, results, discussion and conclusions. Full papers are subject to double blind peer-review as required by DEEWR. Authors of successful submissions will be able to make minor corrections to the paper before final submission.

Case Studies are proposed by submission of an abstract (up to 400 words). Abstracts are subject to review by the ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 Organising Committee.

Poster Presentations are proposed through submission of an abstract (up to 400 words). Posters are subject to review by the ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010 Organising Committee. Display versions should be sized between A3 -minimum and AO - maximum. You are not required to submit your 'Display' version; simply bring it with you to the Conference. Presenters are required to be in attendance with their poster during the allocated formal presentation period, to explain, discuss and to answer viewers' questions. While every effort will be made to ensure the safe handling of posters, the conference committee takes no responsibility for loss or damage of posters.

Paper submission process:

Please submit papers and abstracts to by the due date as detailed below.

Due dates:

Abstracts (for Full papers and Works in Progress reports, Case Studies and Posters) - 4 June 2010

Author notification of acceptance - 2 July 2010

Full papers (final version) due - 2 August 2010

Review feedback notification - 6 September 2010

Final submission - 4 October 2010

Paper submission enquiries:

Please forward all enquires about the submission process to:

From: Call for Papers, for ePortfolios Australia Conference 2010

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Open Access Education for Open Source Software

Last week Cameron Shorter from Sydney Geospatial open source software company Lisasoft contacted me about how to provide "crowd-sourced" training. The idea was to apply the same open source development techniques to he training materials as the software. My suggestion was to use USQ's ICE system and Moodle.

We discussed open source and education over lunch on Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, Sydney, where Listsoft is located. The Wharf, adjacent to the Sydney Casino and Google's Sydney office, has been redeveloped as a offices for software and media companies, with million dollar yachts pulled up alongside and a million dollar view of Sydney harbour from the outdoor restaurants.

Normally I am skeptical of open source enthusiasts proposing large projects. However, Lisasoft seem to have managed to sell geospetial products and services particularly to government agencies.

The Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) has a project to produce a "Live GIS Disc" of open source geospatial software. documentation to adopt standard documentation. This was to include some training material. OSGEO also has an OSGeo Education and Curriculum Project, providing a Search-able Database of Educational Material. Cameron has proposed aligning the documentation guidelines put in place for LiveDVD with the OSGeo education project. The idea being that along with the free software would be free educational materials.

My talk in Adelaide on open source for defence got Cameron's attention, so he asked how to go about providing educational content. I started by cautioning that it is difficult to get software developers to do documentation, let alone training materials (it is far more exciting to write the code than document it). But I did suggest using USQ's ICE and also Moodle. Both ICE and Moodle are available free and incorporate current thinking about how training should be done.

The difficulty with any such educational material design is to match up the high level definition of the training requirements with the low level training materials created. ICE comes with templates for USQ's course development process. These templates are much the same as commonly used for Australian universities and TAFEs and so should be easily adapted for describing OSGeo's courses. Moodle then provides the infrastructure for delivering the material.

At the technical level both ICE and Moodle generate HTML, making it easy and efficient to incorporate into online systems. Rather than produce PowerPoint (or the equivalent) for slide show presentations, I suggests using
HTML Slidy , as Incorporated in ICE.

Slidy allows for PowerPoint type functionality within the web version of the ICE documents. I have used Slidy for years to give presentations, with few of the audience ever noticing that what they are looking at is a web page, not a PowerPoint document.

One advantage of Slidy is that it allows for automated language translation. As the presentation is just a web page, web translators can be used. Someone looking at a web page through a translator, will see not only the normal web version of the notes translated, but the slides as well. obviously machine translation is not as good as a custom one, but it is available with no effort by the creator of the presentation.

More generally, as OSGEO have encouraged the use of creative commons licenses, there would seem to be no reason why the training materials can't be freely available and visible. Currently you can find the brief description of training materials with a web search, but not the content of the courses themselves.

Tools such as ICE and Moodle produce search-able web pages. This greatly
increases the visibility of the training materials, as they can be found with a web search. The person searching does not need to know of the existence of OSGEO, they would just need to search for words somewhere in the course content.

ps: Geoscience is not my field, although I have dabbled with a satellite fire mapping system.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to design a tertiary level e-learning course

Last week I attended the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) National Conference at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. What I found interesting were the similarities and differences in the technology used for vocational short courses and university courses.

Training Materials for Open Source Software

While at the conference I had a call from an open source software company asking me how difficult it would be to develop e-learning courses to accompany new open source software products. It is difficult to get open source training materials to accompany new software. This is partly a matter of glamour: plenty of people want to help with the software, but the testing and training is not seen as prestigious. Also many open source products grown organically, so the training can't be planned from the start. Also until an open source product is proven, there can be reluctance to invest time in learning to use it. In addition skills in using a software product are seen to be low level.

Using Open Source Software Training for Higher Level Skills

One way around these problems might be to provide open access training for skills which can be sued with open source software. So for example, rather than training in how to use the word processor, teach how to produce documents using a word processor, with skills applicable to Microsoft Word as well. This also gets over the problem of having to provide exact screen shots with sets of keystrokes applicable to a particular version of a particular software package. Instead the student can expect that the exact keystrokes for the package they have will differ.

Top Down Course Design

The Integrated Content Environment (ICE) is a free web content management system from University of Southern Queensland (USQ) specifically designed for university courses. There is a USQ course template intended for the ICE system, but which can be used with just a word processor. This has the usual headings required for a course, such as the Course overview, Learning objectives, Graduate Qualities & Skills, Assessment, Study schedule, Course resources, Textbooks, Selected readings and Assessment. This is then followed by a list of modules, each with a name, table of contents, overview, Key terms/concepts, Learning Objectives, Assessment Tasks, pre and post module tests and sub topics, Module resources, Textbooks and Selected readings.

This may seem a very mechanical process, but beginning course designers can find themselves in a similar situation to one of their students trying to start an essay and not knowing where to begin. The structure provides a place to start.

Work Required by the Student

The University of Sydney provides a useful over. view of a university program in Australia. USyd describes a a normal full-time study load as 24 credit points (4 units of study) per semester. Each semester is 13 weeks of classes, followed by a study week and an examination period of two to three weeks. The 24 credit points involves an average of 9 contact hours per week (lectures, tutorials and seminars), plus up to 27 hours private study per students. Assuming the student is undertaking 4 units of study (called units, courses or subjects, depending on the university), this works out to 9 hours each. A figure of 9 to 10 hours is the typical among of time students are told they will have to student for an on-campus or off campus e-learning university course. It is a shame this can't be resourced to 7 hours a week, as it would then be a handy "one hour per day".


USyd describes assessment as varying from a 6000 word assignment and no exam to a 4000 word assignment and two hours of examinations. Assessment can include group work, presentations and take home examinations. While not mentioned by Usyd, e-learning courses can use traditional written assignments, online group discussions and online examinations.

As an example assessment my Green ICT Course, has contributions to weekly discussion forums (20%) and two assignments (40% each). This equates to 50 words per point for the assignments. The green course requires the student to also discuss topics in a weekly discussion forum. There are 12 weekly forums. Each student is required to answer questions and also reply to other student postings. Assuming that the 60 words per point applies, this equates to the students writing 100 words per week (about two paragraphs).

A 6000 word assignment for full course assessment equates to 60 words per percent. The University of Melbourne sets 4000 words for undergraduate and 5000 words for postgraduate subjects.

One issue with reliance on written assessment can be academic writing abilities. USyd requires proof of proficiency in English for those where English is not their first language (IELTS Overall band score of 6.5 or better with minimum of 6.0 in each band or similar). However, even those with English as a first language and particularly those from a technical background, can difficulty. Universities usually have a have learning centre (such as the ANU Academic Skills & Learning Centre) to help students. Unfortunately few of these centres cater for online remote students.


There appear to be fewer clear cut rules about examinations. The University of Melbourne equates an hour of examination to 1000 words of assignment (working out to 3 minutes per percent of assessment), or ten minutes of individual oral presentation.

UNE define a "university examination" as making up at least 30% of the assessment for a course. An online examination is considered "unsupervised" and in a similar category as a take home examination, made available to students for a week or less. While not mentioned in the UNE rules, an online examination will typically may set a time limit for completion, that is the student may have a week in which to attempt the examination, during that week once they start the examination, they may have tree hours in which to complete it. These definitions may seem archaic and irrelevant, but form example if an online examination was limited to only a fixed few hours this would cause problems depending on the time zone the student was in any local festivals. For this reason UNE does no permit supervised examinations to be held at night, on Sundays or public holidays or in most university vacation periods. Setting a period of at least a week would overcome most of these restrictions.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

E-learning for the defence industry

Greetings from the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) National Conference at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. Allison Rossett, Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University, gave the morning's keynote on "E-learning is what?". Dr. Rossett reported results of research on the use of e-learning and mobile in particular. It was good to see this conformed with my biases. As an example training staff tended to say the students wanted traditional classroom education., whereas the students said they wanted online learning. Mobile education was talked about a lot by was not used much in reality. This was a good introduction for my session on "Gadgets and more: Mobile e-Learning Made Easy". There seemed to be many people from Defence and federal security organisations at my talk. They got excited when I showed them the Defence department's use of Moodle. Also I was asked how I had done my web based slides, so explained "Slidy".

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Training and Development National Conference in Sydney

The Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD) National Conference starts today in Sydney. I will be speaking 10:30am tomorrow on "Gadgets and more: Mobile e-Learning Made Easy":

Tom Worthington, (aka the Net Traveller) demonstrates some cool gadgets, courseware and software being used in Learning & Development.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Open Source Tools for e-Learning

Leo Gaggl, from Bright Cooke is upgrading ACS' e-learning system (Leo likes Caffe L'Incontro). ACS already uses Moodle for learning management and Mahara for e-portfolios (leo calls this combination "Mooara"). To this is being added Alfresco content repository and Jasper Business Intelligence package. These are both open source products. Alfresco is intended to allow course content to be managed and shared. Moodle is limited to, for example, having to copy content from one course to another and manually maintain versions. Jasper will also more sophisticated reporting on courses than is possible in Moodle.

Alfresco will provide some of the features of USQ's ICE system, in terms of version control. However, work will be done to allow Alfresco to reformat content. With that done, this could allow, for example, the course content to be maintained outside Moodle, with version for Moodle, eBook (ePub and KIndle)and print formats. As well as being generated in different formats, such as web pages and PDF, different versions could have different content, such as the front-matter for a published book version.

The Jasper report server will be used to create administrative reports and for analysis of courses.

In addition the new version of Moodle will have a theme for use with smart phones.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Workshops on technology-enhanced learning

The last of the USQ/ANU workshops on on technology-enhanced learning is just ending. My blog postings about some of the these are:

The notes from my presentation yesterday is also avialable: "Mentored and collaborative techniques in e-teaching".

ps: I would welcome collaboration on e-learning. My ANU e-learning course details are at: COMP7310 "Green Technology Strategies".

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Online laboratories for students

Alfio Parisi from University of Southern Queensland will talk on "Remote laboratories and experiments, experimental kits supporting first year DE students" at ANU in Canberra, 11am. This will be followed by Ron Sharma on "Using Moodle, electronic assignment and other tools to support Engineering students" at 11:30am. Staff from USQ are at ANU in Canberra to talk about technology assisted learning. Yesterday there was a general workshop and today there are some specific discipline talks.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Improving academics use of technology

The last presentation for the day at the workshop on technology-enhanced learning at ANU was by Romina Jamieson-Proctor (USQ) on "Learning to Design, Designing to Learn: improving academics' use of technology to enhance learning". She discussed how to motivate staff to use new techniques. This included providing examples of good practice and some competitions.

Romina's tips were good, but perhaps we need to treat e-learning as a core skill for educators. We then can prepare formal courses for educators to learn how to do online education. In response to a question along these lines Romina pointed out that new teachers in Queensland require an ICT Certificate.

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Online communities for post-graduate education

The speaker after my Green ICT presentation at the second workshop on technology-enhanced learning at ANU was Peter Evans (USQ) on "Using e-Learning technologies and online communities to support post-graduate education". He argued that educators have to be open to using the technology which their students already use, such as instant messaging and social networking.

USQ requires all courses to have an online component, with at least a description of the course, but Peter argued that so much more could be done. He questioned why courses were divided into 13 week blocks and suggested that e-portfolios could be used to pull the material together. I did not find this a convincing argument. If he course designers and educators have not built the courses into a coherent whole, it seems difficult to see why, or how, the students would do this.

What I found most useful was Peter's suggestion to use the students to influence the behaviour of other educators. He suggested that by showing the students how to use online techniques the students will then ask for these facilities in courses. Rather than confront staff, the learning techniques can be introduced as a technical option of the system tools.

Peter also mentioned is knowledgeGarden web site where he provides some materials for advanced learning technologies and learning communities.

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Second Life Courtroom

The third workshop on technology-enhanced learning at ANU was by Eola Barnett (USQ) and Shirley Reushle (Australian Digital Futures Institute) demonstrating "Using Second Life to support the teaching of Law". I have found Second Life very disappointing and of little value for education. However, the use of Second Life to provide a virtual courtroom to teach lawyers is an excellent use of the technology. In the Second Life courtroom, the teacher plays the role of the judge, with students presenting their case. As well as real time use of Second Life with the students, videos have been prepared using a script and professional actors providing voices and using Second Life for the images. This was done as a way to produce role playing video at a lower cost that with real video

Eola also pointed out that the Moodle LMS ha been integrated into Second Life. This is a use I find less compelling. The value of a LMS is that it is different to a physical classroom. If you simulate a classroom in the LMS too closely then the benefits of using an LMS will be lost.

Another aspect of teaching legal students would be to simulate some of the new technology based court processes. As an example video conferences are now used for court process. It would be relatively simple to simulate these. Courts also use document based systems for some decision making: the parties submit documents and the judge makes a decision without ever speaking to the parties. These document based systems could also be simulated.

While criminal law may involve a real time physical court room, civil law is mostly about communication via documents. As an expert witness I have only had to front up once in person, all the other cases were settled out of court after I sent in a written report. Some legal processes are now done entirely online, such as arbitration of the use of domain names. The Federal Court of Australia has introduced an electronic court system eCourt.It seems to me that lawyers will need to be familiar with such systems as it will be how most court cases are decided, not by people standing up talking in a court room.

At question time Shirley mentioned that they were working on a nursing simulation. This will provide a simulated patient in Second Life. Here again this would seem to miss out on the opportunity to use the system for the most urgent and import part of medical practice, which is to support patients in the community, rather than in hospitals or doctor's offices.

It would be interesting to see both the medical systems for this and the education developed together. New computer based systems, such as military aircraft, now incorporate training simulation. Rather than have a separate simulator, the real aircraft can be programmed for training.

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Personality and performance of students

Paul FrancisThe second workshop on technology-enhanced learning at ANU was by Paul Francis on "data mining information from student quizzes and assignments". He used a simple questionnaire for physics students and analysed the words in the responses and then correlated these with their results for the course. The results for this were interesting. One expected result was that introverted "geeks" do do better at physics. Some unexpected results were that those with full time jobs do better than those who don't have jobs. Overseas students do better than local Australian students. Students from outside the ACT do better than ACT students. Paul emphasised these were very preliminary results but they are interesting non the less, as is the technique. Paul was also able to look at the relationship between the answers to different questions to see if there was a lack of understanding around particular topics in the course.

He also said that ethical approval had been obtained for the study. Ian Barnes had previously done some work on "Personality Type and Software Development" at the Department of Computer Science.

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Students setting the examinations

Jerry MaroulisUSQGreetings from the high-tech Baume Theatre at the Australian National University in Canberra, where we are hosting a day of workshops on technology-enhanced learning, with alliance partner the University of Southern Queensland. I will be talking about "Mentored and collaborative techniques in e-teaching" later in the day. At the moment Jerry Maroulis (USQ) (is presenting on "Supporting science and education students with sustainable solutions by leveraging technology". He made the claim at the start that he gets the students to write their own examination papers. That got my attention, as preparing examinations is stressful for educators.

Jerry gets groups of students to each compose six questions. He then selects the best 84 questions and provides them to all the students. Then 60 of these questions are given to the students in an examination (which can be online). The idea is that the students will select questions that they see as important. The students then feel involved in the process. It should be noted that Jerry just gets the students to provide the questions, he prepares the answers.

What I found most interesting in this was that Jerry is teaching teachers at USQ. It is likely that his students will the go on to use these techniques when teaching their students at secondary schools. It may seem that such advanced techniques using student initiative and technology based learning are not feasible at school. However, those schools are now being equipped with the same computer technology as used at university and the students are no less responsive to being empowered to learn.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Gadgets for Training

I will be talking on the use of hand-held devices, including smart phones and Apple iPads for of e-learning at the 2010 AITD Conference at the ATP in Sydney 22 April 2010. Suggestions on what to talk about and examples would be welcome. There is a free exhibition with e-learning products both days of the conference: 21 to 22 April 2010. If you are registering for the conference there is a 20% discount for using the code TW20.
Gadgets and more!
Tom Worthington, (aka the Net Traveller) demonstrates some cool gadgets, courseware and software being used in Learning & Development.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Mentored and collaborative e-teaching at ANU

The Australian National University is hosting a workshop on new teaching techniques with alliance partner the University of Southern Queensland in Canberra on 12 April 2010. I will be talking about "Mentored and collaborative techniques in e-teaching" and how I designed and ran a green ICT course. Comments, contributions and corrextions would be welcome.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

E-learning may force Australian education offshore

Last week the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) sent me their March 2010 newsletter "Connect" for casual and sessional staff and asked me to consider rejoining the union. This was timely as the Australian university system does not appear to have a viable strategy to deal with the implications of e-learning. If current trends continue, the result may be that most Australian teaching staff will end up casual employees of overseas universities.

Australian universities need a viable strategy to provide cost effective and attractive online courses. Otherwise they will not be able to compete with overseas offerings which will be available online to Australian students and to students who would otherwise come to Australia for an education. Australian universities then may become just campuses of overseas universities, with a few Australian staff employed casually to do some tutoring.

Australian universities need to offer competitive, efficient and attractive online courses. As part of this they need to plan how to use part time staff with the needed mix of education and vocational skills effectively These can be high status "e-oxbridge" courses using mentored and collaborative e-learning techniques.

One aspect of the NTEU policy I found worrying is that the Union seeks to place limits on the proportion of casual staff employed. As someone who is casual by choice, not necessity, I find this a little insulting. It suggests that casual staff are in some way inferior and are only casual because they can't get a full time permanent job. Under the union policy I may not be able to be a casual employee of an Australian university. In that case I would have to seek an affiliation with an overseas university. My skills and much of the income I generate from teaching, would then be lost to Australia.

The letter and newsletter from the Union was was a little ironic, as the reason I resigned from the NTEU was that it was the only way to stop them sending me junk mail.

As I was doing some tertiary teaching I decided I should join the relevant union about a year ago (they have a special discount rate for casual teachers). However, they kept sending me send me newsletters by email. I tried several times to stop getting newsletters as large PDF attachments to email. But in the end I gave up and resigned.

I found their latest newsletter about conditions for casual staff very relevant and have offered to rejoin on condition they agree not to send me large email messages. I teach web design and Internet use and have offered advice on how to communicate effectively online.

Apart from the email problem, the Union's web site could do with improvement. Their casual newsletter is 8Mbytes of PDF. Casual teachers are more likely to be using their home Internet link, rather than one from a university office. I found the newsletter too large to download using my slow wireless link.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

mLearning plugin for Moodle

MLE-Moodle is a plug for Moodle to make it work on mobile phones. That is this extra open source software makes the Moodle Learning Management System into an m-Learning system. The standard release of Moodle seems reasonably compatible with smart phones. I have tried my Green Technology Strategies Course on both an Apple iPhone and a Google Android phone.

Obviously typing a 4,000 essay would be difficult on the tiny keyboards, but reading notes and entering into online discussions seems doable.

Assuming the course designer doesn't do anything silly with their content, such as put it up in the form of very large PDF documents, Moodle should work reasonably well with mobile devices. It will be interesting to see what MLE-Moodle ads to make Moodle more mobile friendly.

Has anyone tried MLE-Moodle?

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Princeton University e-reader pilot

An e-reader pilot at Princeton University, using Amazon Kindle DX ebook readers, found them as readable as printed material, but a major problem was the difficulty of annotating ebooks. There is a 7 page (127 Kbytes PDF) executive summary as well as a full report available. Ironically, these reports are provided in PDF, the format the report finds the students had most difficulty annotating.

In my view a low cost netbook computer would overcome most of the limitations reported with the Kindle for educational purposes at a lower overall cost. This would have a superior keyboard, allowing notes to be taken and add-on software could be used to add notes to PDF documents. Netbooks provide a colour screen, more useful for annotations. Most students could use the netbook as their primary computer, with a low cost external screen, keyboard and mouse at home. The ebook has advantages of light weight, long battery life and daylight readable screen, but require students to have a second computer for their studies, adding cost and complexity.
In the Fall of 2009, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Princeton conducted a pilot program using electronic readers (e-readers) in a classroom setting. The pilot was conducted with three broad goals. One was to reduce the amount of printing and photocopying done in the three pilot courses. The second was to determine if using this technology in the classroom could equal (or better) the typical classroom experience where more traditional readings were used. The third sought to explore the strengths and weaknesses of current e-reader technology to provide suggestions for future devices.
E-reader technology offered the promise of delivering a large number of digitized documents on a lightweight device with a long battery life, and a display that mimicked the reflective qualities of actual paper. The consumer market in e-readers had already proved it was possible to read on these devices; we sought to see if they could be useful in higher education by conducting a pilot using e-readers in several courses.

Three courses were selected for the pilot, involving 3 faculty members, and 51 students. The e-reader used in the pilot was the Amazon Kindle DX.

The goal of printing less in the pilot courses was achieved: pilot participants printed just over half the amount of sheets than control groups who did not use e-readers. The classroom experience was somewhat worsened by using e-readers, as study and reference habits of a lifetime were challenged by device limitations. This pilot suggests that future e-book manufacturers may wish to pay more attention to annotation tools, pagination, content organization, and in achieving a more natural “paper-like” user experience. In summary, although most users of the Kindle DX were very pleased with their “reading” experiences with the Kindle, they felt that the “writing” tools fell short of expectations, and prevented them from doing things easily accomplished with paper. ...

The areas in which they felt the Kindle could be best improved were:
  • The ability to highlight and annotate PDF files
  • Improving the annotation tools
  • Providing a folder structure to keep similar readings together
  • Improving the highlighting function
  • Improving the navigation within and between Kindle documents
Because it was difficult to take notes on the Kindle, because PDF documents could not be annotated or highlighted at all, and because it was hard to look at more than one document at once, the Kindle was occasionally a tool that was counter-productive to scholarship. ...

What features do ereaders need to be effective tools for higher education?
... One thing that emerged clearly from the surveys was that superb annotation tools are critical for the success of an e-reader used in higher education. ... There were also functional concerns, such as the ability to compare documents, or have more than one reading open at a time, and some ability to “skim” or “flip” rapidly through a reading to see highlights and notes. ...

There was a strong positive attachment to some present feature of the Kindle DX, most particularly the reflective screen, which allowed for long periods of reading, the size, the form factor, and the battery life. When told that any additional features (such as a color or LCD screen) would impact battery life, most students said they preferred to stick with grayscale and e-paper technology – with one exception: highlighting, where more contrast to the page, and a variety of possible marking styles would help create the same effectiveness as color highlighters on a black and white paper page. ...

From: The E-reader pilot at Princeton, Fall semester, 2009, Final report, (executive summary), Janet Temos, Princeton University, February 2010

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Government receptive to e-learning advice?

This is to request comments on how receptive to advice the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations was for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the establishment of the Australian research and education network (AREN) and AARNet3.

The Department is seeking advice on IT for education with a Applied Information and Communications Technology in Education Panel. However, the process seems overly bureaucratic, requiring applicants to fill in an 87 page form, when two pages would be sufficient. Assuming I was to correctly fill in this form and was selected for the panel, how likely is it that the department would listen to any advice given?

My concern is that if the department is unable to do something relatively simple, like streamline its tender process to take advantage of online technology, would they listen to advice on how to improve the efficiency of education across Australia using online technology?

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Government ICT Education Panel

The federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has issued a Request for Tender for an Applied Information and Communications Technology in Education Panel (ATM ID DEEWR RFT PRN24602 17 February 2010). There is a 126 page document avialable to prospective tenderers (1.48Mbyte MS-Word). The table of contents is 20 pages long.

Purpose of the Applied ICT in Education Panel

      1. DEEWR requires a panel of experienced consultants with strong technical knowledge and a good understanding of the use of ICT in the education sector to form the Applied ICT in Education Panel (‘the Panel’). Panel Members must have detailed knowledge and a demonstrated understanding of the design and implementation of ICT infrastructure, networking and eLearning in the education sector. Members of the panel will have demonstrated capacity, expertise and experience in providing high quality technical advice and analysis services in relation to government ICT in education initiatives.

Types of Services Required

      1. The panel may be used by DEEWR to support the development, implementation and evaluation of initiatives that support the use of ICT in education including the Digital Education Revolution (DER) and the Vocational Education Broadband Network (VEN).

Use of the Applied ICT in Education Panel



      1. The Australian Government has made it a national priority to create a world class education and training system for Australia. It is committed to increasing the proportion of Australians with educational qualifications and through the Council of Australian Governments, has set targets for 2020 and 2024 in order to secure Australia’s long term economic prosperity.

      2. The Government is supporting the education and training sector to achieve this objective through the investment of $2.2 billion under the DER and $80 million under the VEN initiatives. Reflecting Government policies DEEWR aims to promote the effective integration of ICT in teaching and learning in Australia.

      3. DEEWR has identified a need to have access to ongoing external specialist technical advice. The panel arrangements which are the subject of this tender will assist in the timely delivery of technical and specialist advice and reports to support the activities set out ...

From: Applied Information and Communications Technology in Education Panel , Request for Tender ATM ID DEEWR RFT PRN24602, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 17 February 2010

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Demolish Lecture Theatres to make Room for Students

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesIt is time for Australian universities to demolish their obsolete lecture theatres to make room for modern teaching and student accommodation. In 2006 I suggested we celebrate Canberra's centenary by investigating the construction of low cost, high quality, environmentally efficient modular housing. The ACT Government did not take up this idea, but the Australian National University built a student block from shipping containers, modelled on the Keetwonen project in Amsterdam (as highlighted in my proposal). Other Australian universities are following this lead, but are still short of student accommodation. What campuses do have are old large obsolete lecture theatres, which I suggest be demolished to make room for modern education and accommodation facilities.

Old large lecture theatres are no use for modern educational techniques. These spaces are now mostly empty, as few students attend traditional lectures. New, smaller, computer equipped teaching spaces are needed. There is no efficient way to convert the old lecture theatre buildings to the new use. These buildings should be demolished and replaced with new ones. As well as new smaller teaching spaces, this space can be used for more student accommodation. The distinction between accommodation and teaching building can also be lessened, with more teaching done close to the accommodation (Oxbridge style).

New building can be designed to be easily re-purposed for teaching, administration, commercial space and accommodation. These buildings can be built using environmentally efficient modular techniques and rapidly constructed.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

e-Learning needs better tools

The webinar on “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes, at Canberra Institute of Technology today was disappointing. Stephen was billed as "a reliable forecaster of trends and events in online learning", citing his "prescient" 'Future of Online Learning' and other works. But the technology for the webinar did not work properly. This made anything he said about using such technology less credible: if a guru of the technology can't get it to work, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

There were difficulties with the sound quality for the first part of the talk. I was tempted to offer to help (as I have a CIT certificate in A/V production), but the staff fixed it after about ten minutes. However, there remained intermittent problems with the audio, video and slides.

As for the content, what we got was a rambling monologue. Stephen was not able to get effective and timely feedback on the presentation due to the technical problems. This confirmed my view that such video conference presentations are of little value when used as a substitute for live presentations. Either the technical facilities have to be of a very high quality, or the system and presentation format has to be adapted to allow for the inevitable problems. The technique I have used in the past is to pre-record the presentation and only use live links for the question and answer time. This reduces the need for a reliable high speed connection (it also forces the presenter to present a well crafted, succinct presentation).

As for the content of the presentation I liked the description of the iPad as personal and portable. Stephen addressed the issue of the lack of content creation tools by arguing that later versions and similar devices will add those tools. Essentially the iPad is not important as a device, but because as a way to popularise the idea of highly portable devices for taking notes and for learning. Ironically I was using a cheap netbook with a keyboard to take my notes (which works very well for education and costs half as much as the iPad).

Stephen argued that new tools will spark creativity to create new content. Unfortunately what he was showing in reality were poor quality Powerpoint slides. This largely lowered the credibility of the argument. If these new tools are so good, then why wasn't he using them?

Stephen then discussed the value of videoconferencing. Ironically in the middle of that the image cut out. Of the video events I attend, only about one in twenty works well. The rest were as this webinar was, with much of the time taken up trying to fix problems with audio, video and slides. Even when the technology is working, what is presented much of the time are poorly prepared rambling monologues. I do not believe that this is the future of education, or of human communication in general. It is disappointing that after so many years of claims for video-conferencing the technology has advanced so little.

I had not heard of by Stephen Downes before CIT invited me to this event and I did not learn much more about him or his ideas from it.

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Some suggestions for ACS in 2010

The first meeting of the Canberra Branch of the Australian Computer Society for 2010 was devoted to hearing suggestions from the members. Here are some suggestions I made:
  • Make web site mobile okay: Currently the ACS home page scores less than zero out of 100 on the W3C mobileOK Checker: "This page is not mobile-friendly!". I suggest aiming for a score of 80/100 on the mobile tests for the ACS web pages. This would be a way to curb the web designers enthusiasm for putting too much stuff on the pages. It would also make the ACS look trendy, by having a web site which works on iPhones and the like. Obviously the ACS should also fix the minor accessibility problems, as indicated by an automated TAW Test. Designing web pages which work on smart phones and which meet accessibility standards, so as to comply with Australian law, is not too difficult and I teach it to the ANU students. To be fair, other IT professional bodies do not rate much better. The ACM home page scores only 1/100 on the mobile tests and only slightly better than ACS on accessibility.
  • Social networking for professionals: The ACS is using social networking for teaching online courses. This could be extended to all members, with online forums and activities. ACS should divert a significant amount of resources to this. At the national level I suggest diverting 75% of what is currently spent on publications, meetings and marketing to online interaction. There is little point in spending effort on meetings and bits of paper which few people attend or take notice of. The ACS could use a mix of the software which it already has installed for education (Mahara ) and external sites, particularly Linkedin.
  • Support for meetings: Using the online tools discussed above, I suggest we should have an online component to all meetings. When there is a branch meeting, members should be invited to discuss the topic online, before, during and after. This can also allow for more fluid and more far reaching meetings. Last year I helped Senator develop her "Public Sphere" format for events. On a smaller scale the first Bar Camp Canberra is on at ANU this Saturday. This is a sort of make it up as you go along conference, using of online resources.
  • Digital CVs: ACS education is providing "e-portfolios" for students, as do some other education providers. I suggest ACS provide certified e-portfolios for members. This would be a web page about the member's qualifications and experience, testified to by ACS. This could then be used when they apply for a job or course. The ACS is already checks and records the member's credentials.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Delphi e-Academy

Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BCInspired by walking the sacred way at Delphi, I suggest a portable green e-classroom. Idris Sulaiman asked if there are any Australian guidelines on Green Computer Labs. This got me thinking about the Green Learning Commons, back to a portable e-learning classroom I proposed previously.

Last year I visited the Delphi site in Greece. Walking up the sacred way I waited for a message out of the ether. It came in the form of a telephone call from Australia asking me about e-publishing. The caller asked of I was busy, I replied that I was walking the sacred way and Delphi. There was a long pause, as the caller worked out what I had said and what it might mean. But that was the only inspiration on that path.

The most evocative part of the site for me was about 1 km below the sacred way at the gymnasium. There is an old olive tree, stoa (covered walkways) and flat exercise area. This was where the ancient philosophers did their teaching. As I was walking towards the ANU this morning I could see the main oval under repair, alongside the covered gymnasium building and the cafe. It occurred to me that what happened here was much the same as at Delphi thousands of years ago. Even the tablet computers look much like ancient wax tablets.

Imagine propping a flat panel display up against the olive tree at Delphi, next to the teacher. Hand each student a wireless tablet computer, in place of their wax tablet. Leave everything else the same and you have the e-Academy.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trends in Personal Learning Webinar

Canberra Institute of Technology are hosting a seminar on “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes, 12 noon, 4 February 2010, in Room A108 on their South Side Campus, and online (RSVP: Penny Neuendorf).
Canberra Institute of Technology

The Gaggle invitation

Stephen Downes has long been a reliable forecaster of trends and events in online learning, making his mark in 1998 with the prescient 'Future of Online Learning' and in 2005 with 'e-Learning 2.0'. More recently, he authored the volume, 'The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On'. Downes has also informed the development of online learning technologies with
papers such as 'Learning Objects', 'Resource Profiles' and
'Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge'.

Thursday 4th February 12.00pm - 1.00pm
Where - At your desk or come and join us in Room A108 for light refreshments.

Log in at:
and enter the relevant details. If you have not used Wimba before, please run the Wimba Wizard prior to the event.

  • Online learning environments
  • Networked learning aproaches
  • Implications for the future of learning
  • Are you an e-learning practitioner?
  • Educational Designer? Or Developer?
  • Based in the ACT and surrounding region?

Today’s presentation: “Trends in Personal Learning” by Stephen Downes

Educators have been earning experience in social networks and other Web 2.0 technologies for several years now, and as e-learning 2.0 becomes more familiar it is beginning to transform into a more robust and personalized form. Newer and more powerful collaboration tools, such as Google Wave, are appearing. Individualized applications, such as the Personal Learning Environment, are appearing. Tomorrow`s
e-learning student can look forward to having a range of powerful tools at his or her fingertips. This presentation outlines trends in the development of these tools, and
describes what an education system that uses them will look like.

RSVP: Penny Neuendorf
E penny.neuendorf(a) T 6207 4041

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Making teaching a systematic process

Michael SankeyMichael Sankey, Director of the Learning and Teaching Support Unit at University of Southern Queensland gave a brief talk at the ANU in Canberra today on the way that USQ undertakes course development. USQ has a very systematic process for Learning and teaching design. USQ use Moodle, Mahara and other tools common to the ANU. What is different is the priorities of the two institutions, with the ANU having an emphasis on research, rather than teaching.

Michael mentioned that USQ have found audio enhanced slide shows the most popular delivery method with students, particularly overseas students with English as a second language. Formative quizzes are also popular. Some of the reading I have done suggests that while these are popular, they may not provide any better teaching than plain text. But it might still be need to to keep the students happy, or spend a lot of time convincing them it is not needed.

USQ student alumni can keep their Mahara e-portfolio online after finishing their courses.

USQ see Moodle 2 as being used for core activities and then
referring students out to external social networking/web app/web 2 sites. They also have some "Second Life" islands (which I am sceptical of the value of).

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mobile real-time e-learning tools needed

Is online real time interaction feasible on limited Internet connections, such as those on mobile devices? I was invited to try "Learn Central" with the Elluminate Live! collaboration tool. However, this requires a Java download which will take 11 minutes on my slow wireless Internet connection. Even after that I was not confident that Elluminate would have options suitable for a low speed high latency connection to my low performance Linux netbook computer. That may seem an unusual configuration of computer. But it is not that different to the smart phones many people have and could use for education, if a workable configuration could be found. As it is, it seems that every week or so someone offers me what they claim to be a revolutionary online education tool, which turns out not to run on anything other than a Microsoft Windows computer with a high speed broadband connection and a lot of very fragile add-on software. What we need are some really revolutionary tools which are not just adaptions of business video conferencing.

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OLPC XO3 Educational Tablet Computer

OLPC XO-3 XO 3.0 Educational Tablet ComputerThe One Laptop Per Child Project have released some details of their planned XO-3 concept design. The educational computer due out in 2012 will be a multi-touch flexible screen tablet computer with an ARM processor. The computer is aimed to cost less than US$100 (as was the original XO-1). It may be that the product has been announced now in anticipation of interest in tablet computer generated by rumours of an Apple tablet device.

It should be noted that tablet computers have not been popular outside limited niche commercial markets, such as for medical staff. The tablet computer would have advantages for education, being able to customise the virtual keyboard four different languages and different topics in software. However, it comes at a cost, with the virtual keyboard taking up one third to one half the screen (depending on its use in landscape or portrait mode). The virtual keyboard will use much more power than a real keyboard and also cost much more.

The screen of a portable computer makes a significant part of the cost. An alternative design would have a screen taking up half the body of the computer and a rubber membrane keyboard (as used on the OLPC XO-1) on the other half of the keyboard. The rubber keyboard would cost less and also use much less power.

The XO-3 assumes the use of a flexible screen and flexible circuit board. These are relatively new technology for computer building and therefore the cost of manufacture will be initially high. An alternative design would use a conventional rigid screen and circuit board. The screen could be protected by a thick plastic sheet and a rubber ridge around the edge. The computer could be made without a conventional chassis, consisting of instead a molded rubber waterproof case (the front of which would be the keyboard) holding the components. This could use existing conventional components from netbook computers and use calculator construction techniques for a very low cost computer.

• XO 3.0 – The XO 3.0 is a totally different approach, to be available in 2012 and at a target price well below $100. It will feature a new design using a single sheet of flexible plastic and will be unbreakable and without holes in it. The XO 3.0 will leapfrog the previously announced (May 2008) XO 2.0, a two-page approach that will not be continued. The inner workings of 3.0 will come from the more modest 1.75. ...


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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Android and Moodle for m-learning

The School of Industrial Management (Escuela de Organización Industrial EOI) in Madrid is issuing students with 3G Android mobile phones and using the Moodle learning management system (English translation and Spanish original). This looks a good combination. I found that my Moodle course notes for a Green ICT Course worked fine on a Google Android. This was because I made use of the Moodle "Book" module, for
the course content. This produces plain web pages, which render well on the small screen of smart phones. Of course if you used very large and complex PDF, Powerpoint, Microsoft Word or other formats, it would not look so good.

There could even be some problems with ordinary HTML (I am trying to convince one of my fellow course designers not to use very large complex tables in course notes. These tables are hard to read at the best of times, but make accessibility and mobile access very difficult.

While I didn't try it, podcasts should also work well. Obviously typing a 2,000 word essay on a smartphone would not be a good idea, but participation in forums should be feasible. Some changes to the Moodle user interface would be useful, as it does use HTML Table statements for some layout, which does not adapt well to a small screen.

I was handed the Android at Google's Sydney office, when giving a talk on my Green ICT e-learning course and only had it to try for a few minutes, so this was not an exhaustive test. Also it was running a beta version of the operating system.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Final thoughts on Our Broadband Future

Roger Clarke wrote some "Final Thoughts about the Broadband Future Event" in Sydney last week. For me the event ended on a positive note with Genevieve Bell, on e-Community. It was refreshing to hear ideas about broadband for people to use,
rather than as something done to them.

I started to suffer from conference fatigue on the last day, to the
point that in a moment of inattention I plugged the wrong power supply into my wireless modem and destroyed it.

George Bray wrote in the Link List: "I was able to participate remotely from my beachside cabin ...". In a way he got better access to the event than I did, sitting in the venue (just behind the PM, Minister and assorted dignitaries).

There were power boards and WiFi supplied for the Twiterarty in the fist and last few rows of seats. However, sitting cramped over a 10 inch netbook screen in your lap for hours is not very comfortable. Given that much of the time I was not looking at the live speaker, but instead at my netbook or at the projected image on the big screen in the auditorium, I might as well have been somewhere more comfortable.

There were some advantages being there live, such as the spectacle of Senator Lundy operate a laptop with one hand while Twittering on a smart phone with the other. The coffee and lunch breaks were very high bandwidth networking events. A node of ACS people formed in the centre of the room, grabbing anyone important who wandered past and lobbying them on assorted issues (It was useful to be able to meet the new ACS CEO and President Elect).

It was a little unsettling to wander into a conversation and find the Minister for Communications, the head of the ABC, or the PM part of the discussion.

One frustration I had was that the media were never in the media room, they were wandering around taking part in the discussions. The speakers preparation room was more open that I have seen it at commercial events, with non-speakers allowed to wander in.

Another frustration was the large number of the Link mailing list members present. As everyone else was furiously trying to plug their product or policy proposal, I tried this myself, but people kept saying: "Yes Tom, I read you posting about that on Link".

In retrospect, perhaps I would have been better off sitting in the media or speaker's room at a comfortable desk during the sessions, watching them on screen. Then I could have come out to mingle during the breaks.

The stream sessions did not work so well. The problem was that most of the time was taken up with talks by the panellists. While mostly excellent people and speakers, this was a waste of the limited time. It would have been better to provide the talks online in advance and then go straight to discussions. Also I could not get the Wiki to work at all, despite (or because of) all the user-ids and passwords I had been issued with. As a result I felt I had less ability to communicate by being in the room.

This was an excellent experiment in an Internet enhanced event (not quite as good as the Internet Global Summit).

But perhaps more of the bar camp format could be adopted. There was too much spent on glitz and stage managing. As an example we could have done without the glossy colour program (so glossy you could not scribble notes on it). A sheet of monochrome paper printed at the last minute (so it was up to date) would have done. The expensive looking neoprene
conference satchel was so large it was an encumbrance and does someone at the Department have a rubber fetish? ;-)

Perhaps what is needed is an official event with the important speeches and "fringe" events with the less formal bar camp style discussions.

ps: Technology does have its limits. After the forum I took a 370 bus to King Street to go to a performance of "Cabret" at the New Theatre. In the street I bumped into Chris
Chesher, who mentioned there is a Fibreculture event on Wednesday, about "Freedom and control in the Australian Internet".

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Redesigning universities for computer assisted learning

An interesting discussion is taking place online about how to redesign university teaching spaces to accommodate computers. This includes the issue of how computers should be added to science labs, or should they be separate. Should desktop computers, or laptops be provided, or can we assume students will have their own laptops? Should these spaces look like traditional teaching spaces, like business offices or like cafes? In my view, as computer equipment becomes cheaper, smaller and more portable, this may go full circle, with computers seeming to disappear from universities and other learning institutions, as they become built into the fabric of the institution. With wireless throughout the campus, there will be less need for sockets on walls and wires. As students carry around their own wireless linked smart phones and laptops, there will be fewer desktop computers apparent. Large screens will be built into walls or concealed in ceilings, projecting onto walls.

Some of this discussion is talking place on EDUCAUSE in the Instructional Technologies Constituent Group. A readable item is "Rebooted Computer Labs Offer Savings for Campuses and Ambiance for Students" (By Ben Terris, The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6, 2009). Some more scholarly items are listed in "Learning Spaces" (by Jeff Johnston, Vanderbilt Center for Teaching).

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Wireless Our Broadband Future

Greetings from "Realising Our Broadband Future" forum in Sydney (you can participate online). Stephen Wilson, CIO, NSW Department of Education and Training, described how wireless will be provided on school grounds. There seems to be little point in the school sector building a wireless network. Instead, I have already suggested, NBN Co. provide wireless as part of their network.

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Making Education Less Boring in Broadband Future

Greetings from "Realising Our Broadband Future" forum in Sydney (you can participate online). The event has broken into streams and digital education one is on the future of higher education with broadband. Speakers are Dr Evan Arthur, Group Manager, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Tom Cochrane, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Technology, Information and Learning Support, Queensland University of Technology and Stephen Wilson, CIO, NSW Department of Education and Training.

Dr Evan Arthur argues that we need to work through the issues of access to digital material for education. This is a harder challenge than the last one he set.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Education in our Our Broadband Future

Eora Exchange Student Lounge at UNSWGreetings from "Realising Our Broadband Future" forum in Sydney (you can participate online). The afternoon stream I selected is Digital Education with Greg Moo, CIO, Department of Education and Training, Northern Territory, Craig Foster, Education Director, Microsoft Australia, Andrew Skewes, Executive Director, Bendigo Campus, LaTrobe University, David O'Hagan, CIO, The Learning Place, Education Queensland. Also like the rest of the delegates, I am coming to grips with the Wiki for the event. We have all been invited to contribute. My book of my e-learning course was launched earlier at the event.

The first d-education session was a little disappointing. The low point was a promotional video from Microsoft, with their version of the future. This video was not specific to education (and apparently was being show in one of the other streams as well). I was having difficulty getting the wifi to work, so I could use the Wiki and so went out to the conference technical support desk (The conference has excellent technical support).

At that point I decided to take a break and wandered off for a coffee at the student union. The coffee turned out to be free, as I found I had wandered into a scientific conference. This was at something called the "Eora Exchange", by lahznimmo architects. This was a dropping cyber cafe (with real coffee). There are wall botths which seat about six students, on each side of a table. One the wall at the end of each table is a large computer screen, with a VGA cable. There are five power points available on the wall for laptops and another two points on a pop-up panel in the tabletop. Also there is the UNSW wireless. I felt right at home here and was a little reluctant to go back to the fast pace of the forums. Also I felt I was learning more about d-education from observing this room than I had at the official forum.

ps: I tried to post the following comment to the wiki comments on the forum. But I was unable to enter my user id or get the anti-spam image check to work, so here is my comment. Perhaps someone who can get the wiki to work can add it:

One of the reality checks on digital education is that in many ways broadband will not change education. Many of the fundamentals will be the same. My e-learning course, which Senator Lundy launched the book for this morning at the forum is very hi-tech, but underneath is about old fashioned education. David Lindley, calls this Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning. I have coined the term e-Oxbridge education to describe this.

Education has not changed since Aristotle was teaching: the teacher gives some guidance to the student and then sends them off to explore for themselves, later the student discusses what they found with other students under the guidance of a tutor, the student then explores some more alone or in groups and produces more and more complex analyses, until the tutor and the student think they have learnt enough.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Oxford University Online Courses

Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education appears to provide the equivalent of the Cambridge University Online Courses. There are short introductory courses of 10-weeks for undergraduates, advanced diploma and postgraduate courses, as well as specalised professional development courses. An example of the undergaduate program is the one year Advanced Diploma in Data and Systems Analysis. One interesting professional development course offered is in Effective Online Tutoring (a problem with providing online edcuation is where to get trained tutors and one solution is to use the system itself to tran them).

Unlike Cambridge, Oxford provides an online demonstration of how their courses are presented. Oxford uses the same Australian developed Moodle Learning Management System, as I have used for developing courses at the Australian National University and the Australian Computer Society. They use the same structure of giving the student a summary of a topic, have them do some further reading and then report what they have found and discuss it in a forum online.

One limitation with the Oxford courses is that while the University of Oxford offers short undergraduate and postgraduate coruses, it does not offer undergraduate degrees or MBAs via distance or online learning. Perhaps this limitation will disappear over time, as the University gains experience and confidence in online education.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cambridge University Online Courses

After suggesting to my colleagues at the Australian National University School of Computer Science (SoCS) we use an e-Oxbridge educational model, I thought I should check to see how Oxford andr Cambridge apply e-learning. A quick web search found the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education, which offers online courses specialising in adult and non-traditional learners. The Institute clims: "unparalleled level of online support and direction from experienced and enthusiastic tutors", whichfits with the Oxbridge model of education. However, these are short general interest and proessional devlopment courses, not full degree programs.

An example is "The global climate challenge: policy technology and the future" (COV007), an 11 week course costing £165.00 and offering 10 credits at level 4 of the Framework for higher education qualifications. The award requires participation in online discussions, a Personal Statement of Learning (e-Portfolio) and assignments. Six such courses would be required for an undergraduate "Certificate of Continuing Education" (Postgraduate courses are at FHEQ Level 7).

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Propose an e-Oxbridge education

Having spent some of the week discussing the future of higher education, with Professor Paul Ramsden and my colleagues at the Australian National University (including my contribution on "Forums and Feedback for e-Learning"), I felt it was time to suggest a way forward. I have proposed an e-Oxbridge educational model for the ANU School of Computer Science (SoCS) .

SoCS has ambitious goals set for "unique", "advanced", "interdisciplinary" and "research lead" undergraduate and masters courses. To achieve this, I have proposed a computer enhanced version of the "Oxbridge" model of education. With this approach at Oxford and Cambridge Universities (where I have given the occasional seminar) students are part of a community of scholars, write and discuss material with their peers and their tutors each week. This can be adapted to the 21st century:
  1. Human communication: I suggest teaching all students how to research, write and report. While most undergraduates will not go on to postgraduate research and therefore not need to write a scientific paper, they will have to write technical and business reports which require similar skills. Therefore I suggest teaching how to write and present an argument in the introduction to undergraduate and postgraduate programs. I have done some of this in Green ICT, where I get the students to research and discuss issues online and write a reports about a real problem.
  2. Self motivated work: In each course I suggest setting the students a task, giving them the tools and then helping them with the work. In practice this would be done by providing learning materials in traditional written form, as well as multimedia, as used by the "Hubs and Spokes" project. This would then free up staff time to work with the students in small groups and individually. This would also force a discipline on staff, who would need to carefully design course materials in advance. Also this would allow administration to be greatly simplified, with less need for timetabling of classes and resources. This would aid social inclusion, with full and part time students could in the same class, along with domestic, international and remote e-learning students.
  3. Interdisciplinary skills: I suggest designing SoCS programs to fit in with ANU wide programs and those of partner universities. In this way students will be able to study subjects outside Computer Science in other parts of the university.
Instead of developing whole, self contained undergraduate and
postgraduate programs which are exclusive to SoCS, I suggest SoCS have modules which can fit with other disciplines and can be used by other disciplines. A student should be able to do a standard undergraduate or postgraduate program at the ANU which incorporates SoCS education. While the SoCS programmes might have fancy names, such as Bachelor/Masters of Advanced Interdisciplinary Computing", they should underneath be made of ANU standard components. Ideally the courses should be able to be tailored by the students themselves, as is done with ANU Graduate Studies Select.

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