Innovations in Teaching Innovation

Tom Worthington

Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

For IR and friends, CSIRO Seminar Room, ANU CS&IT Building, Canberra, 4pm, 27 April 2015
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Tom Worthington FACS CP

Tom took over teaching the Australian Computer Society's "New Technology Alignment" (NTA) postgraduate course from January 2015. This offered on-line directly by the ACS Virtual College and through Open Universities Australia. In late 2014 he attended a conference in Canada on computer science education and met with Canadian academics to discuss flexible learning and teaching innovation. Tom discusses how this might be done in Australia, by blending on-line formal courses with face-to-face competitions.

What is Innovation?

"An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations." From OECD/Eurostat (2005, p. 467) emphasis added.

The Oslo Manual (OECD/Eurostat, 2005) provides a useful set of definitions of innovation. It is important to point out that here we are interested something new which can be useful, as a product, service, process. This is not knowledge for its own sake.

Teaching How to Exploit New Ideas, Not to Have Them

"Innovation activities are all scientific, technological, organisational, financial and commercial steps which actually, or are intended to, lead to the implementation of innovations. Some innovation activities are themselves innovative, others are not novel activities but are necessary for the implementation of innovations. Innovation activities also include R&D that is not directly related to the development of a specific innovation." From OECD/Eurostat (2005, p. 47) emphasis added.

It is important to realize that innovation courses do not teach how to have a new idea, but how to recognize what is likely to be useful and how to make use of it.

From Cambridge to Canberra via Vancouver in 20 Years

  1. Discipline Research Strategy for IT in Australia (AATSE, 1998) noted transfer of knowledge into industry by personal contacts not published papers
  2. The Cambridge phenomenon (1985) emphasized the person in innovation
  3. UBC New Venture Design engineering and business students work together on a product

In 1997 I helped prepare a Discipline Research Strategy for IT in Australia (AATSE, 1998). As I noted later, the most important point in the report was about the benefit the pool of skilled people which research provides: "Transfer of knowledge into industry is more from personal contacts and movement of personnel than from published information."

The Segal Quince & Partners 1985 report "The Cambridge phenomenon" emphasized the person in innovation.

While in Vancouver for ICCSE 2014 I dropped in on Philippe Kruchten at UBC Electrical and Computer Engineering. He pointed out that they make engineering and business students work together in the "New Venture Design" course (APSC 486), to produce a business plan for a product.


Poole, Peter C & Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering & Australian Research Council 1998, Information technology : sink or swim?, AusInfo, Canberra

Segal Quince & Partners (1985). The Cambridge phenomenon : the growth of high technology industry in a university town. Segal Quince & Partners, Cambridge (summary available

Canberra Innovation

Canberra Start-up Business BoomerangCanberra Start-up Business Boomerang, map by Tom Worthington (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Google Maps

In November 2014 the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) opened new offices at Level 5, 1 Moore Street, Civic. This is in the Canberra CBD adjacent to the Australian National University. CBRIN is a non-profit organization sponsored by the Canberra local government and universities, to support entrepreneurs, start-ups, accelerator programs, venture capital and co-working spaces. This has allowed the consolidation of several separate ventures into one location and perhaps more importantly provides a tangible symbol of Canberra as a center for innovation.

The western edge of the ANU campus and has been referred to as the "Canberra Innovation Precinct". However, given the dog-leg shape of this precinct, it could be called the "Canberra Start-up Business Boomerang": from Marcus Clarke Street extending east to London Circuit, and from Barry Drive in the north to Gordon Street in the south. At the center of this, both geographically and strategically, is CBRIN. Also it should be noted that this is not far from where the Griffins' first plan for Canberra (1912), had marked as the location for the "Technology" building of the national university.

This is analogous to the "triangle of activity between the river, Bridge Street and Jesus Lane" identified by Matthew Bullock at Barclays Bank in Cambridge (Kirk, Cotton & Gates, 2012, p. 44):

"Bullock discovered a triangle of activity between the river, Bridge Street and Jesus Lane. ARC was above the Schofields shop on the end of Jesus Lane, Topexpress in Portugal Place and another company operated nearby. He met Jack Lang of Topexpress and they swapped notes on which companies they knew of, Jack adding among others his brother Charles’ company, Shape Data, in Downing Street. In July 1979, Bullock and Lang decided to get these companies together to swap stories and experiences, and see if there were any opportunities for mutual support. Several of those involved had been students and colleagues in the Cambridge University Computer Lab, and missed the conversations and networking over tea.

Invitations to a meeting at the Eagle pub were issued, and the offer of free beer (Bullock was paying) attracted people from 19 companies, including Tom Sancha (Cambridge Interactive Systems), Richard Cutting (Cambridge Consultants), Charles and Jack Lang (Shape Data and Topexpress, respectively), Graham Street and Peter Woodsford (Laser-Scan), Jeff Button, Hermann Hauser (Acorn) and Jim Westwood (Sinclair). Questioning round the room identifi ed 36 technology companies operating in the Cambridge area, to everyone’s surprise. This was the launch of what would be christened the Cambridge Computer Group. A second meeting in September of the same year had participants from 35 companies."
from press sample

StartupAUS Action Plan

Not-for-profit StartupAUS proposes:

  1. Create a national innovation agency
  2. Increase the number of entrepreneurs
  3. Improve the quality and quantity of entrepreneurship education
  4. Increase the number of people with ICT skills
  5. Improve access to startup expertise
  6. Increase availability of early stage capital to startups
  7. Address legal and regulatory impediments
  8. Increase collaboration and international connectedness

From: Crossroads 2015: An action plan to develop a vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia, StartupAUS, April 2015.

The not-for-profit StartupAUS has released "Crossroads 2015: An action plan to develop a vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia" (April 2015). What got my attention is that Alan Noble, Engineering Director for Google Australia, is on the StartupAUS board. The Griffin Accelerator in Canberra is mentioned in the report (page 11), but other Canberra based initiatives, such as Innovation ACT and Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) are not mentioned.
... This paper makes the case that as a nation we need to take immediate and far-­‐reaching steps to address market failures that are impeding the maturation and growth of our startup ecosystem. It sets out an action plan based on analysis of the local startup ecosystem and of government policies and programs that have been effective in growing vibrant startup ecosystems in other countries. ...


Foreword i
What is StartupAUS? 1
Introduction 2
State of the Australian startup ecosystem in 2015 4
What are “startups”? 10
Startups are not small businesses 10
Why are startups important? 11
Disrupt or be disrupted 13
Unicorns matter 14
Australian startups on a global stage 16
The case for an Australian Economy 2.0 18
The case for government intervention 21
International entrepreneurship policy frameworks 23 Conditions for a vibrant startup ecosystem in Australia 28
Action plan summary 29
  1. Create a national innovation agency 32
  2. Increase the number of entrepreneurs 33
  3. Improve the quality and quantity of entrepreneurship education 41
  4. Increase the number of people with ICT skills 46
  5. Improve access to startup expertise 52
  6. Increase availability of early stage capital to startups 59
  7. Address legal and regulatory impediments 70
  8. Increase collaboration and international connectedness 75
Author and contributors 78

From: Crossroads 2015: An action plan to develop a vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia, StartupAUS , p. 9, April 2015.

Innovation Competitions and Courses in Canberra

Since 2006, teams of Canberra university students have been able to enter the "Innovation ACT" competition, to create a product and compete for prizes:

  • “Entrepreneurial education via seminar sessions ran parallel to a university semester
  • Entrepreneurial experiences within a competition environment that allows students to test their ideas.”

From Innovation ACT (2014a), emphasis added.

The Innovation ACT competition provides students with handbooks and templates, students attend presentations, prepare their proposals with the help of a mentor and then pitch their ideas to a panel of judges (InnovationACT, 2014b). Prasad (2014) discusses the history and educational role of such enterprise competitions and categorizes it as an “action learning” pedagogy. While popular with students and having an educational role, the Innovation ACT competition is not part of a formal educational program and so is not evaluated as to its educational effectiveness and students do not receive credit for participation towards their studies.

I have participated in Innovation ACT over several years as a presenter, mentor and competitor. However, by 2014 it was becoming increasingly apparent that the competition needed to be complemented by university studies, to provide the maximum benefit for the students and the community. On my return from UBC in 2014 I did a short survey of the courses and programs available to students in Canberra on innovation.

Both University of Canberra (UoC) and ANU both offered innovation courses. UoC have courses as part of the Bachelor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. A typical unit was “Managing Change and Innovation” (7776.3), offered in blended mode (on-line content with on campus attendance of up to thirty nine hours).

ANU offered innovation courses in the business and engineering programs:

  1. Entrepreneurship and Innovation MGMT3027
  2. Innovation and Commercialisation MGMT7165
  3. Engineering Innovation ENGN3230
  4. Technology and Innovation Management and Strategy MGMT7106

However, these courses typically used conventional teaching and assessment techniques, with face to face presentations and examinations. None were offered in a pure on-line mode with just project based assessment.


InnovationACT. (2014a). Innovation ACT: History. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from

InnovationACT. (2014b). Innovation ACT: Resources. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from

Prasad, T. (2014). Developing Enterprise Culture among the Students through Intercollegiate Competitions: A Case of Student Enterprise Competition (SEC) 2007. Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 35. Retrieved from

ACS Virtual College Innovation Course

Australian Computer Society on-line innovation course "New Technology Alignment" (NTA):

  • Frameworks for measuring the impacts of technology on business performance
  • Fostering innovation and encouraging adoption
  • Technology assessment and integration
  • Promotion and realizing benefits.

The Australian Computer Society's ACS Virtual College offers an on-line innovation course: "New Technology Alignment" NTA, (ACS, 2013). The coruse was designed by designed by Professor Doug Grant. I was the tutor for NTA for term 1, 2015

However, NTA is intended for employees of corporations to identify innovations within the organization, not the aspirations of students to set up their own enterprises working on their own products.

Innovation Competencies

Skills Framework for the Information Age:

The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA 2015) provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems (IS) making use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT).

SIFA Level 5 competencies are appropriate for a university degree course: "ensure, advise ... Works under broad direction ... Influences organization, customers, suppliers, partners and peers ... Performs an extensive range and variety of complex technical and/or professional work activities ... Advises on the available standards, methods, tools and applications ..." (SFIA, 2015).

Two relevant SFIA skills are:


"The capability to recognize and exploit business opportunities provided by IT, (for example, the Internet), to ensure more efficient and effective performance of organizations, to explore possibilities for new ways of conducting business and organizational processes, and to establish new businesses."

From: Skill INOV, Category: Strategy & architecture, Subcategory: Business/IT strategy and planning, SFIA (2015).

Business analysis

"The methodical investigation, analysis, review and documentation of all or part of a business in terms of business functions and processes, the information used and the data on which the information is based. The definition of requirements for improving processes and systems, reducing their costs, enhancing their sustainability, and the quantification of potential business benefits. The creation of viable specifications and acceptance criteria in preparation for the construction of information and communication systems."
From: Skill BUAN, Category: Business change, Subcategory: Business change management, SFIA (2015).


SFIA Foundation Ltd, (2015). The purpose of SFIA. [online] Skills Framework for the Information Age. Retrieved from

ANU TechLauncher

In 2015, the ANU Computing Group Project courses have evolved into the TechLauncher initiative.

TechLauncher is an ANU initiative which will enable students from any discipline to develop the research and professional skills required to use technology to bring great ideas to life and have a positive impact on our society.

Started with 117 students in 24 teams, such as Better Webinar Tool For Teaching.

In 2015 Dr Shayne FLINT expanded the previous software group projects at the ANU Research School of Computer Science into ANU TechLauncher, allowing students the option of creating a start-up software company. The initiative started with 117 students in 24 teams. An example of a team is Better Webinar Tool For Teaching, with five students, a mentor from the software industry and an educational "client".

The course uses a series of seminars to introduce students to innovation. However, I suggest that some formal, on-line course materials could assist introducing the basic concepts and also provide wider access.

Proposed Course Content for New Course

<4>Commercialization and Entrepreneurship in Technology
  1. An Introduction to Innovation
  2. Business Model Thinking
  3. Stakeholder Engagement
Business analysis
  1. Concept Generation
  2. Value Capture

The course content would correspond to the skills: Innovation and Business analysis. So far one to two hours of an An Introduction to Innovation has been prepared. The content consists of an e-book of notes, additional readings/videos, automated quiz and forum questions.

More Information

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  3. Draft of Introduction to Innovation for the course Commercialization and Entrepreneurship in Technology
  4. Tom Worthington

Version 0.1, 21 April 2015, Tom Worthington

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