Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning for Postgraduate Professional Education

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

Designer of the ACS and ANU Green ICT Courses

Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For the Computer Science Seminar, The Australian National University, Computer Science and Information Technology Building, Canberra, 4pm, 27 August 2009. Repeated for the ANU Educational Design GAGGLE Program, ANU, Canberra, 16 October 2009.

The first globally accredited Green ICT course for computer professionals commenced in January 2009. The course uses Moodle to teach how to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsored by the Australian Computer Society as part of an international program for professional education, the course is also now run at the masters level by the Australian National University.

Course designer Tom Worthington discusses how the course uses e-learning with mentored and collaborative techniques and how it it has worked with three cohorts of students from around the world. He also discusses the process of having a course approved by Australia's leading university, with no prerequisites, no lectures, no examinations, all open source content and able to be conducted via a mobile phone. Some suggestions will be made for better integration of e-learning with traditional educational environments and possible future technologies such as Google Wave.

Bradley Review Fails on e-Learning

... A quality student experience in higher education ... An accessible and sophisticated online learning environment. ...

From: Review of Australian Higher Education, Final Report, Denise Bradley, December 2008

While the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education asserts that a higher education requires a sophisticated online learning environment, there is only one mention of "online learning" in the 304 page report. The report contains no mention of the role of the Internet or the web in higher education, apart from noting that some alumni associations run web sites. Computer literacy is mentioned once, with reference to mature-age students who and those from rural and low socio-economic backgrounds.

As the Bradley Review notes, Australia faces a critical moment in the history of higher education. However, the review fails to recognize that ICT will be a major determinate in the reach, quality and performance of Australia's higher education system, rendering much of the detail of the report irrelevant to Australia's educational, economic and social future.

In the late 1990s I was witness to the process by which the Internet arrived, largely unheralded by government ICT policy makers (of which I was one). Carefully developed policies were abandoned and are mostly now forgotten by all but a few archives. In a similar way, web based e-learning is arriving largely unnoticed by education policy makers. Within the next few years his will render the current education policy makers and their policies irrelevant.

Social Inclusion with ICT

Online education can help with:

But requires "Access to the Internet and information technology"

Indicators from: Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators, Australian Social Inclusion Board, Australian Government, 2009

The Australian Social Inclusion Board of the Australian Government issued a Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators in 2009. "Access to the Internet and information technology" is one of the measures listed under "Exclusion from services". There is a risk that using the Internet and computers for education could decrease social inclusion, by decreasing access to education. However, assuming this access can be provided, then the Internet and ICT, particularly mobile phones, can be used to combat other forms of social exclusion.

In particular, Internet and ICT access can assist with "Young people not in education or training", "Persons (adults) with low educational attainment", "Adult literacy", "Academic progress of Year 3 and Year 7 students in Australia", and "Access to services".

Online courses can be provided where and when required, either on their own, or part of a face-to-face program. This can be in a traditional educational setting at a school, TAFE, or universities. But it can also be in a less traditional setting, such as a library, other community facility, or group. This can help keep young people in education or training by making it more relevant and accessible, assisting academic progress. It can also be provided to adults with limited education.

Online education can be used to address adult literacy directly. Also accessibility features of the web can be used to provide access to services for those with limited literacy, as well as to those with a disability.

The Internet can be used to provide access to services, particularly by allowing a simpler path through complex administrant procedures of government and corporate service providers. The techniques developed for presenting information in an easy to understand way on web pages and to test the effectiveness of the information provision, can greatly aid access.

Mobile phones provide a new opportunity for providing access to education and to services. As well as providing a more available way to access the Internet, the limited interface of the mobile phone forces web designers to prioritize the information provided, removing irrelevant material and concentrating on what the client actually needs.

Online Learning Works

From: "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning" by Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia & Jones, Center for Technology in Learning, US Department of Education, May 2009

This recent study suggests that online learning is more effective than face to face classroom learning, that blended learning is no more effective than purely online learning and that video and online quizzes do not improve online learning. But it should be noted that the US study has limitations: it is a "meta" analysis, that is analysis of previous results, not new data collection. Also this was for post K-12 students and may only be applicable to vocational, university or adult learning.

First global Green ICT Course

Green ICT

Students learn how to:

Green ICT (Green IT or Green Computing) is the study and practice of using computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit and minimise the negative impact.

The energy efficiency of operating equipment is a major concern of Green ICT. The embodied energy and life-cycle of the materials used in the design, manufacture and reuse and recycling of equipment and components are also concerns. Green ICT seeks to inform accepted management practises to achieve efficient and effective business interaction.

Business ICT Competencies

Zonbu miniature PC

The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) 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).

Green ICT Strategies target SIFA Level 5 competencies: "ensure, advise: Broad direction, supervisory, objective setting responsibility. Influences organisation. Challenging and unpredictable work. Self sufficient in business skills".

Learning by Doing

Two areas of assessment:

  1. Assignments
    1. Write a report on the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of your organisation
    2. Write a report identify ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your organisation
  2. Contributions to the discussion forums

Students Teach Each Other

Moodle e-learning system provides:

  1. Online discussion forums
  2. Tools for students to author content

The tutors fostering discussion, not presenting content.

See: Computer Professional Education using Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning, David Lindley, IJCIM Special Issues on e-learning, Vol.15 No. SP4, November, 2007.

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. This also teaches students how to use the same online collaboration techniques in the workplace.

The techniques of using mentored collaborative online learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley.

Online References Used

  1. The Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program, Sustainable IT Lecture Series, Natural Edge Project, 2008
  2. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), Green Electronics Council. GEC 2006.
  3. Energy Star Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, 2007
  4. The Personal Computer and Monitors Energy Efficiency Strategy, Tom Worthington, Report and Recommended Plan of Action, prepared for the Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Version 1.0, 23 September 2008.

Social Networking for Education and CO2 Reduction

ACS introducing Mahara for courses:

  1. NZ Government open source web application
  2. ePortfolio for students to display their course or RPL work
  3. Social networking for education and business (
  4. Reducing meetings an CO2 emissions

The ACS is introducing the Mahara open source ePortfolio and social networking web application developed by the New Zealand government. It allows students to create a portfolio of their work to demonstrate they have met the learning objectives through the course or by recognition of prior learning.

The social networking features to allow users to interact with each other for tutorials and projects. In addition to using this to learn in the course, it will be a valuable skill to apply in the workplace. The students can learn how to use these techniques in a businesslike way, to achieve organizational goals.

Apart from increasing learning and business efficiency, ePortfolios and social networking can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Workers will be able to identify human resources for their projects via ePortfolios and arrange the work using social networking. A current commercial example of this is Organisations can use applications such as Mahara to create their own internal equivalent sites.

Google Wave

Communication and collaboration tool in development

  1. Draft protocol specification, July 21, 2009
  2. If applied to LMS may make e-learning tools simpler

Staff from Google Sydney conducted a "Google Wave Hackathon" at the Australian National University in Canberra on 8 August 2009. Google Wave is in development and is to provide an interactive collaborative document creation environment, combining the functions of email, blogs, wikis, instant messaging and other web based tools. A Draft protocol specification (July 21, 2009) provides for Google's Wave service to interact with third party services.

Google Wave may be a year or more from production use (if ever). However, it points the way to removing some of the complexity of current e-learning environments with multiple different web based tools and use of multiple external social networking and other web based services.

More Information

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2009 (Version 1.0, 24 August 2009) Tom Worthington

Creative Commons License
Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning for Postgraduate Professional Education by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Web page by