Digital Teaching In Higher Education

Designing E-learning for International Students of Technology, Innovation and the Environment

A book by Tom Worthington MEd, FACS CP

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Higher Education is a global industry, driving a new technological, industrial revolution. However, it is important to remember education is still about teachers helping students learn. This work is a collection of short essays exploring how to use digital technology to provide a form of teaching which will meet social and economic goals, and make use of technology, while still having a place for the academic as a teacher. They were written for a Masters of Education in Distance Education which I completed at Athabasca University, in January 2017.

My approach to education is summarized on the cover of this book, with four pictographs by Carlos Sarmento (from the Noun Project: CC BY 3.0 US). The instructor needs to: 1. provide ebooks and other curated content on the topic; 2. facilitate discussion between the students; 3. provide tools and techniques for the student to explore the topic; and 4. Assessment, including formative feedback, to help students learn.

Organization of Material

The material is divided into six broad categories:

  1. Instructional Design
  2. Planning and Management
  3. Educational Technology Applications
  4. International Issues in Distance Education
  5. Use of Open Education Resources
  6. Mobile Learning

Each section is divided into short essays, with their list of references. It is intended these can be read on their own, but there are a few overall themes which develop, about the value of part-time on-line education for working professionals and the use of simply formatted text-based materials for efficient delivery on-line. More specifically examples of course design are based on my ICT Sustainability syllabus (Worthington, 2011) and a proposal for an innovation course. However, please note this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to digital teaching, for that I recommend Bates (2015).

Computer Professional to On-line Educator

My three years of study at Athabasca University (AU) were part of a transition, from a computer professional to a designer and teacher of computing courses. After nineteen years working as a computer professional for the Australian Government, in 1999 I became a self-employed computer consultant. My plan was to undertake short projects, providing advice to organizations about their computer strategies. This work would involve extended periods of time working alone in my home office in Canberra and brief periods at client's offices.

To keep my skills up and provide continuity, I volunteered to help at the computer science department of the Australian National University. In return for a desk and status as honorary academic staff, I would help supervise student projects and gave an occasional seminar. However, I found myself drawn to teaching and to the issue of how to use computer technology for learning. From 1999 to 2008 I gave occasional guest lectures alongside my consulting work. At this time I thought of real education happening in a classroom, with a teacher at the front. However, in 2008, I was contracted to design an on-line course, as part of a graduate program for computer professionals. The program used a standard template for courses, with a weekly text-based discussion forum using Moodle, adapting techniques from the Open University UK (OUUK) for professional education. Since then I have been teaching computer students on-line using Moodle, part time. A third of my students are from China and India, in Australia on work or study visas.

Studying for an Education Certificate On-line

In 2011, I enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, which is the minimum teaching qualification Australian university academic staff are expected to have. Due to my interest in e-learning, as part of this, I undertook two on-line courses at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

This study paid off: I had less difficulty with planning and delivering courses, and student feedback scores were high. However, my academic colleagues remained skeptical about e-learning and my competence to provide it. I thought more study might help. In 2013, most graduate education programs in Australia were for classroom-based school teachers, not on-line university instructors. The obvious place to study internationally was a university which focused on Distance Education (DE).

From the start of my studies, I kept an e-journal. My first post:

"... So far everything looks very familiar, with Athabasca using the same e-learning and e-portfolio software I am used to. The course materials are well laid out and look very much like those I have read (and written) before. But there is a risk in thinking it will, therefore, be easy.

... I am worried about how I am going to work in a group on-line internationally (there appear to be no other Australian students) ..."

I need not have worried about being the only Australian, as I had much in common with the Canadian students. We were all mature age entrants, who already had one career, many like myself, in government.

As part of the MEd, I read many research papers, and attended weekly seminars and several international conferences. From this, I realized that my contributing quantitative research would not help education. There are many volumes of research over decades on the effectiveness of e-learning. My adding a small amount to this research is unlikely to help. However, what has already proved effective is to show my colleagues useful techniques to help with their teaching, backed up by research results, so they are then more likely to listen to advice on larger, long term issues.

Education is a People Business

From being a student, I realized how necessary administration is for education and DE in particular. Before the student can worry about the details of learning, they have to find the materials and work out what it is they are supposed to be learning. This is an aspect which is glossed over in academic research on education and something which it is easy to overlook as an instructor.

The presence of competent, enthusiastic human instructors is something I valued in my studies. With Educational Technology (EdTech) the Education can be forgotten due to the enthusiasm for new Technology. In DE courses instructor time with students is a precious resource and one which needs to be very carefully used. As a result of the MEd courses, in my teaching, I tend to say less in forums, leaving room for the students to support each other and offer individual encouragement in the background

Having been a student reminds me that any student, however, mature and experienced, still needs help. In particular, DE students need support to fit their studies into their lives. This can be through careful course design, giving the student small frequent nudges, scaffolding assignments and allowing them to be based on real-world problems. Also, frequently assessed work is an aid for the DE student, who needs a reason to tell themselves, their employer, family, and friends why they have to study now and can't leave it to later.

Helping Build Australia's e-Learning Capability

Education is Australia’s third-largest export and the government's "National Strategy for International Education 2025" points out that Moodle is an Australian product serving a global market and identifies on-line learning as an area for growth (Australian Government, 2016). However, Australia's universities are predominantly set up for students traveling to Australia to study on campus, and the government strategy provides little practical guidance for changing this. International tensions could disrupt the flow of students to Australia very quickly. Competition from universities in other countries and DE is likely to increase. We can produce quality on-line and blended programs to remain competitive, based on demonstrated success and research results.


Australian Government (2016). National Strategy for International Education 2025. [Canberra] Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from

Bates, A. W. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning for a digital age. Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2011). ICT Sustainability. Tomw Communications Pty Ltd. Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2015). Designing an Innovation Course: Part 3 - Introduction to Innovation. Higher Education Whisperer. Retrieved from

Next: Instructional Design.

About the book: Digital Teaching In Higher Education

Higher Education is a global industry, driving a new technological, industrial revolution. However, it is important to remember education is about teachers helping students learn. This work is a collection of short essays exploring how to use digital technology to provide a form of teaching which will meet social and economic goals, and make use of technology, while still having a place for the academic as a teacher. Drawing on work undertaken for a Masters of Education in Distance Education, this book charts one future for Higher Education, including instructional design, planning and management, catering for international students, using Open Education Resources and Mobile Learning. E-learning designer and computer professional, Tom Worthington MEd FACS CP, uses as a case study his award-winning course in ICT Sustainability and the design of a new innovation and entrepreneurship course.

Edition Notice

Copyright © Tom Worthington 2017

Cover pictographs ebook, talk, issues and approved, by Carlos Sarmento from the Noun Project (CC BY 3.0 US).

First Printing: 2017

TomW Communications Pty Ltd., PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Worthington, Tom, 1957- author.
Digital teaching in higher education : designing e-learning for
international students of technology, innovation
and the environment / Tom Worthington.

ISBN: 9781326947859 (Hardback)
ISBN: 9781326939922 (Paperback)
ISBN: 9781326938826 (ePub eBook)
ISBN: 9781326967963 (PDF eBook)
Amazon Kindle eBook (No ISBN).

Education, Higher--Effect of technological innovations on.
Education, Higher--Computer-assisted instruction.
Educational technology--Social aspects.
Education, Higher--Electronic information resources.
Instructional systems--Design.

A web version of this book is available free on-line, under at Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license at