Higher Education After COVID-19

Tom Worthington

For Microlearning Series curated by Manisha Khetarpal at Maskwacis Cultural College in Canada

Six weekly webinars on how I came to e-learning, used it response to COVID-19 and some thoughts on how higher education can be improved in light of this. This is online, open to all and free, but please register now. This is intended to be an exploration, like my three months looking for the on-line future in 1996, so suggestions are welcome.

Revised Five Minute Version

A revised five minute version for 'This changes everything?'! Australia and the post-pandemic world, Symposium hosted by the Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University, 22 October 2020: Video, Notes and Script.

Abstract for Video

Like many educators, my world changed suddenly in early 2020. I was called to an emergency meeting of the staff of the Australian National University, College of Engineering and Computer Science. We were told that due to COVID-19 many of our international students would be unable to get to campus: could we teach them online? There was a moment of shocked silence, then a roar of questions: “How many? How long for? Will they have Internet access? What about assessment?” It happened for my Masters of Education I looked at how to provide online education to international students at a research intensive university. Also I had worked in emergency planning at the Australian Department of Defence, so had some relevant experience. But it has been a challenging year. What are the lessons learned for educating professionals online? How will this change higher education for domestic and international students into the future?

  1. Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning
  2. Open Content for e-Learning in Response to the Coronavirus
  3. Online Assessment with Portfolios in Response to the Coronavirus
  4. Tools to engage students online
  5. Mentoring student group work online.
  6. Higher education after COVID-19: Not business as usual

Part 1: Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning

Preparing for COVID-19 Three Years Before: a Foreseen Emergency

July 29, 8-9 am, AEST (Canberra Time)

Slides and notes (PDF)

This first talk is based on a testimonial I wrote, published by Athabasca University 17 April, as an alumni writing about how my studies effected my life. In this case the effect was very direct: I studied how to teach international students from China and India online. The last thing I wrote in my capstone before graduating was:

"International tensions could disrupt the flow of students to Australia very quickly" From Conclusion: Tom Worthington MEd(ED) ePortfolio,  Athabasca University, 6 December 2016

So I suggested universities should be ready to teach online if students could not get to campus. What I was expecting was international tension in a region such as the South China Sea, preventing students traveling to Australia. In teaching professional ethics to students I had used a hypothetical where a misunderstanding results in a cyberwar breaking out.

Three years later students were unable to get to campus, but due to COVID-19, not a war. I was in Canberra, and my 154 students were scattered around the world.

Part 2: Open Content for e-Learning in Response to the Coronavirus

August 5, 8-9 am, AEST (Canberra Time)

Slides and notes (PDF)

Openness in education can apply to the way education is provided as well as the course materials. This is not just about using free stuff to save money. The Open Source movement in computing and the Wikipedia show a way of contributing, as well as using, content. This second talk in the series is based on the chapter "Use of Open Education Resources" in my free e-book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education". Also I will cover some requests from the first talk.

Part 3: Online Assessment with Portfolios in Response to the Coronavirus

August 12, 8-9 am, AEST (Canberra Time)

Slides and notes (PDF)

Due to the risk of COVID-19, universities are using online invigilated examinations in place of examination rooms. However, there are much better ways to assess students online. Assessment can be an afterthought when delivering a face to face course: after all, it comes after the learning, doesn't it? Perhaps not. Assessment can be used to provide the student and the teach information on what they already know, to help plan what to learn and how. Assessment can be used during learning to see what more needs to be done. Assessment can also be integrated into what the student works on, in real world tasks, or simulations of them. A portfolio can be used for students to collect evidence of the skills and knowledge they have gained in formal courses and co-curricular, to show they have the real world skills needed to graduate. All of these approaches to assessment require more skill of the educator, than a final examination, but may not take any extra time. There are tools which can be used online, such as Moodle (Quizzes, forums, and peer assessed assignments) and Mahara (e-portfolios), but these require a knowledge of pedagogy, as well as the technology.  This third talk in the series and also I will cover some requests from the second talk.

See also:

  1. Assessment for ICT Sustainability-Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future, (ANU COMP7310, Athabasca University COMP 635,  ACS Green Technology Strategies), Worthington, 2016
  2. Assessment for the Learning to Reflect module for the ANU TechLauncher program, (COMP3500, COMP3550, COMP3710, COMP4500, and COMP8715), Worthington, 2019
  3. Capstone e-Portfolio for the Masters of Education, Athabasca University, Tom Worthington (2016)

Part 4: Tools to engage students online

Due to the risk of COVID-19, universities are using online delivery of courses. But "delivery" suggests students are passive recipients of knowledge, a view reinforced if all students get are recordings of lectures, or a live lecturer who drones on and on in Zoom. Students learn best when they are doing things and there are many techniques developed for getting students active in the classroom which translate online easily. These and be used with the basic learning management system (such as Moodle) and video conference system (such as Zoom). There are also specialized online tools for individual and group activities, such as: Slack, Piazza, GitLab, Padlet, and trello. These will be discussed in this webinar and participants asked to contribute their experience. Here are some questions to get started:
  1. What tips, tools and techniques do you use to get students actively engaged?
  2. Do you do this differently in online, if so how?
ps: You can read through the notes for the ANU Coffee Course "Engaging Students Online" (Katie Freund, 2017).

Students learn best when they are doing things

Dr Katharina Freund

  1. What is engagement, and how does it work online?
  2. Creating social presence in your course
  3. Communicating effectively with students
  4. Critical perspectives on engagement and participation
  5. Creating engaging online activities
  6. Reflection and final thoughts
Daily topics, from  Engaging Students Online, Coffee Course, Katie Freund and Janene Harman, ANU, 2017.

The Australian National University (ANU) has been running online teaching courses for several years. These are named "Coffee" courses, as they are designed to do the study while having a coffee each day, for around one week. One course is on Engaging Students Online (Freund & Janene, 2017). The course doesn;t tell experienced educators anything they did not already know. The major insight is that techniques for getting student's attention work just as well online as they do in the classroom. The online teacher has to be more explicit in explaining who they are and what they want students to do, but the techniques are the same.

Asynchronous Mode: Moodle Example

ICT Sustainability Course Moodle Page

 This example of a Moodle course page shows the tutor's name and photo, so they are more than just an anonymous entity. There is a link to their bio and a link to contact them. Official information about the course is provided by way of an announcements forum and an e-book, but there is also a chat forum. What the student is expected to do is provided, along with a quiz to try. The  Tutor Notes for the course suggest providing a welcome message in the forum and inviting students to introduce themselves in the chat room.

Synchronous Mode: Zoom Example

ASCILITE ML SIG video meeting

Video conferencing is decades old and the tools have not changed much in that time (I observed a ship to shore video conference while onboard the USS Blue Ridge, in the Coral Sea in 1997). Key to using video conferencing for education is to have a purpose to the session, introduce the participants and the topic, much like a face to face class. More planning and structure is needed due to the limitations of the technology. Thom Cochrane shows how this is done in weekly ASCILITE MLSIG meetings.

Messaging: Slack, Piazza

Both used by the ANU TechLauncher Project

Slack and Piazza are two text based tools which can be used for communication with and between students. Piazza was specifically designed for education, and provides a forum for each course, where students can post questions to be answered by teachers, or preferably, other students in the class. 
Slack was designed for IT development teams to communicate and provides or discussion under topics. Slack also allows for video communications in a team. The ANU TechLauncher project uses Piazza for routine course announcements and student questions about deadlines and marking. Slack can be used by teams of students working on a project.

Teamwork: GitLab, Padlet, and Trello

Padlet Example from ASCILITEMLSIG, Webinar 12 June 2020,


Tools, such as GitLab, Padlet, and Trello allow students to work togehter in teams online, over minutes, hours weeks or years. Thom Cochrane convenor of ASCILITE MLSIG
the education Mobile Educaiton Special Interest groups, used Padlet to collect ideas during, and after, a video conference session. Participants can type in contributions under prepared headings, or create new headings themselves. Trello, now owned by Sydney company Atlassian has a similar interface, but specifically for teams to arrange tasks. GitLab provides a repository of digital documents with version control, for a complex project.

Use Synchronous and Asynchronous Tools to Flip

  1. Moodle (asynchronous) for preparation
  2. Everyone meets in Zoom (synchronous) and make notes in Padlet (asynchronous)
  3. Save notes to Moodle for later

E-learning tools and techniques are usually classified into two broad categories: synchronous and asynchronous. These are complementary and can be used in combination. As an example I have students study material in Moodle and do a quiz, to prepare for a Zoom conference. They can use Padlet during the conference and paste results to Moodle for later use. 



Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2013.6553983
Preprint available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9556


 ZeroCO2 Hackathon 2020 

Each team will occupy a table on the Remo virtual conference floor.


Canberra's ZeroCO2 Hackathon 2020 runs online over two-weeks, starting 18th August and is open for registrations. Teams will work on business ideas to reduce domestic and commercial carbon emissions, with $10,000 in prizes. I mentored teams in the 2019 competition and have volunteered again. 

Due to COVID-19 this years event is entirely online, whereas last year we were all at the Canberra Institute of Technology's excellent renewable energy training facility. However, this will be my fourth time helping with an online hackerthon this year, and the activity has easily translated to the online format.
Like the Fighting Pandemics hackerthon I helped with recently, this one is using Remo Conference. Each team will occupy a table on the virtual conference floor. Mentors will move from table to table with a double click. The organizers will keep tack of time to tell us when to move. It will be interesting to see how this works virtually, as it is usually a bit chaotic in a real room with hundreds of people.

Legal and Ethical Issues with Online Tools

"If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold."
From Andrew Lewis ("blue_beetle"), Post to MetaFilter, August 26, 2010

Teachers, and educational institutions, have a legal and ethical obligation to protect their student's privacy.  This can be difficult with online tools. A traditional Learning Management System, such as Moodle, would have been run on a computer at the campus, thus under the control of the institution and withing the same legal jurisdiction. However, tools are now commonly hosted externally.

If the tool you are using is hosted in another country, that country's government authorities may have access to the student data, with or without, judicial oversight. Governments may wish to spy on foreign students for national security purposes, as well as their own students studying abroad for internal security reasons.

Perhaps of more day to day concern is using "free" commercial online tools. These tools are free because the company providing them wants to up-sell you or your students, a more advanced subscription service, or they want to sell your details, and those of your students, to advertisers.

You need to consider who will have access to your student's information, and what they might do with it. Most commercial companies will look to make a quick return, and so older students with more money will be an attractive target. However, private criminal organizations, and government intelligence agencies, can find information about the children of their targets useful for Phishing attacks.

 Fake Sites to Collect Information

Screen image of the web page for the fictional Concinna Day Care Centre
Fake child care center website, 2013

In 2013 invitations to apply to a government endorsed child care center were sent to employees of a Government intelligence agency in Canberra. The center did not exist and was designed to collect personal information which could be used for sending fame messages to staff at the agency to trick them into revealing secrets.  (Page & Jean, 2013).


Page, F., & Jean, P. (2013, April 16). Free childcare scam aimed at intelligence staff. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/security-it/free-childcare-scam-aimed-at-intelligence-staff-20130415-2hwhq.html

Mentoring student group work online

The best way for students to learn practical skills for a vocation is by practice. This can be in a real workplace as an intern, or in a team of students working on a real-world project. But many "real" workplaces are now virtual, with staff working online remotely. This requires new skills of those providing Work Integrated Learning.

Questions for participants:

1. How do you provide individual students, or teams, just enough advice, when you can't physically meet with them?

2. How can online mentoring techniques be used after face to face teaching and working resumes?

Mentors give guidance based on experience

Telemachus son of Odysseus and Mentor
from Aventuras de Telémaco
by Pablo E. Fabisch / Public domain

The tools a mentor uses may be much the same, but their role is different to other teachers. The mentor is experienced in what it is the student is learning to do.  The mentor answers questions and provides advice, rather than taking the student through a set of coursework. Other educators may have set out what the student needs to learn, the mentor helps with the practicalities. As an example, I tutor students undertaking team projects and mentor participants in hackerthons, not telling them how to do the project, but asking what they intend to do.

Work-integrated learning (WIL)

Dr Penny Kyburz,
Game Developer
 Take the learning to the workplace or the workplace to the learning.

Australia has Work-integrated learning (WIL) both in its Vocational Education (VET) sector and universities. I was trained in computing in the Australian Public Service (APS), through short courses by contracted professionals, and supervision in the workplace. Employers may also release staff to attend courses at VET institutions or universities. The APD trainees are called apprentices or cadets. There are also university courses where students work in a company as "interns". Students may also work in a team on a project for a client. 

Mentoring has a role here as these trainees need a form of supervision which takes account of their role as someone working but also learning. Ideally there will be someone with work experience working alongside an educator to ensure the trainee makes a practical contribution, learns from the experience and that can be formally recognized through a educational qualification. In some cases the professional is also an educator, such as Dr Penny Kyburz, Game Developer, and Dr Charles Gretton (AI Developer).


Mentoring Online With Remo Conference

Remo Conference Example
Remo Conference Example
Participants in Canberra's ZeroCO2 Hackathon 2020 took part in an online idea forming exercise this month. Teams were each allocated a table and booked sessions with a mentor. The mentors had their own virtual table where they could chat between mentoring sessions. At the end of each set time period a bell would sound indicating it was time for mentors to move to their next team appointment.

This format has been used at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), for fast paced start-up sessions for several years. The difference this year is that it has moved online due to COVID-19. The room and tables are virtual. While many video conference and forums tools could be used, Remo Conference was used for the ZeroCO2 hackerthon. This displays a floor plan of the virtual room, with participants seated.

Mozilla Hubs is Too Much Like Life

Mozilla Hubs Example
Last week the