Smashed avo no more

James Cook U scientists are using spectroscopy to check the quality of intact avocados. This will cheer up consumers, not to mention farmers wondering what to do with that old spectroscope in the shed.

The long and the short of coffee commerce

A  study of 4700 Melbourne coffee shops opening and closing patterns over 20 years finds that chains do not drive independents out of business. A learned reader points CMM to research by Joshua Gans, (UniToronto ex, UniMelbourne), Richard Hayes (ACCC) and US colleagues Brian Adams and Ryan Lampe which concludes, “chain stores have no discernible effect on the exit or entry decisions of independent stores.” However, chain branches and independent outlets do push competitors of their own type out of business.

“These findings imply that independents and chains operate almost as though they are in separate markets.” Yes, the former sell coffee and the latter are in the hot flavoured water business.

We can’t go on marking like this

Just because good assessment needs academic magic does not mean it should be immune from science. How systems thinking and coding can conquer the marking mountain.

In twenty years “pieces of assessment” in Australian higher education has risen from around seven to nearly 30 million, Hamish Coates estimates. This now comes at an annual recurrent cost of $400m and when back-end outlays are added, “it is easy to see how largely unreformed assessment practises might be costing close to a billion dollars annually.”

It can’t go on but it will, in fact it will get worse, unless there are changes to the way student work is examined and assessed. Professor Coates, ex UniMelbourne, now Tsinghau University, warns in a new paper for Online Education Services, a partnership of SEEK and Swinburne U, to be released today.      

But because things must change does not mean they will quickly or easily. Professor Coates outlines at length challenges and processes involved and he sets out stages to update assessment, regardless of models used.

Mustering courage for a “leap into uncertainty”

Investing in platforms “that promise technical and financial returns”

Leading against, “the distrust, subversion and denial that blocks change”

“The rest is easy,” coding, upskilling education engineers evaluating performance and integrity, for example.

And when it happens everybody will win.  “Assessment is a fulcrum for enhancing student engagement and retention. … By doing assessment better and cheaper there is enormous educational and financial value to be found for institutions, faculty, students and government. Producing more cogent data on outcomes would yield broader dividends by proving economic and social returns from education,” Professor Coates says.

Unintended ATAR as a consequence of fixed student places

With the end of the demand driven system the ATAR could be back as a way to ration fixed numbers of undergraduate places and Mitchell Institute analysts Sarah Pilcher and Kate Torii are not at all happy about it.

“Despite the expansion of alternative pathways, the ATAR is maintaining its prominence as a marker for student achievement in the school system and the community more broadly  – suggesting it may be a assuming a role beyond what was intended,” they warn in a new policy paper released today.

But while the authors say they “stop short of calling for the ATAR to be replaced” they provide reasons to end it and alternatives to replace it, for example, aptitude tests, alternative entry schemes, tertiary preparation and enabling courses. They also set out how other countries organise admissions.

The unknown against this is how soon and how strong will be the need for a measure to ration undergraduate places. Pilcher and Torii suggest the frozen number of places, “may be large enough to accommodate demand in the near term.” Good-oh, but if governments stick with the new policy of tying system-wide growth to population numbers this may increase the ATARs utility for universities allocating places. And having abandoned the principle of demand driven funding a government could easily set numbers over three or four year cycles.

Rules and procedures to make the ATAR transparent now being implemented might turn out to be essential in a new system where places are rationed.


Oviatt steps up at Monash U

Sharon Oviatt steps up at Monash University as director of Human-Computer Interaction and Human-Centred AI. She joined the university as professor of human-centred interface and creative technologies in September.


Advice you can count on

CMM first reported on mandatory education standards for financial planners when the Walpole Government responded to the South Sea Bubble. MPs were still talking about it when he wrote this story. And now there is more movement, with Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer announcing the Financial Advisers Standards and Ethics Authority draft on education standards. Existing financial advisors will need a relevant degree or up to three bridging courses, including one that “focuses on” the code of ethics developed by the Standards and Ethics Authority.

“Repeated instances of inappropriate or just plain bad advice has significantly eroded trust and confidence in the financial advice sector … these new educational requirements are a critical step towards professionalising the sector, Minister O’Dwyer says. Don’t bet your tulip futures on it changing he industry.

QUT’s citation treasure map

QUT researchers report progress on their immense innovation cartography project. Last year CMM reported Richard Jefferson and colleagues have created an open access search site that can search 100m patents for references to academic work in them, (CMM August 11 2017). And now Osmat A Jefferson, with Australian, UK and US colleagues, details how research tools using citations in patents can find research connections. Inevitably they rank institutions according to research citations in patents but this is much less of a deal than what their innovation cartography can show for researchers and developers looking for partners.

“The route to economic and social impact from public research is complex, dynamic, risky and often unclear. Choosing the right partners and pathways is critically important, and requires mining metadata and knowledge from diverse corpora, including but not limited to science and technology scholarship and patents. Knowing which individuals and institutions are or could be actors in this journey, as well as what knowledge, capabilities and rights they may control, is essential. Similarly, surfacing and exposing potential incentives will provide the glue to hold such alliances in place. “ Professor Jefferson and her team write.