How can universities design assessment and credentials to produce work-ready graduates?

Establishing credentials for students has emerged as a critical way to ensure graduates are work-ready once they finish university. But it’s far easier said than done, especially in light of major changes in pedagogy and student expectations.

How can universities align the approach to building credentials with students’ needs and ensuring employability at the same time?

Ahead of Innovation in Assessment & Credentials 2016, James Arvanitakis, Dean, Graduate Research School Western Sydney University, discusses what factors need to be addressed to establish credentials that are effective and have real value in the student experience.



James Arvanitakis, Dean, Graduate Research School, Western Sydney University

Essentially everything we do should be building up a broad range of employability skills for the students. Universities are really good at producing knowledge and delivering content.

That’s a disciplinary knowledge that we have, and what we need to do is continue doing that to ensure the highest level of scholarship is maintained and attained by the students. That is never negotiable.

But there’s a second dimension, which historically universities haven’t done very well, and that’s related to incorporating a broad range of attributes that students need to develop for proficiencies.

These include learning how to work across cultures, working with teams, knowledge translation, having a sense of agency, and being able to appreciate design and aesthetics, for example.

All of these attributes are important, but it’s the flip side of the coin that universities have struggled with.

And when I developed the Academy program at Western Sydney University, or now that I oversee the Graduate Research School, developing these attributes along with academic excellence are my twin goals.

It goes not only through the curriculum, but through all the investments as well. Within the blended learning environment, it requires very specific strategies in comparison to what you would do face to face, but it doesn’t change the broader philosophy about what you would expect from your students.

For example, with knowledge translation in a blended learning environment, you work with the students to develop public blogs or develop more online resources, and you require your students to work in teams and master online project management software.

The focus should be on assessing how they communicate across those teams, rather than what we usually do, which is what they are doing. You assess the process, not just the outcomes.

James Arvanitakis kindly shared insight into the development of student credentials for the upcoming Innovation in Assessment & Credentials Summit in October. In the article he goes on to explore the approach for building up a broad range of employability skills for students, and incorporating a range of attributes that students need to develop for proficiencies.  Check out the full article to learn more about removing silos and moving towards cross-disciplinary skills.

And if you’d like to know more about the Innovation in Assessment & Credentials Summit, please download the brochure or visit

James will deliver a presentation on educating students in a time of disruption: Becoming innovative and creating an internal shift to drive the future of universities.


How Australian universities are implementing innovative blended learning methods to boost student engagement

Advances in technology have enabled students with greater flexibility in how they learn, which has influenced the need for educators to engage students beyond the traditional classroom environment. And in response to major changes in pedagogy, many universities have directed efforts towards implementing blended learning methods to support student outcomes.

But the focus on blended learning is proving to be multifaceted. Improving student engagement is unquestionably vital in the context of learning outcomes; but so too is engagement between educators and learning designers.

Effective blended learning environments can only be achieved when these stakeholders work closely together, and are able to coordinate against a common objective. While it’s far easier said than done, new approaches are being developed to establish a culture around blended learning.

At the same time, capacity building frameworks are emerging as a tool to facilitate experiences like eLearning and mobile learning (mLearning) – this also extends to supporting students in workplace environments (or workplace learning).

And then, of course, there’s measuring student engagement, which is where the ability to scale feedback takes centre stage to improve blended learning methods. Some universities are using dashboards to monitor engagement; while others are experimenting with newer methods to personalise feedback.

Ahead of Blended Learning 2016, several specialists from Deakin University, Monash University, Charles Sturt University and University of Sydney, share exclusive insight into how they are supporting student learning outcomes by creating effective and adaptable blended learning environments.


Engaging students in enquiry-driven learning at Monash University

Ms Barbara Yazbeck, Research and Learning Skills, Monash University Library

We’ve developed a Blended Learning module for second-year students in the Bachelor of Pharmacy to teach information skills in an Evidence-based Practice.

This represents a key collaboration between the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Monash University Library, recently recognised in a Faculty Teaching Citation and a Vice Chancellor’s Award

The Library has a learning skills program, with learning skill advisors that work with their librarian counterparts and faculty to embed research and learning skills in the curriculum.

And because we take an embedded  approach to skill development, we try to be involved in curriculum as much as possible. In this case, we work with the unit coordinator for Evidence-based Practice.

Two workshops–A and B –are team taught and form a major assessment for this core unit. These workshops are three-hour sessions that require significant resourcing, which can be a challenge, as we’re a small branch here at the Parkville campus.

It’s vital that our teaching is embedded and timetabled into curriculum. In addition, the workshops are team-taught, with a learning skill advisor, a subject librarian, and a faculty instructor involved.


Monash University campus, courtesy of Barbara Yazbeck

And because we take an embedded approach to skill development, we try to be involved in curriculum as much as possible. In this case, we work with the unit coordinator for Evidence-based Practice.

Two workshops–A and B –are team taught and form a major assessment for this core unit. These workshops are three-hour sessions that require significant resourcing, which can be a challenge, as we’re a small branch here at the Parkville campus.

It’s vital that our teaching is embedded and timetabled into curriculum. In addition, the workshops are team-taught, with a learning skill advisor, a subject librarian, and a faculty instructor involved.

We’ve been involved in this unit for more than five years, culminating in the adoption of a blended learning approach three years ago. This initiative was piloted in 2013, and now exists as an online module that we use in a blended workshop model.

These insights by Ms Barbara Yazbeck are part of an eBook in which four learning design specialists, including Ms Yazbeck, discussed how they are creating blended learning environments to support student learning outcomes in response to major pedagogy changes. 

Read the eBook to learn more about how universities are:

  1. Developing a blended learning module for students to gain skills in an Evidence-based Practice
  2. Establishing a culture of enquiry-based learning and practice for students
  3. Using learning analytics to understand student behaviour and provide more relevant resources
  4. Shifting mindsets and capacity to design clear learning pathways that motivate and assist students to learn
  5. Providing academics with choice in the role they play in the blended learning team, and the extent and pace of change and technology uptake

If you’re interested in learning more about the Blended Learning Summit that will be held in October, download the brochure or visit 


Creating active learning environments through campus masterplanning at the Saïd Business School

Against the backdrop of major changes in pedagogy, universities are re-visiting campus masterplans to assess the effectiveness of physical space and learning environments.

But aligning infrastructure re-designs or new-build projects with student learning outcomes can be a complex undertaking. How can universities work to advance the design of learning environments given campus limitations – be it financial or technological?

And how can learning environments facilitate changes in how educators deliver content and interact with students?

Ahead of Campus Development 2016, we spoke to Mat Davies MCIOB, Oxford Saïd Estate Director, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, who shared exclusive insight into how his team is establishing active learning environments by factoring in the end-to-end learning experience into the campus masterplan.



Mat Davies MCIOB Oxford Saïd Estate Director, Saïd Business School University of Oxford

At the Saïd Business School in Oxford, we face many challenges around campus masterplanning, due to the diverse nature of our program portfolio.

We also have a very diverse international student community, with circa 50 nationalities represented each year. The way in which we support these communities is very intense, managing every detail of their Oxford experience from arrival to departure, and increasingly beyond as they become lifelong members of our alumni community.

I’ve been a Director at the Business School for the last 15 years, and the pace of change has just been extraordinary compared to the ten years preceding that – largely led by the pace of development in the technology sector, and the opportunities which this has presented to us.

This development has enabled us to look far beyond the classroom. In both our new-build projects and our redevelopment projects, we have been concentrating not just on the classroom, but also on how we can harness the technological advances to accommodate the changes in learning behaviours outside the classroom in library, breakout, circulation and social spaces.

Only a few years ago small groups would book cellular study spaces, and order portable display equipment to work in groups of six or maybe eight people.

Now, students expect all areas to be technology enabled, giving them much greater choice about how they study, and when, and with whom. As a result, much of the collaborative activity which was tied to a small number of cellular ‘formal’ spaces, is happening much more naturally in social spaces, and even circulation spaces, sharing an ever increasing number of handheld devices with local screens.

These insights were provided by Mat Davies ahead of the upcoming Campus Development Summit in October. He goes on to explain how his team is establishing active learning environments by factoring in the end-to-end learning experience into the campus masterplan. Keep reading the full case study here.

If you’d like to know more about the Campus Development Summit, please download the brochure or visit to know more. 

How MOOCs are enabling exploration of credentials and assessment at University of Adelaide

For some time now, online learning has long been accepted as a tool for enrichment and exploration in higher education, and the emergence of online resources such as virtual discussion boards, wikis and course management systems has paved the way for MOOCs, ultimately changing the way students interact and engage when learning.

In recent years, universities around the world – including Australia – have been rolling out MOOC portfolios. Across the MOOC market, an estimated 35 million students have now enrolled in more than 4000 courses, with more than 500 university providers.

The growth of MOOC platform edX since 2012 to around 30 per cent market share shows just how much prominence and popularity open online learning has gained globally. With more than 90 international partners, edX is the leading non-profit MOOC platform, with members from all over the world – including Australian counterparts the University of Adelaide, the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Queensland.

In 2014, Adelaide joined edX to form a flagship open digital learning initiative, AdelaideX, which is now providing learners with free access to the university’s expertise across a range of subjects, from computer coding and project management to music and wine-tasting.

“We’re excited to be making MOOCs, because it’s a way for us to enable huge numbers of learners to engage with the high-quality education that the University of Adelaide provides. And using digital channels combined with edX’s reach out to 8 million learners, we’re able to connect with learners in locations where it’s difficult to offer conventional face-to-face provision,” says Dr Katy McDevitt, who leads the AdelaideX initiative.

“Adelaide is a long way for a learner in Mumbai, Paris or Tokyo to travel and many people can’t afford to do so. Now we can enable learners to study with us from right where they are, with no geographical barrier.”

In its continuing journey to enhance student experience, Adelaide is exploring specific requirements related to assessment and credentials in the open learning space – particularly in the context of enabling open learners to build on their informal learning.

This is increasingly sought-after as MOOC learners seek new ways to demonstrate their work-readiness to employers, and Adelaide, like many universities, is exploring options to support learners who want to transition from informal MOOC study into formal education or the workplace.

How can universities implement credentials and conduct formative assessments that align with student learning outcomes? What steps can they take to build a comprehensive strategy to produce work-ready graduates?

Ahead of Innovation in Assessment & Credentials 2016, Dr McDevitt shares exclusive insight into how AdelaideX is enabling exploration of credentials and formative assessments in the open learning space.



Dr Katy McDevitt, Program Manager, AdelaideX, University of Adelaide

There’s a lot happening in the MOOC space, particularly the development of micro-credentials and credentialling partnerships between MOOC-active institutions.

At University of Adelaide, we’re carefully watching how this conversation unfolds among the edX university partner community – a conversation that has both been gaining momentum and raising some fascinating challenges for us, in the course of the year.

I’m interested in how that conversation is going mainly because it seems likely that future MOOC learners may soon come to consider access to a credit pathway out of their informal open study a ‘must have’.

Up to now, the vast majority of MOOC students have been content with what MOOCs offer as a self-contained (and free to study) learning activity, but my sense is that for a proportion of our open learners, this is changing. We’re exploring how to get ready for that, while also continuing to offer learners low-cost MOOC certificates via edX, as we do now.

Need for partnership in exploring future MOOC-based credentials

The first thing to acknowledge is that many – but by no means not all – MOOC learners are looking for credentials or certification. There is already a low-cost certificate which satisfies many – a verified certificate which students pay for up-front, and which is easy to share online and to employers once you pass.

But beyond this, some learners are looking for a way to transfer their learning into formal education or into career progressions.

On the education side of that, a movement towards credit transfer for MOOCs would – I think – depend on a strong shared understanding with other partners about the consistency, in terms of how much credit is applicable to what size and level of study; and which courses and programs align with which. Early days, but it looks possible.

This article is part of an insights series ahead of the Innovation in Assessment & Credentials Summit. Dr Katy McDevitt goes on to discsuss building partnerships to establish MOOC-based credentials & produce work-ready graduates; and factoring in work experience & attributes of MOOC learners to tailor credentials in line with their needs. You can continue reading the full article here.

If you’d like to know more about the Innovation in Assessment & Credentials Summit, download the brochure or visit 

Dr Katy McDevitt will be joined specialists from universities including Western Sydney University, Curtin University, Monash University, Edith Cowan University, Macquarie University, Swinburne University of Technology and more to discuss strategies on:

  • How to redesign curriculum and assessment to embed employability skills and produce work ready graduates
  • How to select the right method of assessment to align with your desired outcomes
  • How to enable students to build bespoke degress to become more work ready

An inside look at how Monash University’s blended learning transformation is improving student outcomes

In Australia, pedagogy changes have taken centre-stage as universities look to transform the student experience. By focusing on their learning outcomes, there’s an opportunity to ensure students reach their goals and enhance the reputation of their wider institutions as hubs of excellence.

But while advances in technology have enabled educators to blend the delivery channels of content and interactions for students, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach universities can take to ensure faculties maintain an effective and flexible blended learning environment.

Which poses the question: How can universities create a coordinated approach that consistently supports student learning outcomes?

At the last Blended Learning Summit, Professor Darrell Evans, Vice-Provost – Learning and Teaching at Monash University, discussed how a unique initiative was taken to place educational designers across the various faculties and work with educators to tailor blended learning methods in line with students’ needs.

“My job is to sell the story of what we want to achieve. We don’t want a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but a framework that allows for the best learning and teaching experience we can give our students. It’s an objective that bears in mind their needs across different courses,” he said.

Ahead of Blended Learning 2016, we take a look at how Monash University has established a long-term strategy through its Better Teaching, Better Learning Agenda, to help educators embrace a wider perspective on curriculum design, and align it with students’ needs to deliver the best possible learning environment.

This article features insights shared by Professor Darrell Evans, who explores how the Agenda addresses factors such as modes of teaching, resources needed to support student learning outcomes, and enhancing units of study to ensure they move towards a coordinated blended learning approach.


Professor Darrell Evans, Vice-Provost – Learning and Teaching, Monash University

Monash is a research-intensive, internationally focused university with many campuses and approximately 65,000 students. Scale is everything in this context – how can we support more than 6,000 educators to provide a blended learning experience for those students?

Not for a second can we allow staff to think that it’s technology for technology’s sake. Instead, it needs to be about the pedagogy behind the change we want to make and how technology can enable it in different ways.

We’ve created what’s called the Better Teaching, Better Learning Agenda, which is about challenging what we do and why we do it.

The Agenda falls into a series of focus areas, including:

  • Modes of teaching;
  • The educators;
  • The space we teach in;
  • How we assess our students;
  • What resources we put in place;
  • When we actually teach;
  • And what the overall content will be.

Our educators are being encouraged to think about their overall curriculum design and what they want their students to achieve at the end of that process. And once those areas are addressed, we examine what can be put in place to create the best possible learning and teaching environment for our students.

A big part of the Better Teaching, Better Learning Agenda is the pre-class activity space – will it be online or videos? Or will it be getting students together before sessions to drive an active learning approach within the overall in-class session?

And we can’t let it end there once these activities are rolled out. Part of our commitment in this Agenda is to assist them in a post-class sense – helping them practically apply some of the knowledge, skills and attributes they’ve acquired.

Obtaining stakeholder buy-in to roll out the Agenda

We secured senior management team buy-in very early in the process of establishing the Agenda. Then gradually, as we ironed out the various issues, a business case was developed that we presented to both senior management and the University Council.


Pharmacy class in session, courtesy of Prof Darrell Evans

This was important because it demonstrated to everyone on the ground that the senior management – including both the Vice Chancellor and the Provost – were very serious about the Agenda. All ten Deans were bought into it and the message cascaded through to the educators themselves.

This article is part of an insights series ahead of the Blended Learning Summit in October. Professor Darrell Evans goes on to discuss how stakeholder buy-in was obtained to roll out a coordinated blended learning approach and support student learning outcomes; as well as using existing resources efficiently to ensure students have excellent experiences in a blended learning environment. To continue reading his insights, please click here

At the upcoming Blended Learning Summit, Monash University will be joined by other leading institutions including the likes of University of NSW, University of Sydney, University of Queensland and more. They will discuss innovative tools and strategies on: 

  • Implementing innovative blended learning methods to improve student engagement and encourage continued learning
  • Promoting a culture of blended learning within the institute and effecting stakeholder mindset transformation
  • Improving communication between educators and technical staff to use resources more effectively

To know more about the Summit, please download the brochure or visit



Space planning for research facilities at University of Adelaide

As universities continue to operate with reduced funding, the focus is shifting towards making the most of existing infrastructure. University of Adelaide recently embarked on a space review for its research facilities, to find out how buildings, labs and equipment could be more efficiently used to support the needs of multi-disciplinary research teams.

Ahead of Research Facilities Design & Development 2016, Harald Baulis, Manager of Space Planning at the University of Adelaide, discusses how his team conducted the review to enable more co-location of equipment and research space.


Harald Baulis, Manager of Space Planning at the University of Adelaide

We created new space benchmark standards after a highly focused review of all our space was carried out.

Like most tertiary institutions at the moment, University of Adelaide is focused on making better use of existing infrastructure against a tighter budget, evaluating the future direction of the university.

With our study, the prime focus has been on laboratory space and associated research space, approximately 50,000m2.

It’s a serious amount of space, and anecdotally speaking, there are a lot of labs that aren’t used very effectively. Hence, the need for a comprehensive evaluation.

We’d reviewed all the labs in all the fields of health sciences, sciences and engineering – from dry lab to serious wet labs.

We began the review by engaging high level management and the faculty deans, who supported the process and recognised the value. From there, we set up a steering committee that could agree on the direction and define what would be covered. Additionally, within each faculty several sub-committees were established to help with feedback.

We subsequently performed walk-arounds of all the lab facilities, looking at condition and lab utilisation. Several detailed data sheets were developed for each lab, from which we were able to come up with their potential capacity.

We also reviewed the specific buildings to see if we could develop more efficient and effective layouts for specific buildings. Several additional focus groups were created in an effort to understand the future of wet lab work, standard repetitive processes, offsite activities, equipment centralisation and actual utilisation.

These focus groups comprised end users in terms of both researchers and lab managers, as well as technical specialists. While it’s vital to get feedback from the researchers, lab managers can have equally vital information on how the facilities could be used in a better way or more effectively.

Technology is changing, and research activities that might have traditionally needed larger equipment can now be done with smaller pieces or shared equipment. This is where the feedback from lab technicians was crucial.

Space benchmarking & standards

With space benchmarks and standards, we examined both university and commercial research lab benchmarks.

Several benchmarks have been established, including square metres per researchers, linear metres of bench per researcher, particular items of equipment per researcher, and office space per researcher.

We are still developing other KPIs, such as research grant income that is generated, and relating that variable to the space occupied. Bearing in mind, of course, that different types of research have different requirements.

One issue that we need to address, however, relates to the limitations of a flexible or interdisciplinary approach. Some research disciplines have very specific requirements.  A generic lab will not support these specialist requirements.

We recently built a generic lab, but when the selection was made for the final two groups to move in, there was a significant amount of additional work required for the equipment they brought. To make a facility more flexible can be more expensive, which is why we need to continually asses where we’re going in the context of flexibility.

The University of Adelaide has an archive that comprises space plans, live space occupancy plans, space charging information, and timetable utilisation stats related to some of the teaching labs. And what we’ve done is consolidate all of this data into one source, which we can utilise for ongoing planning work.

KPI tracking and the amount of designated office space to each group have also been integrated into this source. We have a blog that relates to this on the space system page, which updates stakeholders on the latest happenings and where we’re going with the use of space.

One of the advantages in our effort to manage space more effectively is we’re a relatively small and tight campus – much more an urban campus than a suburban spread-out design. So, we have much more of an opportunity for co-location of equipment and labs.

In terms of key lessons learned when it comes to conducting a space review, it’s very important to have an accurate space data system as the foundation. Is everything up to date for both the building plans and occupancy?

Our space charging system has really helped us with that, because it means each school and faculty signs off on what they occupy.

Additionally, it’s the walk-around to evaluate who is actually occupying the facilities and whether or not they are still receiving research funding. It could be leftover space from years ago.

From there, it comes down to layers of information on facility condition, if the equipment is up to date to accommodate the research, and areas of research in the near future.

Research facilities are complex when you start to bring them all together and try to evaluate a number of layers, such as condition and utilisation, and the appropriateness of the facility.

It’s a complexity that universities need to recognise and allow sufficient time to collate data and analyse it. Following the review, it comes down to the ongoing management of the process – a vital component for ensuring research facilities are appropriate and sustainable over the long term.

At Research Facilities Design & Development 2016, Harald Baulis will present on efficient space management strategies to support and facilitate research.

Download the brochure or visit to know more.

Research facilities: An inside look at the Monash innovations

The role of research facilities is changing at an unprecedented rate, especially in the wake of greater focus on cost management and space utilisation. From retrofits to new-build designs and ongoing facility management, there is a pedagogical shift introducing interdisciplinary research models and multi-purpose functionality.

But while the needs of researchers are being addressed with priority, commercial partnerships and university outcomes are also strategically taking centre-stage. By combining these three elements, universities are driving innovation and upping the ante on operational pressures.

In Melbourne, Victoria, Monash University has gone through leaps and bounds in its effort to become a hub of innovation for research facility development. With 24 research platforms that centralise Monash’s research capabilities into a one group function (called Monash Technology Research Platforms – MTRP), the university is able to establish collaborative partnerships at a new level.

Ahead of Research Facilities Design & Development 2016, Professor Ian Smith, Vice-Provost – Research and Research Infrastructure at Monash University, shares exclusive insight into the unique ‘ecosystem’ of innovative facilities. Now six years into the role as Vice-Provost, Ian says the setup has changed dramatically since he first took over the reins.

“When I arrived at Monash about 10 years ago, one observation I made was the high amount of duplication of equipment. Much of it was only utilised about 20-30 per cent of the time,” he explains.

“So to me, it made sense that we should look at having just one piece of equipment that would be used more than 80 per cent of the time. And the money we would save could be put towards a skilled operator for that equipment.”

This perspective on making the most of specific equipment would allow both Ian’s team and researchers obtain more reliable data, and buy the best quality reagents. As a result, Ian subsequently focused on having the team think about the quality operation and management of these core pieces of equipment, and establish ownership and responsibility by the managers.

From creating key performance indicators (KPIs) to standard operating procedures (SOPs), the approach centred on using equipment in the context of an individual business unit.

“By having KPIs and SOPs in place, we could ensure our researchers could access the facilities without fear or favour, and have guaranteed access to an instrument that is well-maintained, running optimally, and a skilled operator to help them both process samples and interpret data,” Ian observes.

Once these indicators and operating procedures were established, Ian and the team realised that many other organisations – commercial and academic – couldn’t afford the type of infrastructure that Monash was investing in, or the expertise to operate them.

Upon this realisation, the team considered how they could translate facility designs into platforms not only available for the research community, but their collaborators as well.

“It was an exercise of best-use in limited resources for purchasing infrastructure, and making sure that the infrastructure was used optimally,” he adds.

Monash pic1

Monash Biomedical Imaging refurb, courtesy of Ian Smith

Development of the 24 platforms began in the faculty of medicine, which aligned with Ian’s background as a medical researcher. But this gradually shifted to extend across engineering, science and pharmacy.

The platforms – 12 of which are now ISO 9001 certified – are what he calls a ‘dance card’ for the university. If a company approaches MTRP to use one of the facilities, Ian’s team can deliver a quality product, on-time with good reporting, web access and sample tracking services.

The ISO certification is a strategic move by MTRP to take quality to the next step and ensure that companies have a positive and seamless experience, thereby recognising the skills and quality of the university.

“First-time clients are far more likely to look at Monash for longer-term for research and development programs. When I look at major industry interactions that we have across all sectors, one of the common themes is they start small and then grow big. And they grow big because we build trust. We’re recognised as being able to deliver a quality product and understand our industrial partner’s needs,” Ian explains.

The platforms have been instrumental as a dance card, introducing the university’s technology to different industries. Many companies – major players included – do not have the range of research infrastructure, as well as the expertise to operate such facilities and interpret related data.

Through ISO certification, specialised managers and monitoring services, MTRP is able to operate as a CRO and provide the capability to support R&D efforts. Currently, around 70 per cent of the platforms’ time is used by researchers; while 30 per cent is taken up by industry.

Each core piece of infrastructure across MTRP’s portfolio has a manager responsible for running the respective facility, particularly:

  • Maintenance & service;
  • Compliance for ISO certification;
  • Monitoring grant access on behalf of MTRP;
  • Customer satisfaction surveys; and
  • Reporting on income from industry and research collaborators.

All platforms are rigorously reviewed every three years by both internal and external reviewers, to ensure they are operating effectively and are still relevant. This way, Ian’s team can justify the required expenditure.

Managing the ongoing operation of all 24 platforms – which although not a major challenge – is a key priority for MTRP.

“The management per se is not such an issue. We need to ensure that the organisation has the latitude within its reward and performance evaluation, especially for people who decide to take a career route in managing one of these facilities.

“That way, they can be promoted and can climb the ladder based on what they do with the platforms; as opposed to what they might do in terms of numbers of papers, numbers of students or size of budgets,” he says.

The core challenge, according to Ian, lies in recovering operational costs. Running each platform and keeping them state-of-the-art is not cheap by any means.

“Another major challenge is persuading researchers not to own equipment; that they’re far better off donating equipment into one of these facilities and accessing it through one of the facilities, rather than using it themselves,” he adds.

A recent innovation through which MTRP invested heavily is 3D light metal printing, by way of a new Monash Centre for Additive Manufacture (MCAM). Creating this platform led to a unique achievement in concert with Microturbo and Safran Engineering in France (which services Airbus): they managed to print a functional jet engine.

“We now have a spin-out company that works with the aerospace industry, because when you print something in light metal then it can be lighter, you can do rapid prototyping. The jet engine was shown at the Avalon Air Show last year and received some great national and international press coverage,” Ian notes.

Monash pic2

Example of equipment setup at MCAM – Trumpf TruLaser cell 7040, courtesy of Ian Smith

Additionally, MTRP has a successful partnership with Pfizer, having recently joined the collaborative research network Centres for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI). This invitation came about for two reasons: firstly, MTRP has highly-specialised researchers in the area of generating monoclonal antibodies.

And secondly, there is a high-throughput monoclonal antibody facility that enables the researchers to generate potential monoclonal antibody therapeutics.


Monash Antibody Technologies Facility, courtesy of Ian Smith

Focus areas and lessons learned

MTRP’s focus area for 2016 is two-pronged, according to Ian. The first relates to ISO certification for the remaining 12 platforms; while the second involves looking at the platforms not in isolation, but how they can form an integrated pipeline of capabilities.

“If it’s drug development, we can do drug discovery, drug evaluation, drug optimisation, pre-clinical trials and then phase one, two, three and four clinical trials. There’s an awful lot that we can do as part of that pipeline.

“So, we can work with industry and we can work with our researchers. I won’t say that we’re a pharmaceutical company, but there are a lot of aspects of that drug discovery pipeline that we’re capable of doing in-house.”

Having presided over the MTRP group function for a decade and overseeing management of all 24 platforms, there are three distinct lessons Ian has taken on board.

Firstly, when it comes to cost recovery, there are some platforms that industry is very keen to use, and that can offset a significant proportion of these costs. While for other platforms that don’t attract as much industry attention, the university itself can gain enormous benefit by focusing on research outputs.

“Regarding the platforms, you should have a broad approach as to what your return on investment is. It might be dollars, but it could also be scientific achievements,” he explains.

The second learning relates to operations, in which Ian stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Different platforms will operate under different regimes in the context of if it is a subscription, hour, or by an analysis that is taking place.

“It’s a bit ‘Topsyesque’ in the different areas of research, different platforms operate on different parameters and we are fairly agnostic when it comes to that. We don’t subscribe to one-size-fits-all. We look at each platform individually.”

While for the third learning, Ian says planning for an integrated pipeline is crucial: “When one platform can integrate with another, the output is greater than the sum of the individual outputs.”

“By using platforms we can actually save money; we don’t duplicate resources. We can improve standards, and provide capability for the much broader research community and increase our capacity to engage and work with industry.”

Ian Smith will conduct an in-depth presentation at the upcoming Research Facilities Design & Development conference in May. Be sure to check out the brochure or visit to know more. 

Research innovation – It takes three to tango, says Former Chief Scientist

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Innovation Statement – unveiled in December – marked a cornerstone for the national agenda, introducing an ‘ideas boom’ set to usher in a new era for research and development (R&D).

From strengthening the relationship between business and the research community, to enabling greater R&D funding, the stage is set for Australia to take a leading role in research innovation.

Through a planned investment of $1.1 billion earmarked for the ideas boom, the National Innovation and Science Agenda has already ignited a flurry of activity. The CSIRO is gearing up for an early stage innovation fund estimated at $200 million; while a $250 million Biomedical Translation Fund will drive more partnerships with the private sector. Even leading US tech investors are making the way Down Under to check out the local start-up scene.

With research innovation and collaboration now firmly on the national agenda, there are multiple considerations that need to be addressed – not only a policy level, but a strategic and economic level, too.

Professor Ian Chubb, Former Chief Scientist of Australia, is one of the key figures in paving the way for outcomes of the Innovation Statement, having consulted extensively at Federal level and publishing several ground-breaking reports on scientific research contributions to the national economy.

Ahead of Research Innovation 2016, Professor Chubb shares exclusive insight into trends, challenges and considerations in the wake of the ideas boom. If there’s one thing he notes at the outset, it takes three to tango.

“The Agenda is a good start. It’s very positive. But it will take three to tango this time,” he says.

“The government needs to ensure it gets the policies, incentives and messaging right; the scientific community needs to be aware of how the world works, and ask paradigm-shifting questions that are fundamental to the knowledge of their discipline, as well as pushing application of that knowledge. And private sector companies need to be less risk averse, and take on partnerships that foster R&D and innovation on a scale we’ve never reached.”

The value of scientific contributions

At his farewell speech on Friday 22 January, Professor Chubb released two major reports, highlighting $330 billion that science research has added to the national economy. It is the first time ever that such a contribution has been quantified, particularly for Advanced Physical, Mathematical and Biological Sciences.

“We tried to find out what recent advances had contributed to the national economy. We came up with a figure of $330 billion, by first going back and asking researchers what they thought the contribution of their discipline was to identified industries, and then validating their responses with the businesses – seeing what they thought,” Professor Chubb explains.

A series of case studies were noted in the report, reinforcing key points that linked Australian research with commercial partnerships. For example, creation of new medical device products has become a hallmark of innovation in advanced biology.

CSL, an Australian company that develops new vaccines and therapies, has multiple research facilities worldwide and builds partnerships with universities at the same time. From 2014 to 2015, the company’s R&D spending exceeded $463 million and yielded a return of $1.4 billion.

The company’s CSL654 therapy – which treats cases of haemophilia – is at the tail-end of development, and will become available to the market this year.

As the report notes, CSL654 “is a good recent example of a treatment that was discovered, developed, trialled and manufactured within a single commercial setting.”

Commercialising scientific research into a product, treatment or service reflects what effective partnerships and collaboration can achieve. But according to Professor Chubb, there is a balance that needs to be struck.

“There’s a lot of science underpinning economic advance and economic development – not just in Australia, of course, but around the world. But we make the mistake sometimes when we think that every researcher has to make a direct link between their research and a commercial outcome – the translation of their research into innovation,” he explains.

“It’s rarely the case that researchers themselves come along and say: ‘Now I can make what I have done (or discovered) into a good or service that people want’. Sometimes, yes; often no. And why would they?

“They need to do what they are good at, and engage others who have experience in patents and route-to-market strategies. It’s really about ensuring that we’re sensible about what we expect, and having the policies and incentives in place to facilitate the partnerships.”

Creating an innovation-led economy

On 30 October 2015, a paper – Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia – was published, linking entrepreneurship to an innovation-led economy. The report highlighted a series of outcomes, including key factors behind successful countries that have high levels of technology entrepreneurship.

For example, giving urgency to technology entrepreneurship that is supported by a national innovation and entrepreneurship strategy, and giving recognition to the role of schools and universities as drivers of entrepreneurial culture.

This factor directly addresses what Professor Chubb has frequently advocated in the context of Australian universities and their research efforts.

The abstract of the report notes: “Now is the right time for the government and the university sector to work together with industry to bring about a transformation in which high-growth, technology-based businesses become a driving force behind Australias economy.”

While this observation ties back to the ‘three-to-tango’ analogy, Professor Chubb was clear to note in the interview for this article, that the definition of technology-based businesses (start-ups in particular) needs to be addressed.

“Start-ups are incredibly important. And we need to ensure we identify which ones have the capacity to grow. But it can’t be exclusively about digital – although that seems the dominant flavour at the moment.

“Yes, digital transformation is an important part of our life and what we do, but it’s not the only thing we do. We need to make sure we get the biotechs in there, the small engineering companies, and support the people who have good ideas that can grow across our profile.”

At the same time, however, any competitive advantage of Australia is somewhat precarious. According to Professor Chubb, the national willingness to change is vital to keep ahead.

“Doing what we have always done, or making small incremental shifts in what we do is not good enough. Nor is it good enough to get bogged down in the present,” he says.

“I would hate for us to spend so much of our effort looking at ourselves that we find, when we look up, that we are wallowing in the wake of the rest. The world is moving and we can learn from that – the major message is that we have to move, too.”

His observation highlights the need for Australia to remain adaptive, especially at a time when technology and research is advancing at an incredible pace globally.

“I do think that we should be exploring our national needs, our comparative advantages, our capacities and our capabilities – comprehensively and coherently. There are areas where we have real advantage, not necessarily unique, but real.

“For example, we could be world leading in renewable energy, or energy storage.  We have what we need to be ahead of the world – talent, and supplies like solar in abundance. Why would we not aspire to be world leading?” he remarks.

“And another example: agriculture. Why would we not prepare ourselves to be able to meet the often stated desire to be a major contributor to the food demands of an ever-growing global population that already cannot provide adequate nutrition for all humanity?” Professor Chubb adds.

The ideas boom will take three to tango, and it is an exciting prospect for Australia’s future. Innovation is no longer a jargon-infused concept, but a tangible outcome through which meaningful investment will enhance the value of scientific research many-fold.

Professor Ian Chubb will deliver the keynote presentation at Research Innovation 2016, focusing on the impact of the National Innovation Science Agenda on research partnerships, collaboration and commercialisation.

Download the brochure or visit to know more about the program.

Learning analytics: Your roadmap to personalising the student experience

As with many other sectors, the transition to online has opened up a wealth of new, accessible information in higher education. Learning analytics combines data analysis of student interaction with online (as well as offline) education, aiming to provide a more personalised learning experience.

The potential for analytics is huge, and universities are beginning to harness the abundance of available data. But many faculties still face the burden of understanding how to develop an analytics strategy, as well as collating and analysing accurate data to make informed decisions that are aligned with student needs.

Ahead of Blended Learning 2015, we examined the various considerations and critical success factors that can enable faculties to gather information from different sources and create a single ‘source of truth’. Extracting actionable insights from student learning patterns will open up new possibilities to improve engagement and guide students to successful outcomes.

The case for learning analytics

The ability to investigate student study behavior is vital towards informing a number of blended learning attributes, including:

  • Teaching practice;
  • Curriculum design;
  • Learner engagement;
  • And course selection pathway.

These attributes reflect an important distinction between two perspectives: at a course level and a departmental level, from which both students and faculties stand to benefit. Many initiatives can result in the form of fact-finding projects (both predictive and reactive); dashboard analysis and reporting (of both students and staff); and the wider institutional approach.

But developing the analytics strategy very much relies on institutional maturity – what level of sophistication or readiness a university is at for learning analytics. When this level is determined, faculties need to identify:

  • The type of data accessible;
  • The tools available to assort and analyse the data;
  • Reporting, which could be ad-hoc or more formatted;
  • And consultation and engagement with stakeholders.

Some faculties can be tempted to track metrics just for the sake of it, not really considering the way in which information can be extracted from specific data sources. The key is to be able to draw out actionable insights to develop the blended learning strategy, such as using patterns of learning to predict individual student performance and implementing potential interventions if necessary.

Analytics in action – University of Sydney

At University of Sydney, there’s a learning analytics strategy (for flipped classrooms) spearheaded by Professor Abelardo Pardo, Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical Engineering, who is responsible for the deployment of the unit and its design.
The design includes many active learning resources, such as videos, multiple choice questions in the notes, and sequences of problems for class preparation.

“Once a year,” he says, “there are several innovation projects funded and some of them use analytics to create an effective, blended learning environment. The university also supports us with additional tasks needed to deploy and run these data driven initiatives.”

At a more abstract level, pedagogical strategies are being adopted to increase student participation. Videos followed by multiple choice questions, for example, is a formative assessment resource that doesn’t count towards the students’ actual grades. Instead, it’s a way for them to ensure they are travelling along the right trajectory for learning outcomes.

The resources are designed to ensure student interactions support learning. Professor Pardo notes that different patterns of video interaction have been identified and are checked – in real time – if they are having an effect in the context of flipped learning.

“As a result, we can reach out to individual students and suggest different ways of maximising the usage of these videos. The results we have are still preliminary, but we think these techniques can provide greater support to the students. Our educators are currently supported by eLearning that provides access to several analytics reports,” he explains.

The support provided by eLearning and the reporting capability reflect more of the wider design strategy – for example, the type of resources; the type of interaction expected; inclusion of formative assessments; or the number of times students are allowed when solving exercises. These variables have a lot of potential to improve the learning design and therefore enhance the overall learning experience.

“We’re creating an environment in which we assume that students have a fair amount of interaction with the material, the instructors and among themselves, because that will increase their overall academic performance,” Professor Pardo notes.
However, creating this environment presents three distinct challenges. The first relates to enabling academics to become proficient with the necessary tools – that could range from creating or annotating videos, to detecting and processing events within them.

While the second issue lies in implementing additional tools that allow educators to create simulations and take a look at the data generated by them. And the third challenge is how to combine this data to produce predictive models, identify actionable insights and implement interventions.

“Linking pedagogical strategies with the collected data is not a trivial task,” Professor Pardo observes. “We need to think about what kind of activities would make more sense to include, ensure that proper data is being collected, and deploy the correct analytic procedures.”

Some universities have addressed the variety of available data and reporting by implementing integrated data warehouse applications – or enterprise warehousing. Only a few institutions have adopted this solution, but they are now able to provide multiple stakeholders with different levels of reports and intelligence.

At University of Sydney, several seminars and discussions on the use of analytics and associated issues have been held, as well as collaboration with other institutions – either through research projects or consulting.

“The most common data source is the learning management system (LMS). However, the LMS data is not enough and it needs to be integrated with other data sources such as student information systems. It’s by combining several sources that we can we obtain better insights and align them with the learning outcomes,” Professor Pardo says.

The conventional sources that are considered outside of the LMS are:

Initial enrolment information;
Student feedback surveys;
Number of courses taken by individual students;
And average scores.

The objective is to increase the number of data sources for analysis and identify important indicators, as well as scale personalised feedback using data to identify clusters of students with similar profiles.

By grouping together these profiles, Professor Pardo and his team will be able to communicate specific messages and feedback based on their preferred learning outcomes. This capability will require more detailed access and algorithms to create profile categories.

Learnig analytic

Analytics dashboard, courtesy of University of Sydney


Implementing data analytics is a group activity, not the responsibility of one individual. And it all starts with creating a data inventory, because most universities will generally have data that is already being collected. Dashboard reporting offers a range of opportunities for faculty to craft tailored learning experiences for students with their outcomes in mind, especially in the context of flipped classrooms.

“Think in advance of a solution that provides functionality for different stakeholders,” Professor Pardo says. “Not only to upper management, but curriculum design, course coordinators and instructors.”

Aligning the analytics strategy with the pedagogical objectives will enable students and staff to benefit from personalised feedback.