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e-Learning Digest No 142 - Jun 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 June 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs



EU Debate

[THE; University World News; The Telegraph; BBC]

Does UK research really benefit from EU membership?  According to data from the Royal Society, the UK does better than average, receiving £345k in 2013 for every €1m (~£700k) contributed.  The best-performing countries tend to be relatively small developed nations, while members in Eastern Europe populate the bottom of the table.

Research into Education could be the greatest casualty of a Brexit vote according to data from Digital Science, which reports that 43% of research funding for education from 2006-2015 came from the EU, followed by Law (39%) and Philosophy (36%).  Most vulnerable institutions, based on the same measure are Southampton Solent (91%), Bedfordshire (91%) and Teeside (76%).

And yet more data, this time from UUK, shows that EU research funding generates more than 19,000 jobs across the United Kingdom, £1.86bn for the UK economy and contributes more than £1bn to GDP.

Led by Prof Danny Dorling, a seven academics weigh the case for and against Brexit in a lengthy THE article which begins, “Our problems are not created by EU membership.  Many of our benefits are”.

Despite Charity Commission guidelines which state that universities must be politically neutral in the run up to the EU referendum, universities including Oxford, Warwick and Exeter have used private lectures and emails to encourage students to reject Brexit calls.  However, pro-Brexiteer Chris Grayling warned that academic institutions should “not propagate myths.”

Amongst all this focus on the UK and Brexit, Pew Research reveals some fascinating data on how other Europeans regard Europe.



[THE; BBC; The Telegraph; Peter Horrocks; HEA]

THE’s University Financial Health Check 2016 (based on 2014-15 figures) makes interesting reading.  Ignore for the moment Cambridge’s £4bn reserves (OU £315m) and take a look at staff costs as a % of income, where the OU is second highest at 68.1%, beaten only by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (71.5%).  We score better on borrowing as a % of income, where our 14.4% is at the lower end of the spectrum (Northampton reports 184%) and we are one of a handful of HEIs running a deficit as a % of total income, but our -1.7% is small change compared to the University of Wales (-23%) and the Institute of Financial Services University College (-14%).

Speaking at the annual HEPI conference, Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson has highlighted the importance of life-long access to higher education, saying, “In a flexible and competitive labour market, we must continue to ensure there are opportunities to gain new qualifications at all stages of life.”  Peter Horrocks welcomed the remarks, noting that, “being able to transfer credit between institutions and find new ways into the university system would make it much easier for students from all walks of life to realise their full potential.”

Hefce has investigated claims that university staff have tried to get undergraduates to inflate their course ratings for the NSS on 30 occasions over the past seven years.  In most cases this took the form of inappropriate influence via email, briefing or other communication (e.g. reminding students of the impact that the NSS has on employers’ perceptions of institutions and, therefore, on their job prospects as graduates).  However, in six instances, staff were suspected of being directly involved in completing NSS responses.  Of the 27 investigations that have concluded, 17 resulted in institutions being asked to take specific actions, and in four cases a course’s NSS data were judged to be unreliable and the results were suppressed on sources such as the Unistats website.

The HEA/HEPI 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey of over 15,000 full-time undergraduates reveals that while 85% of full-time undergraduates at UK institutions are satisfied with their course, just 37% of them perceive they get value for money (down from 53% in 2012).  Only 21% of students say that lecturers demonstrate ‘a lot’ that they have received training in how to teach, and 38% see signs ‘a lot’ that their lecturers are active researchers.  On average, full-time undergraduate students work for 33 hours a week, split between 12 contact hours, 15 hours of independent study and 6 hours undertaking off-campus course-related work (such as a placement). 

The Sutton Trust’s Access in Scotland study found children from the most disadvantaged areas are four times less likely to go to university than those from the wealthiest homes.  This compared to 2.4 times less likely in England and three times less likely in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has announced that support for part-time postgraduate study – which cost £6.5m last year – has been scrapped due to a reduced budget this year.  HEFCW received £11m less from the Welsh Government this year and has prioritised research and part-time undergraduate provision.

Suffolk's only university campus has been granted independence, having previously only awarded degrees on behalf of the UEA and the University of Essex.  University Campus Suffolk, currently with more than 5,000 students, will become the University of Suffolk.



[The Independent; KNN India; IRRODL; WordPress; Class Central]

The OU and the University of Leeds are offering “try before you buy” FutureLearn MOOCs to allow students the opportunity to study for part of a degree course before progressing further.  Leeds is offering five short courses for its environmental challenges programme, while the OU has programmes on the digital economy, business and finance, and management and leadership.  Learners will be able to try out the course experience and checking its suitability for them before making the decision to pay for a certificate of achievement and final assessment.  Those who then decide to progress further to a full course may have the opportunity to bypass most of, or all of, their first year.

Bhopal-based education group AISECT has launched India’s largest MOOC platform, offering over 2,000 courses including high school, higher education and workplace skill courses.  These include 750+ diploma and certificate level courses from Irish partner and workplace learning giant, ALISON.

A study just published in IRRODL assessed the effect of crediting on students’ achievement, perceived intrinsic and extrinsic goal orientations, and perceived course value in “MOOC-like” learning environments.  Data from 516 learners were used to compare three credit conditions: credit bearing, non-credit bearing, and credit careless, with results showing a significant difference between the credit bearing group and non-credit bearing group for all dependent variables.  The credit bearing group also scored significantly higher achievement scores than the credit careless group.  The researcher acknowledges that “the study should be replicated in a real MOOC setting” but urges HEIs and other MOOC providers to consider adopting models to integrate MOOCs for credit.

>Udacity has begun operations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with Bertelsmann (Udacity's biggest shareholder) assisting with its deployment to meet anticipated demand from the German-speaking automotive and banking sectors.

Although not described as MOOCs, WordPress's Blogging U offers on-demand, step-by-step courses in four subject tracks: Blogging, Writing, Websites (coming soon) and Photography (coming soon).  Learners can understand terms and concepts, gain new skills, undertake “manageable daily assignments” and get pro tips from staff.

Coursera has announced that they are shutting down their old platform on 30 Jun, which contains hundreds of courses that may no longer become available, even for those who took those courses.


Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends

[The Chronicle; Stephen Downes]

Yes it’s that time of year again, and Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker has broken all records with a 213 slide internet trends presentation.  Its scale makes it difficult to summarise in any meaningful way but rest assured there’s something for everyone, including general internet trends (Slide 4), the economy (17), advertising and retail (41), social (71), interfaces (111), transport (134), China (160) and data (193) – but nothing specifically about education.

But if Slideshare’s not for you, why not try the >Eminem parody video?


Instructional Designers in Higher Education

[The Chronicle]

A new study from The Chronicle and Pearson, Instructional Designers in Higher Ed: Changing the Course of Next-Generation Learning, is based on a survey of 294 faculty members and 179 instructional designers.  It provides a good overview of what (US) IDs in HE are doing, how they’re doing it, what problems they face, how technology is changing things and how relationships with faculties are faring.  The authors acknowledge that, “Tensions between designers and faculty members include differing expectations over role, and differing perceptions of the value of technology” whilst also noting that, “Instructional designers have the potential to help faculty members use new research-based methods of learning in their courses and to figure out how to best incorporate new technologies that are changing the ways society learns, interacts, communicates, and does business. But before faculty members embrace instructional design, they have to see the payoffs for students, and frankly, for themselves”.


Unpacking the Problem of Unmotivated Online Students

[EdSurge; Audrey Watters]

A US college professor recently estimated that around 5-10% of online learning students “really want to learn”, with the majority simply treating online as an easier option than F2F.  Michelle Pacansky-Brock offers >advice for designers and online tutors on motivating online students, based on Paris & Turner’s (1995) six C’s model: Choice, Control, Constructing meaning, Challenge, Collaboration and Consequences.  She quotes Mike Caulfield, who recently pointed out, “With the right system of connected explanations and examples we could serve students the individual content they need on numerous dimensions.”

This takes us in the direction of personalised learning, which is good, right?  Not necessarily, according to Ben Riley, founder and executive director of Deans for Impact.  He argues that children or adult novices are not always best placed to determine what, when and how they learn and that teachers (backed by learning science) should be doing that, not technology.  However, >Annie Murphy Paul is not completely convinced, and neither am I, because it’s not a simple binary argument.  Nobody (I hope) is advocating learning factories, but there are many examples of well-designed and well-implemented technology-enhanced solutions that are delivering and supporting effective, engaging and social learning.


If it wasn’t for the Open University…

[Emma Bridges]

Rohullah Yakobi speaks in glowing terms about the OU and the opportunities it has given her since arriving in Britain in 2004 as a refugee from war-torn Afghanistan: “People often talk of second chances, but as I had never had a first chance, the OU gave me a dream chance.”


Google Launches New Software Development Certification Programme


Google has announced a new certification programme for development agencies to recognise those that “have undergone the required training and have demonstrated excellence in building Android applications”.  In total, 13 agencies in India, Russia, the UK and US have already been certified since Google first announced its plans for this programme last December.  Google will provide certified agencies with personalised training, dedicated content, priority support, access to the company’s developer relations teams and early access to upcoming developer products and help with UX reviews, although it stresses that it does “not endorse, or offer any warranty, regarding the certified agencies”.


Comparing Fully-Online vs Mixed-Course US Enrolment Data

[Phil Hill]

Phil Hill looks at the data for US enrolments in fully online and mixed-course studies from 2yr and 4yr public, private non-profit and for-profit degree providers.  He notes that fully online is rarer than many people think, especially from public institutions. Private providers offer more fully online courses but the growth rate between 2012 and 2014 was sizeable for non-profits, whilst for-profits showed some decline.


Scientific Papers to be Free by 2020

[The Guardian]

All publicly funded scientific papers published in Europe could be made free to access by 2020, under a “life-changing” reform ordered by the European Union’s science chief, Carlos Moedas following a recent two-day meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council.  In a move that is bound to affect the paid-for journal subscription model, and could undermine the common practice of releasing reports under embargo, the Council said data must be made accessible unless there were well-founded reasons for not doing so, such as intellectual property rights or security or privacy issues.


Women on Facebook are Warmer but No Less Assertive than Men


Researchers conducted two studies to explore >differences in language and assertiveness across gender and affiliation.  In the first (10m messages from over 52,000 Facebook users), females mostly posted about friends, family, and social life, whereas males displayed swearing, anger, discussion of objects (instead of people) and the use of argumentative language.  In the second (15,000 Facebook users), there were substantial gender differences in the use of affiliative language and slight differences in assertive language.  Language used more by self-identified females was interpersonally warmer, more compassionate, polite, and—contrary to previous findings—slightly more assertive in their language use, whereas language used more by self-identified males was colder, more hostile, and impersonal.


Schools Prefer Laptops to iPads


In 2012, Maine was one of the first US states to rollout iPads to all kindergarten pupils.  However, a survey has found that 88.5% of teachers and 74% of students in grades 7 to 12 “were overwhelmingly in favor of laptops” and so the state education department and Apple are offering schools the opportunity to swap their iPads for Apple laptops at no additional cost.  The state’s Learning and Technology Initiative Director said that the state “underestimated how different an iPad is from a laptop.”


Moodle: Competency Based Education and Gamified Learning

[EdSurge; Campus Technology]

Moodle 3.1 introduces support for >competency-based education, allowing students to earn credit after mastering skills, abilities and knowledge required for an area of study, regardless of time spent in class.  Educators can now design “competency frameworks” and add them to specific course activities, creating learning paths associated with those competencies and assigning them to individuals or groups.  The 3.1 upgrade also brings global search, assignment file conversion, activity sharing between Moodle sites and bulk download of study files in zipped folders for offline use.

Staff at North Carolina State University have developed a Moodle Plugin for gamified learning that allows each student to pursue a different path through the coursework.  Designed to support a cohort of 100 students on a sports management course, the plugin provides a character with personal attributes and skills who then has to complete activities within a scenario, improving and receiving feedback along the journey.  The plugin also links with inbuilt Moodle analytics to track progress and identify potential problems at an early stage.


Practising Self-Control with a Squeezy Handgrip Boosted Grades


Swiss researchers have investigated the role of self-control and self-discipline in academic success by testing the effects of two weeks of twice-daily hand squeezing using a commercially available handgrip.  Their premise was that squeezing the grip for as long as possible gives students practice at self-control – it takes willpower to resist giving up as soon as squeezing becomes uncomfortable – and the experience teaches the idea that exerting effort isn't aversive.  The results showed that students who performed the two weeks of hand squeezing in their first semester achieved “considerably” higher grades seven months' later at the end of the academic year, as compared with a control group.  It appeared that the hand-squeeze students changed their attitudes to studying, showing an increased willingness to put effort into their studies and they actually studied more in the weeks before the exam.


 E Ink Brings Rich Colour to ePaper


 E Ink, which makes the ePaper displays found in many e-readers, has announced Advanced Color ePaper, which can display 32,000 colours, with each pixel containing all the pigments necessary to make every shade.  However, the technology is currently in the form of 20” (2500 x 1600) panels that will be restricted to signage for now because the colour saturation cannot yet match the expectations of close reading.



  • The EU has passed a new visa directive that makes it easier for people from third countries to study or research at EU universities.  [University World News]

  • Psychologists have developed a way to measure divergent thinking – a form of creativity – in one-year-olds.  [BPS]

  • AmazonFresh has started operating grocery deliveries for Prime subscribers in 69 postcodes in north and east London.  [TechCrunch]

  • Tesco is launching lower price >mobile phone contracts from £4.50 per month, but with adverts.  [The Memo]

  • We all know the Mercator projection gives a flawed view of country sizes, but The True Size Of is a new interactive web app that shows things more accurately.  [Wired]

  • Diploma mills in the US date back to 1876, when they were branded a “disgrace to American education”.  So, how are things looking now?  [University World News]

  • The Guardian suggests 10 of the best virtual reality apps for your smartphone.  [The Guardian]

  • Discover why the British Government abandoned apps in favour of websites that work across multiple devices.  [Steve Parkinson]

  • ITyStudio claims to be the first authoring tool for educational multimedia games and 2D and 3D simulations.  [ITyStudio]

  • Psychologist Robert Epstein explains why the human brain is not a computer.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Josh Constine explains how the increased Twitter character limit will work.  [TechCrunch]

  • As widely predicted, Sony has revealed a VR headset for the PS4 and claims that it has more than 50 VR games in production.  [BBC]


And Finally…

[Mike Innes; The Memo]

Mike Innes observes that “There are bad visualisations, and then there's the 'bicycle of education'.”  I presumed the bicycle was a joke but, no, it’s alive and kicking and described extensively on pp.96-104 of 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times.  But what about the (unlabelled) pedals?  A limited edition TEL pen for the best suggestion.

Does your pronunciation of ‘Scone’ rhyme with ‘gone’ or ‘bone’?  A new >English Dialects App is helping Cambridge researchers collate and map how we speak and how this has changed over time – including binary pronunciations (e.g. Scone/Scone), local slang (e.g. Spelk/Splinter) and lazy or estuary English (Three/Free). 


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