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e-Learning Digest No 143 - Jul 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
18 July 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs






[Peter Horrocks; University World News; Will Woods; Wonkhe; The Telegraph; BBC]

Cameron?  Who was he?  Theresa May has merged DBIS with DECC to create the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, led by former Universities Minister Greg Clark.  This new department will have responsibility for research and science whilst universities move to the Department for Education, led by former International Development Secretary, Justine Greening.  The government says that “The Department for Education will take on responsibility for Higher and Further Education policy, apprenticeships and wider skills policy from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  Bringing these responsibilities together will mean that the Government can take a comprehensive, end-to-end view of skills and education, supporting people from early years through to postgraduate study and work.”  Jo Johnson becomes joint Minister of State at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, leading on universities and science.  The Higher Education and Research Bill is due its second reading next Tuesday next week, but now under the joint ownership of those two departments rather than one.

Jo Johnson has announced plans to change student funding rules to benefit more armed forces personnel and their families who want to take up distance learning courses while posted abroad.  Under current rules, a prospective student must be resident in the UK on the first day of the first academic year of their course if they are to be eligible for a student loan.

Peter Horrocks writes on the THE blog about the importance of flexible learning in a post-Brexit Britain if we are to break the consequences of poor educational outcomes à low skills à low-income on social division in our communities.

Anne Corbett considers the future for universities in a post-Brexit world, given that EU nationals make up around 5.5% of the student body and around 15% of academic staff, and that the EU is responsible for somewhere between 14% and 19% of university income.  Meanwhile, Hanneke Teekens presents a view from across the channel.

The Open University has been ranked equal 47th out of 78 UK universities in last month’s THE World University Rankings.  However, the OU fared better in last November’s Global Employability University Survey, when it was ranked 13th of all UK HEIs by UK companies for producing the best 'ready-for-work' graduates.  Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial took the top three positions in both tables although, in a different ranking based just on teaching quality, institutions which normally fare well appeared further down the tables, with Oxford University in 28th place and Imperial 37th.

How this will fare after the Whitehall deckchair rearranging, we don’t know, but BIS’s just-released >Post-16 Skills Plan accepts the recommendations of the Independent Review of Technical Education in its entirety.  The headline recommendation of introducing a choice between academic and technical pathways at 16 is significantly more flexible than it appears at first sight and, while learners will not be able to ‘mix and match’ academic and vocational qualifications at the same time, learners who have taken the technical route and wish to go to university will be able to do so by taking a ‘bridging’ course such as a Higher Education Diploma or a Foundation course.  On the flipside, it wants to create an appealing form of bridging provision for students who take A-levels but do not wish to progress to university.  Nearly a quarter of all higher education acceptances in 2015 had studied a vocational qualification alongside or instead of A-levels

The QAA has told the University of Oxford to address significant concerns from undergraduates concerning “excessive” and uneven workloads at the institution, following fears that academic rigour is being lost.  College tutors are expected to use their discretion when deciding how much written work should be set and how many seminars should be attended, but students report “little parity across the colleges”, with some students working in excess of 50 or 60 hours a week and becoming “essay machines”.

Transnational higher education (UK HEIs delivering their services in another country through, for example, branch campuses, visiting lecturers or online/distance learning) grew by 13% between 2012-13 and 2014-15, compared with 2.7% growth in international student recruitment, according to a new report, The Scale and Scope of UK Higher Education Transnational Education.  The report also finds that four in five universities intend to expand their provision in the next three years.

A timely example of this comes from Warwick, which expects to begin recruiting students next year for two graduate programs that will launch in 2018 in California’s Sacramento Valley.  Initial student numbers will be in the “dozens” and UK staff will be flown in, but there are plans to develop a 6,000-student campus by 2031.  However, Philadelphia’s Drexel University tried a similar approach in Sacramento and has just held its final graduation ceremonies, calling an end after 7 years.

Tuition fees for students in the Republic of Ireland could rise to up to €5,000 euros a year and necessitate a student loan scheme under proposals made by an expert group on HE funding, set up by the Irish Department of Education and Skills.  Students in the Republic currently pay €3,000 euros a year in "student contribution" fees.



[Steve Parkinson; Audrey Watters]

The Chartered Management Institute and The Open University Business School have developed the Management and Leadership: Growing as a Manager MOOC to address the growing appetite for online education by digital savvy managers.  The two-part MOOC will offer a blended approach including social learning, self-directed study and peer learning.  After completing both parts, managers will be eligible to take a CMI Level 5 Award in Management and Leadership, which will help them work towards Chartered Manager status. 

Recent research looked at how learner engagement in MOOCs might be improved by considering three pedagogical aspects: teacher presence, social learning, and peer learning.  The study was based on participants in two FutureLearn MOOCs, each of which presented twice in 2015.  There are some insightful student quotes (on peer assessment: “the reviewer of my assignment was totally distracted by his own verbosity and seems to have been looking for some extra space to write another essay of his own.  Not once was anything I wrote even referred to”) and good evidence of behaviours and preferences.  The researchers conclude that: “Most visible in our study is a comparatively small core group of learners who actively and deeply participated in all these sharing practices; their behaviour enabled vicarious learning and enhanced the entire learning experience for the broader community.”

In a position paper published by EURODL, the authors explore >possible business models for MOOCs, including: the Freemium model, sponsorships, initiatives and grants, donations, merchandise, the sale of supplementary material, selective advertising, data-sharing, follow-on events, and revenue from referrals.  There is a helpful SWOT analysis (Table 1); the authors note that paid-for certification is the predominant income generator but they stop short of recommending any specific alternatives.


Commercial News

[Steve Parkinson; Audrey Watters; EdSurge]

City & Guilds has announced the creation of a new digital credentialing services business following the acquisition of Makewaves, which designs credentials using open badges to recognise individuals' skills and talents, working with employers and training providers, including Mozilla, O2 and the BBC.  The new business will be known as Digitalme.

Graduates from the University of Law’s Legal Practice Course will be able to reclaim half their tuition fees back in cash if they don’t land a job nine months after completing their studies.  The university’s new “100% for You” initiative will also offer a half-price discount to out-of-work graduate lawyers should they wish to pursue a postgraduate course.

Edinburgh-based online learning specialist, CogBooks, has raised £1.25m to accelerate its growth in the UK and US.  CogBooks has developed adaptive technology that tailors online learning programmes to students’ individual needs.  It claims to have helped Arizona State University deliver a 24% increase in student success and 90% reduction in drop-out rates.

Elsevier has acquired Hivebench which will enable the publisher to offer an integrated lab notebook too that can, “support researchers to store, share, discover and re-use data. That way, authors receive credit for their work while the wider research community benefits from discovering and using research data.”

ProQuest has acquired Alexander Street Press, a provider of streaming media for learning and research, whose resources include Academic Video Online (50,000 video titles), Music Online (over 8 million tracks, plus scores and reference works), and 100+ primary source collections featuring 60,000 video titles.


Students Shaping the Future of Technology-Enabled Learning

[Stephen Downes]

Contact Nord’s site discusses how ten key developments are shaping the future of technology-enabled learning.  There are no particularly surprising revelations or threats but it is interesting to see that factors challenging Canada are the same as those challenging the UK.  It is also interesting to note the overlap with last week’s OU Curriculum Workshop, because front and centre is “Student Expectations and Requirements Are Changing”, and for Contact Nord this means…

  • More mature students seeking flexible learning options with varied routes to completion

  • More seniors are seeking opportunities to learn, but not necessarily for credit or credentials

  • Greater expectations for the use of technology for learning and for communication and collaboration with instructors and other students

  • More students seeking completion of credentials/programmes started elsewhere, requiring assessment and recognition of prior learning, work-based learning agreements, and recognition of foreign credentials

  • More local and international students selecting a university based on its value proposition when compared to other competing providers

  • More students seeking programmes that offer specific knowledge and applied workplace skills, as well as generic skills in such as group work, communication, project leadership, etc

  • More students seeking shorter micro-credit programmes which are skill-based and work-ready

Yup, that all sounds very familiar.


Community Colleges Launch Entire Degree Programs With OERs


Over the next three years, 38 community colleges in 13 US states will build entire degree programmes around OERs.  The “OER Degree Initiative” has received $9.8 million in funding from a consortium of investors, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Its goal is not only to reduce financial burdens on students, but also to encourage faculty to teach in more engaging ways that encourage students to more actively participate in the use of OERs.  Participating schools will create entire degree programs using OER in four two-year programs: business administration, general education, social science and computer science, and these will be available to at least 76,000 students across the institutions.


Top Universities to Offer Full Degrees Online in Five Years


Coursera’s Daphne Koller believes leading universities will offer fully accredited undergraduate courses online within five years which, she says, will be “more affordable and accessible”.  She expects provision to shift from short units with a certificate to leading universities offering mainstream undergraduate courses online, with invigilated exams and full degrees.  She also questions the perceived image of traditional universities, noting that most students are not “walking on lawns next to ivy-clad buildings”, and “When you have a lecture hall with 300 people, you're not getting personal interaction.”



[Pete Mitton]

42 is a fascinating educational and social experiment – a coding academy that charges no fees, has no teachers and offers no tuition or books.  The first 42 opened in Paris in 2013, conceived and funded by French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, and a US branch has recently opened in California’s Silicon Valley.  The 42 enrolment process is very straightforward: anybody can apply, regardless of background or education; they undergo online testing of their logic capacities and typically around 3,000 a year are invited to join La Piscine – a bootcamp that entails working at the school for 15 hours a day, every day for 30 days, learning from each other and the internet.  This confirms motivation and skills levels and Niel believes that, in a month, they have learned what may have taken two years of traditional college to achieve.  After this step, 1,024 successful students can enrol at 42 and start their studies each November.  There they work at their own pace, completing projects and typically graduating in 3 years.  Since its inception, 42 has received more than 200,000 applications, it currently has 2,500 students and plans to grow this to 10,000 within the next 5 years.


University of the People Opens to Refugees


The University of the People is offering 500 refugees from Syria's civil war free places on its online degree courses.  The four-year courses are built on 40 separate units, with each usually costing $100 to take an invigilated exam - making a full degree $4,000, but these fees are being waived for the Syrian refugees.


Do Online Study Buddies Help or Hinder?


Student-student interaction is intended to break the social isolation of distance learning, plus explaining and supporting someone is known to improve learning.  A recent mixed-methods study examined quantitative and qualitative aspects of student perceptions of study buddies.  While quantitative findings regarding depth of processing were inconclusive due to the small sample (n=31), qualitative analysis showed very high levels of learner support as well as evidence that the activity encouraged learners to approach their learning with greater depth, with 88% of study buddies saying they found the activity well worth their time, and would recommend it for other graduate courses.  Those who did not appreciate the activity felt let down by a lack of commitment from their assigned buddy.


Education in Africa: Are Public Private Partnerships Delivering?

[Stephen Downes]

Graham Brown-Martin looks at education in Africa, with the UN reporting that the number of children enrolled in primary schools more than doubled between 1990–2012 – and yet 38m African children were out of school in 2012, about half of these will never set foot in a school in their lifetime and two-thirds of those will be girls.  He considers the impact and potential for private involvement but is highly critical of one such provider – Bridge International Academies.  BIA aspires to cater for 10m children within 10 years but he challenges the claim that BIA offers value for the service it provides, citing examples of poor accommodation, underqualified and underpaid teachers, and unproven academic gains: “the United Nations who, in an unprecedented statement made public on 9 June 2016, expressed concerns about the UK 'funding of low-fee, private and informal schools run by for-profit business enterprises'.”


Moodle Launches Moodle for School

[eSchool News; Lynne Downey]

Moodle has announced Moodle for School.  The package includes a configurable visual theme as well as a number of special customisations to make it ideal for K-12 teaching and learning environments.  There is also a collaboration function that lets up to six users connect virtually via audio or video, and a separate module turns quizzes into games for students.  The service is cloud-hosted and offered free for individual teachers, but educators and schools requiring groups of (up to 500) multiple users might need to consider a larger, paid package.  There is no limit to the number of courses and activities

But which are the best Moodle modules and plugins?  Rafael Scapin suggests 17 of his favourites via Moodle News.


Tiny Interventions Can Improve Student Retention Rates

[Steve Parkinson]

Only 59% of students at American four-year colleges complete their degree within six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  However, a recent suggests that the “completion crisis” might be fixable through a series of small institutional tweaks.  Nudging for Success is based on 16 experiments conducted at 13 schools across the US (summarised on pp8/9 of the PDF).  Simple interventions such as introductory videos, self-affirming questionnaires, phased reminders about funding to students and parents, improved form design (examples in Appendix), supportive text messages and weekly emails all had varying but positive effects on registrations, drop-outs, loan uptake and deadlines achieved.


e-Learning is Missing Link in Internationalisation

[University World News]

Trends 2015, a study by the European University Association, tracked the growing importance of competition and cooperation in the past 15 years.  Based on longitudinal data, the study revealed that the importance of both competition and cooperation has remained stable over the past 15 years.  Of the 441 Trends respondents, 50% stated that they have an internationalisation strategy, with a further 43% including it as an element of their institutional strategy or intending to develop one.  When questioned about the objectives of e-learning, only 9% of institutions mentioned that it is being used to enhance internationalisation.  “MOOCs and other types of online learning” seem to have the most potential for growth: 29% of institutions are planning to develop them.  A significant percentage of institutions do not offer online degree programmes (44%), MOOCs (40%), joint online learning offered with other HEIs (39%) or blended learning programmes (33%).


Increasing Social Presence Through Online Small Group Discussions


Although social presence in online learning can be difficult to achieve, the authors of a paper in IRRODL believe it is “an imperative component”.  They investigated the effect of the size of online discussion groups on perceptions of social presence for students on a fully online masters course on Assessment and Data Analysis.  Previous research suggested optimum group size was 3-5, so they compared results for the whole class (n=33) versus smaller groups of 4-5 students, finding significantly higher perceptions of sociability, social space and group cohesion from students in the smaller groups.  Small group students thought they were able to get to know each other better, engage in deeper conversations and establish a group history of discussions and opinions.  However, some identified problems when others did not participate or respond in a timely manner and others welcomed the greater diversity of views from a larger group.


Ten Years of Open Practice at the OU

[Stephen Downes]

A recent paper from Patrina Law and Anne Jelfs on the impact of OpenLearn, focuses on the philosophy, evolution, delivery and recognition of informal learning via OpenLearn, MOOCs and BOCs.  Also of interest is the use of free learning by fee-paying OU students: 48% of those surveyed had used OpenLearn, the majority of whom (72%) had viewed free courses, over videos, activities or other short pieces of learning.  Of those who had used OpenLearn, 48% declared increase in confidence in their studies as a result.


Smithsonian Launches Online Learning Lab

[Education Week]

After five years of development, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has released the full version of its free Learning Lab site, created to make the museum's multimedia resources more accessible for educators.  The online toolkit allows users to both find and create collections by drawing from teaching materials and digitized Smithsonian objects via the "Discover," "Create" and "Share" tools; annotations, quizzes and assignments can also be created, along with other interactive learning activities.


IPEDS Data: New Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education

[Phil Hill]

If you’re the sort of person who just can’t get enough data on US distance education provision by state and institution type, this could very well turn out to be your lucky day.




And Finally…


University of Leicester students spent seven years using maths and physics principles to answer "Who’s the best-equipped superhero?“  They’ve published a series of papers on the subject in the university's "Journal of Physics Special Topics" and "Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics."  The answer?  Superman, followed by Wolverine, Mystique and Thor.  And here’s why:

“Boasting a super-powered array of skills, Superman, if obeying the ‘Law of Energy Conservation’, could exhibit a calculated stored solar energy output of 7.07x105 Joules per second for his ‘Super Flare’ attack.  It is also shown that the ‘Man of Steel’, in theory, could have higher density muscle tissue than the average human which could aid in several of his superhuman abilities.”

Makes you proud.

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