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e-Learning Digest No 144 - Aug 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
11 August 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops  

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs






[Peter Horrocks; Steve Parkinson; University World News; BBC]

The OU is set to launch three degree apprenticeship courses in the coming months, with more to follow, in what Peter Horrocks said could amount to a “significant reorientation” of the OU’s activities following changes in government funding that have led to a collapse in part-time study.  The apprenticeships – in management, healthcare and computing – have been co-designed with employers, who will pay apprentices’ tuition fees in full.  Students will combine work-based learning with online tuition and will be supported by a team of “practice-led tutors” who will travel around the country offering face-to-face support.

As the government encourages 'challenger' HEIs to compete with established state universities, the growing for-profit HE sector has a new voice.  Study UK, which has represented independent HE and FE providers, was relaunched last month as Independent Higher Education and will scale back its support for non-higher education members.  It will stand alongside Universities UK, which speaks for almost all state universities, and GuildHE, with members drawn from the university and specialist higher education sectors.

The DfE has confirmed its final ministerial team as follows:

  • Secretary of State for Education, Minister for Women and Equalities - Justine Greening
  • Minister of State for School Standards - Nick Gibb
  • Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills - Robert Halfon
  • Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation - Jo Johnson
  • Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families - Edward Timpson
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities, and Early Years - Caroline Dinenage
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System - Lord Nash

HESA has released data on 63 of the largest HE providers (of the ~700 currently operating) outside of publicly funded universities and colleges, reporting that there were 50,245 undergraduate enrolments on designated courses at alternative HE providers in 2014-15.  The Greenwich School of Management is the largest institution, accounting for 14% of the entire student population.

University watchdog the Higher Education Degree Datacheck has identified a total of 62 bogus ‘degree’-awarding institutions in the past year.  So far, 32 have been closed by law enforcement and trading standards agencies (25 based overseas), and 30 investigations are still in progress.  The agency is advising another four institutions, which are legitimate businesses, to make clear to prospective students that they cannot award UK degrees.  Since 2011, 220 bogus UK universities have been identified and 80% of them are no longer active.

It is accepted that graduates tend to earn more over their lifetime than those with lesser qualifications.  However, the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) lobby group claims that having to pay back student debts wipes out any graduate premium for most professions.  Someone borrowing the maximum for tuition and maintenance would, with interest, owe £53,000 after three years.  If unpaid for the full 30 years before being written off, IF calculates that debt would reach £282,420.  IF believes the current graduate premium is around £100k but a government spokesman said it amounted to an around £170,000 for men and £250,000 for women over a working life, after student loans, tax and national insurance had been taken into account.

An increasing number of UK employers are worried that they will not be able recruit enough high-skilled employees, according to the CBI's education and skills survey of 500 employers employing more than three million staff between them.  The survey found 69% were concerned about not being able to find enough highly-skilled staff, compared with 55% last year.  Demand for low-skilled workers was likely to continue to fall and employers were more likely to rate "attitude to work" as more important than formal qualifications.



[Audrey Watters; Allison Littlejohn; Paul Hollins]

MIT President L Rafael Reif has written to MIT faculty and instructors regarding the future of OpenCourseWare.  MIT “surprised the world” by launching OCW in April 2001, attracting 200m worldwide visitors since then, but a new committee is now charged with proposing “two to three paths for the future of OCW”.

Prof Allison Littlejohn has had a major hand in developing two documents recently published by The Commonwealth of Learning.  Guidelines for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of MOOCs is designed for use, “by governments, accreditation agencies, institutions and learners with an interest in developing, running, accrediting or participating in MOOCs, to improve quality assurance (QA) and accreditation.”  The guidelines are based on an extensive review of literature and practices in both MOOCs and quality in education more generally which identified a range of issues and contradictions in quality measures developed from different perspectives, and these are presented in Quality in MOOCs: Surveying the Terrain.

The first student cohort has just started Smartly’s free online MBA, representing 7% of the thousands who applied earlier this year.  The programme is “recognized” by the Washington DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education – which is subtly different to being accredited (by anyone).

The BBC reports on GetSmarter, a South African company that is currently working with universities such as MIT and Chicago to design, build and manage MOOCs and other online learning “five to seven times cheaper than in the UK or US”.  According to MIT’s Prof Sandy Pentland, the GetSmarter model includes a ‘course coach’ for every 25 or 30 students, and peer-to-peer knowledge and experience sharing is encouraged – all of which leads to a much richer and deeper learning experience and retention rates of around 90%.


Do Students Lose Depth in Digital Reading?

[The Conversation]

Naomi Baron gathered data from 429 university students across five countries, finding that print was aesthetically more enjoyable (“I like the smell of paper”) and afforded a sense of “seeing” and “feeling” where they were in the book.  Almost half the participants complained about eyestrain from reading digitally and 67% indicated they were likely to multitask, compared with 41% when reading print.  When asked on which medium they felt they concentrated best, 92% replied “print.”  For long academic readings, 86% favoured print, and they also reported being more likely to reread printed academic materials.  But what about the learning?  She refers to several studies showing that test scores are often similar for print and on-screen, but suggests that those tests often do not measure deeper levels of understanding.  She cites research by Mangen that showed better reconstruction of a plot sequence using print, and from >Ackerman and Goldsmith showing that, given a free choice, students spend more time studying print and achieve better comprehension.  Baron concludes that print stands out as, “the medium for doing serious work”.


Change, Innovation and Transformation in HE

[Campus Technology]

Stephen Downes keynoted at this month’s Campus Technology conference on the theme of innovation in HE, noting that "Change is done to you.  Innovation you do."  He described innovation as idea + execution + benefit, whereas simply solving a problem does not qualify.  Also, as co-creator of the first MOOC in 2008, he suggested that MOOCs are delivery methods – not necessarily changes in curriculum; if we want to change education, we have to change how we think about teaching and content.  He also reminded the audience that innovation should relate to student success, and that current issues or perceptions that need innovative solutions are:

  • Students pay too much for education;

  • Assessment is unreliable and unfair;

  • Resources are unavailable;

  • Content is poorly communicated;

  • Life as a student is incredibly stressful;

  • Research studies are poorly designed; and

  • Education science rarely replicates successes


MIT Previews 'Interactive Dynamic Video'


Creating life-like AR/VR environments can cost thousands of developer-hours, but MIT researchers have previewed Interactive Dynamic Video (IDV), which uses traditional cameras and algorithms to generate interactive vibrations of objects without the need for green-screen or controlled environments.  These items can be pushed, pulled and stacked, just as in real life, through use of a new imaging model that costs a fraction of 3D modelling.


Half of Online Students Would Not Opt for Live Courses

[Campus Technology; Education News]

An estimated 3.5m US students are enrolled in online degree programmes this year and, according to ‘research’ from “Your Online Education Partner”, LearningHouse, half of these said they either would not or were not sure they would attend live courses even if they were available to them.  The survey also found that:

  • Cost was the key factor driving online programme selection.  Almost 90% of students said they could be swayed to pick a particular school with the promise of a scholarship of as little as $500.

  • Nearly three out of four students picked a school that had a physical campus within 100 miles of their home, with 32% saying they planned to visit the campus at least once a year and 44% saying they planned to visit it more frequently.

  • Two-thirds of students reported they had no or minimal knowledge about alternative credentials such as MOOCs, badges and microdegrees.

And distance learning students should benefit from proposals by the US Dept of Education to introduce regulations to improve oversight and protection of the more than 5.5 million studying at degree-granting institutions.


More Professors Know About Free Textbook Options, but Adoption Remains Low

[The Chronicle; EdSurge]

A new Babson Research survey of more than 3,000 full-time and part-time professors, Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in US Higher Education, 2015-16, finds that awareness of free or openly licensed educational resources has increased slightly over the past year, but only 6.6% are "very aware" of them.  Others said they had been deterred from adopting OERs "there are not enough resources for my subject" (49%) or it is "too hard to find what I need" (48%).  Cost (to students) was an important factor in decision making (87%) but many professors were interested in additional features such as sample tests, and so tended to choose products from commercial publishers.

Interesting article from Hewlett Packard’s T J Bliss on the use of >OERs and Open Educational Practice (OEP) in HE which includes a nice example from the University of British Columbia, when a professor of Spanish decided to work with his students to improve and author Wikipedia articles related to Latin American literature.  The project yielded three ‘featured’ articles and eight ‘good’ articles, as rated by the Wikipedia community.  Bliss notes that “When one thinks about the traditional disposable assignments students are asked to complete in most higher-education courses, the authentic contribution made by these students at UBC is tangible evidence of improved teaching and learning.”


Estimating Student Workload

[The Chronicle]

Estimating student workload is a perennial hot chestnut (implausible metaphor, but work with me), so it’s interesting to see the US federal definition of a credit hour and also Rice University’s Workload Calculator and its accompanying guidance.  This gives helpful examples of reading and writing rates, and reminds users that it’s the quality of work that counts, not just the duration.


Exploring Students’ Negative Engagements with Digital Technology

[Phil Vincent]

We tend to focus on the benefits of technologies to enhance learning but, in Digital downsides: exploring university students’ negative engagements with digital technology, Neil Selwyn surveyed over 1,600 Australian undergrads on the downsides – and four distinct themes emerged:

  • Distractions (e.g. phones, tablets and social media)

  • Disruptions (e.g. kit failing to work)

  • Difficulty (e.g. inconsistent application/screen designs; digital reading and not-taking)

  • Detriment (e.g. ‘death by PowerPoint’; poor quality materials; staff now more distant)

Also revealing were some of the softer/sociological issues to emerge, such as technology reconstituting “old problems in different (and often amplified) forms” – for example, students may tolerate a lecturer starting late because she mislaid her notes, but they are less tolerant of a similar length delay due to computer problems.  Respondents also believed that “making information and resources ‘available’ online has increased the pressures on students to be active in finding out and making sense for themselves” and that “the digitally driven fragmentation and dispersal of the time, space and place of academic study has clearly altered how students are (dis)engaging with university – making the act of studying something that spills over into hitherto private spaces and periods of ‘free’ time.” (p12)


Social Media Research: A Guide to Ethics

[Sussex TEL]

This ESRC-funded, University of Aberdeen guide to social media ethics provides guidelines on the ethical use of social media data in research, including six short case studies, and is “intended for use by researchers, students, members of ethics committees, employees of funding bodies, and anyone else with an interest in the ethics of working with social media data.”


The Internet of Things for Educators and Learners


The Internet of Things (IoT) comprises sensors, wearables, embedded and other devices, all sharing data via the cloud.  In Nov 15, Gartner estimated a 30% growth in the number of devices connected to the IoT in 2016, meaning more than six billion connected devices, with 5.5 million added every day.  So what does this mean for education?  I had hoped EDUCAUSE Review would tell us, but I found the ‘Key Takeways’ banal (viz: it’s important and we need to do something about it) and the subsequent article not much better.  Still, follow the embedded links and then you’ll learn something.


Ten Best University Websites Revealed

[Education Technology]

Digital marketing specialist Bray Leino Yucca has released Universities Challenged, a study of “all 126 British university websites” (excluding the OU…) showing their ranking by digital acumen.  BLY used five Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) factors – authority, links, visibility, speed and security – plus a visual design ‘first impression’ score from three 18-year-old students to generate the overall rankings, with Oxford, Cambridge and UCL topping the list.  According to Google tests, only 8% of sites were free from insecure indicators; 57% had speed issues and 58% had lower levels of visibility on mobile devices.


Worldwide Tablet Shipments Fall More Than 12%

[Campus Technology]

IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker reports tablet shipments (including detachables and slates) reached 38.7 million in the Q2 of 2016, down 12.3% from Q2 2015.  The majority of tablets shipped this past quarter were Android-based (65%), followed by iOS (26%) and Windows (9%).  There are early signs of the Android vendor list contracting and champions of the operating system have begun to offer Windows-based products, hedging against the decline of Android slates.



  • The Royal British Legion has launched a >Remember the Somme app, featuring more than 250 pieces of multimedia content.  [British Legion]

  • The LMS/VLE market is expected to grow from $5.22 billion in 2016 to $15.72 billion by 2021.  [THE Journal]

  • Verizon (which owns AOL) buying Yahoo’s core business for $4.83bn, which includes Yahoo’s advertising, content, search and mobile activities.  [TechCrunch]

  • June Behrmann recommends 12 Apps for Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia.  [ReadingRockets]

  • Christian Jarrett dispels 10 of the most widely believed psychology myths, including those old favourites, learning styles and NLP.  [BPS]

  • Minecraft for Windows 10 will be adding support for Oculus Rift VR in the "next few weeks" as a free update.  [Audrey Watters]

  • The Wellcome Trust will be launching Wellcome Open Research, a new open access platform, this autumn.  [Wellcome Trust]

  • Website >‘tone of voice’ has measurable impact on users’ perceptions of friendliness, trustworthiness and desirability.  [NN/g]

  • The US publishing industry was worth $28bn in 2015, which was “a challenging year in the education markets, which comprise about one-third of tracked revenues.”  []

  • Sue Beckingham suggests that ‘Googling’ yourself should be part of your digital health check.  [Sussex TEL]

  • Wolfram has released Ver 11 of Mathematica for desktop, cloud and mobile.  [Wolfram]

  • In this not-really-a-real-podcast, Christian Jarrett investigates whether it is possible to use psychology to compete like an Olympian.  [BPS]


And Finally…


Hey, who moved the barbie?  Australia moves north each year by about 7cm due to tectonic shifts.  This is not a problem for most Australians but it does upset navigation satellites, and systems such as driverless cars or driverless tractors (currently ploughing many Australian farms) that rely on them.  The Geocentric Datum of Australia, the country's local co-ordinate system, was last updated in 1994 and, since then, the country has moved about 1.5 metres north.  So on 1 January 2017, the country's local co-ordinates will also be shifted further north by 1.8m, a small over-correction that means Australia's local co-ordinates and the Earth's global co-ordinates will align in 2020.

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