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e-Learning Digest No 146 - Oct 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
17 October 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs and BOCs








[BBC; University World News; The Guardian; Peter Horrocks; Daily Mail]

EU students applying for a place at English universities for the next academic year will be >eligible for loans and grants for the duration of their degree course – an arrangement that will be honoured even if the UK exits the EU in that period.  Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “We know that the result of the referendum brought with it some uncertainties for our higher education sector.  International students make an important contribution to our world class universities, and we want that to continue.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced at the Conservative party conference that major new restrictions on overseas students will form a key part of the government’s commitment to reduce immigration.  There will be a government consultation on whether the student visa system should be tailored to quality of course and institution, suggesting that some universities could see a cut in the number of international students they can recruit; prospective students may also have to pass an English language test.

The government is being urged by the CIPD to end the political drive to get more people into university after new research showed that graduates are “colonising” jobs in banking, education, the police and estate agency that were the preserve of school-leavers in the past.  Its study of 29 occupations employing almost a third of the UK’s workforce found:

  • 35% of bank and post office clerks have degrees, 10 times the percentage in 1979 when only 12% of the population entered HE

  • 434% of police officers entering the force at the rank of sergeant or below have a university qualification, up from 2% in 1979

  • 41% of new jobs in property, housing and estate management are graduates (4%)

  • 37% of newly-employed teaching assistants have a degree (6%)

The parliamentary Education Committee has launched an inquiry into the implications of Brexit for EU students and staff who want to come to England's universities to study and work and will consider what protections should be given to those who are already here.  Similarly, it will look at the ramifications for Britons who want to work and study at higher education institutions in the EU.  Anne Corbett considers post-Brexit options for UK universities, noting that a hard Brexit could lose the UK many friends and allies.  The Guardian reports on VCs’ fears for the UK’s global reputation for HE and research, with more than 80% of university chiefs surveyed saying they believed the risk to funding would be “considerable”.  But the BBC reports that some UK universities are considering opening campuses in Europe to offset the effect of Brexit.

The Diamond Review recommends far-reaching changes to the funding of HE and student support in Wales, including:

  • Greater support for part-time provision including a doubling of overall investment, the continuation of the institutional L&T grant, and the removal of restrictions around ELQ and modular study

  • The replacement of the present universal full-time fee grant with a system based upon a (generous) means-tested maintenance system, with similar support for taught Masters provision

  • Continuation of a high cost subject premium to be paid to institutions (for both full and part-time provision)

  • An increase in investment for research and knowledge transfer

  • Continued support for Welsh medium HE provision

  • An increase in public funding for higher level sub-degree vocational qualifications 

The government has published details of how university teaching quality will be assessed – using gold, silver and bronze ratings – in the second year of trials of the TEF for universities in England.  These ratings will be used by students applying for university next autumn to get a clear picture of where they are likely to receive the best teaching and obtain the best outcomes, the government says.

Speaking at last month’s Policy Exchange Conference (“What does the new Government mean for HE and FE?”), Peter Horrocks told delegates Theresa May's stated mission to tackle social mobility and plans for an ‘Industrial Strategy’ must embrace adult learning and especially the part-time sector.  He also noted that, “Through its now almost 50-year lifetime, The Open University has educated almost two million students who have had the chance to 'go as far as (their) talents will take them'.  We are the great British corrective to the unfair distribution of life chances.  And, we believe, the single largest engine of social mobility among all educational institutions in the UK.”

As UK course fees keep edging upwards, FairFX has investigated cheaper overseas study options, finding Germany, Sweden and South Africa to be the three most affordable places to study, taking into account fees and living costs.  Most expensive are the USA, Australia and New Zealand, with the UK in 6th place.



[Steve Parkinson; Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes]

Fourteen universities, led by MIT, have launched 19 modular MicroMaster’s degree programmes in which students can complete up to half of the course work online, earn a credential and then decide whether they want to apply to pursue the full degree.  Most programmes consist of 4–10 edX MOOCs, representing anywhere from one-quarter to half of the master’s degrees they feed into.  While learners can take the MOOCs free, some of the university partners were hesitant about offering credit for learners whose course work was graded by their peers.  Hence, learners must pursue an identity-verified credential, typically paying about $1,000 for it, and they are filtered into separate cohorts, where their papers will be graded by instructors.

Less than a year after the University of Illinois’ MBA-through-MOOCs programme launched, it believes a model is emerging that it can use to promote the university abroad, enrol previously untapped groups of students and attract corporate partners.  The $22,000 online program (iMBA) has yielded 270 new degree-seeking, tuition-paying students, with a further 80 paying to take individual courses at about $1,000 each.  There are also more than 950,000 people taking free versions of the Coursera courses, of whom about 27,000 have paid to receive an identity-verified certificate.

The Malaysian government is taking steps to “make 30 per cent of higher education courses available as MOOCs by 2020”.  Study will be free but there’s a fee for assessments that grant credit for courses taken at other universities.  Last year, 64 courses were available but that has grown to 300 this year, hosted on an Australian MOOC Management System (MMS) called OpenLearning.

The Chronicle’s Jeffrey Young interviews Simon Nelson about where FutureLearn currently is in its evolution, and where it and the MOOC market are going.  He believes that MOOCs and online-learning have now converged but “Those early predictions of the death of universities, the whole swathes of universities going out of business in a few short years, not only were they wrong, they were pretty unhelpful because they’re so far-fetched”, noting that dire predictions about the demise of TV channels and printed books did not come to fruition.


Commercial News

[Fortune; Audrey Watters]

A collaboration between Kings College London and Pearson is offering a fully online Masters in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health.  The course is designed and taught by King’s professors and tutors, through an online platform including video lectures, tutorials, course materials, discussion forums and academic and personal support.  Pearson also contributes to design as well as handling the marketing and recruitment.  King’s aims to expand to 5,000 online students in the next five years and broaden the portfolio of online courses offered.

John Wiley & Sons have acquired Seattle-based software company Ranku, which offers a recruitment platform using predictive analytics to help colleges increase online degree enrolment.  The company estimates that schools spend an average of $5,000 per student to buy traffic and convert that into enrolments.

McGraw-Hill Education has acquired Redbird Advanced Learning, a digital personalised learning company that offers courses in K-12 maths, language arts and writing, and virtual professional development programs for educators.


Open University is Google’s Most Searched for EU University

[Pete Horrocks]

Google has revealed the most popular university searches worldwide.  The top search worldwide is for the University of Phoenix, followed by MIT and the UK’s Open University, with LSE (8) the only other UK HEI in the top ten.  However, Google notes the volatility of search choices: in 2011, the most searched-for universities in the UK, apart from the OU, were conventional institutions, headed by Oxford and Cambridge.  But by 2014 these had all been overtaken by Coursera, with edX and FutureLearn also emerging as bigger than many traditional UK universities.


Education at a Glance 2016


OECD’s mammoth annual Education at a Glance report has just been published, from which we learn that:

  • OECD countries spend an average of 5.2% of their GDP on public and private education at primary to tertiary levels and that a third of this total is directed at tertiary due to the higher costs of staffing and research

  • More women than men graduate from tertiary studies - more so in health and education but much less so in STEM

  • Immigrants often lag behind native born peers in attainment

  • Early years enrolments are rising: three-year olds increased from 54% to 69% between 2005 and 2014, and four-year-olds from 73% to 85%

  • Only 41% of FT bachelor’s students graduate within the intended course duration, with 69% graduating within intended duration plus 3 years


Open University Validation Services


Liz Marr looks at OU Validation Services in the context of assuring the quality of new entrants into the degree-awarding sector, noting the concerns of some present incumbents.  But she believes, “to argue that new provision is the pathway to hell ignores many of the very successful new providers which have brought new opportunities to a much wider group of potential students. Indeed, the Open University was once an ‘alternative provider’, as are the very many FE colleges which now offer more local and employer focussed higher education qualifications.”


From Retention to Persistence

[Inside Higher Ed]

Syracuse University’s Vincent Tinto considers student retention and suggests that institutions often have the wrong focus – we look at retention whereas most students want to achieve their degree, so they “…do not seek to be retained. They seek to persist.”  We should therefore consider how we can encourage students to persist and he suggests targeting three factors: self-efficacy (promoting students’ belief in their ability to succeed); students’ sense of belonging to a supportive community of learners; and students’ perceived value and relevance of the curriculum to their own interests, needs and future employment.


Death of the Degree Greatly Exaggerated


Speaking at last month’s World Academic Summit, Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University said that entrepreneurs who predict the death of the university have “no idea what they are talking about”, claiming that such prophets of doom were largely seeking “personal return” from investments that they made in technology.


Berkeley May Remove Online Content to Avoid US Disability Law

[Inside Higher Ed]

The University of California, Berkeley, has announced that it may eliminate free online content rather than comply with a US Justice Department order that it make the content accessible to those with disabilities.  The DOJ investigated 26 edX MOOCs and hundreds of videos on YouTube and iTunesU in response to complaints from two deaf users, finding that:

  • Many videos do not have captions

  • Many videos lack an alternative way to access images or visual information (e.g., graphs, charts, animations or URLs on slides), such as audio description, alternative text, PDF files or Word documents)

  • Many documents associated with online courses were inaccessible to individuals with vision disabilities who use screen readers because the document was not formatted properly

  • Some videos that had automatically generated captions were inaccurate and incomplete

The university justified its potential actions thus: “We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students.  Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access."


The State of US Undergraduate Education

[Inside Higher Ed; The Chronicle]

A new report from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education based on “analyzing facts and data rather than relying on anecdotes” finds that almost 90% of US millennial high school graduates attend college within eight years, although only 40% gain a degree in four years and 60% graduate in six years.  In 2015, 50% of women aged 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree but only 41% of men did, and 72% of Asian students aged 25-29 had earned an associate degree or higher but this fell to 54% for white, 31% black and 27% Hispanic students. 

Separate research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests the average bachelor’s-degree candidate takes just over five years to graduate.


EdTech Trends

[Audrey Watters; EdSurge; EducationTechnology; EdSurge]

Pearson has released Digital appetite vs what’s on the table: Student attitudes toward digital course materials in 2016.  We learn that, although 88% own laptops and 85% own smartphones, and 82% believe that digital is the future of education, “44% of students told us they would still rather have all of their learning materials accessible in printed form”.

And from Deloitte’s 2016 digital education survey of teachers, parents and students, comes news that half of classrooms use a digital device every day, 75% of teachers think digital content will replace printed textbooks sometime in the next 10 years, but many educators still think their school is behind in adopting digital tools. 

Samsung has revealed the research findings from teachers and 3,000 pupils across the UK who have participated in its >Digital Classroom programme.  The three-year initiative has equipped students and teachers with a suite of classroom technology including tablets, Chromebooks, laptops and an interactive whiteboard, as well as providing training and technical support in 15 UK primary schools.  According to Samsung, 89% of pupils believe that the equipment helped them to learn new digital skills and 88% felt more equipped for their next academic years of study.  The report also finds that 57% are finding it easier to write code, compared to just 28% at the start of the 15/16 year, 83% now find using apps an effective and easy way to learn new things (64%) and 80% of pupils now more aware of how to stay safe on the internet (60%).

EdSurge takes a detailed look at the state and impact of EdTech in the US K-12 sector.  Three of the four planned chapters have been published – Technology Trends Shaping Education, How Money Shapes Tools and Schools, and How EdTech Tools are Evolving – and each has multiple sub-sections of data.  (Note – It would not load properly for me in IE11 but was fine in Chrome).

And, on the grounds that today’s K-12s are tomorrow’s undergraduates, it’s worth skimming the latest NMC/CoSN K-12 Horizon Report.  From this we learn that makerspaces and online learning are on the <12 months horizon, robotics and VR are 2-3 years away and AI and wearable technologies will hit the classrooms in 4-5 years’ time.


Widening Access and Success


The OU’s Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships (CICP) has launched a new Widening Access and Success at the OU web site.  The site aims to act as a portal to bring together policy and practice across the four nations of the UK.  Users will find a list of upcoming events across the sector, recent news items and relevant publications plus links to policy documents and resources of benefit to those looking to take their first steps into HE.


New OpenLearn BOCs

[Jane Roberts]

OpenLearn has recently launched two new Badged Open Courses (BOCs): The Digital Scholar – presented by Martin Weller and based on his book of the same name – and, to coincide with Cyber Security month, Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online.


Opening up Education

[Allison Littlejohn]

The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) has recently released a report: Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions, to which several OU colleagues were invited to contribute. The framework describes 6 ‘core’ and 4 ‘transversal’ dimensions for strategic development.  In the lead up to the final report, IPTS also released several other articles:


Understanding Cognitive Engagement in Online Discussion


In Understanding Cognitive Engagement in Online Discussion: Use of a Scaffolded, Audio-based Argumentation Activity, researchers explored how US adult learners engaged in asynchronous discussions on an online graduate course.  The study designed scaffolded audio-based argumentation activities to promote students’ cognitive engagement and, using learners’ text-based discussions, audio-recorded argumentation postings, and semi-structured interviews, they found that these helped students achieve higher levels of thinking skills as well as exerting greater cognitive efforts during discussions.  Most students also expressed a positive perception of and satisfaction with their experience.


PEARSONalised Learning

[Gill Smith; Stephen Downes]

Michael Feldstein unburdens himself with a fairly controlled rant at Knewton, Pearson, Smarthinking and anyone else who dares promotes a “>Netflix of Education” model as a solution to all known educational problems.  Stephen Downes approves, and particularly relates to the statement: “There is a recurring cultural fantasy that 'solving' the education 'problem' consists of creating a customized playlist of little content bits... Nobody who has taught believes that proper sequencing of content chunks is the hard part.”


LinkedIn Learning


LinkedIn acquired 18 months ago for $1.5 billion and the social media site for professionals has now announced an online learning portal with thousands of courses aimed at helping individuals pivot or pick up new skills for their careers.  The new product, >LinkedIn Learning, includes all 5,000 courses published on, and any new courses created will be published on both platforms.


WhatsApp: a Collaborative Learning Tool or Cheating Technique?


Researchers in Saudi Arabia noticed a tendency among online students to opt out of using courses’ formal discussion groups, preferring to create and use their own WhatsApp groups instead.  A study investigated what motivated students (n=64) to create the WhatsApp group, what types of interaction they engaged in as a group and what were their perceptions of cheating through their discussions.  The researchers found that online students perceived cheating differently and expressed their objection to the inclusion of the term ‘cheating’ in the distance-learning contexts, as they believed that distance learning is an open educational environment which permits collaboration and open discussion.


Annual LMS/VLE Update


Edutechnia’s 4th >annual LMS/VLE report is based on data relating to institutions in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK with >500 FTEs.  In terms of uptake, it’s quite difficult to report the rankings because it depends on whether you count institutions (Blackboard, Moodle, then Canvas), enrolments (Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle) or average size (Sakai, Canvas, D2L).  In the ‘other’ category, we see the growth of Schoology, Google Classroom and Jenzabar.


Digital Readiness Gaps

[Pew Research Center]

For many years, concerns about “digital divides” centred primarily on whether people had access to digital technologies.  Now, those worried about these issues also focus on the degree to which people succeed or struggle when they use technology to try to navigate their environments, solve problems, and make decisions.  A new Digital Readiness Gaps report from Pew is based on interviews with 2752 US adults, exploring attitudes and behaviours that underpin people’s preparedness and comfort in using digital tools for learning.  There was a broad split into ‘relatively hesitant’ (52%) and ‘relatively more prepared’ (48%) but these contained five categories, ranging from The Unprepared (14%, typically female, over 50, low income, low education) through to Digitally Ready (17%, typically in their 30s-40s with higher income and better education).  Overall, only 28% of US adults were found to be ‘very familiar’ with Edtech terms such as MOOC, digital badges or Khan Academy.

But there are no readiness problems through the lens of Google Research.  They found that 80% of people use a smartphone in an average day, spending an average of 170 mins on their device.  Nearly 40% of people search only on a smartphone, 42% watch YouTube only on a smartphone and 25% browse the web only on a smartphone.

And Deloitte finds that the UK 'has never been more addicted to smartphones'.


Zero Correlation Between Tutor Ratings and Learning?

[Stephen Downes]

Conventional wisdom holds that students learn best from highly rated tutors, but a new Canadian study suggests that 97 past analyses are an “artefact of small sample sized studies and publication bias” and in fact, “large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between [student evaluations of teaching (SET)] and learning”.  The researchers conclude that “institutions that care about learning should abandon SET as a measure of teaching effectiveness.”


Jisc Projects


There’s a lot going on at Jisc right now, but it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of things, so here’s a here’s a handy list of 37 current and recent Jisc R&D projects.

One recent completion is an R&D project that looked at Digital Students, exploring their expectations and experiences of using technology in HE, FE and skills.  The study found that 78% of HE students produce work in a digital format and 72% believe that when technology is used effectively by teaching staff it enhances their learning experience.  There is also a benchmarking tool, developed by Jisc and the NUS, with the aim helping institutions improve the student digital experience.

There is also an alpha release of an App and Resource Store, housing a mix of free and paid-for resources that can be searched, explored and rated.  Users will be able to add their own content in a future release.  (Note – It would not load properly for me in IE11 but was fine in Chrome).

Finally, for those interested in adopting e-books, Pearson and Jisc are just starting a year-long pilot that will make e-books more readily accessible to students across UK HE.  The scheme provides access to whole of Pearson’s HE e-textbook collection and Jisc members can select from a range of discounted subscription models, giving students and institutions flexibility to access content in ways that best meet their needs and circumstances.


Detrimental Effects of Immediate Explanation Feedback


Yet more conventional wisdom tells us that including formative test questions with immediate feedback in online learning is a powerful way of boosting engagement and learning effectiveness.  However, in a recent research paper, German researchers caution that, “if adjunct questions are highly demanding, feedback might not only beneficially affect learning because it helps learners revise their comprehension difficulties; at the same time, it could also detrimentally affect learning by causing learners to invest less time in responding to subsequent adjunct questions, which lowers learner performance on these questions.  This, in turn, could reduce learning outcomes.”


Completing the Loop

[OU Learning Systems]

Completing the Loop is an Australian project which investigated how learning analytics can be delivered to university teachers in meaningful ways that can help improve teaching and learning practices.  The project acknowledges the opportunities to use data generated in technology-based learning systems to inform the enhancement of student support and curriculum design, but notes that many staff often lack the knowledge and skills to make best use of this.  Key project deliverables are thus a comprehensive handbook (64pp PDF) and an open source toolkit.


VR and AR Developments

[TechCrunch; Tony Hirst]

PlayStation VR launched last week to great enthusiasm from PS and VR enthusiasts.  But it’s far from being the only game in town, so Lucas Matney look at how it stacks up against the competition – HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – in the run up to the all-important Christmas sales season.

Tony Hirst has been compiling >a comprehensive series of blog posts exploring what’s what in VR/AR.  As is always the case with Tony, you get great amounts of detail, opinions and practical examples (in this case, numerous YouTube clips) from these 30+ posts on his Digital Worlds blog.


Volcano Insight: Fifty Years of Eruptions Revealed


The Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program has been running since 1968, aiming to build a database of all known and confirmed volcanic eruptions for the last 10,000 years.  Now a new Eruptions, Earthquakes and Emissions web app has been released, created by the Smithsonian with additional data from NASA and the US Geological Survey, that allows users to track seismic events using an interactive animated timeline.


Ten Inconvenient Truths That Show ‘Diversity’ as Wrong-Headed

[Donald Clark; Stephen Downes]

Donald Clark posted his thoughts on the current diversity agenda (recruitment, training, etc).  Stephen Downes disagreed.  Then Donald Clark disagreed with the disagreements.  Such fun.



  • The President of the Association of American Universities president says US private universities ‘should double’ low-income students.  [THE]

  • Amazon has launched Prime Reading, giving Prime subscribers free access to over a thousand Kindle books, digital magazines, short stories and comics.  [TechCrunch]

  • DoNotPay is a free chatbot lawyer that has fought and overturned some 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, with a 64% success rate.  [The Memo]

  • The top 6 ranked ‘best young universities in the world’ remain the same as last year, and all are located in the Far East.  [The Guardian]

  • Google Photos can now automatically create >‘theme-based’ short movies from your photos.  [TechCrunch]

  • is a platform for students to ask questions during lectures which can be viewed and voted on by others in the group.  [Sussex TEL]

  • Tony Hirst believes MyBinder is “the best bid of ed tech around at the moment”.  [Tony Hirst]

  • The PhotoMath app not only solves complex maths problems using your smartphone’s camera, but Ver 3 can now recognise handwriting.  [TechCrunch]

  • …and if you like lists, here’s 15 tech tool favourites (aimed mostly at K-12) from the ISTE 2016 Conference.  [KQED]

  • Typical.  You spend 3 project meetings agreeing your website look and feel – and then Apple, Google, Microsoft and Adobe invent a variable font.  [John Whitehead]

  • Upgraded your iPhone’s OS yet?  Romain Dillet describes 15 hidden features in iOS 10.  [TechCrunch]

  • The Virtual Institute for HE in Africa will reopen its digital doors in Jan 17, offering 19 modular courses aimed primarily at practising university lecturers.  [UWN]

  • The >Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (PEER) will identify scholarships and opportunities and connect refugee students.  [The Chronicle]

  • OpenCulture offers a master list of 1,200 free courses (40,000 hours) from top universities.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Workplace from Facebook will take on Slack, Yammer and others to sell enterprise social networking into organisations.  [TechCrunch]

  • Google Apps for Education is ten years old, so it has just shed its old skin to reveal... G Suite for Education – where apparently everything is smarter.  [Audrey Watters]


And Finally…


There is a new Donald Trump campaign website, DeepDrumpf, powered by a chatbot created by MIT researcher Brad Hayes.  DeepDrumpf analyses transcripts of Trump’s speeches to generate tweets that seem remarkably Trump-like.  According to Hayes, “what comes out is stilted, unpredictable, sometimes not particularly comprehensible language – which means that it’s a fairly accurate impersonation of the man himself.”  For example:

“I'm going to win like you wouldn't believe. I know how to be a politician in the US.”

“Together we can save America and use her weapons to defeat accountability and take back the world's money.”

“If I don't win in the end, I'll fire the entire American people. You cannot achieve peace if I don't want it.”

And if you donate to the campaign site, your money actually goes to the charity, Girls who Code.

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