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e-Learning Digest No 147 - Nov 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 November 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs and BOCs






[Peter Horrocks; HEA; The Telegraph; BBC]

If you’re too busy to read this short UUK article on funding of part-time HE study, the two graphs tell you all you need to know – the US and Australia seem to have got it right, whereas the UK has not.  Although one in five undergraduate students in England currently study part-time, over the last six years the part-time student body has declined by almost 40%.  Let’s hope the Department for Education’s consultation on maintenance loans for part-time students in England helps turn things around.

Results from the >HEA’s undergraduate engagement survey show that 94% of students report taking responsibility for their own learning and 88% are ‘challenged to do their best work’, but just 51% reported that they have strongly developed the skills that ready them for the world of work and will help them get a job, and only 20%, had talked to staff about their career plans.

Scottish education minister John Swinney has announced that EU students who win a place at Scottish universities next year will have their tuition funded by the taxpayer even after Brexit, an arrangement that last year cost them over £75m.  This funding does not apply to English students but, when pressed as to whether he was discriminating against the English, Swinney said: “You have your view, we have ours.”

It is rumoured that the Scottish Funding Council is set to be comprehensively merged into a new ‘superquango’, possibly chaired by a minister, that would oversee Scottish post-16 education, skills and enterprise policy and funding.



[Martin Weller; THE; Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes; EdSurge; Martin Hawksey]

Microsoft is sponsoring five new edX MOOCs – developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and the University of Queensland – to help guide K–12 principals, headmasters, superintendents and school leaders through the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation.

Oxford University has announced its first MOOC, to be run on the edX platform.  “From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development” will launch in Feb 17 and will examine the role that governments play in boosting economic development.

The University of Edinburgh has joined edX, with two initial courses: Introduction to Marketing: Tools to Set Enterprises Apart and Statistics: Unlocking the World of Data.

…and so too has Babson College, “a dynamic living and learning laboratory where students, faculty, and staff work together to address the real-world problems of business and society”.  Babson’s initial offering is an XSeries programme: Business Principles and Entrepreneurial Thought, comprising six courses, the first of which is The Entrepreneurial Mindset, starting on 10 Jan.

Class Central reports on XuetangX which, with over five million registered students and 6.2m enrolments, is one of the world’s top five MOOC providers.  The top three courses – all with over 2m enrolments – are conversational English, financial analysis and psychology.  The service is built on Open edX, but with modifications made to:

  • Allow courses to be grouped and presented by major

  • Allow courses to be run in a self-paced mode

  • Provide a “visualization and editing course” mode for academic authoring

  • Provide a website content management system

Pat Lockley has helped develop a WordPress plugin which >extracts a course from a Canvas LMS/VLE.  Once the course has been linked to WordPress, changes made in WordPress appear in Canvas and vice versa.


Commercial News

[Audrey Watters; Evening Standard; EdSurge; Reuters]

Having paid just £4,327 UK tax in 2014, Facebook’s latest accounts show an £11.3m tax credit in 2015.  Still, Theresa May told the Tory conference that international companies treating UK tax laws “as an optional extra” can’t go on any more.  So that’s sorted then.

Wey Education, which runs the UK’s only online fee-paying secondary school, has revealed a pre-tax loss of £807,000 in the year ended August, growing from -£360,000 the year before.  The High Court ruled in July that Zenna Atkins, who was boss from 2010-13, had “breached her duty of loyalty” and “acted to further her own interests” at Wey’s expense by making allegations of fraud to the Department for Education.  The company was awarded £38,000 in damages.

IBM and Pearson have announced a new global education alliance.  By combining Watson’s cognitive capabilities with Pearson's digital learning products, online students will be able to ask questions in natural language and receive learning support.  By tracking these interactions, instructors will also be able to build a picture of how well students are learning, and whether they need additional help or if there is a need for an intervention as a course level.

Barnes & Noble has launched Barnes & Noble Education Courseware, which aims to make it easier for faculty to use OERs.  The current offering comprises 10 general education courses, each of which includes OERs, such as OpenStax, and faculty can “drag and drop” modules like video examples and slides to customize the content.

Dozens of US colleges have opened overseas campuses, but now India’s Amity university will open its first campus in the US next summer, with the purchase for $22m of one campus in Long Island, New York and a proposal to buy two more.  New Delhi-based Amity has long sought to create a global network of schools and, since it was founded in 2003, the organisation has opened campuses in India, England, China, South Africa and five other countries.  However, the move has caused state officials in Massachusetts to question the quality of the education it will offer.

The Hechinger Report shows that lobbying and funding of sitting or prospective US politicians by for-profit education providers is alive and well.  Bridgepoint Education was the largest donor ($284k), followed by Apollo ($236k).  Sen John McCain is the largest single recipient ($93,500), the Democrat presidential campaign received 69.5% of all funding, although Republican congressional contenders fared better (72.1%).


Planet Trump

Well, you know it was a shock when Emily DeRuy’s article in the Atlantic on Donald Trump and the Future of Education starts, “I’ll be honest; I’d pre-written a piece on what a Clinton presidency might mean for education”.  Statements and comments made during the campaign were so thin and changeable that she finds she is only able to conclude: “The short answer to the complicated question about what education looks like under Trump is: No one knows for sure.”

Philip Altbach and Hans de Wit suggest the Trump result could be the first of many shifts to the right as elections loom in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.  They do some US crystal ball gazing and predict a bleak future for the internationalisation of higher education, particularly as a country that has long been regarded as quite inward looking contemplates erecting yet more metaphorical walls.

So how about tech?  Other than calling for a boycott on Apple products (good luck with that), Trump expressed very little in the way of opinions or plans for technology during his campaign.  However, the Washington Post observes that Trump’s election success was notably aided by technology (especially social media) but it may now be technology that impedes delivery of his job promise – as robots, cheaper clean energy, digital tutors, digital doctors, etc, start to mature.

Still, London’s Science Fiction Book Club seems to have got everything in perspective.


Open University and Save the Children Announce New TESS-India Partnership

[Steve Parkinson]

As part of the recent UK trade delegation to India, the Open University and Save the Children have announced a new partnership to deliver the TESS-India (Teacher Education Through School-Based Support) project from November 2016.  The project has been funded by DFID since 2012.


Is Online Learning the Future of Education?


THE has just polled 100,000 US student attitudes to face-to-face/blended/distance learning, finding that students on mostly online courses said they were less engaged than those on primarily F2F ones, but both groups were less satisfied than their colleagues on entirely online and entirely F2F courses.  Students on entirely online courses were the most satisfied on nearly all measures, with the exception of whether they felt challenged – where students gave the same average score as those on entirely face-to-face courses – and feeling prepared for a career, where entirely face-to-face students scored highest.  However, when it comes to interacting with staff, opportunities for collaborative learning and social engagement, students on entirely or mostly face-to-face courses were more satisfied than those on entirely or mostly online courses.  The OU’s professor of positive spin, Mike Sharples, suggested that the survey results do not show that “blended learning is a failure”, but either that universities do not yet know “how to blend properly” or that “there is a difference between what students say they like and what they do better at”.


Digital Study Trends: Student Habits

[Stephen Downes]

McGraw-Hill reports that 89% of the 3,300 students they surveyed agree or strongly agree that “digital learning tech should respond and adapt to my unique way of learning”.  However, Stephen Downes reads beyond the headlines and discovers that 65% say “I like being able to study anytime, anywhere” while only 21% say “I like technology that responds and adapts to my unique learning style”.  He notes that the authors seem to use terms such as "learning style", "adaptive learning" and "my unique way of learning" interchangeably.  Respondents also said they were more likely to use laptops to study (91%) than smartphones (60%), desktop computers (38%) or tablets (32%).


Remaking Tertiary Education


A new report from HEPI, >Remaking Tertiary Education: can we make a system that is fair and fit for purpose? focuses on sub-degree tertiary qualifications, pointing out that despite politicians’ ambitions and the fact that they are cheaper to deliver than degrees and can have equal or better labour market outcomes, fewer and fewer such qualifications are being awarded.  Lead author, Prof Alison Wolf is particularly critical of the number of graduates entering non-graduate occupations and the failure to encourage take-up of tertiary awards through income contingent FE loans.  She argues that “the government must also act to recreate a national system of sub-degree tertiary awards which can be offered in further education colleges as well as universities”.


Courseware in Context Framework

[Campus Technology]

The Online Learning Consortium (née Sloan) has formally released the Courseware in Context (CWiC) Framework – an open suite of resources “designed to help postsecondary decision-makers make informed selections of digital courseware products, and support effective adoption and implementation of these solutions”.  Components of the framework include a product taxonomy, a list of published research, and guides on practices and policies related to effective courseware implementation.  To further assist educators, designers and administrators, the consortium has developed three freely downloadable instruments:

  • The CWiC Product Primer to help identify courseware capabilities during the product exploration and evaluation phases;
  • The CWiC Designer to help instructional designers conduct more thorough courseware reviews; and
  • The CWiC Framework document, including the product taxonomy, research collection and course- and institution-level implementation guides.


Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning


UKISA has just published its 2016 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning and some accompanying Case Studies.  The main survey builds on 7 previous reports dating back to 2001 and the authors note that the top 5 challenges facing institutions are largely unchanged from 2014, although the order of priorities appears to have shifted.  Staff Development is now the most commonly cited challenge, followed by Electronic Management of Assessment. Lecture capture/recording moves up the rankings to joint third place with Technical infrastructure, linked to the return of Legal/policy issues as a Top 5 challenge, and lack of support staff/specialist skills/resources moves into fifth place.  VLEs top the list of centrally supported software and Moodle remains the most commonly used system across the sector, but its coverage is declining, possibly due to rising adoption of alternatives such as Canvas.  In second place are e-submission tools, followed by text matching tools (e.g. Turnitin, SafeAssign and Urkund).  Formative and summative e-assessment tools both feature, along with asynchronous communication tools.  The other key change since 2014 has been the rapid increase in the adoption of document sharing tools and the steady rise of lecture capture tools.


Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology

[Inside Higher Ed; FLVC]

Inside Higher Ed’s 2016 survey of more than 1,700 US faculty members and administrators on Faculty Attitudes on Technology has surfaced some old chestnuts – e.g. concerns that online education can’t match face-to-face – as well as some newer ones such as data and analytics being more about administrative box-ticking than improving completion rates.  However, there are also some encouraging signs: more faculty members have delivered online learning and are more confident about it; many are experimenting with the use of different pedagogic approaches and media; and they say that free and open course materials are increasing access to education.

No big surprises in Florida Virtual Campus’s 2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey.  According to 22,000 students, textbooks are too expensive so they often look for cheaper sources of content or simply go without.


EUA Public Funding Observatory

[University World News]

The EUA Public Funding Observatory consists of an interactive online tool, which offers access to the most recent data on public funding to universities, by country and year of funding.  There is also a yearly report which highlights important trends and developments by individual HE system and at a cross-country/system level.  The 2016 report shows that, between 2008-15, public funding to universities increased in 11 systems in Europe, although in seven of these, student numbers grew faster than public funding.  Norway and Sweden are the two “frontrunners” who have increased their funding to universities since 2008 on a larger scale than the growth of student numbers.  The UK joins Croatia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain and Serbia in a “systems in danger” group whose funding to universities decreased while student numbers grew.


NMC Digital Literacy Report

[Audrey Watters]

NMC has released Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief in conjunction with the 2016 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference.  Commissioned by Adobe, the report explores the advancement of digital literacy, which is sparking new thinking in higher education about how to best prepare students for the demands of the global technological economy, although the authors note there is a lack of consensus across the sector about how best to proceed.


EDUCAUSE Key Issues in Teaching & Learning Survey

[Steve Rycroft]

Each year, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative surveys the teaching and learning community in order to discover the key issues and themes in teaching and learning.  These top issues provide the thematic foundation or basis for their conversations, courses and publications for the coming year.  Longitudinally they also provide the way to track the evolving discourse in the teaching and learning space.  The 2017 survey is now open and you are invited to spend 5 mins nominating your top issues.


Chinese Companies Buying Access to Top US Colleges


With hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolled in US HEIs, hundreds of companies in China have sprung up to cater to these students.  But now eight former employees of Shanghai-based Dipont Education Management Group have accused the company of paying thousands of dollars in perks or cash to admissions officers at top US universities to help students apply to American schools.  The staff also admit to having written application essays for students, altering recommendation letters and erasing bad grades from high school transcripts.


Mobile Internet Use Passes Desktop for the First Time

[TechCrunch; Reuters]

More users around the world are accessing the internet from mobile devices (51.2%) than from desktop computers (48.7%) for the first time, according to internet monitoring firm StatCounter.  However, they note that this is a worldwide average which is skewed by emerging markets like India (75% mobile access), whereas the desktop is still favoured in more mature markets such as the US (58%), the UK (56%) and Australia (55%).

But French agency Zenith’s glass is two thirds full.  They previously estimated 71% mobile web access for 2016 and are now forecasting 75% for 2017.


Apple Sales Dip

[BBC; TechCrunch; Campus Technology]

Times are tough in Cupertino – after all, that spaceship HQ won’t build itself.  And now we hear that Apple Watch sales are down 71.6%, from 3.9m units to just over 1m in Q3, against IDC reports of an overall smartwatch market decline of 51.6%.  Only Garmin showed any growth, but on much lower volumes.

iPhone sales are also suffering, despite Tim Cook claiming that the company was “thrilled with the customer response to iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus”.  Sales of 45.5m units in the last quarter are not to be sniffed at, but that’s down by 5% from 48m a year ago.  Worse still is a 13% decline in iPhone revenues, plus mutterings that The Donald wants them to start manufacturing in the US.

Never mind, surely iPad sales remain healthy?  Nope, IDC reports a decline of 6.2%and a relatively lukewarm response to iPad Pros.

So how can Apple keep the wolf from the door?  Easy, use Brexit as an excuse to raise Mac prices by up to 25%, making the cheapest entry-level MacBook Air now £950.


The Great Unbundling of Textbook Publishers

[Michael Feldstein]

Michael Feldstein reports on traditional textbook publishers’ shift from physical to electronic products.  He notes that early efforts tended to involve providing extra services and products that were still variants of print (e.g. custom publishing) but there is now a much greater focus on exploiting the affordances of online through offerings such as practice tests, adaptive learning and learning management – “straight ebook conversions of textbooks have never sold very well.  What we’re really talking about is not analog versus digital but flat content versus interactive educational support” and “if current trends continue, then textbook publishers will soon find that it no longer makes sense for them to be selling products based on the value of the content”.  He predicts future growth in:

  • High-end digital products that directly or indirectly improve student outcomes

  • Related services that help colleges improve student outcomes

  • Services that help colleges improve critical aspects staying viable, from marketing to administration

  • Loans to institutions looking to make changes but require significant up-front investment – preferably in the products and services of the company offering the loan

Feldstein also analyses a recent Cengage survey that considered the impact of OERs on the HE landscape.  Their penetration in the US is currently estimated at around 3-5% but this is notably higher in the areas of Maths and Computing (although 39% of faculty reported in an ICBA survey that they had never heard of OERs).


Distance Learning in Brazil

[Tony Bates]

We get a lot of reports on the North American and Australian distance learning markets so it’s interesting to occasionally look elsewhere, and the Brazilian Association of Distance Education has just published its eighth survey of distance learning in Brazil.  Based on responses from 339 educational institutions and 69 ‘suppliers’, the survey reports that just over 5m students are fully or partially at a distance, 1.1m of whom were on fully accredited degree courses.  Around half of these were aged 31-40, 53% were women and 70% were working while studying.  From an institutional perspective, more than 60% used open source learning management systems, customised within the institution, of which 43% were cloud-based; nearly a quarter of the surveyed institutions intend to increase their investments in distance learning this year but there were concerns that, for fully distance accredited courses, student drop-out rates averaged between 26-50%.


Open Research

[Martin Weller]

Open Research is an open textbook based on the award winning course of the same name.  The course ran two facilitated iterations during 2014 and 2015 on Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).  Open Research was co-authored and delivered by the OER Hub team, leaders in open education research and open research practices, and the book is now freely available on the Pressbooks site.


The Case for Learning Engineers in Education


What’s in a name?  Kaplan’s Bror Saxberg makes the case for >Learning Engineers in education because the impact of ed tech means we’ll need, “more systematic application of learning science and the evidence regarding both learning at scale and on an individual level, within the always-present constraints of regulation, economics, usability, and more.”  Really?  There are many problems facing the ‘learning design’ profession and how it is perceived, but I believe these will be hindered rather than helped by a name change.

And what is it that (currently titled) Instructional Designers do anyway?  EdSurge has started a series of monthly digital learning Twitter chats (#DLNchat).  You’ve just missed What’s The Role of Instructional Designers in Driving Digital Learning? but next month’s will be on Tue 6 Dec, at 1pm PT / 4pm ET / 9pm UK.


Brain Training Just Makes You Better at Brain Training Exercises


If you ever owned a Nintendo DS, the chances are you also owned a ‘brain-training’ game.  Brain training remains a multi-million dollar industry but how effective is it?  In 2014, there were claims and counter-claims by groups of experts about the efficacy of brain training and, earlier this year, the US Federal Trade Commission fined Lumos Labs $2m for making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of their products.  Now Daniel Simons and colleagues have published research that finds “extensive evidence that brain-training interventions improve performance on the trained tasks, less evidence that such interventions improve performance on closely related tasks, and little evidence that training enhances performance on distantly related tasks or that training improves everyday cognitive performance. We also find that many of the published intervention studies had major shortcomings in design or analysis”.


UK Medical Heritage Portal


Jisc’s Historical Texts team has launched a >UK Medical Heritage Portal which currently provides access to over 66,000 digitised European medical publications from the nineteenth century.  The collection is organised by body parts or medical conditions and can be searched or explored via different methods of visualisation.




And Finally…

[The Memo]

Dyson see themselves a problem-solving tech company rather than simply a manufacturer of premium domestic goods and, with that in mind, they have devised a teasing four-stage "ReThinkers" online challenge with the ultimate prize of a job interview with Dyson CEO, Max Conze.  Applicants must be about to study, already in further education or a recent graduate and, whilst not everyone will get a job, all those who complete the challenge will have their CVs reviewed by Dyson.

Or you could give Dyson a miss and have some fun controlling your Android phone using Harry Potter spell commands.

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