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e-Learning Digest No 148 - Dec 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 December 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops  

Online Learning MOOCs

  • 12 Dec (4 wks x 10 hrs) >e-Learning Ecologies: Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning for the Digital Age, University of Illinois [Coursera]

  • 2 Jan (5 wks x 4 hrs) >Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom, University of California [Coursera]

  • 2 Jan (5 wks x 4 hrs) >Performance Assessment in the Virtual Classroom, University of California [Coursera]

  • 2 Jan (5 wks x 4 hrs) Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Digital Storytelling, University of Houston [ (Coursera]

  • 2 Jan (5 wks x 6 hrs) >Learning to Teach Online, University of New South Wales [Coursera]

  • 2 Jan (6 wks x 4 hrs) Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, New Teacher Center [Coursera]

  • 9 Jan (2 wks x 3 hrs) >Get Started with Online Learning, The Open University [FutureLearn]

  • 9 Jan (5 wks x 4 hrs) Introduction to Technology-Enabled Learning, Athabasca/COL [TELMOOC]

  • 13 Jan (4 wks x 4 hrs) What and How to Teach with Video, Jack Koumi [EMMA]

  • 13 Feb (5 wks x 3 hrs) >Designing E-Learning for Health, The University of Nottingham [FutureLearn]

  • 6 Mar (5 wks x 2 hrs) Learning to Learn Online, Athabasca University [Canvas]

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs and BOCs



[The Guardian; University World News; Wonkhe; Eric Stoller]

Despite the fact that they bring more than £10.7bn to the UK economy, the Home Office is considering cutting numbers of international students from the current 300,000 to 170,000.  The unnamed head of one leading university commented that “politics is trumping economics”.

Hefce has published its >consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), which is now open for responses until 17 Mar.  If you just want the highlights, Wonkhe has summarised the >key proposals and context.

In one of 190 responses to the Parliamentary Education Committee, Cambridge University has warned that one of the effects of Brexit is a potential two-thirds reduction in admissions of students from EU countries.  The university is also calling for clarification of the status of EU staff working in the UK as a matter of priority.  In 2014-15, 31,635 non-UK EU nationals were working in UK universities, 16% of the total; 12% of staff were non-EU, the university said.  Among its own 2,000 or so staff, the percentage of EU nationals is 17% and, of the university’s 3,000 postdoctoral researchers, around 36% are EU nationals.

In last month’s Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond announced a commitment to £2bn more spending per year in R&D funding by 2020-21, which he described as a “major increase” in research and development funding for universities and businesses.  This is genuine extra funding and so represents the largest increase in any Parliament since 1979.  However, critics claim the increased amount still represents just 1.7% of GDP, compared to an EU average of 1.95%.

Jo Johnson explains to Wonkhe why he has amended the Higher Education and Research Bill, how all the suggestions and changes exactly match his own views and concerns, and how he is “very much looking forward” to the “important scrutiny and debate” that he’ll find impossible to avoid in the near future.

UUK offers an interactive explainer (groan) to unpack how universities are funded and where all that money goes.  From this we learn that about a quarter of university income comes directly from the Government (teaching, research and other grants); 27% from UG tuition fees; 20% from other UK and overseas tuition fees; 20% from investments, donations and business activities; and 8% from research.  About 60% is spent on teaching and research; 12% on campus upkeep and utilities; 9% on IT (£825 per student) and 800 libraries and museums; 8% on administration, marketing, recruitment and admissions; and 5% on domestic accommodation for 283,000 students.



[The PIE; Class Central; University World News; NYT; Steve Parkinson]

FutureLearn has announced a PG partnership with Australia’s Deakin University, that will make it the first MOOC provider to offer a series of postgraduate degrees from one partner institution.  The six master’s degrees and two PG certificates in Information Technology, Financial Planning, Cyber Security, Humanitarian and Development Action, Property, and Diabetes Education will be launched early next year.  Each subject will cost $A2,600 (£1500) but students will also be able to enrol in a free, two week taster course before fully enrolling.

Class Central looks at the evolution of MOOCs, noting that many early examples were “essentially college courses put online – they were approximately ten weeks long and had weekly or bi-weekly assignment deadlines with a final exam” and they also generated huge volumes of online discussion (Coursera once boasted about an average forum response time of 22 mins).  Today’s MOOCs are more available and more popular than ever but they have changed to reflect current student needs and behaviour.  For example, most MOOCs are shorter (4-6 weeks), with a lower weekly time commitment and more flexible deadlines, and around 35% are now self-paced, meaning that cohort sizes and forum traffic are lower.  And there are many more opportunities for monetisation, but mostly without limiting access to the core content.

The Chinese Ministry of Education predicts the number of students enrolled on a MOOC in China is set to exceed 10 million by the end of 2016, up from 1.5 million just two years ago.  Some 1,200 MOOCs have so far been developed by around 30 universities, with a much greater focus on higher education rather than vocational courses.  However, despite the boom in enrolments and courses, 90% of China’s colleges and universities have not yet begun to develop MOOC provision.

EduOpen is an Italian MOOC network, headed by the University of Foggia, which has been live since Apr 16.  In that time, it has expanded from 8 to 17 universities, there are more than 14,000 registered students studying around 70 courses, and typical completion rates are an impressive 20%.  Having evaluated Open edX, the consortium chose Moodle as its host platform because of its “better pedagogical environment.”

It is estimated that around half a million US tech jobs went unfilled last year so Udacity’s new Blitz service allows employers to define what skills they are seeking.  Udacity will then suggest candidates who are suitable for a short internship – typically a 3m contract assignment, for which Udacity takes a fee of 10-20% of the worker’s salary.  

Udacity made a money-back guarantee earlier this year for graduates of its nanodegree programme who did not find employment within 6 months, an initiative that has since been copied by some other providers such as coding bootcamp, App Academy.  Inside Higher Ed considers the impact, risks and legalities of such offers, noting that state and federal agencies take a dim view of money-back guarantees in HE.  App Academy was fined $50,000 last year for operating in California without a licence, but Udacity received an exemption because its charges are less than the $2,500 per year state threshold.


Commercial News

[Audrey Watters; EdSurge; Bloomberg]

City & Guilds has acquired Adelaide-based e3Learning from Open Universities Australia for an undisclosed amount.  e3Learning provides corporate e-learning and compliance training to employees in a range of industries and sectors, including healthcare, government and aviation.  Established in 2001, e3Learning has been under the ownership of Open Universities Australia since 2013.

London-based online degree company, UNICAF, aims to make quality higher education and university degrees more affordable for working professionals in Africa.  The company has received $12 million from investors to support UNICAF’s learning centres across African cities and finalize its university campus in Malawi.  It currently has 8,000 enrolled students, with expectations that this will exceed 60,000 by the end of 2020.

The proposed $1.1bn sale of Apollo Education Group (University of Phoenix) to a group of Wall Street investors has taken its next faltering step, as the US Dept of Education imposed stringent conditions on the deal.  These include providing a $385.6m letter of credit, and a ban on enrolments above current levels.  Annual revenues at Apollo have fallen by half since 2012, to $2.1bn, its most recent annual accounts show a $91m loss, and its students have the most federal loan debts outstanding of any US college.


Defining and Demonstrating Teacher Quality and Impact

[Rand; Mail Online]

RAND was commissioned by the HEA to conduct a literature review relating to defining and demonstrating teaching quality and impact in higher education.  They claim to have found relatively little robust empirical evidence, with peer reviewed and grey literature dominated by opinion pieces based on secondary, documentary analysis rather than rigorous comparison group studies, which they believe points to a lack of a body of evidence for notions of ‘quality teaching’ across higher education more broadly.  The authors call for more implementation research to test theories about how to operationalise and measure ‘quality teaching’ but, before this can start, more consensus, or at least constructive discussion, is needed on the notion of ‘quality teaching’ in higher education, the goals and priorities of higher education institutions themselves, and how these elements must be harmonised.

All of which must be music to the ears of Oxford University’s defence team as they prepare to contest a £1m claim by Modern History graduate, Faiz Siddiqui, that only gaining a 2:1 degree from Brasenose College in 2000 denied him the chance of becoming a high flying commercial barrister.  Mr Siddiqui, who trained as a solicitor after university, says his life and career have been blighted by his failure to obtain a first class degree because, “the standard of teaching was objectively unacceptable”.  But surely the process of teaching (and many other soft-applied specialisms) is considerably more subjective than objective?  If teaching could be conducted based on an objective checklist, one might presume the HEA, TEF, Oxford and other HEIs would have worked out what that looked like by now.  Forget PGCE, follow this checklist.  Actually, forget teachers, here’s the teaching machine.  Skinner was right all along.


Experts Agree Online Education is Good.  And Bad.

[THE; Campus Technology; Audrey Watters]

Laurence Brockliss reports that, despite considerable growth in UK student numbers in the last 50 years, the proportion of GDP spent on HE is little higher today than it was in the 1960s.  Income from donors and other private sources has grown but is finite, so why are HEIs not routinely considering online solutions?  He suggests, “at a fraction of the present cost [of F2F], undergraduates, if not postgraduates, could study far away from their host institutions, accessing books, articles, lectures, demonstrations and debates at any hour.”  He notes the success of the OU as a distance learning provider but believes, for mainstream HEIs, “What predominately stymies interest in online study is institutional inertia.”

A report from the US Council of Independent Colleges and Learning House finds that online education is on the rise at private colleges and universities.  In 2013, the survey found that about 15% had ‘extensive’ online offerings (defined as five or more fully online programmes) and 90% of institutions reported obstacles which “prevented them from growing the number of online courses or programs they were offering”.  Now, 25% have ‘extensive’ online offerings; obstacles are only reported by 48% of institutions; and more than half believe online delivery enables them to reach students “outside of what they would consider their traditional service area”.

Gallup reports that the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology finds most US faculty members remain sceptical about the quality of education offered via web-based courses.  Of those surveyed, 19% "agree" or "strongly agree" that online courses achieve student learning outcomes at least equivalent to those of in-person courses, but 55% "disagree" or "strongly disagree".  However, many of those expressing opinions have no online teaching experience whereas, amongst those who have, the figures flip to a more encouraging 52% vs 34% for classes they teach.


Innovating Pedagogy

[Mike Sharples; BPS]

IET’s fifth Innovating Pedagogy report, produced in collaboration with the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, proposes “ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education.”


Office 365 Training Portal


Office 365 (coming soon to OU staff and students) is like the old Office suite on steroids – with online connectivity and new apps/functionality to get the best from the cloud-based collaborative/remote working and workload planning this affords.  But that makes it potentially confusing for busy newbies.  So Microsoft’s Office 365 training portal is a blessing, with over 400 short (1-3 min) use case and tutorial videos (e.g. send information to a group of contacts; modify a presentation on your smartphone; share your desktop in Skype) and over twenty 45 min free and subscription courses (e.g. collaborative/remote working and assigning tasks; data synthesis with Excel 2016; desktop publishing with Word 2016).


Capturing the Student Voice On the Future of Educational Technology

[Peter Bryant]

LSE’s 2020 Vision Report has collated students’ insights into what teaching, learning and technology could look like at the LSE in 2020.  Principal findings include:

  • Nearly 75% of respondents said that teachers “do no use technology” or “just use PowerPoint”; students wanted to see greater use of technologies to make lectures interactive and collaborative

  • Over a third stated that their course did not prepare them well for the use of technology in their career

  • 31% thought the role technology at university would “remain the same” over the next 5 years

  • About 25% of students declared that they had been exposed to innovative use of technology; many of these had used online courses and enjoyed the experience; many also expected a closer social media connection between students and teachers


Ten Education Technologies That Will Be Gone in the Next Decade

[Campus Technology]

The results of Campus Technology's 2016 Teaching with Technology survey have just been released, in which US faculty members responded to open ended questions about how they see EdTech in 10 years’ time.  When asked to predict what EdTech would die over the next decade, desktop computers          came top (29% of respondents), followed by clickers and non-interactive whiteboards/projectors; “printed anything” came eighth.  But when asked what they wished would die, the top three were: current LMS/VLEs; mobile phones/apps; and social media.


The Impact of F2F Sessions and Discussion Forums on Distance Learning Student Performance


A study of 1,015 University of South Africa distance learning students found that those who attended a written assignment preparation F2F session performed significantly better in the written assignment than those students who did not attend this session.  The same was not true of a F2F examination preparation session, where there was no significant difference in performance; however, students who used an online discussion forum performed significantly better in the final examination than those who did not.  The researcher speculates that the assignment F2F session was successful because students worked on the actual assignment, whereas in the examination F2F session, they were only exposed to representative questions; he also notes the low uptake (<21%) of all three interventions.


Generic e-Learning Course Market Projected to Grow

[Campus Technology]

A new report from Technavio, Generic E-learning Course Market in the US 2016–2020, predicts the US generic e-learning course market will grow by 8% per year over the next four years, driven primarily by growth in general purpose learning applications, cost-effectiveness of generic e-learning courses and increased adoption of mobile learning.  The report identifies City & Guilds Kineo, Macmillan Learning, Pearson Education and Skillsoft as the market leaders, although it also includes data from numerous other vendors.


US For-Profit Colleges Just Got a New Lease on Life


What a difference a vote makes.  US for-profit education providers have been suffering of late, particularly in terms of accreditation and federal funding of their students.  But stocks like DeVry, Capella and Career Education have risen by 10% or more since the US election results.  However, Ryan Craig cautions that for-profit providers need to clean up their act and should return to their roots – serving subject and learner markets not being addressed by traditional HEIs.


Executive Compensation at US Private and Public Colleges

[The Chronicle]

While some UK university bosses scrape by on a modest salary, a small cottage and a three-year-old Audi, the Chronicle has been investigating the compensation packages of 1,200 US chief executives at around 600 private colleges and 250 public universities.  The top public college earner (2014) was the University of Houston’s Renu Khator ($1.3m) – one of five to gross over $1m.  However, that’s just small change for private college bosses, led by Wilmington University’s Jack P Varsalona on $5,449,405.  A further seven exceed $2m, followed by another 31 on $1m+.  And just in case you’re wondering, according to Webometrics, Wilmington is placed 7,119th in the 2016 world university rankings – that’s 5317 lower than the University of Northampton.


Moodle Learning Analytics Roadmap

[MoodleNews; Tony Hirst]

Moodle 3.2 has just been released, featuring improved messaging, media player and interactive graphics based on chart.js.

In a 24 min video presentation from the recent Australian Moodle Moot, Elizabeth Dalton outlines Moodle HQ’s plans for learning analytics.  She begins by stressing that we often forget that learning analytics should be primarily about learning, before describing a proposed API that will collect and anonymise data from cohorts of learners and employ machine learning to turn this into practical knowledge and predictions.  She lists three potential focuses of data processing: Social Presence, Cognitive Presence and Teaching Presence.

Moodle supports GeoGebra, a family of plugins that strives to link geometry and algebra concepts, so “students can finally see, touch and experience math“.  It includes spreadsheets, statistics and calculus to create and edit GeoGebra books and worksheets.

The Moodle Virtual Programming Lab (VPL) plugin provides an embedded source code editor and console for a variety of software applications in languages including Python, Java and PHP, allowing learners to gain hands-on experience of coding, scientific computations and simulations.

And, in a similar vein to VPL, Tony Hirst has been experimenting with Jupyter Notebooks, and Schemdraw to embed “Executable” code, maths, charts and musical notation in online documents.


Top 200 Tools for Learning 2016 [CHECK LINKS]

[Jane Hart]

Jane Hart has been compiling an annual ‘Top 100 Tools for Learning’ list from the votes of learning professionals since 2007.  To mark its tenth birthday, and probably also to acknowledge that there’s now a much bigger pool to fish in, this year’s list is of the Top 200 Tools for Learning.  Although Twitter loses its No 1 slot after 7 years, the list contains a huge variety of tools, many of which are new this year.  However, if you prefer to look by purpose/function rather than popularity, you can also visit the complete directory of over 1,000 tools, organised by category.


Is Audio Really the Future of the Book?


When the US Library of Congress launched the first talking books in 1934, they were condemned as “a lazy man’s way of reading” and “very distasteful”.  The NYT reported that overall publishing revenues were down in Q1 of 2016 and yet sales of digital audio rose by 35%, the number of available audiobook titles having increased by around 400% between 2011 and 2015.  Matthew Rubery discusses all this, plus their use in education and much more, in his new book, The Untold Story of the Talking Book which, to my great amusement, is only available in hardback.


Social Media Usage

[Audrey Watters]

Pew Research’s latest US Social Media Survey finds that Facebook remains America’s most popular social media platform, used by 79% of online Americans, with 76% of these visiting daily and 15% weekly.  This followed by:

  • Instagram (32%, 51%, 26%), most popular with younger adults

  • Pinterest (31%, 25%, 31%), much more popular with women

  • LinkedIn (29%, 18%, 31%), graduates and higher income

  • Twitter (24%, 42%, 24%), younger and better-educated adults


OLC Quality Scorecard

[Stephen Downes]

The Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan) has unveiled an expanded quality scorecard suite to help HEIs evaluate their online and blended learning programmes.  Institutions can use the scorecard to determine strengths and opportunities for improvement of their programmes, to initiate planning efforts to address areas that require enhancement, and to demonstrate the quality of online programmes to HE accrediting bodies.


Auckland Startup Launches New e-Learning Platform


New Zealand startup Modlettes has launched an e-learning authoring and hosting platform that allows users to create their own bite-sized training modules (“Modlettes”) containing video, audio, graphics, text and quizzes.  Any member of a subscribing user organisation can be given permission to create and upload Modlettes to their organisation’s channel, making it a sort of SPOC version of build-host-and-sell platforms such as Udemy, WizIQ and LearnDash.


Google Digital Garage


Google Digital Garage is offering free online tutorials on tech topics associated with digital marketing.  Choose from any of 23 individual topics – including search, analytics and social media – or complete the whole online course to gain certification from Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe.



  • Google’s PhotoScan app allows users to quickly and easily scan and retouch prints for inclusion in Google Photos cloud storage service.  [TechCrunch]

  • A PhD student found a way of determining credit card numbers by submitting multiple requests to sites.  The bad news?   Only 8 of 36 sites made improvements once he’d informed them.  [BBC]

  • Gartner has published its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017, with Steve Andriole adding a separate HE perspective.  [Forbes]

  • The new OU-led PEARL website helps adult returning part-time learners who wish to refresh or gain skills and knowledge, with advice and links to six initial free BOCs.  [OU]

  • Fitbit has confirmed its takeover of Pebble.  Details of crowdfunded devices and possible refunds have yet to be announced.  [TechCrunch]

  • Netflix is allowing some shows and films to be downloaded and watched offline, bringing it more into line with BBC iPlayer, All 4 and Amazon Prime Video.  [BBC]

  • If your research interests include the psychology of eye contact, the BPS Research Digest has a special issue on the matter.  [BPS]

  • Skype is expanding the availability of its real-time translation feature, integrating the tool with calls made to mobile phones and landlines.  [Steve Parkinson]

  • Apple is purging its App Store, with over 47,000 outdated and unused apps removed last month, a quarter of which had not been updated for 3 years.  [TechCrunch]

  • Help shape ALT’s future direction and strategy.  The annual ALT survey is open until 9 Jan.  [ALT]

  • Sky is launching a mobile phone service, starting at £10/1GB per month.  Unused data can be rolled over and existing customers get free calls and texts.  [BBC]

  • French psychology researchers are proposing learning by sleeping lots.  [BPS]

  • China’s Ministry of Education has announced the rolling out of a National English Proficiency Test by 2020.  [The PIE]

  • TurboNote is a Chrome extension that allows users to take and share notes alongside videos from YouTube, Vimeo, edX, TED and others.  [Sussex TEL]

  • Virgin Media is introducing a new 4k set-top box (record 6 shows, watch a seventh) and a 14” HD ‘Telly Tablet’.  [BBC]


And Finally…

[Rafa Hidalgo; TechCrunch]

Aardman has partnered with Rapt Media to produce an interactive animation, Dead Lonely.  But don’t expect Wallace and Gromit – this one features zombie Fred searching for his lost love, Barbara, in a post-apocalyptic world, and you get to help him find her.  Aardman was seeking to explore “how interactive video could be used to tell stories in new and innovative ways – ways that would allow the viewer (you) to connect deeper with the story’s protagonist by having a say in the choices made.”  It’s fairly short (or I made some lucky guesses) but quite engaging.

But, for a younger audience, Apple’s >iBooks StoryTime app for Apple TV will read to your kids.  They can flip through the pages of the books on their own, or switch on Read-Aloud narration which will sync the audio to the on-screen text and flip the pages for them.

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