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e-Learning Digest No 150 - Feb 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
8 February 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online Learning MOOCs

Self-paced Online Learning MOOCs and BOCs


[BBC; University World News; Wonkhe; The Telegraph; THE; The PIE; The Irish Times]

University applications have fallen this year, driven by a drop in EU students, an 18% decline in over-25s and a 23% decline in nursing applications, which the Royal College of Nursing blamed on the removal of bursaries.  Ucas admissions figures show a total of about 564,000 applications to the end of Jan, representing a 7% drop in applications from Wales, 6% from England, 5% from Northern Ireland and 2% from fee-free Scotland.  This is the first fall in UK applications since fees were last increased in 2012 although, according to Wonkhe, the falls have hit middle tariff (-5%) and lower tariff (-10%) institutions harder than high tariff HEIs (1% growth).

The European University Association has been unpicking in Theresa May’s statement and parliamentary answers on Brexit which, the EUA’s Thomas Jørgensen believes, were “very significant” in terms of our future participation in European research programmes.  He points out that, “Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ are not linked to the single market.  Those are things you can buy into if you are not in the EU and lots of countries do – Turkey, for example.”  However, Scientists for EU’s Mike Galsworthy believes freedom of movement may still present a barrier.  That, and a desire by 27 other countries to wrest control away from the UK.

The Jan 17 OBR fiscal sustainability report shows the UK student loan debt projection rising from 8% to 10.4% of GDP (Chart 2.2) and student loan impairments no longer being classified as education spending.

Rahul Choudaha analyses trends in international HE in the UK and US.  When he writes “American higher education institutions are more dependent on China and India, compared to British institutions”, it sounds quite comforting for us.  But what that really means is “The growth rate for Chinese students in the US far outstrips that in the UK” and “Ten times as many Indian students are studying in the US as in the UK”.  He also notes that, whilst Brexit had an adverse impact on UK numbers, that effect has just been Trumped by the US.

New figures from two of the UK’s largest essay-writing services show that more than 20,000 students are now purchasing professional essays annually - with more than a third enrolled at Russell Group and Oxbridge universities.  Lord Storey, who has tabled an amendment in the Higher Education and Research Bill to make the practice illegal, believes the true figure “is probably closer to 50,000 students”.  And are the companies involved beside themselves with guilt?  UK Essays’ CEO Daniel Dennehy says his company provides “valuable services to overworked students”.  Not to worry – the DfE is “looking closely” at the problem.

US psychologist and founder of the “happiness” movement, Prof Martin Seligman, is working with the University of Buckingham to roll out an institution-wide programme of “positive psychology” to help improve the well-being, resilience and optimism of staff and students by emphasising positive rather than negative personality traits.  The programme will be offered to every Buckingham student and is based on a $4 million research project by Seligman’s 20-strong team at the University of Pennsylvania who, I imagine, are currently waist-deep in happiness.

More than 70% of students in Ireland do not get beyond the first year of some HE courses, particularly those relating to computer science, construction and business.  In general, university courses have the lowest drop-out rates (10-12%) with institutes of technology running at about twice that level.  Overall, about one in six students did not progress to second year, leading some senior academics to question whether many students who are unsuited to HE are being shoehorned into college.


[EdSurge; ADP; Stephen Downes; Audrey Watters; Campus Technology]

EdSurge examines an apparent shift of emphasis by Coursera which aims to put it centre-stage throughout peoples’ ongoing careers, rather than being an occasional destination simply as the host of universities’ short courses.  “We are a comprehensive higher-education provider,” says Coursera’s Nikhil Sinha.  Its ‘Netflix’ model (pay per month rather than per course) is working well and, according to Sinha, has seen the number of users completing Specializations (mini Masters) doubled – as learners rush to finish courses to save money, they also appear to meet their goals more often.

Support for this approach also comes from ADP, whose new report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workforce finds that 82% of surveyed employees across 13 countries envisage using “tech to learn anything, anytime, anywhere”.  The author suggests that MOOCs, SPOCs and CMOOCs are likely to be their preferred destination for more structured learning (i.e. beyond looking things up via Google or a company intranet) because of the choice, quality and flexibility of study offered.

Of course one of the original stated aims of MOOCs was to widen access to high quality HE, especially amongst those in low socio-economic groups and in ‘developing’ nations.  Whilst we may not yet have seen floods of these new learners, surely we can agree there has been an encouraging steady stream?  Rambe & Moeti (2016) are not so sure.  In Disrupting and democratising higher education provision or entrenching academic elitism: towards a model of MOOCs adoption at African universities, they argue that “behind the MOOC rhetoric of disrupting and democratizing higher education lies the projection of top academic brands on the marketing pedestal, financial piggybacking on the hype and politics of academic exclusion.”

George Veletsianos investigated data from 116 MOOCs with course-dedicated Twitter hashtags to examine the types of users making posts, their participation patterns, the types of tweets that were posted and the variation in types of posted tweets across users.  He found little evidence to suggest that Twitter is used much or effectively as an adjunct to MOOCs, with learners making up only about 45% of users and contributing only about 35% of tweets.  The majority of users make minimal contributions and, as is often the case with course forums, an active minority of users contribute the majority of posts.

Harvard researchers investigated adaptive learning using the HarvardX MOOC, Super-Earths and Life.  A control group (n=435) was given a "predetermined, non-adaptive set of problems on a page", whilst an experimental group received problems served up by an adaptive tool, the Student Centered Adaptive Learning Engine (SCALE) which adapted the number and nature of problems according to student performance.  Findings included:

  • The experimental group achieved a 19% larger knowledge gain compared with the control group

  • The experimental group students spent less time on task (4.37 hours vs 4.8)

  • The experimental group made more attempts on advanced problems (2.99 vs 2.41) but tackled fewer problems overall (3.99 vs 5.42)

  • There were no significant differences in rates of completion or certification between the two groups

Eriksson, Adawi & Stöhr interviewed 34 learners on two different MOOCs to find out why “over 90%” of MOOC learners never complete.  They attribute this to four main factors: perceptions of the course content; perceptions of the course design (although few explicitly used that word); their social situation and characteristics (including some overseas students’ poor English); and their ability to find and manage time effectively.  This is fine in itself, but it is just a subset of the findings of other researchers who have investigated larger numbers of students, courses, subjects, durations and learner attitudes (e.g. what proportion of those who signed up did so with a firm commitment to complete, or were they destined to be browsers from the outset?) 

A global survey on the quality of MOOCs is being run until the end of March by the European Alliance for the Quality of MOOCs (MOOQ), led by the Open University of the Netherlands and supported by the UN, EADTU, EDEN and others.  If you can spare 20-30 mins, they’d love to hear your views.


Commercial News
[University World News; EdSurge; Campus Technology; Audrey Watters; TechCrunch]

South Africa’s Independent Institute of Education, the country’s largest private HEI and the only one accredited by the British Accreditation Council, has strengthened its partnership with The Open University by signing a new agreement that provides for:

  • Ongoing collaboration, including the increased integration of OU educational methodology

  • Joint development of growth opportunities in the Higher Education sector in Africa

  • Opportunities for IIE students to have their credits recognised for qualifications abroad

Pearson announced gloomy trading news last month, having faced, “a further unprecedented decline in Q4 2016 in our North American higher education courseware business”.  This has led to additional actions to reshape their portfolio, including the potential sale of Penguin Random House, a reduction in eBook rental prices by up to 50% across 2,000 titles (around half of US students rent their textbooks) and – OU take note ­– “additional investment, which will remove barriers to faster product innovation, accelerate our product roadmap by two years and drive faster adoption of institution-wide Digital Direct Access for Pearson courseware”.  Pearson will report its preliminary results on 24 Feb, with CEO John Fallon currently under pressure as share prices tumble.

Plum Analytics has been acquired by Elsevier, giving the publisher access to Plum’s Altmetric data aggregator brand, tools, data and development team. The deal reinforces Elsevier’s collection of metrics offerings.  Rather than addressing traditional questions such as how many times something has been accessed or cited, Altmetrics provides a more granular and research-based set of information such as how has this particular article been received?

The holiday quarter saw iPhone unit sales of 78.3m and revenues of $54.4bn – up 5% from the previous year, although iPads were down by about 20%.


UK Universities Must Embrace New Technology
[Rebecca Galley] 

A new report from HEPI, Rebooting Learning for the Digital Age, reviews international best practice to show how technology is benefiting universities and students through better teaching and learning, improved retention rates and lower costs.  For example, a TEL-based curriculum redesign in the US produced better student outcomes in 72% of projects and average savings of 31%; an Australian university reduced student drop-out rates from 18% to 12% through learning analytics; and 81% of first-year students at Nottingham Trent University increased their study time after seeing their own engagement data.


When are Digital Media and Tools WRONG for Teaching and Learning?
[Stephen Downes]

Hugh Beaulac considers the effects on learning of the growth of digital technology use, especially among current Gen-Z students for whom online devices have been a part of their daily lives for almost as long as they can remember.  Research suggests we are more likely to scan digital material than read it closely, or to hunt for numbers, facts and concrete details at the expense of the bigger picture – which might be beneficial for some STEM topics but perhaps not those requiring more abstract thinking.  Deeper learning is also impeded by students’ multitasking across multiple devices and apps.  There is also a rise in ‘cognitive offloading’, whereby young people typically don’t work as hard to remember things because they know they can Google them anytime.


When are Digital Media and Tools RIGHT for Teaching and Learning?
[Steve Parkinson; Jisc]

Kortext claims to be “the UK’s leading provider of digital textbook and learning solutions and is one of the fastest growing education technology businesses in the country”, so it’s not surprising that this survey and report advocates a Kortext-flavoured university of the future.  Hence we learn that 47% of the 1000 students questioned felt their course would be better value if they were provided with a tablet device, their grades would improve if they had access to course materials online (58%), and they believe more disadvantaged people could go to university if a tablet preloaded with materials was included in course fees (82%).

Perhaps Kortext should open an office in >India, where The Financial Express reports that, as the cost of higher education soars, online learning emerges as most viable solution.  With recent improvements in the availability of high-speed internet and affordable devices, and a generation of Indian adults on a constant lookout to acquire new skills, online learning is a catalyst to bring about a more equitable approach to high-quality education.


EdTech and the Gartner Hype Cycle

Michael Horn considers where some supposed ‘hot’ ed-tech topics are positioned on the Gartner Hype Cycle, and finds that personalised learning is currently scaling the Peak of Inflated Expectations due in part, he suspects, to the fact it means so many different things to different people.  Competency-based learning is considered by many to be a component of personalised learning, but this finds itself in a more advanced position on the Slope of Enlightenment where it is joined by project-based learning and blended learning.

But now a question: why is blended learning is on the cycle at all?  Surely blended leaning is simply what we do and have always done: try to use the most effective mix of methods, technologies, media, activities, etc.  And ‘most effective’ will vary according to where we are, who we are, what is being taught and learned, under what conditions, in how much time and with how much funding.  I therefore propose an alternative label for blended learning: “Learning”.


Personalised/Adaptive Learning and Ed Tech

Michael Feldstein offers his and Phil Hill’s views on personalised learning.  He begins by stressing it is “not a product you can buy – it’s a set of strategies”, but there is an obvious tech component to delivering those strategies.  Cue some good video comments from Carnegie Mellon learning science researchers, Marsha Lovett (“A product cannot be evaluated outside of its educational context.  The contextual factors are huge, so a product just can’t be efficacious or not”) and Ken Koedinger, who is pro-tech, but not to the exclusion of all human teacher input.  Feldstein leaves us with: “Features – what the product does – don’t matter.  Affordances – what the product enables the students and educators to do – matter.”


Creating Cohorts to Solve the Online Learning Conundrum
[Stephen Downes]

So, what do you make of this?

“Today, most online learning comprises educational content that rarely engages audiences for long.  This is because the social aspect of learning, the discussions, debates and exchanges between learners, that we put so much emphasis on in modern education is largely absent from online learning.”

Nope, me neither.  However, Tim Sarchet, writing in Personnel Today, thinks he’s put his finger on the problem and that we should form cohorts in order to improve matters – but “there is still a lot to test and learn around online-based cohort learning”.  Wow Tim, where have you been?


Sharing Lessons from Open Access Good Practice
[James Clay]

Following the completion of the Open Access Good Practice project last year, Jisc has produced a new handbook, Moving open access implementation forward, based on the experiences of the nine pathfinder projects.  The handbook summarises the lessons learned by the projects, points towards key tools and resources, and is aimed at staff involved in supporting open access implementation at institutions in the UK.


EDUCATE: Better EdTech, Better Learning
[Diana Laurillard]

EDUCATE is a £4.5m EU-funded project which started on 1 Jan 2017 and will bring together educators, researchers and the EdTech industry to develop and use the best research-informed EdTech.  The project will set up a physical and virtual collaborative working space by 1 Apr 17 that allows EdTech SMEs and entrepreneurs to work together with researchers, educators and business experts to translate research into new and better educational products, and stimulate demand for new and improved products.


Microsoft Aims to Offer a Compelling Alternative to Google’s Chromebook

Market researchers, Futuresource, estimate that Chromebooks accounted for more than half the US education sales in the first quarter of 2016, but with Windows machines taking less than 25%.  However, Microsoft is about to fight back with a new range of affordable Windows 10 products, developed in partnership with companies like HP, Acer and Lenovo, and with features such as fold-flat, pen support and battery life of up to 13 hrs.  We will also see Intune for Education, a cloud-based system management tool that offers administrators 150 different settings to configure apps, browsers, menus and privacy – per student or synchronized across groups or institutions.


The Relentless Growth of Facebook
[Fiona Harvey; TechCrunch] 

Visual evidence of the proliferation of social media comes from Vincenzo Cosenza, who has analysed traffic data from Alexa & SimilarWeb to generate a world map of social networks.  This shows not just unbiquity, but also the dominance of Facebook almost everywhere outside Asia.  (Also interesting to scroll down that page and see just how much has changed since 2009).

Proof of that dominance comes from Facebook’s Q4 2016 figures, showing 1.86bn worldwide users (+3.9%) generating $8.81bn in revenue.  The company also reports 1.23bn daily active users and healthy levels of ‘stickiness’ – with 66% of users coming back every day.


Hans Rosling Dies, Aged 68

Hans Rosling – Swedish professor of global health, educator and co-founder of the Gapminder foundation – died this week, aged 68.  But to many of us, he was best known as a highly engaging speaker and visualiser of complex data: see him present electronically the progress of 200 countries over 200 years in 4 minutes or, if you prefer lower tech, here’s global population explained using Ikea boxes, or why not animate your own choice of datasets using the Gapminder tools.  TED talks will never be quite the same without him.




And Finally…
[Steve Rycroft; BPS; TechCrunch]

Barack Obama may now seem like a distant presidential memory, but how did he compare to Bush on key measures such as unemployment, crime, healthcare spending, etc?  Nice interactive from the New York Times shows the Bush graph and allows you to draw your Obama estimate before revealing the actual data.

But if you cut through all the headlines, politicians are just ordinary well-meaning folk like you and I, right?  Wrong.  A UCLA researcher compared personality questionnaire results from 278 US politicians against those from 2568 members of the US public, finding differences on each of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Openness, and Agreeableness.  Specifically, politicians scored higher than the public on Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Extraversion, and lower on Openness and Neuroticism.  The biggest differences were for Neuroticism and Extraversion, suggesting that people who are less emotionally sensitive, more outgoing and reward-driven are drawn to politics.

‘Less emotionally sensitive’ – do any politicians spring to mind?  Such as those who airbrushed undesirables from history?  Or others who more recently airbrushed climate change assertions from US government agency sites?

But we can’t end Edition 150 on a low note.  Here’s some balloon animals to cheer you up.



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