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e-Learning Digest No 153 - May 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 May 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[University World News; The Guardian]

The Higher Education Reform Bill secured Royal Assent before parliament disbanded for the General Election.  The new Act will see significant changes in the HE sector, including a much greater shift towards a market approach.  The Office for Students will be set up next year and will be empowered to assess the quality of teaching in universities.  The seven research councils, Innovate UK, and Hefce’s research functions, will come together as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).  However, due to opposition from the House of Lords, the proposed link between TEF ratings and university fee levels has been postponed for 3 years pending an independent review, but a further proposed amendment to remove international students from immigration figures was rejected.

The Guardian reports on the five-year, 56% collapse in part-time student numbers, quoting Jo Johnson (mature students are “crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life”), Birkbeck (“The Russell Group has pretty much pulled out of part-time undergraduate education”), Peter Horrocks (“By our calculations, over the part-time finance policy changes in the last 10 years, roughly 400,000 people who have not studied part-time have been lost to higher education.”) and HEPI (“it is probable that you actually need to be more generous with part-time students.”)

The government confirmed that EU students will continue to remain eligible for undergraduate, masters, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support in academic year 2018-19, even if the course concludes after Brexit.

The annual Ross-CASE Survey of Charitable Giving to Universities has reported a 23% increase in philanthropic donations across 110 participating UK universities, reaching over £1bn for the first time in 2015-16.  The number of donors pledging gifts worth £500,000 or more also rose by 27% and 80% of individual donors were alumni of the universities in question.

Whilst the General Election map is predicted to be looking fairly blue, that is not reflected in a >HEPI poll of UK undergraduate students which found 55% saying they intend to vote for Labour with just 18% Conservative, 12% Lib Dem and 6% Green.  Jeremy Corbyn has a net ‘favourability score’ of plus 29 compared to Theresa May on minus 33.  The poll finds that students are most concerned about Brexit, the NHS, education and jobs rather than crime, defence or immigration.

In a UCL staff survey last month, more than 60% of respondents disagreed that UCL was well run or made good financial decisions.  One academic wrote: “Staff morale at all-time low! UCL is being run as a business and not as a university.”  Hmm.


M(O)OC News

[EdSurge; Inside Higher Ed]

My section heading gains parentheses as from this month because there seems to be less and less ‘Open’ left in most MOOCs (which may explain why Coursera, Udacity and edX combined made an estimated $100m in 2016).  EdSurge’s Dhawal Shah examines the current positions of the top four providers:

  • edX.  Free graded assignments, pay for certification and ‘Professional Education’

  • Coursera.  Monthly ‘Subscription’ model offers learn-as-much-as-you-like for most courses, but with an initial 7-day free trial

  • FutureLearn.  Free but time-limited access to content and quizzes; pay for test, certificate and extended access

  • Udacity.  Mostly free access to content and quizzes, pay for certification

edX has launched a new series of professional certificate programmes in topics such as coding, data science and digital marketing.  Thirteen universities and other organisations – including Dartmouth College, the World Wide Web Consortium and Microsoft – are behind the first 15 professional certificate programs, all designed to be completed in 2-6 months.


Commercial News

[EdSurge; LinkedIn; BBC; Audrey Watters; Inside Higher Ed]

Is it a masterstroke by Purdue or Kaplan?  Purdue is buying Kaplan University for one dollar with the intention of turning it into a public, non-profit university.  In return, Purdue will give a percentage of its revenue back to Kaplan for the next 30 years.  Purdue will acquire all of Kaplan University’s 15 campuses and learning centres, which account for 32,000 online and campus-based students and nearly 3,000 employees, but not Kaplan's test-preparation or publishing units.  Kaplan University enrolment dropped by 22% in 2016 and Kaplan Higher Education revenue fell 27%.  “Kaplan believes that with the ability to tell everybody they’re nonprofit, they’ll see real growth in the number of students,” says independent analyst Trace Urdan.  Marie Cini thinks that, now we’re over the initial surprise, there are three key strategic questions that need to be answered: who will design the student learning experience; who will decide the enrolment and retention goals; and what behaviours does the revenue model drive?

Shares in Pearson rose by 12.4% at the start of this month after it announced plans to cut costs by £300m a year by the end of 2019.  The company also launched a "strategic review" of its ailing US school publishing business, hit hard by the recent trend for students to rent textbooks instead of buying them.  Two-thirds of shareholders also rejected the company's remuneration report, following news that CEO John Fallon’s pay last year rose 20% despite the firm making a record loss.

US company 2U, which partners with colleges to offer accredited, online, HE programmes, is acquiring London- and Cape Town-based GetSmarter for around $100m.  The GetSmarter platform is used by universities to build short online courses and the company claims to have supported more than 50,000 students – including those from Cambridge and Harvard ­– with average completion rates of 88%.  Among the expected strategic benefits of the deal will be the ability for 2U to provide short courses for students who are not looking to earn degrees.

Digital credential company Credly has announced a partnership with London-based Digitalme to expand the use of digital credentials in the EU.  Credly has built a dedicated Europe-based data centre that extends its infrastructure to support the operations of Digitalme, which works with Coventry University and Sussex Downs College, among others.

Blackboard is celebrating its 20th anniversary and, in 4 Secrets to Building a Tech Company for Higher Ed, founder Matthew Pittinsky reflects on how it came about, whilst offering advice some for today’s edtech leaders – including “Colleges and universities value what they pay for.  (Don’t give things away free)”.


Cutting Your Way to Greatness

[Eric Stoller]

Matt Reed observes that, “In places with declining enrolments and without generous external benefactors, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constant cutting.  Each year is a fresh emergency, bringing another round of short-term patches and ‘temporary’ workarounds that quickly become new baselines” and “Habits formed when higher education was a seller’s market don’t work now that it’s a buyer’s market, but letting go of those habits can be difficult, especially when they’ve come to be understood as the core of a professional identity.” 

So that’s his caution from a US Community College perspective.  But >his solution could almost have been written inside Walton Hall:

  • Any change has to be academically sound.  Reducing quality or integrity is a non-starter

  • It can’t rely on a massive infusion of new money

  • It has to be consistent with the social justice mission

  • It has to work at scale, impacting on the success of all students


UK e-Book Sales Decline

[The Bookseller; Ian Blackham]

UK book sales rose by an overall 6% last year.  This was helped rises in children's book sales (+16%) and non-fiction (+9%), although revenues from fiction fell by 7%.  Including journals, the publishing industry saw a 7% increase in sales to £4.8bn.  Exports rose by 6% to £2.6bn, reversing three previous years of decline.  School book export sales were up by more than 11%, with non-fiction/reference export sales rising by more than 10%, and it was reported that 87% of journal income comes from exports.  There was also a big rise in sales of audiobooks (up 28%) but digital books fell by 3% overall, including a 17% decline in consumer e-books.

Writing in The Guardian, Paula Cocozza sympathises.  When Kindle launched 10 years ago, it seemed like a game-changer, offering hundreds of (cheaper) books on one pocket-sized device.  But for many owners, the e-Reader has turned into the literary equivalent of the juicer.  And however impressive its technical facts and figures may be, they don’t trump good old fashioned emotion, as literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes observes: “I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page.  It slows you down and makes you think.”


NMC Horizon Report: Library Edition

[LA Times; Audrey Watters; ACRL]

UC Berkeley’s library has had a makeover.  Gone are 135,000 books and all their attendant steel racking, food and drink are now welcome and all that extra space has created opportunities to introduce low-slung couches, meeting spaces with glass walls made to be written on and… [gasp]… “nap pods” with tops that flip down to create darkness and privacy.

Sadly, nap-pods don’t yet feature in the NMC Horizon Report 2017: Library Edition.  The familiar format of these reports includes six key trends (e.g. Research Data Management; Valuing the User Experience), six significant challenges (e.g. Accessibility of Library Services and Resources; Improving Digital Literacy), and six developments in technology (e.g. Big Data; Digital Scholarship Technologies) that the authors believe “are poised to impact library strategies, operations, and services with regards to learning, creative inquiry, research, and information management.”

A new report from the Association of College and Research Libraries, Academic Library Impact on Student Learning and Success: Findings from Assessment in Action Team Projects, synthesises findings from the recent three-year Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success programme, finding that academic libraries contribute to student learning and success in five key areas:

  • Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework

  • Library use increases student success

  • Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning

  • Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes

  • Library research consultations boost student learning


Students Welcome Greater use of Technology, Including Activity Tracking


A recent Jisc technology survey found that 98% of UK HE students think technology is becoming increasingly important in education, and 76% of these think this is because it makes life more efficient.  Furthermore, 86% think an activity tracking app for learning and teaching would be helpful, 78% would be happy to have their learning data collected if it improved their grades, and 61% would be happy to have their learning data collected if it stopped them from dropping out.  As a result, Jisc is working with 50 universities to set up the world’s first national learning analytics service, and later this year will be releasing a learning analytics student app that will let students see how their learning activity compares with others and set targets to do better; staff will be able to access a dashboard showing engagement and attainment of their students, enabling them to target those who most require attention.


Online Courses Shouldn’t Use Remote Proctoring Tools


Cal State’s Jill Leafstedt doesn’t mince her words: the examination is a flawed concept, so why try to recreate it online and then further complicate matters with online proctoring, keyboard monitoring, web cams, microphones, etc, which are “creepy and anxiety producing”.  Instead she believes we should accept open-book and open-notes and aim for ‘authentic assessments’.  For example, chemistry students could make a video of themselves undertaking a set problem whilst explaining the process; and psychology students could “curate and evaluate a set of resources on a given topic to demonstrate their ability to find, and critically analyse online information.”


Can Mixing Automation and a Human Touch Keep Students ‘On Task’?


George Siemens is behind the University of Texas team that has developed OnTask, a software tool that “identifies the challenges students face and gives regular feedback in the form of a detailed automated email that’s personalized”.  Interpreting VLE/LMS data and other indicators of student behaviour is now becoming fairly well established, so value-add from OnTask is to somehow provide meaningful feedback that is ‘automated’ and yet still feels ‘personalised’.  This requires academics to invest some initial time to write a series of targeted email scripts that aren’t obviously generic messages such as ‘pay attention to your study habits’.  The system was piloted at the LAK conference in March and was well received, and is currently being trialled at UT and three Australian universities.


Mobile Learning Empowers Refugees

[University World News]

According to the United Nations, one in every 113 people globally has been displaced due to conflict or persecution, more than 1,400 people were forced to flee their homes every hour during 2015, and over half of the world’s current refugees are children, many of them unaccompanied.

UNESCO promotes the importance of HE in emergency and crisis settings, and mobile learning is playing an increasingly important part in delivering and supporting learning, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Sudan and Syria.  Apart from offering – subject to infrastructure – anytime, anywhere access, m-learning also allows people to study and apply the benefits of that study where they are rather than needing to reside near or visit a university or learning centre.  There is evidence that mobile phones are being used in refugee camps to access course curricula, translations of content, interactive learning apps for access to libraries and journals, and instant messaging groups using WhatsApp and Facebook to engage with that lecturers, tutors and other students.


Digital Education (US) Enrolment Report 2017

[The Chronicle]

The Digital Learning Compass (Babson et al) Digital Education Enrolment Report 2017 finds that more than 6 million US students took at least one course online in 2015 and nearly half of those took courses exclusively online.  However, online enrolments remain very concentrated, with just 5% of institutions accounting for nearly half of all distance-education students.  Robert Ubell takes a look at claims that “online may be running out of steam”, but he cites the Digital Learning Compass report as evidence of a brighter future, especially where online learning forms part of a blended approach.


UNESCO Reports Gaps in Global Completion Rates

[Audrey Watters]

A new policy paper from UNESCO reports that, between 2000 and 2014, the global HE gross enrolment ratio increased from 19% to 34%, but this global figure obscures major differences between regions, which range from an average of 75% in Europe and Northern America to just 8% in sub-Saharan Africa.  There are also stark contrasts between rich and poor, with 20% of the richest 25- to 29-year-olds, but less than 1% of the poorest, having completed at least four years of HE globally.  The authors caution that HE must be affordable as well as accessible, and that one-size-fits-all solutions do not work; they conclude with six key recommendations.


Psychology Students Are ‘Nicer’ Than Business and Law Students


Not content with librarians finding that libraries are good, now we have psychologists finding that psychologists are nice.  Researchers tested Danish psychology, politics, business/economics and law students against “Dark Triad” (psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) and “Big Five” (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) traits.  They found that Business/economics students scored the highest of all on the Dark Triad but psychology students scored “substantially” lower.  In terms of the Big Five personality traits, psychology students scored “much higher” than the other student groups of Agreeableness and Openness and Neuroticism.


Buckingham to Monitor Student Social Media to Gauge Well-Being

[Stephen Downes; The Chronicle]

The University of Buckingham is planning to monitor the social media posts of its students in a bid to gauge the mental well-being and general happiness of its students and become Europe’s first “positive university”.  Posts of students who opt-in will be monitored because, according to VC Sir Anthony Seldon, “There are about 5,000 words that denote either positive emotion or negative emotion and we can see how the balance of those words is changing”.  He is concerned that mental health problems amongst students are growing and he believes schools need to do more to prepare them for the transition to university.

But Donna Freitas, writing in The Chronicle, believes social media does not represent the unvarnished picture of students that it may have done 10 years ago, as so many of them are now acutely aware of the ‘brand’ it presents to academics and potential employers.  She reports that a growing number of students now post “only once a week because they see posting on social media as a laborious activity requiring great effort and careful editing, kind of like homework or a job.”


Möbius Interactive STEM Environment

[Stephen Downes]

Maplesoft has released Möbius, an online courseware environment focused on STEM topics which provides an interactive platform for students to explore STEM concepts, visualise problems and solutions, and receive real-time assessment feedback.  The company claims that educators can create lessons that incorporate "interactive explorations, illuminating visualizations, meaningful assessment questions, and guided active slideshows, which incorporate narration, exploration and self-assessment elements".




And Finally…

[Independent Journal Review; Audrey Watters]

Forget EMAs, hold an anti-Trump rally instead.  Arizona State University professor Angeles Maldonado offered her Global Politics of Human Rights students two choices: take a final exam or come up with a group project.  “The class decided that as a group project they wanted to make their voices heard about the issues that are affecting them today, so instead of just reading about the human-rights violations, they'd speak out about the current violations that are happening.”  So a group of about 20 students decided to protest President Trump and his policies as their final.

An 8-year-old boy who learned to drive online from YouTube videos took himself and his little sister to McDonald’s on Sunday, hoping to buy cheeseburgers with money from his piggy bank.  When questioned by police, he said, “Me and my sister really wanted a cheeseburger.”  Witnesses said the boy appeared to obey all traffic laws during the 1.5-mile trip, stopping at red lights and safely making a left turn into the parking lot.  It was the first time the boy had driven.


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