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e-Learning Digest No 155 - Jul 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
17 July 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[Wonkhe; Avril Jamieson; Steve Parkinson; Peter Horrocks; University World News]

Last week’s UCAS figures show roughly 25,000 fewer full-time university applicants compared to June last year.  This includes a 4% decrease in domestic applications, a 5% decrease in EU applications, and a 2% increase in other overseas applications.  However, applications from full-time 18-year-olds are actually up this year to the highest proportion ever recorded.  Aside from the EU, the hardest hits to the market are in nursing (-19%) and applicants aged over nineteen (-8%).

Prof Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to HE, highlights the crisis in part-time student numbers in OFFA's

Monitoring outcomes of the Student Opportunity allocation 2015-16 report.  Only 15 HEIs set a target for part-time access in 2015-16, and he describes as unacceptable the fact that “little or no progress has been made against a substantial proportion of targets for mature and part-time students”.  OFFA is planning a further briefing on part-time students to be published later this year.

The BBC’s Sean Coughlan looks under the bonnet of UK tuition fees, showing graphically how poorly English students fare compared to those in other nations but, despite this, we see that high fees have not reduced university applications, including those from less affluent students.  Perhaps most depressing is Chart 4, which shows the stark contrast between English student loan debt and that of their counterparts in N Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Manchester’s Steven Jones suggests that most press coverage of the IFS briefing on HE funding has been simplistic, and that headlines such as Three quarters of graduates will never pay off student debts may conceal what is “effectively the government’s subsidy for HE, a solitary concession that universities might just be a public good as well as a private one.”

Prof Simon Marginson considers how UK HE might fare after Brexit noting that, from 2007–2013, we contributed €5.4bn to the EU for research and innovation, while receiving €8.8bn in research grants.  Of this, €6.9bn was from the Seventh Framework Programme, in which UK universities were the most successful recipients with a 71% share of projects; overall, the UK accounts for 3.2% of global R&D expenditure.  He also considers the likely impact on non-UK staff and students, with recent announcements providing some greater clarity, but only in the fairly short term.

The UK ranks first for international students' overall satisfaction compared with other leading destination nations, according to the 2017 update to The UK’s Competitive Advantage report by UUK.  The report analyses data from the International Student Barometer, based on feedback from more than 137,000 respondents, and examines the experience of international students in the UK and key competitor nations.  Based on the percentage of international students who would recommend their institution, the UK comes top at all three levels (undergraduates, postgraduate taught students and postgraduate research students), with 91% of international students across all levels of study reporting that they are satisfied with their experience in the UK, followed by Germany, the Netherlands, the US, Australia and Canada.  Those most satisfied with the expertise of academics at UK institutions include Chinese, Malaysian and US international postgraduate research students, where satisfaction is 96%, 97% and 97% satisfied respectively.


M(O)OC News

[Forbes; University World News; Phil Hill; MIT; Class Central]

Coventry University is to offer 50 wholly online degrees over the next five years via FutureLearn, with PG programmes in business and law, health and life sciences, and engineering among the first offerings in early 2018.  Students will be able to start their studies for free and complete a range of short courses before deciding whether to enrol for a full degree, with pay-as-you-go options making this both manageable and flexible.  Deputy VC Ian Dunn proclaims “Higher education is not limited by the physical or geographical boundaries that it once was”.  That’s right Ian, the OU cracked that in 1971.

The University of Adelaide’s David Santandreu Calonge questions whether MOOCs are providing the much promised increased access to higher education or actually deepening divisions.  For example, not everyone has reliable internet connectivity or wants to study in English, but he believes it is in the purpose and design of MOOCs that the most gains could be made: “There is an urgent need to shift the focus from the MOOC as a tool, from MOOCs as an institutional recruitment and branding strategy, from MOOCs as a potential generator of revenue, to an increased reflection on learning, engagement, diagnosis and assessment design in the MOOC format.”  And some similar views are expressed by Class Central’s Dhawal Shah, who claims MOOCs find their audience: professional learners and universities.

MIT has reported details of the first cohort of its MicroMasters programme in Supply Chain Management.  Of the more than 180,000 learners who completed some of the content, 1,100 went on to earn verified certificates on all 5 courses, 750 took the proctored final exam and 622 of these passed.  This then enables them to apply for the full master’s degree, taking one semester of on-campus classes at MIT or any of several partner institutions worldwide.  Programme Director Yossi Sheffi was impressed by learners’ “enthusiasm and excitement” plus the levels of interaction between them, the faculty, and an army of volunteer ‘community teaching assistants’ who responded to all learners’ queries within a stipulated maximum of one hour.

Class Central estimates that around 60 million learners worldwide have studied or are studying over 7,000 MOOCs available from more than 700 universities.  We all know about Coursera and edX, and some people in America have even heard of FutureLearn, but here’s a useful listing of 33 MOOC providers, although I was surprised by the absence of Australia’s Open2Study and Europe’s iversity.


Commercial News

[The Chronicle; Inside Higher Ed; EdSurge; Education Technology; TechCrunch]

A federal court has ruled in favour of Elsevier in its lawsuit against websites such as Sci-Hub, LibGen, and related sites, that provide free, pirated access to millions of scholarly-journal articles.  New York City’s Judge Robert Sweet awarded the publisher $15 million in damages for copyright infringement.  And Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Cengage are suing bookstore provider Follett for alleged failure to stop selling pirated versions of their textbooks.

Pearson has sold 22% of Penguin Random House to Bertelsmann, which already owned 53%.  The deal will net Pearson about $1 bn, but it was hoping to offload 47% and its shares dipped by 8% following the announcement.

The UK ranks first in edtech funding in Europe, contributing 34% (£178m) of the total which comprises investments from UK-based venture capital and seed angel investors in early stage edtech companies.  Edtech is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK (+22% YOY), with more than 1200 edtech companies based here, approx a quarter of the total number in Europe.

Apple has acquired eye-tracking firm SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), fuelling speculation that it intends to get more heavily involved in augmented and virtual reality technologies.


Why ‘Personalized Learning’ Can Feel So Impersonal                                 

[Steve Parkinson]

When the National Education Association (the biggest US teachers’ union) published a piece on personalised learning last month, it resulted in more than 70 mostly negative comments, such as: “I will fight ‘personalized learning’ until my dying day.  It takes away teachers’ and students’ humanity.”  This is unfortunate because many teachers routinely try to deliver learning that is as personalised as possible, but it reflects an unsurprising reaction to technologies and approaches that have either over-promised or simply been poorly implemented – and we all know that this is more likely to put off the doubters than bring them willingly into the fold.  Well-written distance learning can have humanity, through insightful design, authors’ voices and the interaction of online peers, but the data-driven adaptivity that will fuel personalisation needs a considerable amount of technical and design investment, and it is probably only in some of the more formulaic topics such as basic maths that this is starting to deliver.  Consider how much Amazon must have invested in its “people who…” recommendations – but what percentage of those actually result in a sale?  Just because I bought a replacement Dyson hose last month should not mark me out as an avid purchaser of vacuum cleaning components.  But personalised learning is coming, it will quickly move from adequate to good and, before long, we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.


Quality Assuring Higher Education in Apprenticeships: Current Approaches


Quality Assuring Higher Education in Apprenticeships: Current Approaches describes how expectations relating to the QA of higher education, as set out in the UK Quality Code, accommodate and apply to existing and emerging UK models of apprenticeships involving undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.  These may include Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in England, Higher Level Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland, and apprenticeships involving HE qualifications in Wales and Scotland.


US Online Students Want More Interaction and Frequent Start Dates

[Campus Technology]

The sixth annual Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences report from Learning House finds that more than half of those surveyed deemed interaction with their academic community important, with a quarter believing that “having more contact with their instructors and more engagement with classmates would improve the caliber of their online courses.”  Almost 60% of online students travel to campus up to five times per year in order to meet their instructor, attend a study group or otherwise participate in the academic community; for 72% of these, the campus was within 100 miles of their home.  “Speed to degree” was also important to online students, with the majority wanting year-round courses and frequent start dates.


A New World of Corporate Learning Looks Like TV

[Josh Bersin]

As LinkedIn announces that LinkedIn Learning (formerly administrators can now link to learning content in any common format (PowerPoint, PDF, video, text, etc) from any public or internal source, Josh Bersin looks at how corporate learning is evolving in general.  He believes traditional Learning Management Systems are now being complimented by other more niche micro-learning platforms and tools, which may currently be separate systems but many of which are showing signs of being much more integrated in the near future.  The result is a shift towards more of a TV paradigm for corporate learning, “similar to systems like Netflix or even Spotify than the college course catalog.”


Free VR Chemistry app

[THE Journal; VRheads; TechCrunch]

London-based MEL Science has launched a series of VR chemistry lessons for K–12 learners.  The MEL Chemistry VR app, featuring a virtual chemistry lab with the first six chemistry lessons, is freely available at the MEL Science site.  The company plans to release more than 150 lessons covering all the main topics included in K–12 schools’ chemistry curriculum.  The app is currently limited to Google Daydream but Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR versions will be along soon.

And if you need a VR headset to go with that, VRheads suggests 6 sub-$50 options you might consider.  Or you might like to wait until next year for Oculus’s rumoured $200 standalone wireless VR headset.


Students’ Digital Experiences

[EdSurge; Jisc]

Today’s university recruits may struggle to remember a world without many of the technologies they take for granted, but recent experiences at the State University of New York’s Center for Online Teaching Excellence have shown surprising amounts of resistance and anxiety from students who are accustomed to traditional lecture models and who don’t feel they are learning when they are forced to do group work and interact with peers (who they do not view as subject-matter experts).

Jisc’s Sarah Knight has found some similar views.  In the latest Student Digital Experience Tracker, only 65% of UK students (N=22,593) reported that they have access to digital training and support when they need it.  However, they’re not short of kit, with HE students owning an average of 2.7 devices each.  When asked about personal devices used for study, 88.4% used laptops, followed by smartphones (84.3%), tablets (40.7%) and desktops (18.5%). 


Northampton’s Waterside Campus Takes Shape


Work on Northampton’s £330m Waterside campus – described as “the UK’s most exciting higher education project” by HEDPI’s Nick Hillman – continues ahead of its opening next autumn.  So how will staff cope with open-plan hot-desking with lockers for personal effects, and what will students make of “active blended learning”.  VC Nick Petford is already living the hot-desk highlife and points out that the university needs to reduce its estate footprint by 40% by consolidating two campuses into one in order to balance the books.  As for the student experience, Petford cites evidence from the US of the success of an online-offline hybrid approach, with face-to-face teaching remaining central to the process, but “This is absolutely not the Open University by another name as our students will not pay £9,000 a year for that,” he said.


Device Shipment Forecasts

[THE Journal; Campus Technology; The Guardian]

Gartner’s latest technology forecast predicts overall PC shipments to drop by 3% in 2017 (although ‘premium ultramobile’ PC shipments are projected to increase by around 18% as “buyers continue to put quality and functionality ahead of price”).  However, smartphone shipments will grow by 5%, reaching nearly 1.6bn units; there is a shift away from low-cost 'utility' phones although “the smartphone market is now more dependent on new devices that offer something different, as users are extending their purchasing cycles and need to be enticed to make a replacement”.

But IDC predicts the worldwide wearables market will increase 20.4% this year compared to 2016, and nearly double by 2021 to around 240 million units.  IDC believes the market has moved beyond raising awareness and is now about getting the experience right, so “in the years ahead, they will be treated to second- and third-generation devices that will make the today's devices seem quaint.  Expect digital assistants, cellular connectivity and connections to larger systems, both at home and at work.”

However, a Guardian podcast contemplates who is the ‘internet of things’ good for?


Is the Business of Scientific Publishing Bad for Science?

[Chris Hough; Stephen Downes]

In 2005, a Deutsche Bank report referred to scientific publishing as a bizarre ‘triple-pay’ system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”.  Might this have something to do with the early involvement of a young and ambitious Robert Maxwell and his fledgling Pergamon Press?  Stephen Buranyi’s article makes an interesting read and, if it’s at all possible to set aside the ethics of his latter years, Maxwell’s ability in the 1950s and 60s to spot and cultivate business opportunities was astounding.  But does that explain the current state of journal publishing and pricing?  Perhaps not.  Buranyi notes that “By 1994, three years after acquiring Pergamon, Elsevier had raised its prices by 50%.”

Perhaps you prefer open access journals, in which case IRIS.AI could prove useful.  The free tool will ‘read’ the abstract of any research paper and extract what it believes to be the key concepts, presenting them in a visual format and finding relevant papers for each topic from its database of more than 60 million OA papers.


The Decline of Moodle

[Stephen Downes]

Phil Hill, who keeps a close eye on the VLE/LMS marketplace, reports on the steady growth of Canvas and the decline of Moodle in N America.  Whilst current the Moodle user base remains reasonable, the percentage of new installations based on Moodle have fallen to around zero.  In Europe, S America and Oceania, Moodle has always tended to have a greater presence but the decline is similarly stark, with just 3% of new installations opting for Moodle in Q1 or 2017.



[Tony Hirst]

If R is your thing, you may be interested in learnr, which makes it easy to turn any R Markdown document into an interactive tutorial.  These can include any or all of: text, images, video, code exercises, quizzes and Interactive Shiny components.


Facebook and Twitter Being Used to Manipulate Public Opinion

[Stephen Downes]

Studies by the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Research Project have examined nine nations (Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and the US) finding “the lies, the junk, the misinformation” of traditional propaganda is widespread online.  In Taiwan for example, a campaign against President Tsai Ing-wen involved thousands of heavily co-ordinated, but not fully automated, accounts sharing Chinese mainland propaganda.  And in Russia – where digital propaganda expertise was first developed to deal with internal threats to stability and drown out dissent to Putin’s regime while providing the illusion of overwhelming consensus – around 45% of highly active Twitter accounts were found to be bots.  The researchers noted that Germany leads on the implementation of world-leading laws requiring social networks to take responsibility for what gets posted on their sites.


e-Books Better Than Print for Toddlers


When Canadian researchers analysed videos of 102 toddlers reading either two 10-page e-books  or print books with their parents, they found that parents who read the print books pointed more frequently to pages than parents who read the e-books, but the opposite was true for the children.  Toddlers who read the e-books also commented more on the content and turned more pages by themselves.  They were also rated as being more engaged, as paying more attention, and as enjoying the experience more.  According to the analysis, it was “availability for reading” – being present and engaged – that was associated with the superior learning results for e-books vs print.  “Taken together, it appeared that children were very communicative regarding the electronic books, indicating an interest in their content and a desire to share this interest,” the researchers said.


Reality Check

[The Daily Trust]

You could be forgiven for thinking that life is looking a bit bleak at the moment so, just to put things in perspective, Nigeria’s Daily Trust brings news that the country’s Rural Electrification Agency has signed a memorandum of understanding with eight universities and one teaching hospital to provide them with uninterrupted mains power in the first phase of the Government’s Energizing Education Programme.



  • The latest IRRODL (Vol 18, No 4) is a special issue on Outcomes of Openness: Empirical Reports on the Implementation of OER.  [IRRODL]

  • Thirteen years after launching and less than five years after hitting 1bn, Facebook now has 2bn active monthly users.  [TechCrunch]

  • Microsoft Classroom has been 'rebranded' into Microsoft Teams within Office 365 for Education.  [EdSurge]

  • Creative Bloq suggests 20 great resources for learning graphic design, including expert advice, guidelines and resources.  [Creative Bloq]

  • You can’t beat a good statistic.  According to data presented at the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 52% of selfie-takers are show-offs.  [The Memo]

  • YouTube now has 1.5bn logged-in visitors every month, spending an average of more than one hour per day watching YouTube just on mobile devices.  [TechCrunch]

  • Ed Tech comes in many forms – such as this cardboard desk for children in developing nations who often have to sit/squat and use their legs as a writing surface.  [Mashable]

  • OpenStax, best known for free textbooks, has launched Tutor Beta - an online learning platform that is initially offering three courses, in biology, physics and sociology.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • Google Earth Voyager now has 10 new ‘stories’ that allow students to explore remote places through interactive guided tours of satellite imagery and photos.  [CNET]

  • DARPA is investing $65m to develop neural implants so our brains can interface directly with computers.  Don’t underestimate how much or how quickly this might transform our lives.  [TechCrunch]

  • Advice on designing for accessibility from Home Office Digital, together with 6 x A4 posters of key points for different disabilities.  [Home Office Digital]

  • Microsoft’s Dictate is a free add-in for Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook that makes it easy to speak and have text appear in your document, slides, or email.  [Practical Ed Tech]

  • KineMan is a WebGL 3D human skeleton model that allows users to manipulate over 100 joints with up to 170 degrees of freedom.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Michael Feldstein reports that digital badges are gaining traction and Doug Belshaw tries to clarify the Open Badges 2.0 standard.

  • Facebook will be rolling out its find free public Wi-Fi networks feature shortly to iOS and Android users worldwide.  [TechCrunch]


And Finally…

[The Memo; The Guardian]

Milton Keynes (which is apparently located in north-west London) is rolling out smart AI traffic lights as part of the smart city project.  Rather than run a standard looping program, smart lights have cameras that can ‘see’ growing queues of ambulances, buses and cyclists and give more time for these to get over a crossing or, if there’s no one waiting to turn, the lights can skip that part of light cycle to ease congestion.  The camera system can also monitor traffic flow, vehicle types and parking spaces to create a live map of the town.  By 2019 the lights will be hooked up to a new centralised town traffic management system, which should be able to adjust the timings on lights across the city and further reduce congestion.  I can already picture three Mini Coopers being chased across the roof of Xscape…

But frankly, who cares about smart traffic lights when you can have Gollum reading Donald Trump’s Tweets?


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