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e-Learning Digest No 156 - Aug 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 August 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[Peter Horrocks; The Independent; Phil Baty; Laboratory News; The Telegraph; Wonkhe]

A report from the Social Market Foundation finds that UK university drop-out rates rose from 5.7% to 6.3% between 2012/13 and 2014/15 for young first-time students, with those from disadvantaged groups targeted through Widening Access much more likely to leave early (8.8%).  For mature students (who enter HE at post-21) the drop-out rate is double that of young entrants [Fig 4], averaging 11.6%.  There was no specific investigation into distance learning but the authors noted that “A recent review of the literature for the Department for Education found that credit transfer schemes in the UK are relatively under-developed (apart from in the Open University.”

An annual Sutton Trust poll of more than 2,600 English and Welsh 11- to 16-year-olds found that 14% said they were unlikely to go on to HE, compared with 11% last year and 8% five years ago.  Of these, 70% said they did not enjoy studying, 64% cited financial reasons, 44% thought they were not clever enough and 42% did not think they would need a degree for the jobs they were considering.

UUK’s annual Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education report presents data on students and staff at UK HEIs covering a 10-year period that includes significant financial challenges and changes to funding systems.  Key findings/changes since 2006/7 include:

  • Entrants to full-time UG and PG courses have increased by around 30%.  However, entrants to part-time first degree courses have fallen by 29% and to other part-time UG courses by 63% over the same period

  • The number of 18-year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time undergraduate courses has increased by 52%

  • Graduates of all ages have had consistently lower unemployment rates and higher earnings compared with non-graduates, even during recessions; last year’s graduates aged 21-30 were 40% less likely to be unemployed compared to non-graduates​

  • Improvements in staff equality and diversity, including a 51% increase in BME professors increased and a 42% increase in female professors; non-UK nationals accounted for nearly two thirds of growth in all academic staff

The government is to invest £100m into recruiting skilled scientists from around the world.  The Ernest Rutherford Fund will be used to provide fellowships for early career and senior researchers, from traditional sources plus emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Mexico.  Speaking at the launch event last month, Jo Johnson said, “the Prime Minister has made clear she wants us to be a country that attracts the brightest and best minds.  Rutherford and his immense contributions to science exemplify our vision of a Britain that is open to the best minds and ideas in the world”.

A Sunday Times investigation has found that some UK universities are increasingly recruiting lucrative overseas students – many of whom pay fees that are three times higher – while the number of places offered to UK teenagers is falling.  However the Department of Education has promised that the new Higher Education and Research Act, which will come into effect from Apr 18, will monitor whether British students are facing discrimination.  However, Wonkhe’s David Morris, believes the ST may have misinterpreted the HESA data.


M(O)OC News

[Stephen Downes; EdTech Magazine; Inside Higher Ed]

Freda Wolfenden et al investigate the success of two 6 week MOOCs to support sustainable capacity building as part of the TESS-India project.  These were developed in English and Hindi using edX and were optimised for low bandwidth/small screen use.  There were 44,000 registrations (90% MOOC first-timers) for both MOOCs, with a completion rate of around 50%.  However, this enthusiasm on the ground was not always matched further up the food chain, with some experts reluctant to allow participant experimentation in the MOOC forums, even suggesting official reprimands for those who posted ‘gibberish or irrelevant information’.

John Swope, writing in EdTech Magazine, compares what he describes as five of the most interesting MOOC platforms.  What he actually means is platforms that will allow you to build and host your own courses, meaning that Coursera and FutureLearn do not feature on his list.  Of the five that do, perhaps unsurprisingly, edX and Moodle score well.

In a recently announced partnership, edX is integrating the Examity online proctoring platform into Open edX, enabling Open edX partners and their estimated 12 million students to use Examity’s online proctoring services.  Providers will have access to Examity's live, recorded and fully automated proctoring for-fee services, plus analytics data.

The success of MIT’s ‘half online, half in-person’ Micromasters degree programmes is causing MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics to reconsider its admissions process.  According to Prof Yossi Sheffi, “We are so impressed by what we are seeing that there’s a debate within the Center for Transportation and Logistics if we should replace standardized tests … with taking one full [online] course and seeing how [students] do”.  Nearly 200,000 learners have signed up to date, most studying for free, but with nearly 19,000 paying for certificates.  A group of about 1,100 have just become the first to finish the five MOOCs required to take the comprehensive final exam, with nearly 800 doing so and 622 passing.

In 2014, Georgia Tech answered surging demand for master's degrees in computer science by teaming with Udacity to launch a MOOC-based programme that also included charged tuition and assessment components.  The programme now boasts more than 4,500 students and is expected to reach 5,500 this autumn.  Based on this positive experience, a pilot was launched earlier this year with 59 students enrolled in an online Introduction to Computing course (run by edX with a platform from McGraw-Hill that offered some adaptive learning features) while approximately 350 studied F2F.  Results have shown no significant difference in grades or accumulated knowledge, and Dean Zvi Galil is attracted by the possibility of being able to shave a year off many students' college careers.


Commercial News

[Avril Jamieson; Inside Higher Ed; EdSurge; University World News; The Pie]

Arden University’s turnover increased by 41% to £7m for the year ended 31 Oct 16, which the company attributes to the consolidation of international business activity and the launch of its first UK blended learning campus in the second half of 2016.  However, the company also posted an operating loss of £1.5m.

Aston University has entered into a 10 year partnership with Keypath to deliver online PG Business degrees.  This follows earlier Keypath announcements of similar arrangements with Exeter and Coventry Universities.

A report from the Century Foundation, The Private Side of Public Higher Education, considers the risks as US colleges and universities increasingly turn to outside contractors to deliver or support the move of academic programmes online.  The authors believe these deals prioritize “dollars over learning” which could impact on teaching and learning quality, expose personal data and lead to “some of the same abusive marketing practices that have plagued the for-profit college industry or sell these leads to other companies that may do so”.

As part of CEO John Fallon’s plan to cut costs by £300m and turn Pearson into “a simpler a more digital company”, the company is planning to lay off 3,000 more employees, with a particular focus on managerial positions.  This comes on top of the 7,000 jobs lost through two previous rounds of layoffs.

UK private equity firm Actis has created a $275m HE platform – Honoris United Universities – spanning nine countries in Africa as it looks to cater to rapidly growing educational needs.  The initiative has brought together private universities and colleges across 48 campuses in 30 cities.  Honoris already serves 27,000 students but the company expects this to grow to 100,000 in the next three to five years.

To lose one Dean is unfortunate…  Following the departure of BPP University's CEO earlier this year after a consortium of private equity investors arrived on the scene, there are now reports that the deans of three of its main schools have all resigned.  BPP is also reported to be involved in informal talks around the potential sale of its School of Health.

New College Group has purchased the Sandycove School of English in Dublin, its first venture outside of the UK where it has two schools in Manchester and Liverpool ­­– currently hosting approx 600 students – in a move triggered by Brexit concerns.  

UCLA is developing a Global Online platform and plans to launch a suite of online degrees starting next year, targeting students around the world.  The platform aims reach 10,000-15,000 students in the space of five years, and the subjects offered are expected to reflect the biggest industries in Los Angeles.


Ofsted to Publish Critical Report on Learndirect


Ofsted has confirmed it will publish a report on the adult training and apprenticeship provider Learndirect, on Thursday of this week, following yesterday’s lifting of an injunction obtained by Learndirect against the publication of the critical report relating to an inspection conducted in March.  Learndirect said it was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict.


HEPI/Unite Students Applicants to Higher Education Survey

[Anna Barber]

Last month’s HEPI/Unite Students Applicants to Higher Education Survey Report had an inevitable focus on the full-time sector but there were some points that were particularly relevant for any future OU model.  These included:

  • An induction phase lasting the whole of the first year, not just the first few weeks, thus creating a smoother landing for new students

  • Creating realistic expectations of the student experience, rather than an idealised Marketing view which can lead to frustrations downstream

  • Creating a sense of community and greater resilience (e.g. Kings College London’s “micro affirmations” or New Zealand’s “sticky campus”)


Online Learning Test Drives

[Inside Higher Ed]

Drexel University now gives prospective distance learners a chance to test an online course at no cost before signing up.  This enables them to experience the process of learning online, sample materials, interact with other learners and staff, and upload a paper and get mock feedback on their work.  The initiative is popular with prospective students and data show that those who take part are, on average, twice as likely to enrol in an online program (38.3%) than are those who do not (19.7%).  These students are also most likely to finish the first course and complete their degrees online.


Most Millennials Learn More from Technology than from People

[Campus Technology]

An unfortunate headline because all that technology was populated or programmed by people, but we get the gist.  It refers to a US survey by non-profit Growing Leaders which found that 69% of millennials (aged 18-34) say they learn more information from technology than from people, but the report doesn’t address whether that’s an anti-social thing or more to do with speed/convenience.

But in The Myths of the Digital Native and the Multitasker, OUNL’s Prof Paul Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere assert that digital natives aren’t inherently better equipped to deal with new technologies than those “immigrants” born before 1984.  They also argue that that multitasking in response competing sources of information – a skill often ascribed to digital natives – can do more harm than good.  In response, Johns Hopkins’ Prof Wendy Drexler said the binary discussion of whether digital natives exist or not holds little value and that the question we should address is “How might the role of teaching and teaching practice change in an era when information is available instantaneously, but increasingly difficult to evaluate?”


Moodle is Alive and Well

[Steve Rycroft; Campus Technology]

I reported last month on Phil Hill’s data showing that uptake of Moodle for new installations has fallen dramatically.  However, Phil himself noted in subsequent posts that “we need to be careful to not lose perspective and miss the installed base of LMS customers.”  Data for Spring 2017 shows Moodle is alive and well, with >50% market share in Europe, Latin America and Oceania, although this falls to 25% in the US where Blackboard and Canvas are much more prevalent.

Speaking recently, Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas said “we find ourselves at the vanguard of people who believe in openness, who believe in social good and social justice.”  He believes Moodle is becoming more aligned with the OER movement although “actual projects don't always work together as much as they should”.  However, a new Moodle community platform under development aims to foster more collaboration and could enable crowd-funding mechanisms to support future collaborative developments.  He disagreed that Moodle was hitting a plateau but noted that there is particularly strong competition in the US from LMS vendors and venture capitalists.


Amazon Inspire

[Stephen Downes]

Amazon has just opened Amazon Inspire (beta), its free library of open-education resources.  At the moment users cannot post their own resources, and the content is aimed just at K-12, but it’s still worth looking at how they’ve gone about it.  The business model is also interesting because the “open-education resources” sit behind an Amazon login which provides the company with some personal information, your school details and your browsing and up/download information.


Teaching with Technology Survey

[Campus Technology; Scientific American]

Campus Technology’s electronic magazine format is a bit tortuous to use but the 2017 Teaching with technology survey gives a useful insight into US faculty and student attitudes, skills and use of Edtech, showing a healthy regard for its effectiveness and future potential.  Respondents report 12% of teaching environments as being fully online and 18% of textbooks are solely electronic; 93% are using learning management systems but these are the least popular of current technologies.  Curiously (to me), 9% report smartwatches as being valuable for teaching and learning.

Laptops and smartphones were shown in the survey to be the most popular technologies used by students, although 21% of educators forbade the use of phones in class.  Now, separate research from Michigan State University suggests that laptops do not enhance classroom learning.  By monitoring usage via a proxy server, the researchers found that participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for non-academic purposes, including social media, email, shopping, news, chat, watching videos, and playing games – and students with higher use tended to score lower on the final exam.  Social media sites were the most-frequently visited during class and these, along with online video sites, proved to be the most disruptive with respect to academic outcomes.  In addition to the nearly 40 minutes students spent surfing the web, they also reported using their phones to text for an additional 27 minutes.  In contrast, they spent less than 5 minutes on average using the internet for class-related purposes such as accessing the syllabus, reviewing course-related slides or searching for/using supplemental materials.


How to Help Faculty Build Online Courses

[Campus Technology]

Members of the University of Arizona’s Office of Digital Learning describe how the University prepared and supported faculty members for the move three years ago from predominantly F2F to UA Online, which is currently hosting around 400 courses.  An Online Course Design Primer was developed that provides advice on initial planning, course mapping, developing courses (“we spent quite a lot of time figuring out how to make something that was engaging and beautiful, that wouldn't break and that would be supportive of faculty going in and entering their text directly into these spaces”) and continuous improvement.  And how to succeed?  “Collaboration is key – you've got to let the faculty know that all the work they've done over the last 10, 15, 20 years is solid, because it is!”


Precision Education


Slicing university courses into smaller and smaller pieces and moving from one-size-fits-all lectures to a range of mix-and-match educational materials sounds suspiciously like a ‘Netflix of Education’ approach.  But that term is fast moving from hero to zero in HE circles and so academics at National University are calling the approach precision education, with the university (home to 30,000 non-traditional but mostly distance students) about to spend $20m over the next three years to convert dozens of courses.  As an example, Prof Nima Salimi is taking the eight key concepts covered in his introductory biology course and devising 5 or 6 “micro-competencies” for each one.  Then he’ll look around for OERs or multimedia from textbook publishers (ideally finding several different materials for each concept); he’ll design short quizzes and make a menu of choices for students to turn to when the results show they need to learn more.  Later, he’ll put the materials into a commercial software developed by Gooru, which will look for patterns in which ones work best for which types of students, and eventually present different options to each learner based on those patterns.  The University of Florida has recently received nearly $10m in grants from the US Dept of Education for a similar “precision education” effort.


Proctoring in Online Learning

[Campus Technology]

As online education continues to grow, so too does the need for robust electronic proctoring of summative assessment.  In California, 113 community colleges collaborated to investigate and try to implement a suitable solution.  They firstly considered real time monitoring via webcams but this was felt to be overly intrusive and impractical with 1.3m students.  This led them to Proctorio, a web service that monitors technical (browser resize, copy and paste or the number of websites visited) or environmental (odd movements, somebody looking away from the screen or voices in the room) abnormalities.  It can also be configured for varying degrees of lockdown and to accommodate a webcam.


Technology Markets

[THE Journal; TechCrunch]

Latest figures from IDC show the tablet market continuing to decline in Q2 of 2017, with 37.9m shipments (-3.4% compared to the same period last year).  However, shipments of Apple tablets rose from 10m to 11.4m units in that period, helped by the launch of new models, raising their tablet market share from 25.4% to 30.1%.  They were followed by Samsung at 6m (15.8%).

Smartphone shipments also declined slightly to 341.6m (-1.3%), although this had little effect on the top vendors: Samsung (79.8m units, 23.3% market share), Apple (41m, 12%), Huawei, OPPO and Xiaomi.  According to IDC, “With devices like the iPhone 8, Pixel 2, Note 8 and V30 in the pipeline, the competition will be fierce come September.”

All this is good news for Apple, currently worth $800bn and estimated by some to reach $1 trillion on the back of healthy Q3 and Q4 projections that will include the iPhone 8 launch.

IDC also took a look at VR and AR, projecting that market to double each year through to 2021, reaching $215bn, up from $11.4bn this year.  They expect this to be initially dominated by consumer spending as better, cheaper devices and games emerge and awareness increases, followed by manufacturing, retail and education.


Sansar Social VR Platform

[Campus Technology]

Having failed to take over the world once with SecondLife, Linden Labs are having another try with Sansar, which it claims “democratizes social VR” with features such as drag-and-drop editing and cross-device distribution.  Their press release claims “Sansar empowers individuals, communities, schools, studios, corporations, brands and others to easily create, share and ultimately sell immersive 3D social experiences for consumers to enjoy on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows PCs.”


Economics, Zimbabwe Style


Question: You’ve been in power for 37 years, economic output has halved since 2000, unemployment and poverty are endemic, four million people are in need of food aid and the country is on the brink of economic collapse.  Do you:

  1. Resign

  2. Seek urgent assistance via the UN

  3. Spend $1bn to fund a new Robert Gabriel Mugabe University




And Finally…

[Historical Pics; TechCrunch]

How much code was written to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon in 1969?  One Margaret Hamilton’s worth.

I started to watch this out of curiosity and found myself hooked (but not for the full 2 hrs though).  Watch three Apple engineers candidly discussing how they were poached onto the original iPhone project, how secrecy and intrigue abounded, how features and design decisions were addressed and how they discovered that none of them had the complete picture until Steve Jobs launched the device at Macworld in January 2007.



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