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e-Learning Digest No 158 - Oct 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 October 2017

UK Conferences & Workshops  

The University of Greenwich runs an annual programme of 1hr public lectures on contemporary issues in teaching, learning and assessment.  These will be held at their Greenwich campus in Queen Anne Court Rm 065 between 5-6pm; pre-booking is not required and attendance is free of charge [Simon Walker].

  • Tue 24 Oct - Prof Simon Lancaster on ‘Learning Gain’

  • Wed 22 Nov - Prof Richard Hall on ‘Critical Pedagogy’

  • Thu 7 Dec - Prof Ros Luckin on ‘Artificial Intelligence and its impact on Education’

  • Tue 30 Jan - Associate Prof Steve Wheeler on ‘Developing Digital Capabilities’

  • Thu 8 Mar - WonkHE editor, Mark Leach on ‘Future directions of UK Higher Education Policy’

Online learning and adult education MOOCs

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[Peter Horrocks; Avril Jameson; Wonkhe; Gill Smith; BBC; The Guardian; University World News]

Peter Horrocks continues his funding crusade with a blog post on the UUK site on the plight of mature and part-time learner funding: “It is no exaggeration to say that ‘earning while learning’ is in crisis in England.  The roots lie in Labour's reforms but the accelerator was the UK coalition government's decision to slash grants and treble student tuition fees.  In the past six years numbers of new part-time students in England have fallen by an extraordinary 56 per cent.”  When you think of all the column inches and broadcast minutes devoted to the £1,600 cost of a floating duck house a few years ago, it’s a crying shame the media doesn’t get behind this.  If only Peter had some contacts at the BBC…

The cost of HE is addressed by 2 pieces of recent market research, with Sky Data finding that 36% of those surveyed (and 53% among 18-24 year olds) feel the cost of university is ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ not worth it for people currently considering applying; 63% think tuition fees should be lowered or scrapped. Separate research by the National Education Opportunities Network amongst English final year school students shows over 30% would choose a course based on future earnings rather than their interest in the subject and 40% are likely to choose to live at home, while 57% would widen the range of HEIs they would consider if maintenance grants were available.  Costs would also cause 19% to consider studying part time (up from 10% in 20165 and 16% in 2016).  Let’s hope Theresa May’s review of funding has an arboreal workstream devoted sole to the quest to find a money tree.

Jo Johnson has announced the establishment of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which aims to reveal and incentivise better performance in this area.  KEF will be led by Research England, which will take on the research and innovation activity currently carried out by HEFCE, and will work alongside the Office for Students.  Johnson has also asked the QAA to develop guidelines that not only clamp down on ‘essay mills’ but also provide support and engagement with students to make them less necessary or attractive.

The Tech Partnership – the network of employers collaborating to create the skills for the UK digital economy and the body accrediting degree apprenticeships in the digital sector – has announced it will cease operations in Sept 2018 because, “It has become increasingly clear that collective action by employers on a sector basis is no longer supported in [government] policy.”

The BBC reports on a downturn in Apprenticeship popularity, with applications down almost two thirds on the same period last year despite a new funding scheme which started in April.  The reporter attributes this to a combination of low pay, with one apprentice shifting from £5.00 per hour to £8.50 by moving to bar work, and dissatisfaction with apprenticeship content: “I had to email people and ask for references for jobs, do the filing and the post, answer the phones and do the photocopying.  I didn't need a two-year apprenticeship to do that”.

Two-year degrees – announced by Jo Johnson in February – have so far received a mixed reception, with demand from students and employers, but with some universities arguing that the complexity of three-year programmes mean they cannot readily be adapted.  However, others, including London’s GSM disagree with chief academic officer Debi Hayes claiming, “Mature students want the option of completing degrees in two rather than three years so that they can quickly return to the world of work.  This is particularly true among those from less privileged backgrounds”.  In this Guardian article, she discusses some of the implementation issues they have faced.

Jo Johnson last month signed a UK-US Science and Technology Agreement with US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber, marking the first umbrella agreement between both countries.  The first project under the agreement includes a £65 million UK investment to increase knowledge on the origin and structure of the universe, and which includes the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), a particle detector in a disused gold mine.


M(O)OC News

[ALT; George Siemens; Olivier Biard; Bertelsmann; Campus Technology]

A Design Guide for Open Online Courses (Jennings, Pratt, Schmoller and a cast of thousands) is described as “a comprehensive summary of how we went about creating Citizen Maths, an open online maths course and service.   The guide shares our design principles and the techniques we used to put them into practice.  Our aim is to provide – with the appropriate ‘translation’ – a resource that will be useful to other teams who are developing online education initiatives.”  The guide is available from the ALT Open Access Repository.

George Siemens and colleagues published their (free) Handbook of Learning Analytics back in May.  Now they’ve launched a series of related MOOCs on edX – see MOOC listings above – with the longer term aspiration of them leading into a MicroMasters in Learning Analytics through the University of Texas.

The OU's TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) programme will be launching its first MOOC on Mon 30 Oct: Making Teacher Education Relevant for 21st Century Africa.  The 4 wks x 4 hrs course is aimed at anyone who works with or trains teachers in Africa, including teacher educators, head teachers, education officers, lecturers, tutors and teachers themselves.

Google and Bertelsmann are funding 75,000 new Udacity scholarships in Europe covering Android, Web and Data Science courses.  Interestingly, of the 60,000 places funded by Google, 40,000 are reserved for applicants with no programming experience with the remaining 20,000 reserved for people with 1-3 years in the field.  The top 6,000 students in the programme will earn an additional 6-month scholarship to one of four Nanodegree Programmes in their respective fields. 

And Udacity has teamed with Unity to develop Learn ARKit, a month-long programme that teaches students how to use Apple’s ARKit development framework with either Unity or Apple's Swift programming language to build 2D, 3D, VR and AR experiences into their games and applications.  The two companies have previously worked together to develop Udacity's VR Developer Nanodegree programme.


Commercial News

[Phoenix New Times; TechCrunch; EdSurge]

US for-profit University of Phoenix is phasing out on-campus teaching at around 20 locations, including Detroit, Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque and San Bernardino, although the University emphasized that "no current student's courses will be affected."  The University enrolled around half a million students nationwide in 2010 but, by 2016, this had fallen to around 139,000.

UK-based Curiscope has developed a printed T-shirt (the Virtuali-Tee) combined with an AR app which “brings anatomy to life with magical illuminating experiences for you, your friends and family”, and it’s yours for just £25.  Good idea?  Venture capitalists LocalGlobe think so – they’ve just invested $1 million.

Varsity Tutors facilitates online tutoring sessions and claims to have more than 30,000 experts on its platform.  The US company has raised more than $57 million in recent years and the first step towards its broader global ambitions is the acquisition of UK-based First Tutors, whose online marketplace matches tutors with learners for offline sessions.


What Do OU Students Really Want?

[Gill Marshall]

The OU is currently investing a great deal of effort in trying to provide the optimum student experience – and I use ‘optimum’ here as a synonym for that ultimate and often conflicting cocktail of relevance, satisfaction, success, retention, progression, cost, flexibility, online/offline, solitary/collaborative, etc, etc.  Now Martin Weller, as an OU staff member and professor of ed tech, may be a tad biased but he’s just completed his OU MA in Art History and so his blog post on his student experience is worth a read.  His advice is not to design for the ‘perfect’ student, because most OU students are imperfect studiers for a host of family, personal and employment-related reasons.  Nor should we aim for wholesale replacement of what we already offer but instead focus on elements that can be steadily improved.  But above all, don’t forget the small stuff, because:

“Small stuff is big – for all the talk of revolutionary pedagogy, personalised learning, disrupted education, what really matters most of the time is the straightforward, everyday matters: do I know what I should be doing at any given time? Can I access the material? Is it clearly written? Can I get support within a reasonable timeframe? Is it set out so I can plan my time effectively?”


Increases in Student Workload can Increase Retention

[Inside Higher Ed]

Perhaps counterintuitively, and contrary to recent evidence from the Open University, a report from Civitas Learning claims that increases in course loads can increase the odds of students – particularly part-timers – persisting with their studies.  Civitas analysed data from roughly 1.4m students at 60 institutions and found, for example, that students who took two courses per term had a median persistence rate that was roughly 15 percentage points higher than their peers who took one course, and this rose by another six percentage points for those taking three courses.  The authors also confirmed that full-time students were more likely than part-timers (by an average of 12 percentage points) to persist.


Understanding Part-Time College Students in America

[Avril Jameson]

A report by the Centre for American Progress highlights the differences in degree completion between FT and PT students in the US, noting that only 4 in 10 PT students return for a second year of study and only a quarter obtain a degree within 8 years, compared with 80% in the FT sector.  And, just like the UK, “many of today’s students ... are older and balancing college with considerable family and work demands. In many cases, that means they can only pursue their studies part-time.”  It is reported that 37% of US UGs seeking a degree are attending PT and (in stark contrast to the UK) “the part-time student population is expected to grow by 18 percent between 2012 and 2023, compared to 14 percent for full-time students”.


Enrolment of Online Students at US Non-profits Continues to Grow

[Inside Higher Ed]

A small survey of student enrolment at a dozen US universities offering online or blended offerings has revealed “a steady but unspectacular growth [of 3-4% over the past year]” according to Babson Survey Research Group’s Jeff Seaman.  However, the picture is more negative in the for-profit sector, led by the University of Phoenix with a decline of nearly 40%.  A Penn State spokesman attributed declines to increasing competition from high quality providers.  Enhancing student services and support (such as 24/7 helpdesk) can also pay dividends, with one director of policy noting that, “An online student who experiences a malfunction on Friday night doesn’t want to wait until Monday morning for a technician on campus to fix it”.


Online Courses Consume More Academic Time Than F2F

[Avril Jameson]

An Australian survey looking at the workload of just over 2,000 academics provides evidence that online teaching is more time consuming than traditional face to face equivalents.  Findings showed the median time taken to plan a 1 hour lecture was 10 hours for online courses compared with 8 hours for a traditional lecture.  Other activities such as tutorial planning, review and updating of teaching materials and student consultation were also longer for online compared with face to face teaching.  Additionally, the study found no evidence that younger, and supposedly more tech-savvy, academics were quicker than their older counterparts in undertaking tasks relating to online teaching.


Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Final Report

[Rosemarie McIlwhan]

The OEPS Final Report brings together the learning from the 3 years of the project, highlighting key successes and challenges encountered by the project and making recommendations for the future of open education in Scotland.  In addition to the full report, the website contains a helpful summary of context, outputs, findings and recommendations – many of which will be applicable and of interest well beyond Scotland.


Welcome Aboard for Online Students

[Inside Higher Ed; Campus Technology]

Mark Lieberman reports how US HEIs have adopted a wide range of approaches to welcoming online students and setting them up for academic success.  Some begin with a short online course that covers the key technical aspects, study skills, support mechanisms, etc, whereas others favour a face-to-face orientation experience.  Others use webinars, such as Excelsior College who discovered these were more effective a few days into the course rather than at the start because, by then, many students had started to realise what they didn’t understand.  In addition to delivery methods, there are also numerous permutations of total duration, session duration and session spacing – and these vary not just between institutions but also between subjects and programmes at the same institution.

In a recent survey of nearly 25,000 US college students, those who had a positive experience with their first-year orientation were 17% more likely to report a positive student life experience.  The study also found that 25% of PT students did not participate in orientation, compared to 9.5% of full-timers, and across all age groups and institution types, students reported that time management was their biggest challenge, with coursework in second place.



[Stephen Downes]

The latest IRRODL (Vol 18, No 6) contains 16 papers on TEL-related topics including Time Shifting and Agile Time Boxes in Course Design, Participant Behaviour in MOOCs, Evaluating e-Assessment Tools and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


OLC Research Centre for Digital Learning & Leadership

[Rebecca Galley]

The Online Learning Consortium Research Centre for Digital Learning and Leadership aims to transform teaching and learning in the digital learning landscape through the dissemination of research throughout the field.  Their newly-launched         site contains research studies, white papers, journal articles and other resources including webinars, podcasts and publications – organised into six different categories: teaching & learning, instructional/learning design, leadership, digital learning, annual reports and quality.


Perlego Offers Netflix for Textbooks


UK-based Perlego gives users ‘Netflix’ online access to a library of digital textbooks and other materials for a monthly fee.  So far the company has won participation by major textbook publishers, including Palgrave, Wiley and Pearson, and is close to an agreement with McGraw-Hill.  Users can search, create booklists, annotate, bookmark and share/collaborate.  There is a free model that gives access to more than 50,000 public domain books, and Premium (£15/month, or £12 for students) increases that to over 70,000 books and 90,000 other publications such as major reports, white papers and case studies.


How Students Cheat in Online Exams

[Inside Higher Ed]

When I worked on guided missiles in the 1980s, our biggest problem was that the Soviets would develop electronic countermeasures (ECM), so we would develop electronic counter-counter-measures (ECCM), and so on.  Who would have thought online exams, cheating, proctoring, and more sophisticated cheating had so much in common with the cold war?


Lifelong Learning Requires an Evolving University

[University World News]

Margaret Andrews takes a global view of ageing populations, extended working lives and growing and diverse needs for lifelong learning.  She believes universities have a vital part to play in this and that they are, “full of very smart people, those who can see the future and understand the implications.  Change is difficult and universities need to learn new ways of thinking, operating and executing – selectively forgetting some of the ways of doing things in the past (for example, tenure) in order to fully invent and realise the future of higher education.  This is not easy.”




And Finally…

[Stephen Downes; Richard Osman]

Every Noise at Once presents an algorithmically-generated scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analysed for 1536 genres by Spotify.  Compiler Glenn McDonald explains, “The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.”  I’m not sure what problem it solves or how often I’d return to the site, but it was fun exploring for a while.

Slightly less taxing is this clip from the BBC archive: in 1976, Blue Peter showed a phone with no cable that you could even take outside (although I couldn’t get it to play in IE11).


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