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e-Learning Digest No 159 - Nov 17

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 November 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].

  • 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

  • 13 Nov (4 wks x 7 hrs) Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy, Ryerson University [Canvas]

  • 20 Nov (4 wks) Teaching Adult Learners, Central Institute of Technology [Open2study]

  • 20 Nov (3 wks x 3 hrs) >Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environments, University of Southampton [FutureLearn]

  • 20 Nov (6 wks x 8 hrs) >What future for education? University of London [Coursera]

  • 27 Nov (3 wks x 7 hrs) Social Network Analysis, University of Texas [edX]

  • 27 Nov (5 wks x 4 hrs) >Foundations of Virtual Instruction, University of California [Coursera]

  • 27 Nov (6 wks x 6 hrs) Foundations of Teaching for Learning: Introduction to Student Assessment, Commonwealth Education Trust [Coursera]

  • 27 Nov (6 wks x 4 hrs) >Foundations of Teaching for Learning: Learners and Learning, Commonwealth Education Trust [Coursera]

  • 4 Dec (5 wks x 4 hrs) >Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom, University of California [Coursera]

  • 4 Dec (5 wks x 4 hrs) >Performance Assessment in the Virtual Classroom, University of California [Coursera]

  • 4 Dec (4 wks x 8hrs) >Disability Awareness and Support, University of Pittsburgh [Coursera]

  • 4 Dec (5 wks x 6 hrs) >Learning to Teach Online, University of New South Wales [Coursera]

  • 8 Jan (3 wks x 7 hrs) Cluster Analysis, University of Texas [edX]

  • 8 Jan (4 wks) Learn Moodle 3.4 Basics, [Learn Moodle]

  • 8 Jan (2 wks x 3 hrs) >Get Started with Online Learning, The Open University [FutureLearn]

  • 29 Jan (3 wks x 7 hrs) Predictive Modelling in Learning Analytics, University of Texas [edX]

  • 19 Feb (3 wks x 7 hrs) Feature Engineering for Improving Learning Environments, University of Texas [edX]

Self-paced online learning and adult education MOOCs and BOCs






[Peter Horrocks; Wonkhe; UUK; Avril Jameson; University World News]

Peter Horrocks and Prof Janet Beer, VC of the University of Liverpool and the new president of UUK, feature in a Guardian article on the decline of PT student numbers – down 56% nationally since 2010, with OU student numbers falling by 30% in the same period – and what can be done about it.  It mostly boils down to funding, with Peter calling for new “learning and earning” incentives for prospective students and “startup” study loans to enable them to study a single module.  He also refers to plans for OU restructuring, “perhaps the biggest any university has had to address”.

In a survey of 9,000 students about what they want from TEF, 84% agree on the need for a government exercise that encourages excellence in teaching, but they disagree with the government on how it should operate.  And although 50% of students would have reconsidered or not applied to their university if they had known it was rated Bronze, four in five don’t agree that student fees should be linked to the rating of the university.  The quality of the teaching and teachers themselves was the number one factor thought to demonstrate that a university has excellent teaching and, whilst 68% of students agree that universities should be held to account for this, only 34% agree they should be held to account if graduate job ratings are poor, and just 18% agree they should be held to account if students drop out.

In The economic impact of universities in 2014–15, UUK reports on how the HE sector supported almost one million jobs, generated £13.1bn in export earnings and contributed £21.5bn to UK GDP in 2014–15. The researchers also estimate that the future benefits of R&D conducted by universities in 2014–15 are currently worth £28.9bn to the UK economy.

Leaders of 22 European higher education bodies have signed a statement calling on governments across Europe to speed up Brexit negotiations so that talks can begin over the future of European research, collaboration and student mobility.  The statement asks for clarification on arrangements for the European research and innovation programme – Horizon 2020 – and the Erasmus+ exchange programme after March 2019.

Manchester Metropolitan University will launch a new MBA Degree Apprenticeship programme next year, enabling employers to use apprenticeship funding to contribute towards the cost of developing their senior managers and strategic thinkers.  Large employers will be able to use Apprenticeship Levy payments whilst smaller employers will be eligible for government support to cover at least 90% of programme costs.


M(O)OC News

[Educational Technology; EdSurge; Hyperledger]

Learners on the OU/FutureLearn Introduction to Cyber Security course can now gain external accreditation through an examination offered by APMG International.  The £120 exam will be taken through a remote proctoring service and can therefore be scheduled at a time and location to suit the candidate; it comprises 70 multiple choice questions that must be completed within one hour.  The 8-week MOOC, now on its twelfth run, is already recognised as GCHQ Certified Training against the industry standard IISP Skills Framework.

MIT began to offer online programmes for working professionals in 2013 but, until recently, these had the look and feel of MOOCs.  Now, as providers look to differentiate themselves MOOCs and tap into the more lucrative professional market, MIT Professional Education has recently launched certificate-based Digital Plus Programmes.  These are only be available to paying companies or organisations and each course is capped at 50 students who are taught by MIT lecturers with a focus on project- and team-based exercises, along with a combination of videos, reading materials, and group work.  By taking four 6-10 week Digital Plus courses, probably over a 2-year period, students can obtain a MIT-stamped professional certificate.  The first two certificate programmes are Strategic Leadership and Innovation, and Leading in the Transformative Era.

Hyperledger, an open source collaborative effort to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies, has launched its first MOOC.  Blockchain for Business: An Introduction to Hyperledger is offered as a self-paced course, designed to run over 8 weeks x 4 hrs.  It is delivered in partnership with edX and the Linux Foundation.

Class Central’s Dhawal Shah notes that many MOOCs are no longer ‘massive’ as more are offered in self-paced mode (which a small Twitter poll showed to be more popular) and fewer components are on the free side of paywalls.  This in turn has changed the size and role of the online communities whose forum posts used to form a hub for knowledge sharing, themed discussions and general support.  He suggests “there is still a tremendous appetite for online courses taught by universities” and that reintroducing free certificates could boost enrolments with, “The potential loss in revenue from free certificates… offset by the marketing benefits of reaching more users.”


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; EdSurge; Venture Beat]

Two US for-profit colleges, Strayer Education and Capella Education, have announced that they will merge their corporate functions but continue to operate as separate institutions.  The combined entity will be called Strategic Education and will have about 80,000 students, 73 Strayer campuses, a large (mostly Capella) online presence and a combined value of $1.9bn.

London- and Hong Kong-based startup BridgeU has raised £4 million in funding to further develop its service that helps high school students plot their college and career pathways.  Students use BridgeU to build a profile showcasing their subject interests, grades, social and professional interests.  The platform then uses an algorithm to provide university and course recommendations based on their preferences and skills.  Schools can also track performance and admission trends on BridgeU.

Brainly has raised nearly $40m in two funding rounds.  It promotes its platform as a place for students to “combine their strengths and talents to tackle problems together.”  The web- and app-based portal encourages older school students to learn outside the classroom, asking questions across a range of topics, including science, history, and maths, and receiving moderated responses from fellow students.  It claims to have 100 million monthly active users in 35 countries who generate more than 100,000 questions on the platform each day.  The platform design means every answer can be searched and viewed by subsequent visitors.

Kano, a London-based startup that creates DIY computer kits that introduce kids to basic programming in languages such as Python and Javascript, has now raised $44.5 million in venture funding to fuel expansion and gain a foothold in retail outlets.


Whatever Happened to the Promise of Online Learning?

[Wonkhe; EdTech Magazine]

OBHE’s Richard Garrett wonders whatever happened to the promise of online learning?  In a questionable piece he seems to treat distance and online learning as synonymous: “What HESA terms ‘distance, flexible and distributed’ students peaked at about 11% of undergraduates (c.220,000) and 10% of postgraduates (c.55,000) in 2009/10.  By 2015/16, total distance enrolment had fallen by 35%, most obviously at sub-degree level but also among bachelor’s and master’s students.  Over the same period, full-time students were up 9%.”  And, although he does note the negative impact of funding changes, his underlying message is that online learning just isn’t good enough: “Today’s online learning is great so far as it goes, but the big promises have not been fulfilled” and “there are many dedicated online institutions, but twenty years on online learning might be better described as supplementary”.  So that’s one less Walton Hall Christmas card the VC needs to sign.

Thankfully, D Frank Smith is a glass-half-full sort of guy: “Online coursework is booming.  Colleges around the world continue to expand their online course offerings.”  He reports on how HEIs like Harvard are investing heavily in online learning and “Contrary to the popular image of online classes consisting largely of video from a camera planted at the back of the lecture hall, Harvard is increasingly using mini-documentaries, animation, and interactive software tools to offer a far richer product.”  His post also includes an infographic describing the average (US) online college student.


Unite Students’ Insight Survey


Everyone In reports the findings of a Unite Students survey of 6,500 UK students on the non-academic aspect of their university experience.  Whilst 74% are satisfied with their life while at university, 38% have have had thoughts about dropping out for reasons which include financial and academic pressure, loneliness and stress.  In particular, students from ‘minority’ groups across the board report problems with integration, support and financial hardship.  Looking beyond university, only 61% of students feel prepared for the world of work, 48% are concerned about the potential negative impact of Brexit on their future job prospects, and those with disabilities are less likely to believe they have gained important soft skills they need.


The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning with Technology

[Stephen Downes]

The authors of this US Cyberlearning Community Report have attempted to synthesise work being carried out as a result of over 200 research grant awards.  Although the specific topic areas will inevitably vary, grant recipients are oriented towards a technical and educational horizon approximately 10 years in the future.  From this brief, the authors have identified six emerging themes:

  • Community Mapping (using mobile, geospatial tools for learning in context)

  • Expressive Construction (students’ expressiveness, sharing of understandings and ability to represent STEM ideas)

  • Digital Performance Spaces (immersive, participatory, social investigations of simulated scientific phenomena)

  • Virtual Peers and Coaches (agents that support engagement in explaining STEM concepts)

  • Remote Scientific Labs (students control real scientific equipment at a distance)

  • Collaborative Learning with Multitouch Interfaces (expanding collaborative learning via tabletop and portable devices)


Personalised Learning: Vision vs Reality

[Education Week; EdSurge]

Education Week carries a special report on Personalised Learning (in US K-12) and what it should, or should not, look like, noting that “A classic battle is emerging between an optimistic vision for innovation on one side, and skepticism about whether the changes will improve schools on the other.”  The report contains 8 items, including Benjamin Herold on the case against personalised learning.  However, other than noting that its biggest challenge is a lack of clarity around what the term actually means, he presents some fairly flimsy and tired arguments against PL, the saddest of which is probably “parents and activists from across the political spectrum deride the term ‘personalized learning’ as an Orwellian misnomer for replacing teachers with digital devices”.  Really?  I was fighting that battle when I first entered the field of computer assisted learning in 1992 and I haven’t seen a shred of supporting evidence then or since.

EdSurge has assembled a useful Personalised Learning Toolkit, divided into four sections – Vision, Research, Implementation and Evidence – which contains guidance, frameworks, tools, resources, reports, projects and case studies to help educators put students at the centre of learning.


Students Prefer Classes That Use Digital Learning Technology

[Faculty Focus; Campus Technology]

Learning technology publisher McGraw Hill’s latest learning technology survey finds that most students think learning technology is fabulous.  Responses from more than 1,000 US college students show:

  • 94% think digital learning technology has helped them retain new concepts, and more than half think digital learning technology helped them better understand concepts they didn’t know

  • 60% feel that digital learning technology has improved their grades, with a fifth saying it had done so “significantly”

  • Students in STEM fields were more likely to report an improvement in grades; e.g. physical sciences (72%), biological sciences (65%), and engineering, math and computer science (64%)

  • More than 66% agreed that digital learning technology is extremely or very helpful in completing assignments; and 82% reported using laptops for homework assignments, compared to 59% using print

Further completely impartial ‘research’ from ed-tech provider Ellucian found that 87% of students said it was important to them that the institutions they applied for were technologically savvy, with 58% reporting that, of all the companies and institutions they engage with, their college is the one least likely to have personalised their experience.  On the plus side, 68% of students report that they receive proactive, personalised updates at least once a week but, on the minus, 23% have to login to five or more sites/applications to access university and course information.


Why we Value Physical Objects over Digital


In the ongoing debate over digital vs print, we all know that part of the argument is psychological – many people just ‘like’ books, but for reasons they can’t fully explain, and contrary to some compelling features of digital that can make it more convenient.  Recent research in the Journal of Consumer Research showed by experiment that people were willing to pay a higher price for a physical photo, book or movie than their digital equivalents.  The authors conclude, “Our findings illustrate how psychological ownership engenders a difference in the perceived value of physical and digital goods, yielding new insights into the relationship between consumers and their possessions”.  They also investigated participants who scored highly on a “need for control scale” (e.g. they agreed with statements like “I prefer being able to set the pace of my tasks”), finding that these people regarded physical items more highly.  Although the authors did not specifically investigate need for control in a teaching and learning context, it seems likely this could be a relevant factor in the textbook debate that is worthy of further investigation.


NMC Digital Literacy Impact Survey

[Audrey Watters]

NMC’s Digital Literacy Impact Survey is based on responses from over 700 recent US university and college graduates, exploring their perspective of digital literacy learning experiences and how these skills are currently being applied to the workforce.  The report also includes a useful list of resources for digital literacy skill development (pp14-15).  Tables 2, 3 and 4 (pp20-22) show reasonable coverage and confidence in ‘traditional’ (my term) DIL areas but much less so in areas such as production of media and assets, and troubleshooting digital problems.  The authors conclude, “There is a great desire by learners, educators, and industry leaders to have digital literacy experiences woven into the curriculum.  Engaging learners with digital tools and developing technical skills has important implications for the workforce and society”.




Online Course Development, Better Together

[Inside Higher Ed]

Central Michigan University had a problem.  It produced around 36 courses per year, each taking an average of 145 days to get from concept to completion and “few of them were distinctive”.  Their process was driven by templates and checklists, and was notable for its missed deadlines (on 90% of courses), mainly waiting for AV, library and graphic resources.

The university introduced a faculty cohort model in which six to eight instructors joined together and met every other week in a 12-week time frame.  During that time period, each professor developed one online course with the help of the group.  The instructional design team provided substantive assistance and design input during the process.

In its first year of operation, the institution added 71 online courses and, over the course of three 12-week cycles in spring, summer and autumn, they can now produce between 108 and 120 courses per year.  These are more varied and faculty driven than they were before, and they’re being delivered an average of 2.4 days ahead of schedule.


Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology

[Inside Higher Ed]

Inside Higher Ed's 2017 Survey of (US) Faculty Attitudes on Technology shows that faculty members are still not yet fully convinced that online is as good as F2F, although the proportion agreeing rose sharply this year, and the proportion who ‘strongly disagree’ dropped significantly.  However, there is overwhelming doubt over whether online can match F2F in reaching at-risk students and in rigorously engaging students in course material.  Seven in ten faculty members who have taught an online course say the experience helped them develop pedagogical skills and practices that improved their teaching, although only 25% said they worked with an instructional designer to develop or revise an online or a blended course.  Sullivan University’s associate provost, Anthony Piña, says “Instructional designers are the best kept secret in higher education.  A lot of faculty and administrators don’t know what instructional designers can do.”  Resistance from sceptical faculty members was also noted as another factor in non-engagement.


Online and Distance Education in Canada

[Audrey Watters]

WCET has published a new survey on Online and Distance Education in Canada, showing that almost all tertiary institutions offer online education courses covering almost every academic subject, with enrolments growing at around 10% per year for universities and 15% for colleges.  More than two-thirds rated online learning as important for their institution, although less than half have implemented (14%) or are implementing (26%) a strategic plan for online learning.  To the surprise of the authors, less than 20% of responding institutions offered MOOCs in the past year, although 35% report moderate use of OERs.


Moodle Usage

[e-Literate; Steve Rycroft; Moodle News]

Some recent posts from e-Literate about declining uptake of Moodle prompted outcries within the community that they were based on partial data that sent an untrue and unhelpful message.  Now Michael Feldstein/Phil Hill have posted again on the same topic, stating that “While Moodle is still by far the most widely adopted LMS in higher education globally and is no danger of disappearing any time soon, I believe that our data should give the Moodle community cause for considerable concern about their long-term future”.  The OU’s Steve Rycroft acknowledges recent growth in D2L and Canvas due to “aggressive marketing” and that Moodle may be reaching some sort of saturation point (after all, most UK FE/HEIs have a VLE/LMS, so growth cannot continue indefinitely).  However, he is still not impressed that the post fails to acknowledge the millions of dollars Blackboard have invested in their Ultra product strategy, and that it tries to compare the financial operations of the relatively tiny Moodle HQ with those of the large corporate VLE providers.  In terms of the OU and Moodle, Steve says that, based on our scale and evolving needs, “we're keeping an eye on the emerging trends from a number of balanced sources”.

And from Moodle News, a piece on open-source H5P which is emerging as a popular interactive production method that easily integrates with Moodle.  Educators and developers can use or adapt a list of around 40 interactive HTML5/JavaScript/CSS/PHP “content types” available, together with documentation, from the H5P site


India Clamps Down on Rogue Distance or Open Courses

[University World News]

India’s Supreme Court has ruled that 122 ‘deemed universities’ across India cannot grant degrees via distance or correspondence learning beyond 2018-19 without first obtaining permission from the statutory bodies because they had “flagrantly violated and entered into areas where they had no experience and started conducting courses through distance education systems illegally”.  This refers to HEIs, other than universities, working at a high standard in specific areas of study which can be declared by the central government as a ‘deemed university’.  In the case of three such HEIs, the court suspended the engineering degrees awarded to students on distance courses between 2001 and 2005, and annulled degrees granted by those institutions after 2005.


Device Market Trends

[Campus Technology; THE Journal; TechCrunch; Michael Feldstein]

Gartner reports that global sales of computing devices, which includes PCs, tablets and smartphones, will top 2.35 billion units next year but, despite the proliferation of mobile devices, a recent online user survey found, “Forty percent of respondents said that they use mostly a PC/tablet for certain daily experiences, such as reading and writing detailed emails or watching videos, while 34 percent mostly use a smartphone for its convenience while on the move”.  However, the company still predicts that shipments of traditional PCs will be down 4.4% in 2018 compared to this year, while smartphone sales will rise by 2.4%.

Worldwide tablet sales fell by 5.5% year-on-year in Q3 according to a new IDC report.  But, of the top 3 vendors, only second-placed Samsung saw a fall, from 6.5m to 6m devices.  Apple (#1) and Amazon (#3) saw rises to 10.3m and 4.4m respectively.  IDC attribute the general slowdown to increased demand for smartphones, a lengthening replacement cycle for tablets and an improving position for traditional PCs. 

IDC also reports a rise in Apple’s smartphone market share in China in Q3 due to the strong sales of the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.  Apple that Chinese sales grew by 12% year-over-year, to $9.8 billion and analysts expect the iPhone X to also do well.

Apple has retaken the lead in the global wearable band market thanks to strong Apple Watch shipments, according to data from Canalys which shows Apple shipped 3.9 million units in Q3 2017, compared to 2.8 million in Q3 2016, giving it a 23% market share, ahead of Xiaomi (21%) and Fitbit (20%) .

A new report from Juniper Research predicts that smart devices (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos One) will be installed in a majority (55%) of US households by 2022, with a total number of installed devices exceeding 175 million.  Voice controls are also expanding across other platforms, including PCs, tablets, connected TVs, cars and wearables.  Combined with smartphones and smart speakers, analysts forecast the total number of voice assistant devices will reach 870 million in the US by 2022.


Cengage Offers New OER Materials

[Inside Higher Ed; THE Journal]

Educational publisher Cengage has announced OpenNow – a new product line built around OERs, use of which the company predicts could triple over the next five years.  And how open is open?  Cengage’s Cheryl Costantini said that the content in the OpenNow platform would be “available for anyone to use for free outside of our solution.”  But for those who want to use the OpenNow platform, fees start at $25 per student per course, for “the delivery of content that’s aligned to assessment and learning objectives, the additional assessments and videos we either curated or created, and the outcomes-based platform with personalization and analytics”.

And, almost in the same breath, Blackboard announced a partnership with OpenEd to integrate its OER library with its LMS and other solutions.  OpenEd offers standards-aligned resources from a range of sources and in a variety of formats, including games, assessments, videos, assignments and lesson plans.  The deal makes more than half a million resources available to users of Blackboard Learn, Moodlerooms and Blackboard Classroom.


Can ScholarlyHub Outshine ResearchGate and

[THE; The Scientist]

A group of open access campaigners are trying to raise €500,000 to build a rival to academia’s biggest social networks such as ResearchGate or, who they say cannot be trusted to put researchers’ interests first.  ScholarlyHub aims to operate on a non-profit basis, charging subscribers around €21/£19 per year.  The site would also act as a publishing platform with the promise of helping authors keep control of their work and data.  Project leader, Prof Guy Geltner acknowledged that it would be a “real challenge” convincing academics to pay the mooted $25 a year for access when there were free alternatives but he notes that academics were already used to paying much higher membership fees for learned societies, so “culturally we’re already there”.

And, in a “symbolic gesture”, eight German researchers have announced their >resignation from the editorial and advisory boards of a handful of Elsevier’s journals to show support for German research institutions as they attempt to establish a new nationwide licensing agreement with the publishing giant.



  • The Gates Foundation expects to >invest almost $1.7bn in K-12 education over the next 5 years, primarily through groups of schools working on “local problems and solutions”.  [THE Journal]

  • From next autumn, all Ohio State University >first year students will receive iPad Pros, opening up “a new world of instructional possibilities for faculty”.  [EdSurge]

  • Google’s new Poly platform allows users to find and distribute VR and AR objects to use with Google’s ARCore, Apple’s ARKit, or various VR development platforms.  [The Verge]

  • Mozilla is announcing a new development programme for Mixed Reality and a WebXR API that will significantly expand its work in VR and AR for the web.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Microsoft is making Immersive Reader (tools and features designed to help dyslexic students) available via Word for iPad.  [Campus Technology]

  • ReadSpeaker’s new webReader offers new text-to-speech features to enhance the reading experience of language learners and those with disabilities and learning difficulties.  [ReadSpeaker]

  • There are over 1m international students in the US, with 50% of these from China and India combined.  [The Pie]

  • Stephen Hawking’s 1966 PhD thesis, Properties of expanding universes, is now freely available from the Cambridge University website.  [The Telegraph]

  • Kara Pernice presents updated research on the >F-shaped on-screen reading pattern.  (Note the tortuous reading of a non-responsive-design screen in the second video).  [NNg]

  • …and our preference for viewing the left hand side of any screen, with little or no scrolling to view content extending off the right hand edge.  [NNg]

  • Ohio State University has accused 83 Business students of using the messaging app GroupMe to facilitate “unauthorized collaboration on graded assignments”.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • IBM’s Cognitive Class offers 60 online, self-paced, badged training courses on topics relating to Machine Learning, AI and Big Data, plus access to tool sets used within them. [Tony Hirst]

  • Landsat 8 images/data are now freely available via Amazon AWS on a daily basis, often within hours of production.  [Tony Hirst]

  • Sarah Gilbert offers practical advice on the use of xAPI for developing interactive e-books.  [Learning Solutions]

  • Remember Firefox (market share currently around 12%)?  Now Mozilla hope to win back users with the launch of its faster, better Quantum browser.  [TechCrunch]


And Finally…


So, does face recognition represent the pinnacle of smartphone security?  Not if it allows your 10-year-old son to break in to your iPhone X.  Interestingly, although it did not work on every occasion, access improved over time as the phone’s AI started to learn the son’s features.


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