The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

e-Learning Digest No 161 - Jan 18

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 January 2018

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 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

IBM’s Cognitive Class offers 60 short, 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]






[THE; BBC; Wonkhe; The Telegraph; The Independent; The Guardian]

When the music stopped at Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle party, Damian Hinds and Sam Gyimah found chairs available as Education Secretary and Universities Minister respectively.  This was made possible by Jo Johnson winning some Tonka trucks and an enormous box of Lego to go off and construct Heathrow’s third runway.  Meanwhile, Justine Greening didn’t much care for her present and chose to go home early without cake.  HEPI’s Nick Hillman believes the new appointments will make it easier to proceed with the major review of university funding announced last May.  “I think a big and bold review is now more likely than it seemed a week ago,” Mr Hillman said, although Liverpool’s Roger Brown thinks “…it was already clear that the review of higher education finance was being done at No 10”.

The review of funding is just one of the challenges facing universities in 2018, according to the BBC’s Sean Coughlan.  In fact, other than issues relating to free speech, he believes all other challenges are economic: VC pay, financial independence and data from HEPI suggesting only 32% of students in England thought their courses represented good value for money.

But universities must be getting something right because student numbers are up again.  HESA reports >a 2% rise in the 2016/17 student population, with the total number of HE students standing at 2,317,880.  This includes all nations and UG qualifications such as HNC/D and Foundation Degrees.  That all seems fairly healthy until you investigate the FT-PT breakdown, showing a 6.9% FT rise since 2012/13 against a 21.2% PT drop.







Full time






Part time







The Office for Students (OfS) is officially up and running, despite the arrival and rapid departure of Toby Young.  There is currently little experience of PT study in the board members appointed so far.  These include Sir Michael Barber (Chair, previously Chief Education Advisor at Pearson) Nicola Dandridge (CEO, formerly CEO of Universities UK) and Carl Lygo (formerly VC of BPP University).  The OfS will formally replace Hefce as the principal regulator of HE in England from 1 April.

Figures released last week by HESA show that three quarters of graduates now obtain a first class degree or a 2:1.  Persistent grade inflation resulted in 100,495 students graduating with top honours last year, a 40% increase in just four years.  The OfS has already warned it will name and shame universities found to be deliberately inflating grades.

A Guardian piece on the OU by Peter Wilby is based mainly on an interview with Peter Horrocks who, we learn, “looks and dresses like a bank manager”.  Ah, so Horrocks is just a money man who slashed the BBC, closed OU regional offices, brought the OU “to the brink of failure” with a dodgy IT system and is now looking to slash £100m from its annual budget?  In fact we also learn of some of the intricacies of running a university, the background to the current situation and the proposed changes.  And how does he find working with academics?  “Their job is to help students think critically.  A vice-chancellor can hardly complain when they’re being difficult and argumentative”.

New figures show a 19% increase in departures of European staff from universities last year compared to before the EU referendum, with more than 2,300 EU academics resigning from British universities in the past year amid concerns over a Brexodus of top talent in higher education.

With continuing doubts over the robustness of A Level results, schools and universities are looking at alternative measures, including BTEC.  However, HESA data shows that BTEC students perform more poorly at university: over 10 years, 13% of students with BBB at A-level failed to complete their degree course at the first attempt.  The figure for those with equivalent BTECs was 27%.  For those with CCC at A-level or equivalent, the gap is even bigger, at 17% compared with 37%.


M(O)OC News

[THE; Stephen Downes]

Diana Laurillard and Eileen Kennedy challenge whether the novelty of MOOCs is wearing thin, noting how platforms and teaching models have improved, and how certification has grown in importance.  Whilst it is currently the case that courses often serve those who are academically and financially well-placed, they believe the next essential step is to reach those millions of remote or underprivileged learners who have long been cited as the audience who could and would derive the most benefit from MOOCs.  “If we are to achieve the Unesco Sustainable Development Goal of universal basic education, we need tens of millions of as-yet untrained teachers to educate school-age children.  MOOCs cannot directly teach those children, but they can train non-professional adults to become those teachers.”

On a related theme, a recent paper by van de Oudeweetering & Agirdag presents the findings of a review of 31 empirical studies to examine how MOOCs benefit the socially privileged in comparison to underprivileged groups.  They conclude that “…there are fewer barriers to MOOCs than to higher education [but] the remaining barriers seem to specifically hamper access for underprivileged populations.”  Ten of the studies reported an average of 70% employed learners (typically in ‘good’ occupations such as ICT, education, business and management).  Whilst the UN describes 83% of the world’s population as living in less developed countries, only around 30% of MOOC learners do so, with the majority of these described as “highly educated”.  Fifteen of the studies reported on learners’ educational qualifications, with the highest being a Penn State MOOC on GIS (84% had a bachelor’s degree or higher) and the lowest a Southampton course on Web Science (43%).  The researchers noted that this and also the second lowest (Understanding Dementia, 51%) “both accommodated their instructional design to the needs of less experienced learners” (e.g. flexible pacing, assessment resits, materials written to be ‘understandable’).


Commercial News

[Wonkhe; Avril Jamieson; TechCrunch]

The >London College of Contemporary Media (LCCM) entered administration last week, leaving its validating body (the OU) to try and find a new provider for its c250 students.  Despite lining up the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), the administrators made a surprise last-minute sale to Global University Systems (GUS), owners of Arden University, the University of Law and the London College of Contemporary Arts.

KPMG has added a digital degree apprenticeship to its existing offer of level 3 and above apprenticeships in accountancy and business services.  KPMG360° Digital will be a four-year programme combining on-the-job work experience with the opportunity to gain a BSc in digital and technology solutions from BPP University.  KPMG has vacancies in Leeds and Manchester for a September start.

Alphabet (Google) has acquired a UK-based startup called Redux which develops technologies (and has over 100 patents) that use vibrations and ‘bending wave techniques’ to turn surfaces of phones or tablets into speakers or provide haptic feedback.

Bitcoin may be looking like a wobbly bubble at the moment but there seems to be an assured future for  cryptocurrencies.  When Kodak announced last week its intentions to create a “photo-centric cryptocurrency” (KodakCoin) that will “empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management”, its share price jumped by 44%.


New Media Consortium Folds

[Stephen Downes]

The New Media Consortium unexpectedly went into liquidation just before Christmas.  NMC is best known for its two annual ed tech Horizon reports – a K-12 one released with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and one for HE released with EDUCAUSE.  The HE report is apparently half-written and was due for a Feb release, and EDUCAUSE CEO John O’Brien says his organisation intended to facilitate this.


OERs to Hit the Mainstream


Mike Silagadze believes 2017 was a breakthrough year and that OERs will become a mainstream solution in 2018, as evidenced by the $millions being invested in production by US universities and new legislation being introduced in many states.  He suggests there are 3 key actions that are required now:

  1. OER content quality needs to improve

  2. OER needs bells and whistles (not pointless gimmicks, but value-adding interactivity and supporting services)

  3. OER needs to be easier to find and adopt

I hope he’s right but I disagree with his prediction that “it won’t be long before we’ll have an iTunes-style central repository for all OER materials in higher education”.  Apple were in the right place at the right time with millions of cool devices and music-hungry users.  Compare that to the number of competing textbook publishers and platforms, all of whom can smell a lot of profit in ‘free’ content.

In a separate piece, Jeffrey R Young sees libraries becoming key players as universities move to embrace OER, with examples emerging such as the Open Textbook Library (led by the University of Minnesota) and OhioLink (funded by a $1.3m grant from the Ohio Department of Education). 


Learning Analytics in Higher Education


Learning analytics tools are increasingly being deployed in education to improve student performance, retention and completion, especially when those metrics are tied to funding.  Providing personalized, real-time, actionable feedback through mining and analysis of large data sets, learning analytics can illuminate trends and predict future outcomes.  Learning Analytics in Higher Education is a new ASHE Higher Education Report (free PDF) which examines the research, literature, and issues associated with learning analytics implementation, adoption, and use by individuals within HEIs.


Continued Growth in US Distance Education

[Inside Higher Ed]

Doug Lederman examines the latest Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) report and data on postsecondary enrolment in the US.  Of the 20.4m graduate and undergraduate students, 14.6% are studying entirely at a distance (2012: 11.3%) and 31.2% take at least one distance component (2012: 24.6%).  However, 68.8% continue to study conventionally (2012: 75.4%).  And where are distance learners enrolled?  The University of Phoenix is the clear leader (129,332), despite a drop of 32,000 from the previous year.


VR Bundles for Academic Research

[Campus Terchnology]

VR First is a global initiative to help institutions innovate with AR/VR by partnering with a number of VR companies to provide an Academic Purpose VR Bundle designed to “lower entry barriers for students, developers, entrepreneurs and researchers to access the latest VR/AR technologies”.  Technologies and services in the bundle include:

  • HTC Vive's VR headset, accessories and education-related content

  • VR-ready i7 PCs

  • Leap Motion hand-tracking technology attached to VR/AR headsets

  • Futuremark's VRMark benchmarking software

  • Blueprint Reality's MixCast which "enables blending of real people with virtual worlds to create compelling 2D content from VR applications in real time"

  • VR management software from SpringboardVR

  • Procurement and logistics services from CDW-G

  • Tech solutions and services in VR, AR, human augmentation and smart robots from Sense Global

  • Standards and recommended practices developed by the IEEE VR/AR Working Group

  • Access to expertise from VR First's network of industry partners


94% of Students Want to Use Their Phones in Class

[Campus Technology]

In the first completely unbiased industry survey of the year, Top Hat (supplier of technology that allows students to use their own devices to participate in discussions and access course content) reports that 94% of US students want to use their own devices to participate in discussions and access course content.  In fact what they seem to have found is that 6% said they don't want to use their phone in class for academic purposes.  Still, if we take the exact proportions with a pinch of salt, there does seem to be interest and support from students for the interactive enhancements (e.g. quizzes, rich media, polls) digital materials can offer over print.


Does Personality Change Through Life?


Psychologist William James claimed that “personality is set like plaster after age 30”, but is this true?  Researchers compared and combined data from 14 previously published longitudinal studies of nearly 50,000 participants from the US and Europe.  Looking at the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), they found that four of these showed statistically significant change through life, declining by about 1-2% per decade and leading to more emotional stability.  The exception was Agreeableness (related to warmth and empathy), which was found to change differently in different studies with an aggregate shift of around zero.  There were also some indications of cultural variations with, for example, US samples showing more marked and consistent declines in Extraversion through life compared with European samples.



A Future Online Lecture Model of HE

[Chris Hough]

Ignore the substance of this YouTube video (bible studies) and instead listen to psychology professor Jordan Peterson’s response to an audience question about online higher education and the future of universities (2:11:56 - 2:23:26).  He discusses a quite transmissive model of education based on best-of-breed online lectures but, for a 12 min ad-libbed response, it is both impressive and thought provoking.



  • Apple has confirmed it slows down older iPhones, not to encourage us to upgrade (honest) but to cope with diminished power from aging batteries.  [BBC]

  • Nielsen Norman Group list their top 10 UX articles and >top 10 UX videos for 2017.  [NN/g]

  • …and Inside Higher Ed lists its top 10 HE webcasts.  [Inside Higher Ed]

  • …and of course, Campus Technology is just one of many sites offering its view of ed tech trends to watch in 2018.  [Campus Technology]

  • Can we learn to be more optimistic?  A meta-analysis of 29 previous studies suggests so, particularly for group that used the ‘Best Possible Self Intervention’ approach.  [BPS]

  • Japanese researchers have developed a new type of glass that can heal itself from cracks and breaks when pressed together by hand at room temperature.  [The Guardian]

  • A Swedish company has developed an AI/eye-tracking solution to identify signs of dyslexia as children read two short texts on screen.  [The Memo]

  • Raluca Budiu suggests that, ten years from the original iPhone, the field of >mobile UX has finally reached maturity.  [NN/g]


And Finally…

[Sussex TEL; The Guardian]

Even if you’re not particularly technical, I urge you to take a look at this amazing diagram showing a 1973 map of the entire (pre)internet – all 42 computers and 36 locations (including Hawaii via satellite).

Or, for something more contemporary, see what happened when Botnik’s predictive keyboard was fed all seven Harry Potter novels and then asked to generate a new story.  In Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash, we find “Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry’s ghost as he walked across the grounds towards the castle.  Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance.  He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.  Ron’s Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself.” 


Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.