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e-Learning Digest No 65 - Jan 10

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Jim Ellis
26 January 2010

HE Funding Cuts

More details of the latest 'Mandelson cuts' emerged over the Christmas break.  These are in addition to the £600m cuts to HE set out in the pre-Budget report, prompting warnings that £915m (12.5%) is to be slashed from the sector over three years, equating to about £190 per student.  [THE]

Laptops for All

Gordon Brown pledged this week to provide £300m for free laptops and broadband access for low income families as part of the government's guarantee that all parents will be able to access school reports about their children's progress online – by 2010 for secondary schools, and 2012 for primary schools.  Speaking to an international education forum, he said: “We want every family to become a broadband family, and we want every home linked to a school.  For those finding it difficult to afford this, today I can announce the nationwide rollout of our home access programme to get laptops and broadband at home for 270,000 families.  It will mean all families can come together, learn together and reap rewards together.”  [Guardian]

I can think of various political comments it would be unwise to make here, so let’s try a simple economic question: is this really the best way to spend £300m right at the moment?

Tories Pledge on Vocational Training

Shadow skills minister John Hayes is backing a rethink on vocational training, claiming his party would work to dispel the myth that academic learning was more important than practical achievement.  “Most academic learning at least to first degree level is derivative,” he said.  “Most creative learning and most practical learning, at a much more fundamental level, requires some degree of originality.  Let’s put to rest once and for all the myth that book learning is the only way that people find fulfilment.”  [Training Journal]

The Tories have also pledged to delay the research excellence framework (REF, the planned replacement for RAE) by up to two years if elected.  [THE]

iTunesU Breaks 100m Downloads

iTunesU has reached a new milestone, recording more than 100 million downloads, since its launch in 2007.  According to Apple, one of the most popular areas of iTunes U has been that of the Open University, whose learning categories include Arts and Humanities, Business and Management, Childhood and Youth, Health and Social Care, Law, Psychology, and Science.  More than 175 HE organizations currently provide content to iTunes U, including Princeton, UCLA, Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Yale.  [Pete Mitton]

CES 2010

The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was awash with product launches last week.  Look out for:

 …and not forgetting that 19” polar bear television you’ve always wanted.

Nexus One

Google’s Android-based Nexus One (“phone meets web”) was launched in a blaze of glory and media hype.  The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones reports from Google HQ and TechCrunch also gives a comprehensive review.  The Android 2.1 SDK is now also available for download.

Meanwhile the iPhone App store reports 3m downloads, just 3 months after it passed the 2m mark.  Steve jobs reminds us, “The revolutionary App Store offers iPhone and iPod touch users an experience unlike anything else available on other mobile devices, and we see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon.”  [TechCrunch]

One Laptop Per Child Update

One laptop per child (OLPC) is approaching its third birthday.  Uptake of the XO-1 has been patchy and it never hit the $100 target cost, but a touch screen tablet - the XO-3 - is planned for 2012 and should cost "well below $100".  [BBC]

Microsoft Sponsors Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project

Microsoft has announced that its Partners in Learning program is sponsoring the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) research project, led by SRI International .  The global research program intends to “broadly investigate” the effects that ICT has in transforming teaching and learning at the school and education system level.  Microsoft says it will invest $1 million annually in the multi-year study in partnership with the governments of Finland, Indonesia, Russia and Senegal.  [TechCrunch]

The Future for Education

Lord Puttnam is amongst a group of worthies behind a new initiative to try and change the way we think about education.  There’s a We Are the People We’ve Been Waiting For website but the jewel in the crown is a 77min documentary for which, curiously, you have to send away for a DVD.  I have done and I found it well made and thought-provoking - but I couldn’t help thinking that the very people who will watch this film are likely to be those who don’t need much convincing.  My quote-of-the-movie comes from US teacher, Rebecca Mead, “School systems that have standardised tests are no longer educating students; they’re teaching students how to take tests.  At the end of the day, you’re not going to have a multiple-choice job.”  [JE] 

Although his production quality doesn’t quite reach Puttnam standards, George Siemens sings from a similar hymn sheet in his 9 min video, asking is it possible to de-school society?

According to the New York Times, “an American kid drops out of high school at an average rate of one every 26 seconds.  In some large urban districts, only half of the students ever graduate.  Of the kids who manage to get through high school, only about a third are ready to move on to a four-year college.”  This matches one of the many messages in ‘We are the people’ and, in a bid to create a new generation of educational leaders, Harvard is launching a three year, tuition-free doctorate which will include a final year field placement.  It will initially offer places on the Ed.L.D to just 25 candidates.  [Stephen Downes]

Lev Gonick considers the year ahead for IT in Higher Education (key words: funding; bleak).  And ‘Democracy’ brings a long article from Kevin Carey on that old college lie, reminding us that colleges “…see themselves as occupying an exalted place in human society, for which they are owed deference and gratitude.  They cherish their priests and mysteries, and they are disinclined to subject either to public scrutiny.”  [George Siemens]

And a salutary EdTech lesson from Korea, where the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has spent about $250 million to install 65-inch electronic blackboards in 256 middle and high school classrooms across the country, only to find they are little used because of a lack of suitable content.

Wiley Joins 150 Publishers in the Scribd Store

Wiley has joined Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble, O’Reilly and many others to offer eBooks in the Scribd Store, which lets people embed and share documents in a Flash viewer.  Scribd has been partnering with publishers since March to also sell downloadable digital versions of their books.  These are available as PDFs, and excerpts can be shared through the Scribd reader.  This strategy (and a similar model from DocStoc) is seen as a counterweight to the closed Kindle store.  [TechCrunch]

Spring Design, developer of the dual-screen Alex eReader, has struck a deal with Google that gives users access to more than 1m Google Books.  The device, just launched, is a Google Android-based platform with Web browser, Wi-Fi connectivity, audio and video playback and image viewing in a variety of formats.  [TechCrunch]

Ray Kurzweil is coming at eBooks from a different direction by presenting a platform rather than a physical device.  The Blio software is free and available currently for PCs, iPod Touch and iPhone.  “We have high-quality graphics and animated features.  Other e-readers are very primitive,” says Kurzweil.  One of Blio’s major advantages over current e-book readers is that the software offers a full color experience as opposed to e-Ink’s monochrome, and text-to-speech is built in.  [Pete Mitton]

BBC Allows Free Access to Journalism Training Resources

The BBC has long provided a range of free and very good online training materials on sites such as BBC Learning, Skillswise, Bitesize and Raw.  But now, the BBC Academy is making previously ‘internal’ resources from its College of Journalism available to the public (and therefore its competitors), giving free access to training materials, tips and masterclasses from journalists such as Jeremy Bowen, Robert Peston and John Humphrys.  [People Management]

3D Worlds

I don't normally post links to slides on the grounds that you often 'had to be there'; however, for Jane Hart, I'll make an exception.  Jane is most well known for her ever-growing list of learning tools, currently approaching 2,000 (1,400 of which are free), and her presentation on 3D worlds from last month's Online Educa conference showcases top sites and tools specifically for creating avatars and 3D environments.  [JE]

Also from Jane, a useful list of iPhone apps for education and a link to Dean Sherwin’s comprehensive Guidebook to Internet Searching.

Rant of the Month

Ewan McIntosh blogs about Patrick Dunn’s four pointers to the chasm between eLearning and video game designers, but he is so wrong.  If there is truth in any of the four pointers, it relates to: (1) an eLearning industry of 10 years ago, and when internet connections were made along wet string; (2) so called “e-learning” developed by software or video companies without a learning designer in sight; or (3) something that’s been cobbled together by an enthusiast with a tool – which allows me to wheel out my all-time favourite quote:

“It is all well and good to introduce a technology that enables the man in the street to give vent to his creative ability, but what if he does not have any?”  (John Barker (1993), ‘Training for multimedia’, Inside IT (74) p15)

What I Learned from Teaching Adult Learners Online

Denise Blake reflects on the experience of teaching her first online M.Ed in the US.  No big surprises, but some useful references to why and how adults engage in higher education.  [eLearn Magazine]

Understanding HE Data

The US Institute for HE Policy (IHEP) has just published The Spaces Between Numbers: Getting International Data on Higher Education Straight, which seeks to answer four questions about data used in comparing higher education in the US with that in other countries, particularly the 30 advanced post-industrial democracies that are members of the OECD.  What did they find?  They found a mess because, perhaps not surprisingly, countries collect, analyse and report data differently.  [Stephen Downes]

in education

Canada’s University of Regina presents in education, a new peer-reviewed, open access journal which, in its first issue, covers topics such as blogged assignments, cyber-bullying, and the impact of Web 2.0 on control of learning in HE.  [Stephen Downes]

Also new is Impact, the journal of applied research in workplace e-learning from Australia.  Issue 1 covers heutagogy and e-learning, connectivism, and knowledge in a connected world, amongst many other varied topics.  [ALT]

Analysing Networked Learning Practices in HE and CPD

Chris Jones is co-editor of a new book, Analysing Networked Learning Practices in Higher Education and Continuing Professional Development, part of Sense Publications’ Technology Enhanced Learning series.  Yours for just $49, or you can preview the first two chapters free of charge.  [ALT]

Adventure Learning

Adventure Learning (AL) is an approach for “the design of digitally-enhanced teaching and learning environments grounded in experiential and inquiry-based education”.  This paper in Athabasca’s IRRODL reviews the adventure learning literature and describes current practice and future opportunities.  [IRRODL]

Also, in the same issue, a Review of Distance Education Research (2000 to 2008) based on analysis of 695 published papers.  [IRRODL]

Mobile Internet Report

Morgan Stanley presents an extremely comprehensive report on the rapidly changing mobile internet market.  The full 424 page version is about 50Mb in size, but can be downloaded in sections or as a slide show.  [George Siemens]

World Map of Social Networks

Remember the days when large swathes of the world atlas were coloured pink?  Well green is the new pink, as this world map of social networks shows how Facebook dominates the English speaking nations, with over 350m subscribers.  QQ is the dominant force in China, where the number of Internet users is expected to double to 840m by 2013.  [TechCrunch]

According to The Telegraph, 20 per cent of all divorce petitions now contain references to Facebook.  Mark Keenan, MD of Divorce-Online says the most common reason seems to be people having ‘inappropriate chats’ with people they were not supposed to.  [Telegraph]

Digital Archive

The BBC and the British Library are collaborating on a project to open up the institutions' archives, with the aim of giving the public greater online access to a vast cultural treasure trove.  They hope to provide access to the British Library's archive of more than 150m items collected over the past 250 years, as well as nearly 1m hours of TV and radio output from the BBC, which has been broadcasting since 1922.  [Giles Clark]

Meanwhile, the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) last month called on universities and colleges to take urgent action to safeguard hundreds of thousands of hours of archive TV and radio programmes, many of them stored on VHS cassettes and taking up close to 20 km of shelving across all academia.  [JISC]

Learning Styles and Manuals

The very mention of learning styles can be the educational equivalent of lobbing a hand grenade into a crowded room.  Mike Caulfield offers a slightly different angle: “Rather than argue about whether we should tailor specific instruction to learning style, presumably so students can better regurgitate material into blue books, why not create environments that function more like the real world, where differences in problem-solving style are the strength of teams and communities (and marriages) – places where the planners can plan and the hackers can hack?  That means project-based, collaborative education, education that helps students answer much more pressing questions than the stuff on the test.  Stuff like how they might design their place in life better by understanding both their strengths and limitations.”  Discuss.  [Stephen Downes]


  • Flat World Knowledge and Bookshare make free college textbooks accessible to people with print disabilities.  [Andrew Thomas]
  • Marks & Spencer has launched a £279 “aspirational laptop for the modern lifestyle”.  I’m not sure if I aspire to the shocking pink one…  [JE]
  • Microsoft doesn't own XML.  Pays £180m damages.  Prepares to release modified version of Word.  Earth keeps spinning...  [JE]
  • Useful preview of Moodle 2.0 from Hans de Zwart, based on presentations from Martin Dougiamis at OEB.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Firefox users can install the Browse For A Cause plugin which donates 3-5% of online purchase costs to a nominated charity.  [TechCrunch]
  • Elliott Masie has made available a number of keynote and workshop videos from his Learning 2009 conference.  [Elliott Masie]
  • Blackboard has at last ‘resolved its differences’ with competitor Click2Learn over the ongoing LMS patent dispute.  [Inside Higher Ed]
  • Refseek is still in beta but it already looks like one of those links-to-useful-stuff sites that’s worth bookmarking [Stephen Downes]
  • MathType 6.6 has been released and now includes support for Windows 7 handwriting recognition.  [JE]
  • The Irish government will pay an annual fee of €450k to give schools free online access to Encyclopaedia Britannica.  [JE]

And Finally…

An enterprising Indian organisation set up the Googlle Institute of Software Studies, complete with a very familiar looking logo.  A few days later, the logo had changed but the name remained.  So, will students be beating a path to their door?  Probably not as quickly as Google’s lawyers.  [TechCrunch]

Wondering what to do with that shiny new iPhone you got for Christmas?  Go on, convert it into a WWII fighter plane with this new app, complete with clip-on wings.  [TechCrunch]

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Michael Rees
9:33pm 26 January 2010

Excellent summary.

Iphone App download numbers should be billions not millions.

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