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e-Learning Digest No 66 - Feb 10

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 February 2010

Cloudy but Bright

Responding to veiled threats from Grainne Conole, I’ve created a presence on Cloudworks so you can now follow the e-Learning Digest Cloudscape which will be updated each month.  This brings the added benefits that (a) non-OU staff can get easy access and (b) readers can enter the Web 2.0 world of comments and discussion.  And while you’re there, why not take a look around?  I believe some of the stuff on Cloudworks written by other people is quite good as well.

Has Grainne hired Max Clifford?  ‘E-learning expert urges caution and balance’ profiles some of her current thoughts and work, “There is too much hype around technology,” she says.  “It needs to be more critical.  You have to be aware that there are always pros and cons.” 


Fit for the Present?

Pity the 41 HEIs who begin their belt-tightening with operating deficits.  According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “a track record of recurring and significant operating deficits in such a favourable financial climate has to raise questions around how some of these institutions will cope in more austere funding conditions.” 


Haiti 360° Video

Be patient with this one because it gobbles bandwidth, but it is worth the wait.  Essentially it’s a 3 min clip from a camera car driving through Port-au-Prince, but the car is capturing 360° panoramic data along its route, meaning the point of view can be changed and zoomed with a mouse drag and the clip paused at any point.  The educational possibilities for taking virtual exploration beyond fixed-point QTVR are surely too good to be missed. 

[Stephen Downes]

One consistent flaw with most panoramic images (including those from Haiti) are the image degradation as soon as you try to zoom in for a close-up.  Jeffrey Martin spent 4 hours last Oct taking 600 high definition pictures of Prague from the top of its TV tower which he then stitched together to create a single panoramic image of 192,000 pixels by 96,000 pixels, offering extraordinary levels of detail. 


They may not be interactive but, using data captured by NASA’s HiRISE imager, plus a dash of cinematic licence, animator Doug Ellison has created two stunning flyovers of Mars

[Stephen Downes]

Finally, if you prefer your visuals in the form of graphs and diagrams, have hours of fun investigating Theresa Neill’s 28 rich data visualisation tools.



Smarthistory contains over 200 artwork images, dating from 400BC to 2000, plus background information and over 200 audio/video clips of experts discussing notable artists and works. 

[PC Mag]

Nokia & Pearson Set Up Digital Education JV in China

Nokia and Pearson have formed a joint venture in China to grow MobilEdu, the wireless education service that the Finnish mobile giant launched in China back in 2007.  The mobile service essentially provides English-language learning materials and other educational content, from a variety of content providers, directly to mobile phones.  According to Nokia, Mobiledu has attracted 20 million subscribers in China so far, with 1.5 million people actively using the service each month. 


Mobile Wireless

Swindon Council is spending £1m and installing 1,400 access points to provide a borough-wide free wireless mesh network, to be branded Signal, for launch in Apr 10.  The basic service, including connection, will be free, but users will be able to opt for a 20Mbps service that will cost 'significantly less per month than major broadband competitors'. 


Meanwhile, Microsoft is developing Cool-Tether, a 'reverse' Wi-Fi hotspot that aggregates the mobile connectivity of several phones to create an access point for a netbook or laptop.  Data transfers are delivered in an optimal 'bursty' manner and split between the devices that create the hotspot, so that no single connection is overloaded and any power drain on the devices involved is minimised. 


The Impact of Open Courseware on Paid Enrolment In Distance Learning

74 pages of Justin Johansen’s PhD thesis may not be everyone’s idea of a light read, but David Wiley thinks it is, “the first piece of empirical work I am aware of that demonstrates clearly that a distance learning program can simultaneously (1) provide a significant public good by publishing open courseware and (2) be revenue positive while doing it.” 

[Stephen Downes]


Children who are heavy users of mobile phone text abbreviations are unlikely to be problem spellers and readers, a new study funded by the British Academy has found, surprising many who believe that textisms are vandalising the English language.  Dr Clare Wood of Coventry University studied a sample of 8-12 year olds over an academic year, finding that levels of “textism” use could even be used to predict reading ability and phonological awareness in each pupil by the end of the year.  ‘Phonological awareness’ refers to a child’s ability to detect, isolate and manipulate patterns of sound in speech.  For example, children who can tell which words rhyme, or what word is left if you remove a letter, have particularly high levels of phonological awareness. 

[Ingrid Nix]

The Kaiser Family Foundation in the US has just released Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, based on a survey 2000 people.  Lots of food for thought, including the fascinating fact that young people spend an average of 7:38 consuming media each day (up from 6:21 five years ago), but manage to pack in 10:45 worth of media content because of multitasking. 

[George Siemens]

McGraw Hill Brings Higher Ed Content to Dualbook

Last month’s digest brought news of the new enTourage eDGe interactive dualbook that combines an e-book reader, notepad and tablet netbook in one device.  McGraw-Hill Education has announced a strategic alliance with its makers, enTourage Systems, to deliver McGraw-Hill's HE content to the device.  Students purchasing McGraw-Hill titles will not only be able to read the text, but take and share notes online, search for phrases, listen to accompanying audio and view images and video in full colour.  McGraw-Hill will make nearly 100 of its top-selling HE titles available for purchase through the enTourage Systems' e-book store, spanning disciplines such as business, economics, science, math, humanities, foreign languages and social sciences. 

[eLearning Guild]

eLearning Growth in HE

A new report from the Sloan Consortium shows a steady rise in student enrolments in eLearning classes.  Over 4.6 million (US) students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2008 term.  This represents a 17% increase over the previous year and far exceeds the 1.2% growth of HE students overall.  Even if you’re not interested in the report, it’s worth watching Kaplan’s US TV commercial, which sadly didn’t make the 2010 Oscar shortlist. 

[Stephen Downes]

The Jan/Feb edition of Educause Review should be required reading within the sector as it is devoted to “Innovation: Rethinking the Future of Higher Education” and includes articles from Brenda Gourley and Diana Oblinger.  Brenda refers to Louis Gerstner's account of IBM, and how “a very large and hierarchical organization - staffed with highly intelligent people who basically thought that they knew more than their customers did about what those customers needed - almost ran aground”.


BBC Technology Principles

The BBC has published a Technology Strategy document which outlines the direction for technology activities within the corporation for the next two to five years.  Author Spencer Piggott writes, “The world has changed and technology is increasingly at the fore of everything the corporation does.  There has been a fundamental shift in the pace of change of both business (think cloud computing) and consumer technologies (iPhone/notebooks); alongside this of course there has been a massive change in audience behaviour in line with these developments.  The fact is we can't rest on our laurels; this new direction is a response to these internal and external demands on the BBC.”  If you replace the words ‘corporation’, ‘audience’ and ‘BBC’, it seems to have a ring of OU-ness about it.

[Ross MacKenzie]

You Can Lecture, But Can You Teach?

Eric Sotto argues that protests against the idea that academics be given teacher-training are misguided.  “It is generally agreed that people whose work affects the wellbeing of others must possess a qualification that attests to their competence to do this work.  Thus anyone who prescribes a medication, fits a gas cooker or advises on investments must hold a relevant qualification.  But there is one exception.  People who teach at a university clearly affect the wellbeing of students, but they are not required to hold a qualification that attests to their competence to teach.” 


Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments

The International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments (IJVPLE) is a new publication which aims to provide those in the education and private sectors with coverage of developments in learning technologies.  Issue 1 includes two papers from our own Martin Weller and Niall Sclater, the latter addressing the topical issue of eLearning in the Cloud.

[Stephen Downes]

Researchers and Technology

JISC is undertaking a 3-year longitudinal study of doctoral students to see how they approach research tasks.  The latest interim Researchers of Tomorrow report is based on responses from more than 5,400 doctoral students, 38% of whom belong to Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1994).  Highlights are:

  • 80% of doctoral students were looking for secondary materials, especially published works, rather than raw data sets and archives of primary sources.
  • Google and Google Scholar were the starting points for nearly a third of successful searches, while one in seven used a citation database.  Around half of respondents (and more amongst engineering and computing researchers) reported using wikis, which the report assumed probably meant ‘wikipedia’.
  • Less than a third had received any formal training in a range of online research methodologies, including use of online datasets, access to online alert services and data mining skills
  • 73% of researchers still download or print materials (or both) for later reference, but nearly half read or scan the information while online.


60 Educational Game Sites You’ve Probably Never Seen

[JE Note.  Dead link now fixed 19 Feb]

Stephen mentions this set of 60 links, all aimed at kids and mostly covering fairly predictable ground such as maths, grammar and basic science.  However, I was particularly intrigued by MSNBC’s arcade game, Newsbreaker.  The aim is to engage kids by playing a classic ‘block breaker’ game, collecting and then reading news stories.  Unfortunately, I found I was so busy moving the paddle to hit the ball that most of news stories floated gracefully off the screen before I could read their title.  Dreadful design, or sad no-hoper at the controls…?

[Stephen Downes]

User-Generated Content

UNESCO has published Guidelines for broadcasters on promoting user-generated content and media and information literacy, claiming, “For the first time guidelines have been published on how broadcasters around the world can encourage audiences to produce better quality user-generated content and to improve media and information literacy.  The new guidelines will also enable the public to become more media and information literate.” 


Typical.  You wait ages for something on user-generated content and then two come along together.  Ari-Matti Auvinen’s paper on Quality in peer-produced eLearning content describes some production approaches and principles, and proposes a validation approach based on peer review.  Stephen suggests that critical readers would be more effective, “You can't set up an educational system by vetting the quality of every resource; it's just too labour-intensive.  But if you prepare your readers to assess resources for themselves, you can make a much larger body of resources available to them.”

[Stephen Downes]

X.        Shorts

  • Oxford University has banned Spotify online music service because it is swallowing too much bandwidth.  [TechCrunch]
  • Ten more institutions have joined the African Virtual University, launched last October at the University of Zambia.  [Stephen Downes]
  • This site explains the concepts and terminology of computer games by using the medium of … computer games.  [Brian Crutchley]
  • Skype users can add ViVu’s multi-user video collaboration plug-in for $9.95 per month.  [TechCrunch]
  • Very effective interactive Flash animation (SWF file) showing the operation of the new two-stroke Omnivore engine from Lotus.  [Chris Hough]
  • Lots of ‘lessons learned’ on Miguel Guhlin’s blog for anyone rolling out Google Apps for education.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Microsoft is offering academic researchers free access to its new Windows Azure cloud platform.  [Campus Technology]
  • Just in case you’re interested, 131 billion web searches were conducted last Dec, nearly 90% of them via Google.  [TechCrunch]
  • How to squash lots of stuff into not many pixels?  The BBC has a nice Flash solution on their history of the world site.  [Chris Hough]

X.        And Finally…

Welcome to Jobsworld:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”  S. Jobs, Jan 08.

“We don’t know how to build a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk.”  S. Jobs, Oct 08.

Presenting: the Apple iPad, starting at $499, including iBooks: “a great new way to read and buy books”.

See also John Naughton’s thoughts (and concerns), and this functional perspective from TechCrunch.


Extra content

ref: "60 Educational Game Sites You’ve Probably Never Seen"

this is a great ed game on the parliament site

Also some great ed games on this site that i developed while at Queen Mary University

Tim Seal
13:52 on 19 February 2010 (Edited 13:53 on 19 February 2010)

Embedded Content


Tim Seal
1:54pm 19 February 2010

60 Educational Game Sites You’ve Probably Never Seen, the 60 links, link is not working

Tim Seal
3:10pm 19 February 2010

would it be possible or make sense to extract each item in the digest to allow for easier discussion around each item?

Jim Ellis
3:46pm 19 February 2010

Tim.  Educational games link now fixed.  Not sure about individual clouds - that would be a lot more effort for me each month.  Main point of putting the Digest in Cloudworks was to open it to a wider audience - I hadn't really expected much discussion.  But if there's a need, I'm prepared to do it - so I'd welcome further comments.

Tim Seal
4:11pm 19 February 2010

i suppose if people felt that it warrented a more focussed discussion then one could create a cloud around that item

Gráinne Conole
3:32pm 22 February 2010

Yep! anyone can set up a cloud tim - so if Jim sets up clouds for the digest then others can always set up indiviudal clouds to take things forward, these could then be added to this cloudscape and /or another cloudscape specifically for discussion.

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