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e-Learning Digest No 78 - Feb 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 February 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Budgets, Costs and the Awful Truth About Vice Chancellors

[THE; BBC; University World News; Stephen Downes]

THE comments, “Will the last person to leave UK higher education please turn the lights off...” as it brings details from HEFCE of the planned £180m cuts.  The universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have announced plans to work more closely and share some academic staff, but insist that it is not a merger. 

A new report from HEPI warns that the proportion of applicants failing to gain a university place is set to increase substantially, pushing up the cost to students as the government restricts public funds.  The proportion failing to receive offers rose from 6% of applications in 2003 to nearly 14% in 2010.  The number of unsatisfied applicants increased by 60%, from 38,000 in 2009, to 62,000 in 2010.

Forbes looks at the funding crisis from a US perspective and there are concerns in California that Gov Jerry Brown’s proposed 16% cut in the HE budget – $1.4bn of a $25.4bn state deficit – will jeopardize the flow of talent that powers California’s knowledge-based economy.  Annual tuition for residents, which was less than $4,500 a decade ago, is scheduled to rise to at least $11,124 in the next school year.

Irish graduates would have to repay a debt of at least €25,000 under a student loan scheme being considered by the Dept of Education, which is widely expected to back a study now, pay later model proposed by former minister for education Batt O’Keeffe two years ago.  On average, it would take each graduate 10 years to repay their loan.

Scottish ministers fear its universities have become a cheap option for EU students facing rising fees at home, although quirk of EU law means English students are required to pay.  Latest admissions figures show the number of students from other EU countries taking up places at Scottish universities has nearly doubled in a decade to almost 16,000 last year, at a cost of nearly £75m.

The Telegraph reports that senior university pay rose by as much as a fifth last year and that every UK VC now earns more than the Prime Minister, prompting claims that universities were showing an “arrogant disregard” for public opinion in the light of recent tuition fee increases.

And Amanda Goodall presents research evidence which she claims demonstrates that the most successful universities are those led by academics/researchers rather than leaders with a strong management or technical background. 


For-Profit US Colleges Step Up Fight Against New Regulations

[Wired Campus]

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities is suing the US Dept of Education on the grounds that three new rules - one designed to prevent misrepresentation in recruiting, another to end the tying of compensation to enrolment, and a third to give states greater oversight over distance education - exceed the department's authority, were developed with inadequate due process, and, in at least one case, are unconstitutional.  The association's president said his group's 1,500 member colleges felt it was the only choice because good-faith efforts at negotiations with the department had failed.

Tales are surfacing in the US about underhand tactics that have seen some Kaplan students being billed for classes they didn’t take and loans they did not request.  Led by former student Shannon Croteau – who was 11 classes away from graduating with a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies when she discovered she was out of financial aid, $30,000 in debt at that the degree would be worthless in her home state of New Hampshire – a group of former students are demanding that parent company, The Washington Post, shut down Kaplan University until improvements are made.

Omnicademy, a for-profit institution conceived at Louisiana State University, hopes to allow professors to syndicate their courses this Autumn, by uploading material from courses they’re already teaching and offering this to students at other colleges through the Omnicademy site.  Each course will be supervised and maintained by a proctor who is selected or approved by the professor, but all grades have to be approved by a professor.  Universities can review the courses and decide which ones they want to adopt and offer credit for.  “One could look at this as similar to transferring a credit from another university,” said Joel Thierstein, executive director of the open-source education project Connexions. “If you can’t get a course at your university, you go to another one and move the credit over.”


…Or Perhaps the Future is (almost) Free?

[Gill Smith; COL; Stephen Downes; Rebecca Ferguson; Jane Hart; Wired Campus]

Universities in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, backed by UNESCO, are planning to launch an OER university, drawing together existing free online learning materials from around the world and developing new OERs to create whole degree programmes that can be studied online for free.  Allowing for assessment costs, it is hoped that these degrees could cost up to 90 per cent less than a traditional qualification gained through on-campus study.  And UNESCO’s Sir John Daniel speculates on whether the future of universities lies in teaching or research.

The African Virtual University (AVU) has launched an Open Education Resources portal with resources in English, French and Portuguese.

Version 0.9 of SocialLearn is now live and staff and research students with an OUCU are invited to join a pre-release trial.  This is your chance to take a look at the SocialLearn toolkit, try it out and provide comments and suggestions – either informally or by completing a survey in March.

Quora is “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited and organized by everyone who uses it”.  Users of this learning-flavoured social network can connect to it using their existing Facebook or Twitter account.

And 19-year-old Dale Stevens is so unimpressed with life as a US undergraduate, he is launching an UnCollege, hoping to encourage participants to pay $100 a month to access the college web site and a network of mentors.


Learning Without Frontiers Video Presentations

[Pete Mitton]

A host of movers and shakers presented at last month’s Learning Without Frontiers conference in London.  See and hear what they had to say on subjects including digital story telling, handheld learning, mobile content, interface design and gaming on the LWF blog.


Who Has Pearson Bought This Month?

[Giles Clark; Campus Technology; Wired Campus; Tony Bates]

Pearson has paid $127m for a controlling stake in TutorVista.  The Bangalore-based educational technology company supplies content to over 3,000 classrooms across India and provides online tutoring to approximately 10,000 students per month.  It also operates a network of 60 centres across southern India that support local schools and deliver English language courses for university entrance exams.

Twenty US colleges and universities are running pilots of a blend of course management functionality and textbook content.  The integrated digital course system – a combination of Blackboard’s VLE and McGraw-Hill's Connect and Create – offers a single point of access, learning tools, class content, customised textbooks (using faculty materials and McGraw-Hill content) and automatic grading.

Sophia, a social teaching site with 38,000 registered users that describes itself as “a mash up of Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook”, has attracted funding from Capella Education, the corporation behind the online educator Capella University.  And Tony Bates links to two recent blog posts by Joshua Kim on Capella.



[eLearning Guild; Tim Seal]

McGraw-Hill plans to develop mConnect, an open-standard mobile learning platform designed to bridge the skills gap in emerging markets.  Initial pilots will focus on the most critical needs for India's students and workers: test preparation for entrance into universities that will best prepare them for the workplace and English-language training, an increasingly essential skill in the global economy.  Harold McGraw III said, “In a country with more than 700m cell phones, mobile learning will help level the playing field for education in India in ways never before possible.”

Rapid Intake's new mLearning Studio will allow development of materials - including support for text, images, audio, video and multiple choice or true/false quizzes - in both Flash and HTML5 formats, allowing learners to access them on a computer or mobile devices such as iPhone, iPad, Android or Blackberry.

And the University of Kent’s Zack Whittaker wonders if and why smart phones and m-learning are a technology that universities are trying to ignore?  In this ALT article, he considers the various applications, technologies, user preferences and potential hurdles.


2011 Horizon Report

[Educause; Matthew Moran]

Educause’s 2011 horizon report was released last week, describing, “six areas of emerging technology that will have significant impact on higher HE and creative expression over the next one to five years”.  Seeing e-books and mobile devices on the one-year horizon is no great surprise, but more interesting is the two-to-five-year category, containing augmented reality, game-based learning, learning analytics and gesture-based computing.  So is it just a coincidence that Blackboard seems to be edging into data analytics and business intelligence, having recently acquired iStrategy?

I reported on the annual ASTD e-learning survey last month but here’s a bit more detail and commentary from Allison Rossett and James Marshall.  They note that, despite obvious advances in technology and online connectivity, “the habits identified in this study are not much different in 2009 than they were in 1989”.

Coincidentally, a survey by the National Union of Students showed that 42.9% of students would like academics and teachers to make more use of technology.  Lifelong Learning UK has published advice on embedding technology in teaching and learning in the form of a literature review, a 10 minute presentation and 2 minute video overview.  They conclude that, “peer to peer support is shown in our research to be far more effective than formal training”.


Do Universities Really Teach Critical Thinking?

[Donald Clark]

The Collegiate Learning Association (CLA) has released the findings of a four-year longitudinal study of over 2,300 students at 24 US institutions into what factors are associated with learning in HE.  Findings include: students typically spend just 16% of each week studying (vs 51% socialising); students who studied alone did better than those who studied in groups; students avoided courses that involved a lot of reading and writing; and they had made no significant improvements in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication.


Education Pays

[Stephen Downes]

Interesting chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the value of different levels of education on salary and unemployment plus some analysis and thoughts from Daniel Lemire.  He notes that “ambition is probably a great predictor for income, irrespective of your level of education”, although of course it could be that very ambition that leads people to pursue higher levels of education in the first place.


Collaborate to Compete

[Ross MacKenzie]

HEFCE’s online learning taskforce has released an issues paper subtitled Seizing the Opportunity of Online Learning for UK HE, which concludes that those UK HEIs prepared to make online learning a central focus will be able to develop responsive, engaging and interactive education that is both high quality and cost-effective, and hence remain globally competitive against the challenge from international and private providers.  The report makes six recommendations including: use of online learning to enhance student choice and meet learners’ expectations; realignment of training and development to support academics to play a leading role in online provision; and the development and sharing of open educational resources to enhance efficiency and quality.


Medical e-Learning Initiatives

[JE; eLearn Magazine; BBC]

Forty eight biological sciences students at the University of Leeds have been issued with an iPad as part of a 3-month e-learning project which will study how students' use of iPad technology changes into their academic performance, study skills and overall student experience.  The iPads are preloaded with a number of educational apps and multimedia content including e-books, an online encyclopaedia and biological models such as a 3D brain app.

Medical students at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine now have their curriculum for the first two years online, with PDAs largely replacing reference books, and employees at Ottawa Hospital have been encouraged to replace pen and paper notes with iPads.  Transitioning from written to digital examinations seemed to be the next logical step and piloting is currently underway using QuestionMark software.  With 150 students taking seven examinations, it is hoped that this will reduce the time and cost of preparing, completing, marking and reporting on approx 35,000 pieces of paper each year.

A new course from the University of East Anglia teaches breast cancer and breast reconstruction surgery via a mix of 80% e-learning and just 20% practical skills.  The online components include video lectures, seminars and group discussions, and all students are practising surgeons, so learn the practicalities of operating in their daily work.  Assessment takes place throughout the length of the two-and-a-half year course and includes training days at the Royal College of Surgeons plus visits from local trainers who act as mentors.


Who Owns Student Inventions?

[Wired Campus]

A team of journalism students at the University of Missouri designed an iPhone app – NearBuy – which won first place in a competition and has been downloaded over a quarter of a million times since its release.  The students decided to assert their ownership and to ask the university to waive any rights, arguing that student inventions, even if fostered to some degree by faculty mentors, stood apart from the work done by faculty members using university resources.  Administrators ultimately agreed with the students but it required the institution to rewrite its intellectual-property policies.


Best and Worst University Web Sites

[Tony Bates]

A graduate of the Ricky Gervais school of diplomatic relations, UK Design Shack's Joshua Johnson has assessed fifty US university web sites and is underwhelmed.  “Universities represent some of the highest concentrations of talented and intelligent individuals anywhere on the planet.  These are institutions built around people literally engaging in lifelong education.  They create amazing inventions, cure diseases, and move civilization forward in countless ways.  So why can’t they bust out a decent web design?”  The reason?  “Design by Committee.  Two heads may be better than one, but ten to twenty heads gets you an ugly website.”


£98 PCs target UK digital divide


The government’s Race Online 2012 scheme plans to offer £98 refurbished computers to encourage millions of people in the UK to get online for the first time; subsidised net connections will be available for £9 a month.  Distributor Remploy hopes to sell 8,000 machines in the next 12 months.  The computers will run open-source software such as Linux and the price will include delivery, warranty and a dedicated telephone helpline. 


Google Resources

[TechCrunch; Matthew Moran]

The Google Apps Marketplace, launched a year ago, now includes an education category, aimed principally at Google’s 10 million Google Apps for Education users.  The current offering of around 20 apps has a distinct schools focus, although I note that it includes Aviary’s excellent free suite of web content editing tools which works directly in Google Docs.

The eHow site contains 40 useful ‘how to…’ videos explaining various aspects and features of Google Docs.

As an example of what can emerge when you allow developers to spend 20% of their time on projects that interest them (what, no business case…?), Google has launched its virtual art gallery.  Using the same functionality as Google street view, it allows users to explore 17 galleries including MOMA, Tate Britain, the Rijksmuseum and the Hermitage.  A ‘Create an Artwork Collection’ feature enables users to save specific views of any of the 1000+ artworks and build their own personalised collection.  Comments can then be added to each painting and collections shared.


It’s Good to Talk Technology

[Wired Campus]

A LinkedIn group for college professors has grown into an online community with more than 6,000 participants, representing, “all disciplines, functions, and levels within the higher-education ecosystem around the world”.  The Higher Education Teaching and Learning Portal (HETL) serves as a forum for professors to seek and share advice about teaching, and often about how (or whether) to bring technology into the classroom.

This is timely because e-Book publishers report that the biggest hurdle for greater adoption of interactive textbooks is getting professors to use the new features.


Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills

[Matthew Moran]

The US Institute of Museum and Library Services has just released a report - Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills - and developed an online assessment tool to help staff in America’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums envision the changing role of their organisation and determine whether their staff have the necessary 21st century skills.




And Finally…

[Slashdot; Chris Hough]

In this video segment from just 17 years ago, the presenters of NBC’s Today Show struggle to get to grips with the internet.  Do you write to it like mail?  Is it just in Universities?  Does it require a phone line?  How do you pronounce “@” and are those “dots” important?  Eventually a TV crew member comes to their rescue.

Of course, having mastered the internet, some people now believe that everything they find must be true.  But, really – a tree octopus?


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