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e-Learning Digest No 80 - Apr 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 April 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Belt-Tightening, Oxford Style

[David Wilson]

Prof Andrew Hamilton, VC of Oxford, has written at length explaining the university’s plans for fees and bursaries in 2012.  However, let nobody expect that fee increases will result in lashings of extra Châteauneuf-du-Pape at high table.  “At Oxford, we have calculated that a new undergraduate tuition charge of close to £8,000 a year would be required simply to make up for lost public investment.  So any idea that the new funding regime heralds a major cash bonanza is very wide of the mark.”  I’m sure you’ll cope, Andrew.


The State of UK HE

[THE; Gill Marshall]

THE has been busy compiling some useful data of late.  Firstly, we have figures and analysis of VC salaries and academic backgrounds; there is also a detailed breakdown of the financial state of each institution, based on data from a forthcoming Grant Thornton report.  Finally, their latest list of proposed tuition fees makes depressing reading for 2012 students and their parents (yes, I am).  A slightly different list comes from the BBC, and The Guardian has its own version, which the ever-industrious Tony Hirst has visualised.


Differential Tuition Fees

[University World News]

The University of Tennessee is introducing differential tuition fees on its business courses as student numbers have more than doubled in the past seven years to 5,300 whilst tuition staffing has remained static at around 120.  This autumn’s entry will be charged an extra $50 for each credit hour, adding approx $3,200 to the cost of their tuition over four years, raising about $4 million which will be spent on a dozen extra staff and reduced class sizes.  Of the 162 public research universities in the US, 92 now have at least one undergraduate program with differential tuition, with 18 having introduced the practice in the past three years.


UK Averages 21% University Drop Outs

[University World News]

The Daily Mail reports that more than 76,000 students who started their studies in 2008 will fail to graduate this summer, although elite universities fared well with Cambridge losing just 2.5% of its students over three years and Bristol at 8%.  Former polys perform poorly, with UEL at 36%, Bolton at 40.6%, London Metropolitan at 46% and UHI Millennium Institute in Scotland heading for 51.9% dropouts.


Tread Carefully in Online Education

[Wired Campus; University World News; Stephen Downes; Pete Mitton]

e-Learning experts from three US public universities who spoke at the Sloan Consortium’s annual conference on blended learning warned that generating money is “one of the worst reasons” to get into online and blended learning, citing the recent failure of the University of Illinois’s Global Campus and older examples like NYUonline.  But, in contrast, the University of Central Florida’s up-front investment has paid dividends – blended and online courses account for 30% of the institution’s offering and, discounting faculty salaries, generate an ROI of about 20:1.  Outsourcing was also discussed and Josh Jarrett of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was rumoured that the USC’s deal with 2tor had earned the university about $6m during the first year of operation.

The University of California, having resisted online learning for years, is now taking the plunge and plans to borrow up to $7m to fund development.  UWN reports on the recent healthy growth in virtual universities – many based on collaborative ventures – in the Gulf States.  And Canada’s Contact North presents a detailed study into Online Learning in Australia, based on an examination of Open Universities Australia (a $70m for-profit consortium that offers a single point of online access to university courses offered by consortium members) and eWorks, comprising 140 partner organizations supporting the Learning Object Repository Network (LORN) 

PayPal’s Peter Thiel thinks that, after the dot-com boom and the housing crash, the next bubble to burst will be higher education.  “A true bubble is when something is over-valued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States.  To question education is really dangerous.  It is the absolute taboo.  It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”


Growth in Online MBAs

[Nick Watson; Matthew Moran]

The FT has issued a special report on online learning, it also lists online MBAs and examines the evolution and divergence of the online MBA marketplace, in which two US premium examples are described: Brown University ($95,000) and North Carolina ($89,000).  However, in the UK, Ashridge has seen online provision allow them to reduce costs and break into overseas markets such as Ghana and Nigeria.  Martin Bean is also quoted espousing similar global aspirations, noting that less than 10% of OU students live outside the UK but nearly 90% of the 31m downloads of OU material from iTunesU come from outside the UK.

Peter Scott cites the same figures with slightly less gravitas but much more coolness in a related BBC news item.  He also get more column inches on where the OU is going with free and paid-for content and why he thinks it’s a better model than having to fill lecture rooms with students according to timetabled slots.


Strong Support for Educational Technology

[Campus Technology; JE; Paul Hollins]

Cisco has commissioned research into attitudes towards educational technology, through telephone interviews with 500 educational administrators and IT decision-makers (approx 50:50 schools:FE/HE) in 14 countries.  Most people surveyed saw potential for technology to improve student employment prospects; distance education opportunities; personalisation; student engagement; communication, collaboration and teamwork, and research capabilities. Technology is also seen as a way of reducing costs.

The Huffington Post reports on the successful implementation of virtual learning in the K-12 level at the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), with more than 250,000 students currently  completing or supplementing their traditional classroom coursework, although the Post ventures the interesting view that, “in a perfect world, no student would be forced to take a class online”.

NYT reports that more than 1 million US K-12 students took an online course in 2007-8, up by 47% over two years, but there are concerns that cost-cutting is currently the main driver and that this is impacting on the quality, both of the materials themselves and the nature of learning that results (e.g. finding and pasting information via Google or Wikipedia).


Australian iPad First

[University World News; Wired Campus]

The University of Adelaide has become the first in the world to give an iPad to every first-year science student as part of a curriculum shake-up.  700 first-year students on all 22 bachelor degree science courses will use the iPad as one of their core learning tools, making teaching material “more accessible, more relevant and more frequently updated, providing the flexible learning environment students are looking for.” 

When the Chronicle and the FT review the same studies into educational iPad use, they reach quite different conclusions.  The Chronicle takes more of a pedagogic angle and sounds a note of caution, particularly over the usability of the finger-touch interface and the fact that, “for their online final exam, 39 of the 40 students put away their iPads in favor a laptop.”  The FT takes a more upbeat, student-focused view: the devices are great for reading, and just plain cool.  My casting vote?  Never underestimate the power of cool.

Two new Samsung Galaxy Tabs – with 8.9” and 10.1” screens – have been announced.  This will make comparisons with the iPad easier than with the current 7” model and it will be interesting to see how they fare, both against iPad2 and also Motorola’s (overpriced?) Android Xoom.


The Net Generation – Or Not

[Stephen Downes; Paul Hollins; BCS; Rebecca Ferguson; Wired Campus]

Jim Shimabukuro is concerned over Mark Bullen’s claims about the Net Generation.  He notes that many new phenomena are denigrated (recalling from his childhood that Elvis appearing live on the Ed Sullivan Show was considered ‘dangerous’) and is not convinced by the research evidence cited by Bullen (and others) in support of NetGen.  Shimabukuro regards much of this as, “reviews of literature masquerading as research and studies with limited generalizability and often conflicting or confounding findings.”

Talking of dubious data, how do the folks at Idea know that 99.95% of tweets, “evaporate into the ether, scrolling off the feed, leaving scarcely a trace”?  There are now apparently 460,000 new Twitter accounts opened each day but about 40% of these will not send a single tweet, 80% will tweet fewer than ten times and 25% will have no followers.

Lucie Russell, a director of UK charity YoungMinds, believes cyber-bullying leading to depression and other mental health issues is an increasing phenomenon.  “Social networking can be a very isolating experience if it isn't combined with face to face interaction with one's peers.  Social networking in itself doesn't lead to depression in young people, but it can contribute to it.”  However, she also noted that networks such a Facebook can play a key part in helping people develop and maintain friendships.

The Association of Internet Researchers’ Air-L list is tracking the implications of Twitter’s change to its terms of service which could restrict academics’ ability to collect or export datasets for analysis.  Some inside information from Amanda Lenhart sheds light on what may or may not be possible.

Princeton English professor Jeff Nunokawa – a firm believer that “you hunt where the ducks are” – has joined his students on Facebook, having now created 3,200 essays using the Facebook notes feature.  The essays vary in length but a growing number of students are appreciative of the ability to dip in and out as their need and mood dictates.  And Elizabethtown College’s Kirsten Johnson wondered how personal posts on Twitter and Facebook affected her credibility, so she created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors”.  One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“Working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings”), and the third with a combination.  When 120 students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring.

Finally, this quote from Stephen, based on classroom observations by Jonathan Martin, speaks for itself: “When the topics appeared relevant to students, the note-taking pages appeared; when the topics veered to the arcane and irrelevant, the screens veered to Facebook, gaming sites, and other distractions ... (when) asking questions to facilitate conversation, something else fascinating happened.  Nearly half of the screens veered away from both note-taking pages and distractions; appearing instead were Google, Wikipedia, and other information source sites ... I think of this as parallel processing, and it is going to be pretty hard to persuade me this is anything but positive practice by our students.”


Who Has Pearson Bought This Month?

[Wired Campus; Matthew Moran]

Pearson and McGraw-Hill are taking a ‘minority stake’ in Inkling, an electronic textbook start-up which rebuilds existing print textbooks from scratch in a multimedia-rich format designed for the iPad. Although the company currently only offers 14 titles, it plans to have developed and launched 100 by the end of the year.  Inkling’s approach contrasts with that of CourseSmart, a competitor with a much larger library of titles that creates digital books that largely recreate the format of printed textbooks.  CourseSmart’s approach is “a short-sighted folly,” said Matt MacInnis, Inkling’s chief executive. “Sticking a PDF on a screen is operating within all of the constraints of the print book and realizing none of the potential of the iPad.”

Pearson has launched a new series of science apps for school students, covering life-, earth-, and physical science.  The apps have been downloaded more than 30,000 times since debuting on iTunes in February and they feature interactive activities, flashcards, self-assessment tests of understanding (including a Trivia Challenge quiz), and skills-development tools.


Learning While Working

[Jay Cross]

CEDEFOP (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) has published Learning While Working, a report on key trends in adult learning in the workplace which covers the whole spectrum of what, where, why and how to train adults.  The data will be useful for those interested in vocational training, but they could probably live without insightful EU-funded observations such as, “In the present economic downturn, we are facing unparalleled challenges”.  However, the report does contain my new favourite word, ‘flexicurity’.


OERs - Daniel v Conole

[Stephen Downes]

Sir John Daniel writes on the Commonwealth of Learning blog, “the Open Educational Practices movement, developed by Germany's Ulf-Daniel Ehlers and the UK's Gráinne Conole, struck me as a bit flaky.”  He believes assessment and accreditation have to be part of the mix, referring to work by Southern Queensland’s Jim Taylor as being closer to the mark.  This may certainly be true of an OER university, but there’s a whole other world out there that wants to use OERs in a less formal, more just-in-time way.  Stephen Downes is not convinced either: “I honestly don't see why it's flaky when Ulf-Daniel Ehlers and Gráinne Conole (or any of the rest of us) do it, but not flaky when Jim Taylor proposes it.”

One of Sir John’s other comments in the same blog posting is that “innovating on too many fronts at once scares off students”.  I think he’d be astonished at just how younger learners take these things in their stride, and there is no better evidence of this than a recent report from America’s Project Tomorrow.  Based on a survey of 300,000 K-12 students, here’s what they report on 6th graders (aged 11-12):

  • 50% have a cell phone and an additional one-third say they have a smart phone
  • Almost half of girls and over a third of boys are regularly updating their social networking site (despite the fact that they are not old enough to legally register on many of these)
  • 25% are already using an e-textbook
  • 22% regularly participate in 3D virtual reality worlds
  • Half take tests online and three times as many have taken an online class as in 2005
  • Their number one complaint is that school filters and firewalls block websites they need for their schoolwork


Knowledge, Networks and Nations

[George Siemens]

The Royal Society’s Knowledge, networks and nations: Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century, is a thorough assessment of the current scientific research landscape and the potential for international collaboration.  It contains a wealth of case studies, data and analysis – and these are not trivial figures: “Today there are over 7 million researchers around the world, drawing on a combined international R&D spend of over US$1000bn (a 45% increase since 2002), and reading and publishing in around 25,000 separate scientific journals per year.”


We Choose the Moon

[Tony Hirst]

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s We Choose the Moon site is very nicely done - stitching together images, animation, audio and video to recreate the Apollo 11 lunar mission.  It amply illustrates the gulf between a well-designed (albeit at a cost) multimedia package and simply providing ‘a bunch of assets’.

Also, congratulations to Tony on winning the 2011 TSO OpenUp Competition by opening up UCAS course code information.  It’s one of those solutions looking for an application, but Tony (and the judges) believe that being able to tap into the raw data will make it possible for third parties to construct useful tools and services based on all the courses offered for undergraduate entry.



[Stephen Downes; Lara Mynors; Matthew Moran; TechCrunch; Tony Bates]

Xplana’s Rob Reynolds discusses the dramatic increase in US sales of digital textbooks.  They currently represent only 3% of the market, but that has doubled in a year and is projected to exceed 25% in 2015 and 40% ($1.5bn) two years later.  The popularity of iPad and Kindle are noted as significant factors, but so too will be the emerging rental and OER markets, plus increased scalability of production offered by the new ePub3 standard.

NYT reports that 66% of US public libraries now lend e-books free of charge, on the expectation that they can do this, one reader at a time, an unlimited number of times.  However, HarperCollins is now enforcing new restrictions on its e-books that makes them expire after they have been checked out 26 times.

Kindle users can now search, browse, buy and download from a library of 50,000 Audible audio books, direct from their device over a Wi-Fi connection.  And the Lendle service – which allowed Kindle users to lend or swap e-books, just once, for 14 days – was launched just two months ago but has now been withdrawn by Amazon.

California State University reports on a pilot digital textbook programme, in which 3,870 students on 30 courses at five campuses participated.  53% considered e-books easy to use (22% did not) but the respondents split into equal thirds in terms of being satisfied, neutral or dissatisfied with their experience.  “That satisfaction has to be significantly improved,” said CSU’s Gerry Hanley, “You can’t have a third dissatisfied and a third neutral and only have a third like it.”


Researchers ‘Kinect’ Data to Make Faster Diagnoses

[Matthew Moran]

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are using the Xbox Kinect to diagnose children who show symptoms of an array of mental disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder.  It can be quite difficult to assess children younger than 6 years old but a video monitoring system comprising several Kinect cameras stationed around a small room takes footage of a child playing with toys without intrusion.  These feeds are then analysed and converted into data that can be presented to doctors as evidence.


The Cost of Online Learning: $12.50 Per Hour?

[Tony Bates]

Tony Bates has been looking into the costs of developing e-learning for a while now (I think a book is in the pipeline) but this is probably his most detailed posting to date.  Based on a Canadian fully online masters programme, he provides whole-life development and support costs, study hours and enrolment details to come up with $12.50 per hour, per head.  Interestingly, this figure is supported by a blog comment from Jim Farmer, who came up with a cost of about $10 per 50 mins when doing a similar analysis two years ago with US data.


IRRODL Special Issue

[George Siemens; Tony Bates]

The latest issue of Athabasca’s IRRODL is a special, focussing on connectivism, co-guest-edited by George Siemens and Grainne Conole.  The journal reflects on how the dramatic social and technological changes have impacted on education since 2004, when connectivism was presented as a new theory of learning that addresses learning in complex, social, networked environments.

Grainne is also guest-editing a special issue of the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning (EURODL) on Fostering Creativity – The Use of Open Educational Resources, for which a call for submissions is currently open until 2 May.

And just out – the latest issue of Educause Review is devoted to Getting a Handle on Mobile.


iPhone Goodies

[Elliott Masie; TechCrunch; eLearning Guild; Stephen Downes]

360 Panorama is a $1.99 iPhone app that allows the user to slowly scan a group or room with the camera - turning it into a 360 panoramic photo in under 20 sec.  Images can be geotagged and shared as panoramas or flat photos.  If you’re seriously into 360, you might also want to consider the GoPano panoramic lens system for your iPhone.

MindSnacks offers “awesome mobile learning games”, currently for French and Spanish language tuition, but the company has just received $1.2m of funding to develop further apps.

And FitFu turns your iPhone into an exercise motivation tool.  It allows you to set up a fitness schedule and goals, and reminds you when to exercise.  Using the iPhone's built-in accelerometer, it can count your reps out loud, track your personal best and tell you when you meet your goals.  Couple that with MealSnap, which allows you to take a photo of your meal, from which it estimates (sort of) the calorie count, and you’ll be ready for the beach before you know it.


Cambridge Ideas

[Matthew Moran; Catherine Chambers]

Cambridge Ideas is a sort of East Anglian TED Talks, although the latter doesn’t claim to be backed by “eight centuries of brilliant academic thought”.  If the quality of the material is inversely proportional to the modesty of their claims, there should be some cracking stuff here.

Meanwhile, OU presence on iTunesU goes from strength to strength.  Having clocked up more than a quarter of a million downloads of last month’s Women in Science podcasts, we now hold the coveted Number 1 spot with War, Intervention and Development, based on material from the post graduate module TU875.



  • Video highlights of the recent JISC11 conference are now available on-demand.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Google’s Page Speed Online analyses a web page’s content and makes suggestions for faster loading.  [TechCrunch]
  • The Guardian brings a nicely presented interactive timeline of recent Middle East events.  [Chris Hough]
  • Warwick Medical School has launched an Aspects of Anatomy iPhone app, containing 38 teaching videos/quizzes.  [Matthew Moran]
  • The Eurogene portal provides free multimedia resources in 9 languages for medical and molecular genetics.  [JE]
  • The periodic table has been revised (honestly), with 10 elements now assigned high/low ‘interval’ weights.  [Stephen Downes]
  • More than 17,000 UK incidents of academic cheating were recorded in 2009-10.  [The Telegraph]
  • Mohive considers whether reports of the death of Flash are premature, but Firefox is already convinced.  [LSG; Pete Mitton]
  • Tony Karrer lists 27 great articles on agile e-learning.  [Tony Karrer]
  • Intel is investing $20m in Kno, the education software (and tablet, perhaps) company.  [eLearning Guild]
  • Solar System Scope is an animated interactive solar system with a number of different viewing options.  [Chris Hough]
  • Use to select, annotate and share chunks of web pages.  [Matthew Moran]
  • Crocodoc lets you “review a Word document, fill out a PDF form, mark up an image,and more”.  [Stephen Downes]


And Finally…

As announced at the start of this month, Google is now able to use your computer’s webcam and a spatial tracking algorithm to enable Gmail Motion, which allows email operation without the need for keyboard or mouse.  The company has also released preview images of planned motion functions coming soon for Google Docs, with the flowcharting feature sure to be a hit.  And, on the same day, Toshiba announced its new 3D monocle, “for those who don’t like bulky 3D glasses”.


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