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

e-Learning Digest No 81 - May 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 May 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Fees & Funding


Universities UK has warned that institutions could be breaking competition law simply by sharing information on costs or other “strategically significant matters”, such as support for poorer students.  The warning comes as scrutiny intensifies over the decision by a large number of English institutions to aim for the maximum level of £9,000 undergraduate tuition fees for 2012-13.

London Met is taking a shock-and-awe approach to the financial situation by closing some in-progress humanities courses.  This raises concerns that some current students may not be able to complete their studies, although VC Malcolm Gillies doubts this will be the case.  However, the situation prompted one staff member to comment, “Shameful, utterly shameful!  I am embarrassed ever to have worked at an institution run by this man - he not only lacks any sense of moral responsibility, but of corporate too!”

Analysis of university business models by The Parthenon Group suggests that at least a third and perhaps up to half of all university courses in the UK are loss-making, and many teaching-led universities have departments with no “meaningful existence” that are being kept afloat by profits from other areas.  HESA data show that, for a group of about 50 general teaching institutions, a large chunk of their activity is focused on offering five subject areas - business, IT, design, teacher training and nursing.  The rest of their resources are spent on several other departments, which are “almost certainly” losing money.


Public vs Private

[University World News; Matthew Moran]

The government has announced plans to extend support and loans to students attending private sector institutions in England to the same level as for state sector students, stoking fears that private institutions will be able to cherry-pick lucrative courses.  But David Willetts believes the announcement, “is an important step towards the goal of public spending following the decisions of learners.”

HEPI has just published Private Providers in UK Higher Education: Some policy options, finding that the UK’s 670 private providers are mostly very small and focused on a limited number of professional disciplines.  The report concludes that government policies mean that private HE is set to grow further, but not necessarily at the expense of public HE.  They urge the creation of a rigorous regulatory system to encourage private providers that offer high quality and keep out those that do not.

BPP is entering into partnership with Swindon FE college to offer law and business degrees, beginning this September, in an example of the kind of initiative that ministers seem keen to encourage.  BPP's CEO Carl Lygo claims, “During the past year, we have been approached by a staggering number of publicly-funded providers who are actively pursuing ways in which to continue to provide quality education and training, or, in many cases, to seek help in order to survive.”  Also, in a separate Guardian interview discussing the likelihood of rising fees impacting on numbers going to university, Lygo states, “I suspect the Open University, FE colleges and the private sector will all have a role to play in moving towards more career-focused degrees.”

Deutsche Welle also reports on BPP’s success, together with that of the University of Buckingham and its two-year degrees.  The site also notes that, in Germany, around 25% of universities are already privately run.


Who has Pearson Bought this Month?

[The Independent; Reuters]

Pearson has bought education technology company Schoolnet for $230m.  The company supports more than 5 million students in the US and the acquisition will help Pearson to compete for further US government contracts relating to e-learning services for schools.

Meanwhile, a proposed acquisition of Education Development International – a provider of vocational educational qualifications and assessment services – has been delayed so the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) can consider the deal’s compliance with competition law.  Over 80% of EDI shareholders voted in support of the deal.


Blackboard Ripe for Takeover?

[Matthew Moran]

Blackboard has announced that it is considering proposals to acquire the company, although it did not disclose who the suitors might be.  The news generated a 30% rise in Blackboard’s stock price, to its highest point since 2007, valuing the company at around $1.7bn.


Tablet Wars

[TechCrunch; The Guardian; BBC; BCS; Stephen Downes]

Another month, another new tablet.  RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook has hit the (N Amercian) streets, selling 45,000 on its first day (compared with 330,000 for the iPad last year).  UK sales should begin in ‘Quarter 2’.

Asus sold out of its $399 Transformer tablet within hours of launch.  A contributory factor could be the snap-on keyboard which makes it easier to do work requiring more than a few words of input and, thanks to its cunning extra battery, extends productivity from an estimated 9.5 to 16 hours.

Sony plans to introduce two Android tablets later this year: one will have a conventional 9” touchscreen, while the other will feature dual 5.5” displays that fold closed.  Sony will add several non-Android features including the ability to stream video and music to TVs and stereos.  The devices may also offer gaming and integration with its PlayStation network.

The Educational Technology Debate site contains three recent items on tablets: Jonathan Nalder considers What the Post-PC Era Means for Education, David Risher believes eReaders will transform the developing world, but Wayan Vota sounds a note of caution in Tablets are Good, Content is Better and Teachers are Best.

Recent research by Canalys shows that the worldwide ‘PC market’ (which it defines as all desktops, notebooks, netbook and pads) grew by 7% in 2011 (Q1), mainly on the back of tablet sales.  Apple is now firmly in the top 5 list of vendors, with growth of 188% and having sold 74% of the 6.4m pads shipped in Q1.

The iPad currently concludes Edudemic’s romp through educational technology since 1650.  What’s fascinating is how many things appeared much earlier than you might have imagined; however, the high spot (or low spot, if you’re a constructivist) was surely 1957, which saw the arrival of two gems: the Reading Accelerator and Skinner’s Teaching Machine.


Get a Degree by 'Blended Learning'

[Matthew Moran]

This is novel.  The Guardian reports that it is now possible to get a degree by blended learning (“one of the fastest-growing trends in education”) whilst simultaneously holding down a full time job.  Surely that could never catch on?


e-Book Corner

[TechCrunch; Stephen Downes]

The Association of American Publishers latest sales report shows a year-to-date increase in e-Book sales of 169%, whilst print declined by 25%.  The e-increase is thought to include a large number of purchases by those who received e-Readers and tablets for Christmas.

Amazon and OverDrive are introducing a service in 11,000 US public and educational libraries which will allow Kindle owners to check out e-Books from their local library.  Whispersync technology will then preserve digital notes and bookmarks in case the user checks the book out again or purchases it through Amazon.

However, yet another survey casts doubt over the effectiveness of e-Readers in education: 39 first-year students at the University of Washington participated in a pilot study of Amazon's large-screen Kindle DX.  By seven months into the study, fewer than 40% were using the Kindle for schoolwork because of poor note-taking support and difficulties in ‘skimming’ text and looking up references.  The study also found, “The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.”


Educational Sites Provide Fuel for Plagiarism

[Campus Technology; Wired Campus]

iParadigms, the company behind plagiarism software Turnitin, examined the sources for 110 million content matches in 40 million student papers submitted over a 10-month period.  It found one third of matched content derived from online Web 2.0 sites where people contribute and share content, a quarter came from legitimate educational sites, 15% had ties to sites specifically promoting ‘academic dishonesty’ and 7% could be found in Wikipedia.  The next four most popular sources for word-for-word content were:,,, and

And a US economist believes online courses should always include proctored final exams.  Cheryl Wachenheim noted that, in online sections whose final exam was unproctored/open-book, her students’ exam grades were roughly the same as for classroom-based students who took proctored/closed-book finals, but online sections that were asked to take proctored/closed-book final exams performed at least 15 percentage points worse.  She also reports anecdotal evidence that students work in groups to compile huge caches of test-bank questions, quoting one student as saying, “We may not learn the material, but we are guaranteed an A.”


Learning and Talent Development 2011

[Clive Shepherd]

CIPD published its annual UK learning and development survey last month which rather confirms findings in previous years that we appreciate e-learning, but not because we necessarily think it’s the best method.  Only 10% of those surveyed rated it as the “most effective” approach (down from 12% last year), but shrinking budgets have caused 54% to use more of it; e-learning is also likely to be more heavily used in larger organisations, particularly in the public sector.



[Epic; Campus Technology; TechCrunch; Educause]

Epic has published a research study into mobile learning in the NHS which considered the potential benefits of mobile learning for the healthcare workforce, as well as likely challenges and how they could be overcome.  More than 170 NHS staff participated, from a variety of practitioner and managerial job roles and the research was peer reviewed by Dr Chris Davies, Head of the E-learning Research Group at Oxford University, and John Traxler, “the UK’s only Professor of Mobile Learning”.

Jasig, an international HE consortium, is launching a new open source project called uMobile and is calling on universities to contribute.  The project will be built on Jasig’s uPortal framework and will provide portal-like functionality on mobile devices, initially with features like campus maps, directories, RSS feeds, calendars, course schedules, campus news, and other tools common to mobile portal apps.  Early development will focus on providing native apps and browser-based portal functionality on iOS and Android devices.

A recent Nielsen survey of US mobile users suggests Android is just edging ahead of Apple as the preferred operating system for consumers who plan to get a new smartphone.  Blackberry and Windows are a rather distant third and fourth 

Adobe added that it anticipates there will be 131 million smart phones with Flash installed by the end of 2011.  CS5.5 incorporates several new features and tools such as Adobe Flash Builder 4.5 which adds support for mobile Flex projects by letting developers build apps that run on Android, iOS and BlackBerry tablets.  It also includes new mobile support for ActionScript and HTML5 emulation, plus useful code snippets for common functions such as accelerometer and multi-touch gestures, as well as saving and loading data.

Monarch Media has released a library of open-standard learning objects (OSLO), built using technologies such as HTML5, XML, JQuery, PHP, and Ajax.  The objects run in most browsers without the need for plugins or Flash and are supported by mobile devices such as iPad and Android.

Useful advice for m-learning designers and developers in Educause’s seven things you should know about mobile app development.


Usability of Mobile Apps

[Jakob Nielsen]

I find Nielsen’s research into usability often provides useful information and advice (provided one remembers that it is aimed at general users rather than specifically at e-learning) and his latest study into interface design for small-screen devices is no exception.  However, I’m not sure I needed to know that Amazon's Add to Cart button is 0.0003 m2 in size on a typical monitor, and that “You could crowd almost 800,000 Buy buttons onto the floor space of the average American home”.  Sigh.


Social Learning

[JE; Stephen Downes; Wired Campus; Matthew Moran; Jane Hart]

We Are Social is a ‘conversation agency’ which helps organisations to, “listen, understand and engage in conversations in social media”.  Don’t be put off it that all sounds a bit corporate – their weekly social mashups contain all manner of interesting and useful tidbits about who’s doing what with social media.

The Ontario College of Teachers has released Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media, advising members to make appropriate use of social media with students, but to keep social and professional lives separate and to avoid things such as making, “impulsive, inappropriate or heated comments”.

A recent survey by AOL concludes that content is the fuel of the social web, finding that: around a quarter of social-media messages contain links to content; 27 million content sources are shared daily in the USA; and, “the most-often shared content is from a trusted source that provides helpful information”.  Researchers tracked 10,000 messages between 1,000 participants over a 10 day period.

The plethora of social sites and tools creates an open market for personal thoughts and comments.  A useful infographic from Laurel Papworth gives some advice on responding to negative comments online but, for one university, things have already gone too far: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is suing Google to force it to remove a blog by a former student which it believes slanders its program for American medical students.

The US Performance Management Institute has released a study into the use of social media as a tool for connecting healthcare consumers and providers (dubbed, you’ve guessed it, “Health 2.0”).  Healthcare performance management in the era of Twitter considers various biopsychosocial benefits, but there is undoubtedly an underlying corporate cost-saving message, supported by case study examples.

And Jane Hart has been busy, updating her examination of Learning & Working in the Social Workplace and launching Share&Learn, “a new collaboration platform where members can share links, resources, ideas, experiences, tips, etc about the use of learning and performance trends, technologies and tools, and learn from one another.”


Languages Open Resources Online

[Anna Comas-Quinn]

The new LORO site and first peer review activity have just been launched.  Many thanks to Sam Leicester for working on the technology and to our Grundtvig assistants, Sandrine Aguerre, Leire Payo and Daniela Cesana, for sharing their resources on using drama techniques for language teaching.  The project has also received additional funding to develop workshops in which Language ALs can engage in peer review and collaborative creation of resources, and to gather data on how learning resources are reused and the value of OER for AL professional development.  More details in the LORO newsletter, or via Anna.



[Stephen Downes; Wired Campus]

Yale has added 10 new courses to the 25 it published on OpenYale in 2007-09.  These, and many other free educational and cultural resources are listed on the OpenCulture site, which now also includes over 300 free classic movies.

Yale is also making digital images of objects in its many collections freely available online.  More than 250,000 images have already been made available in a new online catalogue at Yale Digital Commons.

If you prefer vintage audio, search from more than 20,000 files available via the new US Library of Congress jukebox, including music, speeches, comedy performances and ‘ethnic characterisations’.



  • The new Pieceable Viewer allows you to run and test out embeddable iPhone apps from your web browser.  [TechCrunch]
  • The Cabinet Office has published a new Government ICT Strategy, all squeezed into 25 very-large-print pages.  [ALT]
  • Some interesting data from Elliott Masie on current classroom technologies and expectations for the future.  [Elliott Masie]
  • Interactyx provides a handy listing of 20 Facebook apps for educational use.  [Matthew Moran]
  • The Facebook for Educators site now offers a 23-page Facebook Educators’ Guide.  [JE]
  • Getty Images has acquired rivals PicScout and The Photolibrary Group.  [TechCrunch]
  • Sign of the times?  The British Library has purchased poet Wendy Cope’s archive which includes 40,000 emails.  [Wired Campus]
  • ALT has a shiny new, more user-friendly website which went live on 20 Apr.  [ALT]
  • YouTube funders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen have bought social bookmarking site Delicious from Yahoo.  [Mashable]
  • Useful tip for making YouTube videos play in the full browser window rather than the YouTube landing page.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Tesco does online movies?  The company has just bought a majority stake in Blinkbox.  [BCS]
  • Scrible allows users to save and organize web pages and to annotate content with highlighters and sticky notes.  [TechCrunch]
  • As Olympic fever starts to kick in, Tony has uncovered a plethora of medal data visualisations.  [Tony Hirst]
  • Talktone uses Google Voice to let users make free phone calls and texts over wi-fi.  [TechCrunch]
  • Programmes from the now-defunct Teachers TV are now freely available on the new SchoolsWorld site.  [Gill Smith]
  • Australia’s Monash University is moving to Moodle as part of a five-year strategic online learning initiative.  [JE]
  • A live stream of a family of five bald eagles in Decorah, Iowa, has attracted nearly 100m viewers.  [TechCrunch]
  • What?  You haven’t taken part in the ORIOLE survey on using and sharing open online resources yet…?  [Chris Pegler]


And Finally…

[Chris Hough; Stephen Downes]

Academic respectability is a funny old concept.  You might be forgiven for thinking these three videos show some guys at Nottingham messing about with Cadbury Crème Eggs.  But you’d be wrong.  This is “scientific experiment”.

And after that, the idea of using Hungarian folk dances to teach computer sorting algorithms doesn’t seem quite so peculiar.


Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

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