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e-Learning Digest No 83 - Jul 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 July 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Higher Education White Paper

[THE; The Guardian]

The white paper and supporting documents are on the BIS web site and THE has several related articles: For-profit HE providers are to be given full access to the student loans system on condition that they agree to follow the same rules on standards, quality, oversight and fair access as publicly funded institutions.  HEFCE is likely to be transformed into a “consumer champion” with beefed-up powers to act on concerns raised by other bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency, and well regarded institutions will have less frequent, light-touch inspections.

The final list of 2012 tuition fees has been published, showing that more than a third of HEIs are planning to charge the maximum £9,000.  The estimated average fee across the sector is £8,393, which drops to £8,161 when fee waivers for poorer students are included.  The 2012 HE equivalent of Lidl seems to be Leeds City College, with fees of £6,200.

David Willetts flew to South America last month to pursue a deal that would bring 10,000 fee-paying Brazilians to study in the UK, funded by their government to the tune of £18,700 per head.


Two English Universities Considering Going Private

[University World News; The Guardian]

Two English universities are actively considering becoming private institutions, meaning they would no longer get direct government funding for research or teaching, according to a survey of vice chancellors by management consultants PA Consulting Group.  The 2 unnamed institutions are not part of the Russell Group, but a “substantial minority” of the 165 institutions contacted reported wanting to minimise their dependence on government-controlled activities.

The Guardian reports that a forthcoming whitepaper could herald the dawn of a new generation of polytechnics, born out of a combination of high-end HE fees and a desire by some school leavers for more vocational qualifications.  Oxford academic, Donald Fraser, has also recently called for 100 universities to be turned into polytechnics so that funding can be concentrated in “40 or 50 well-funded universities”.

Private provider BPP has been approached by “several” institutions about the possibility of running services such as IT support, estate management and procurement.  A spokeswoman for BPP said, “we are currently in serious discussions with three universities about how we can support their continued development, but it is still at the early stages and, of course, subject to the content of the higher education White Paper.”  However, she stressed that the talks were not about “taking over” any universities.


Student Complaints about UK HE Rise by a Third


Student complaints against universities in England and Wales have reached record levels, the HE ombudsman's annual report shows.  Complaints rose by 33%, the fifth consecutive annual increase, with one in five cases fully or partially upheld.  Rob Behrens, head of the adjudicator's office, said the rise reflected a more "consumerist" attitude among students, heightened by the prospect of a sharp increase in tuition fees.  For the first time the report names two universities, Westminster and Southampton, which failed to comply with the adjudicator's rulings.


Blackboard Sale Agreed

[Wired Campus]

Blackboard has announced a $1.64bn buyout by private-equity firm, Providence Equity Partners.  Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn, said that access to private capital will ensure that Blackboard will be able to put money into product development or big acquisitions although, having already swallowed up Angel and WebCT in recent years, there aren’t too many of those left.  Perhaps their biggest headache is how to cope with those annoying competitors who give stuff away for free.


New Media Could Kill Lecturing Jobs

[Ross Mackenzie; USA Today]

Carol Dann writes in THE, “I have a sneaking suspicion that we university lecturers are so good at incorporating new media into our work that we may do ourselves out of a job.”  Oh Carol, please smell the coffee.  Take a look at all the lousy PowerPoints, poor photos, hissy audio, shaky video and inappropriate fonts and colour choices out there.  Being “good at incorporating new media” is easy with modern tools.  Incorporating good media in a good way is much harder.  She notes, “With so many more learning tools, you would think that the standard of learning would improve. But I don't think it has for the majority of students.”  I rest my case.

An increasing number of US universities are outsourcing instructors for e-learning courses.  Proponents see this as another innovative way to cut costs, access bigger markets and add expertise to classrooms, but opponents worry that it will threaten faculty jobs, diminish interaction between students and professors or even turn colleges into diploma mills.  In a recent example, Missouri State University will pay the Poynter Institute $6,500 to teach one journalism class, higher than the $2,400 it would pay to a per-course instructor.  But students will pay $275 per-credit-hour to take the Poynter class online, whereas those in a ‘traditional’ class are charged $194 per credit hour.


e-Learning for Carers


The Royal College of General Practitioners has launched a new educational programme - created in partnership with the Department of Health, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and The Children's Society - to help support more than six million people in the UK who are full time carers.  Professor Nigel Sparrow, the chair of RCGP professional development board said, "We estimate that there are one in ten patients in every practice who care for a relative or friend who is sick, disabled, or frail.  Carers have been found to often neglect their own healthcare needs for several reasons and in many cases it is only a matter of time before they become ill."  The programme consists of an e-learning package, printed publications and workshops.  The e-learning is aimed primarily at GPs and other health workers and includes information about the valuable part that carers of all ages have to play in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society, and the ways in which GPs and their teams can organise their practices and work with carers to achieve this.


e-Book Publishing

[Inside Higher Ed; Ian Blackham; TechCrunch; Lara Mynors; David Vince; Stephen Downes; Wired Campus]

With the big publishers pressing ahead with e-book versions of their main titles, is there space for regional e-book publishing aimed at smaller potential audiences?  Some smaller US commercial and academic publishers believe so, but believe the secret of success is not to clone their printed works but to take advantage of multimedia and features such as geo-tagging (e.g. for travel-related books). 

Philip Jones suggests that it is time for the role of the book editor to change, otherwise they risk losing control of the book to the “digital department”.  HarperCollins’ Charlie Redmayne suggests, “Editors need to become not just editors of books, but people with the content vision, and there are not enough editors in the industry who have those skills.”

Amazon has bought UK supplier, Book Depository International for an undisclosed sum.  The Book Depository is one of the fastest growing booksellers in Europe, offering over six million books which it ships free of charge to over a million customers in 100 countries.

Google and the British Library have announced a collaborative project to make over 250,000 out-of-copyright books, dating from 1700 to 1870, available for online users.  Works will include feminist treatises written in 1791 on French Queen Marie Antoinette and 1858 plans by the Spanish inventor Narciso Monturiol for the first combustion engine-powered submarine, entitled "A Scheme for Underwater Seafaring: the Ichthyneus or Fish-Boat".  Over 30,000 items, including maps, photos and extracts from the Magna Carta, are already available online via the BL’s online gallery.

The iriver Story HD – launching in the US at $140 – is the first e-reader integrated with the open Google eBooks platform, through which users can buy and read Google eBooks over Wi-Fi.  This will provide over-the-air access to hundreds of thousands of Google eBooks for sale and more than 3 million for free.

A portion of Charles Darwin’s vast library has been digitized and is available online.  The collection contains 1,480 scientific books, including 330 of the most heavily annotated and is fully indexed, allowing readers to search through transcriptions of the naturalist’s handwritten notes.

Barry Cull presents a good paper in First Monday about online digital text and implications for reading.  There is a thorough literature review, with a particular focus on the reading behaviour of emerging university students; he then considers research into college students’ preferences for print and digital text (including signs of an aversion to reading dense text of almost any kind), and the cognitive neuroscience of reading on screen.

The University of Western Ontario is making more than 500 business case studies available for sale through Apple’s iBookstore, at a cost of $3.99 each.

South Korea has promised paperless schools by 2015 and plans to spend $2bn on developing digital text books, which would then be available on students’ school-supplied tablets.



[Stephen Downes; Martin Weller; Wired Campus]

Graham Attwell has been giving Google+ a thrashing and he likes what he sees, although Dave Cormier is more sceptical.  Martin Weller thinks laterally and wonders what it means in terms of our relationship with technology and who we categorise as ‘friends’, and Jeff Young speculates on what it might mean for education (although I seem to recall that we did that two years ago when Wave was about to change the world).


Web Usage

[BCS; Mark Thomas; Giles Clark]

More than one billion unique visitors around the world clicked on to Google Sites in May, according to comScore, an increase of 8% over the past year.  Microsoft sites were in second place (905m) with Facebook third (713m).  The report also showed Israeli users to spend the longest time on social networking websites (10.7 hrs/month) with the UK was in 11th place (5.3 hrs).  The comScore site also contains a couple of useful free reports: 2010 Mobile Year in View and 2010 Europe Digital Year in View.

According to StatCounter, Google’s Chrome browser now has more than 20% market share as measured by total surfing (as opposed to number of users).  On the same measure, IE has fallen to 44% and Firefox is at 28%.

Don’t be put off by the title – the 2011 Digital Entertainment Survey by UK media law firm, Wiggin, presents a detailed picture of the current state of digital media, including online activities and attitudes, device ownership and use, consumption of media types, piracy and social networking.


Mobile Malware

[BCS; Threatpost; Richard Hubbard]

Panda Security has released a report in collaboration with the Spanish National Cyber-Security Advisory Council (CNCCS) on the history, current state and future of mobile malware.  The Smartphone Malware Report aims to raise awareness of the threats affecting mobile devices as well providing tips individuals can follow to avoid falling victim to mobile threats.

Google has suspended at least 10 suspicious applications from the Android Market after researchers at NC State announced they had discovered a new and particularly stealthy piece of spyware, dubbed Plankton, lurking in Android applications there.

Kaspersky Lab reports that a new botnet (a collection of infected computers controlled by cybercriminals) called TDL-4 might just be indestructible: “The owners of TDL are essentially trying to create an 'indestructible' botnet that is protected against attacks, competitors, and antivirus companies.”


The Social Media Revolution 2011

[Jane Hart]

Erik Qualman has shortened and updated his social media revolution video with 2011 data.  It’s thought provoking and well worth 2:30 of your time.  However, if you prefer more of a corporate flavour and can spare 13 min, Red Sky Vision’s Social Media @ Work is also worth a watch.

In May 2011, 26.8 million people in the UK visited Facebook and membership has grown by 41% between 2009 and 2011 although, among older users, the figure was 84% according to research firm Nielsen.  Twitter also enjoyed a record month, reaching 6.14 million unique visitors (up 34% from April).  The number of women aged over 65 using the site grew by 96% over the same period, although there are signs that younger users are drifting away.  Finally, LinkedIn clocked-up 3.6 million unique UK visitors in May – 57% more than in April.

Also, here’s a fascinating short video showing how news of the Japanese earthquake was tweeted and then re-tweeted in the hour after the first shock.


The History of English…in Ten Minutes

[Catherine Chambers; ALT; Stephen Downes; JE]

Based on U214 (Worlds of English), ‘The History of English…in Ten Minutes’ uncovers  the sources of English words and phrases from Shakespeare and the King James Bible to America and the Internet.  There are 10 one-minute bites in cartoon form with voicing by Clive Anderson, available via iTunesU or YouTube.  At the time of writing, they occupy 10 of the top 12 ‘most viewed’ slots on YouTube EDU.

The ALT channel on YouTube now contains presentations from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 ALT conferences.  Top rated clips include Donald Clark’s “Don’t lecture me”, Hans Rosling's “A fact-based world view”, Martin Bean's “A journey in innovation” and Sugata Mitra's “The hole in the wall”.

I am fascinated by the hole in the wall, but Teemu Leinonen argues that Mitra’s claims that the kids are self-directed is oversimplified and that Mitra himself fills the role of teacher: “There is a clear and clever teacher’s intervention: A professor asking students to study, giving them a new tools (computers) empowering them, giving them self-confidence and motivation.”  This is of course true but it points to an interesting model, because Mitra is applying something very close to a higher education pedagogic approach to lowly-educated primary school kids, to great effect.

Another positive example of empowering young learners comes from John Hunter’s TED talk on the world peace game.  If you can’t spare all 20 mins, the story starts in earnest at about 7:15.


Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology


A new JISC guide, Transforming curriculum delivery through technology: Stories of challenge, benefit and change, is now available.  The publication summarises the headline benefits of technology in curriculum delivery made evident by the work of the 15 projects in the JISC Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme.


What Managers Really Want

[Clive Shepherd]

Clive has been scrutinising the Towards Maturity Reinventing Leadership Development report, based on a survey of 180 UK organisations.  He considers one particular table which shows the preferred delivery media of managers at different levels, noting a general receptiveness to mobile and online media but also how preferences vary between managers of different seniority/experience/age.


75 Tips to Reduce eLearning Costs

[e-Learning Guild]

The e-Learning Guild has published another in its series of free online books. 75 Tips to Reduce eLearning Costs is compiled from responses from eLG members and includes advice on productivity tools, social learning, reuse, VLE/LMSs and outsourcing.  It also addresses the question, “Does lower cost mean lower quality?”  Interestingly, I couldn’t find a single mention of open educational resources – are these regarded by the commercial sector as just an educational fad?



[Stephen Downes]

The Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons are jointly working on the Learning Resources Framework Initiative to create a standard coding language for all searchable educational content on the Web.  The project is being funded by grants from the Gates and Hewlett foundations and is supported Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin, as well as other publishers, education technology providers, and institutes.  This all follows last month's announcement that Google, Yahoo and Bing would all contribute formatting tags to, a library of standardized formatting tags.


Visual Tools

[Rebecca Galley; Tim Seal]

I reported last month on the SpiderScribe mind-mapping tool, prompting two further recommendations: Cacoo (which also imports Compendium LD icons) and Balsamiq Mock Ups (designed specifically for mocking up screen layouts).  If that’s not enough for you, Rebecca has compiled a longer list on Cloudworks and Jane Hart also lists personal and collaborative mind-mapping and brainstorming tools.



  • Paper.js is one of those, “this is cool, now what can I do with it?” HTML5 sites.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Enter your annual salary and where does my money go will tell you how your taxes are being spent.  [JE]
  • Tony Hirst has got tired of analysing Formula 1 lap times and is now investigating Art Online.  [Tony Hirst]
  • MIT has developed a low cost cataract detector that clips onto a smart phone.  [Matthew Moran]
  • Teacher 2.0 is a community for educators to explore their interests and passions, and to build a supportive network.  [Stephen Downes]
  • ASTD has released a new mobile learning report, an excerpt of which is available is freely available via Learning Circuits.  [ASTD]
  • Apple is now valued at $3.1bn, which is more than Microsoft, HP and Dell combined.  [TechCrunch]
  • A new report, ATI Google Apps Accessibility Evaluation, flags numerous visual and other accessibility issues.  [Wired Campus]
  • The Conversation aims to spread the message about new scientific discoveries, attracting 1m hits in its first 10 weeks.  [Stephen Downes]
  • The deadline for the next round of applications for Google Research Awards is Mon 1 Aug.  [ALT]
  • Psst.  Want to see a robot solve a Rubik’s cube in under 11 seconds?  [Jonathan Fine]
  • The Desmos free online graphing calculator instantly draws equations as you update them.  [TechCrunch]
  • offers educational apps for younger K-5 children.  [JE]
  • All 7 hours of the original Russian film version of War and Peace are now available online in 4 parts with English subtitles.  [Stephen Downes]


And Finally…

Worried about keeping your kids occupied during the next 6 weeks?  Budding musicians/composers might like to visit Richard Byrne’s seven tools students can use for creating music online.  Future game designers could get started with GameMaker or Sploder, or progress to the more advanced Blender.  And if all else fails, a spot of cooking always goes down well.

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