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e-Learning Digest No 84 - Aug 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 August 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


 OU Fees

[THE; Guardian; BBC]

OU fee increases have received widespread coverage in the media and blogosphere, but what is most interesting is not so much the stories themselves, but the mass of comments that follow most of them.  For example, this initial article in THE includes comments such as:

  • “For me this is a disaster, I'm over 50…”;
  • “The course fees are now totally unrealistic”;
  • “It is the government - not the OU - which is responsible for the increase”; and
  • “My exposure to the OU has been entirely positive”.

However, a more recent article in the Guardian focused on the implications for older and casual learners, attracting more incisive comments such as, “all the tutors sound like Wallace and Gromit”.

A separate Guardian article reports on HEFCE analysis regarding student numbers once fee increases bite.  This shows that 56 universities are anticipating a drop in the number of full-time undergraduates they take from the UK or the European Union next year.  On average, universities expect a 2% fall, although one institution predicts a 20% drop and five others expect greater than 10%.  However, 24% expect an increase and a fifth anticipate no change.

Smaller higher education institutions in England would be able to gain university status, under government proposals to remove the current requirement for universities to have at least 4,000 students.  It would allow about 10 colleges, which already have their own degree-awarding powers, to become full universities.


Blackboard Announces Collaboration With Major Textbook Publishers

[Wired Campus; Campus Technology]

Publishers Macmillan, Pearson, Cengage and Wiley have announced tighter links between their advanced e-textbook platforms and Blackboard, following an earlier deal with McGraw-Hill last year.  Students will continue to purchase access to the online-textbooks through traditional retailers but will benefit from single-sign-on access through the campus network.  Lecturers will find it easier to transfer grades etc from the publishers’ systems to Blackboard’s gradebook.  Blackboard’s Matthew Small says, “This isn’t about a storefront - this is about making these things more interoperable.  Now 90-plus percent of all of the digital-learning platforms are going to be integrated into Blackboard.”

McGraw-Hill’s newly launched Campus suite includes a learning and teaching platform, custom publishing, an adaptive study tool and searchable lecture capture service.  It also

provides unlimited access to the company's entire library, including eBooks, assessment tools, presentation slides, and multimedia resources.  The suite integrates with major LMS/VLEs including Blackboard and Moodle.


Amazon Launches Cross-Platform Textbook Rentals


Amazon now rents academic textbooks via a free Kindle reader app which is available for smart phones, tablets, and traditional computers, including devices running Android, OS X, iOS, Windows and Blackberry, along with Kindle devices.  Rental periods can range from 30 to 360 days but can also be extended by as little as a day.  The company is also extending its Whispersync technology so that students can get to keep and access all of their notes and highlighted content in the Amazon Cloud, even after a rental expires.


British Library Group Develops Tool to Analyse Journal Pricing

[Wired Campus]

As libraries rethink blanket deals with some publishers, a new tool developed by the Research Libraries UK group should help them make the best cost-benefit analysis they can based on usage statistics and pricing information.  The group has taken a public stand against the high cost of some Big Deals and this new tool allows analysis of the value-for-money of publisher packages and to determine whether there would be cost savings to be made from moving back to title-by-title purchasing.


E-learning Surveys

[Kineo; Chief Learning Officer; Tony Bates; Virtual College; Seb Schmoller]

E-learning Magazine has surveyed 790 organisations, primarily US based, and found that 100% of them “have or plan to implement an enterprise learning and workplace technology initiative in the near future”.  Key trends include:

  • Stable spend on e-learning in corporate but significant increases in planned e-learning spend in the public sector, possibly as part of cost reductions
  • 62% said 24/7 access to learning content was critical
  • Virtual classrooms are on the increase with 75% of corporates using them.
  • Mobile learning is also on the increase, with 15% of public sector and 18% of corporate organisations currently using some form of mobile learning; increases are planned in both sectors

Ambient Insight’s latest survey, The Worldwide Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2010-2015, shows that the worldwide market for Self-paced eLearning products and services reached $32.1 billion in 2010, the five-year compound annual growth rate is 9.2% and revenues will reach $49.9 billion by 2015.  Spending in the US is slowing down, but pre-K-12 will dominate all other segments (with 16.8% growth predicted), including the traditionally strong US healthcare and higher education sectors.  However, a survey by the Software & Information Industry Association – its fourth annual investigation into US educational institutions’ progress towards embracing technology and e-learning – suggests that K-20 institutional progress slowed in 2010 compared with 2008 and 2009.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has published Trends in Canadian Higher Education.  Exact figures will relate to national circumstances, but some of the trends are noteworthy: part time student numbers are static whereas full time are growing steadily; under-22 is the fastest growing age group (over-35s are static); full time Master’s enrolments are booming, with business studies the most popular discipline (also true for international students), but most popular PhD is physical/life sciences and technologies.  China has been Canada’s top source of international students since 2001.

And Webanywhere has released an updated UK eLearning Market Research report, now available on Learning Light’s e-Learning Centre website.  The Nov 10 original report has been given a mid-year 2011 update, based on Learning Light's forecasting model with inputs from the overall economic performance of the UK, rises in adoption levels of e-learning, close tracking and analysis of public sector procurement patterns, and of course conversations and observations of what's happening in the market.  An overall UK growth rate of 12% is predicted for 2011, with mobile learning, social learning and virtual classrooms the current hot topics.

The International E-Learning Association sees things a little differently and is predicting augmented reality, mobile learning and the use of virtual online coaches as representing the future of e-learning and wider online training.  Its president, David Guralnick, also believes the use of virtual reality to encourage and motivate learners is something that will happen “sooner rather than later”. 

Oh please, not again.  Have we learned nothing from forays into virtual reality in the 90s with Superscape and similar tools, plus more recent dabbling with Second Life?  The 3D spatial properties of most e-learning content and scenarios are either unimportant or non-existent – and going into a virtual environment to access and learn such material is just extravagant gimmickry.  Interestingly, BP’s Nick Shackleton-Jones offers a similar sentiment in his thoughtful presentation, The Future of Learning and Technology.


iMac (not iPad) Propels Apple to No 3 US Sales Slot

[Campus Technology]

According to two recent market research reports, Apple took 10.7% of US market share for computers - including desktops and laptops, but excluding the iPad and iPhone - in the second quarter of 2011.  Only one other top-5 manufacturer, Toshiba, saw positive growth in the United States during the quarter.  Gartner reports that, “Apple showed the strongest growth among the top-tier vendors in the [US], as it climbed from fifth place to third, overtaking Acer and Toshiba.  The preliminary findings show Apple's performance far exceed the industry average, partly driven by an iMac refreshment that attracted both consumers and buyers in the education sector.”


University Unveils the CNN of Universities

[University World News]

The Global Campus Network is expected to make Canada’s Ryerson University a hub for up to 4,100 HEIs worldwide within the next couple of years by using full high-definition streaming technology and existing broadband networks.  The Skype-like technology was developed initially as a teaching tool in 2010 to show radio and television arts students what it was like to be connected to live news stream networks like CNN and to deal with content derived from around the world.  However, the project went international when Global Campus Network created its first permanent university connection with colleagues at the University of Auckland, with project director, Richard Grunberg, noting, “There is almost no delay in the interaction between one or many collaborators. The interaction is almost natural.”


The Floating University

[Pete Mitton]

The Floating University, “a new educational media venture for the digital generation, which creates and distributes online multimedia curricula, rich in text, video, animation and graphics” aims to bring together a selection of the best thinkers and scholars to teach courses on the ideas that cut across their fields and connected them.  Their first course, ‘Great Big Ideas’, launches this autumn and will be offered by Harvard, Yale and Bard.  Each hour-long lecture explores the keys questions in one of 14 major fields, lays out the methods for answering them and makes a case for the relevance to the student and the significance to humanity.  So, video lectures, plus a claim on the site that it will be “the Facebook of textbooks”.  It seems the Nuremberg Funnel may be alive and well, but it now has a network connection.


Degree ROI

[Sys-Con Media; Wired Campus]

According to the (US) site, 80% of adult learners indicated that their interest in online education was career-related.  The site now contains salary guides for 30 different degree programs and career fields to help prospective students evaluate the return on investment on the online degree programs they might be considering.  These guides not only discuss estimated earning potential, but also offer information about possible careers, skills learned and courses they can expect within programs.

The Edupunks’ Guide to a DIY Credential is a new free e-book, financed by the Gates Foundation that seeks to help learners use online resources to chart alternative paths to affordable credentials.  Although directed at low-income students, author Anya Kamenetz blogged that she also hopes to reach professors and administrators who want to take advantage of “the latest technology, social media, and collaborative learning” to cut costs while improving education.


Data Visualisation

[TechCrunch; Catherine Chambers; Tony Hirst]

I’m a fan of good visualisations because, as we submerge in yet more data, it will become increasingly important for sense-making.  Wondergraphs offer Flash-based drag-and-drop graph creation that makes presentation of tabular data in different formats and styles about as easy as it gets.  If you prefer your data as infographics, has over 2000 examples on offer to inspire you.

DataArt is a collaboration between the BBC and University of Westminster that aims to visualise BBC data in a creative and informative way that makes it accessible and appealing to both experts and non-experts alike.  In the US, the New York Times is one of a few newspapers that have a team dedicated to data visualisation and information design, examples of which can be found on the Small Labs site.



[Matthew Moran]

InstaGrok is a new search engine aimed specifically at learning and education.  It still looks a little rough around the edges but it is only an alpha; however, some of the functionality and methods of categorisation/filtering do look useful – and they do set it apart from the standard Google offering.


Learning Design

[Clark Quinn; JE; Clive Shepherd]

DesignJot is an iApp that supports the learning design process by asking the designer to answer questions that lead to strategies, objectives/outcomes, activities, content and structure.  The app supports note-taking and sketching, plus tips and best practice advice (including practitioner video clips).  There are some inevitable issues with file formats but the benefits of being mobile are that it becomes a working tool that can be taken to and shared with the design stakeholders.  Customer ratings suggest that, in the right circumstances, it can be quite a useful aid.

In a similar vein, Connie Malamed has launched an Instructional Design Guru app which defines over 450 terms associated with learning experience design, drawn from the fields of instructional design, cognitive psychology, social media, multimedia, technology and law.  She refers to it as a “reference and performance support app for instructional designers”.  On this side of the pond we call that a Glossary.

Clive Shepherd has been posting up a series of practical guides for digital learning content designers.  They are aimed not so much at full-time designers but more for the increasing numbers of learning professionals who fulfil an occasional design role.  Titles available so far provide advice on creating learning podcasts, slide shows, screencasts, videos, learning scenarios and learning tutorials.



[Stephen Downes; Elliott Masie; Wired Campus]

Sir John Daniel is interviewed on the Creative Commons site about his views on open educational resources and the role of intergovernmental organizations.  “Since two-thirds of the 54 [British Commonwealth] member states are nations with populations of 2 million or less, they have fewer resources to spend on content creation ... COL helped them start a ‘virtual university’, which is not a new institution but a collaborative network where countries and institutions can work together to produce course materials as OER that they can all adapt and use.”

The Commonwealth of Learning has also just published a freely-downloadable Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources.  And, as part of the build up to his Learning 2011 conference in Nov, Elliott Masie has published a freely-downloadable Learning Strategies e-Book.  Its 100+ pages include contributions from CNN, Shell, Lloyds Bank and the CIA.

In a novel twist Stanford University is not only opening its next course on artificial intelligence free to anyone online, but they have also promised to issue grades and certificates to those virtual attendees.  The online course will run in tandem with the physical class, which normally attracts around 200 regular students, from Oct to Dec.  Professors are unsure how many will sign up for the free online class but interest appears high, with more than 8,000 people already expressing interest.


Crowdsourced Research

[David Wilson; Wired Campus]

The University of Oxford’s Ancient Lives site is putting hundreds of thousands of images of fragments of papyri written in Greek online.  Researchers say that ‘armchair archaeologists’ visiting the website can help with cataloguing the collection and could make amazing finds, such as the recent discovery of fragments of a previously unknown ‘lost’ gospel which describes Jesus Christ casting out demons.

EteRNA is a web-based game that uses the brainpower of biology novices to understand molecules key to life and disease.  RNA (DNA’s single-stranded relative) plays a key role in cell function and the game allows researchers to farm out some of the intellectual legwork behind RNA design to 26,000 players, rather than a relatively few lab workers.  Players are given an RNA puzzle design that they must fill in with components to produce the most plausible solution.  The community of players then votes for the blueprint it thinks will have the best chance of success in the lab and Stanford researchers select the highest-rated blueprints and actually synthesize them, reporting back the results to inform future designs.



[Matthew Moran]

BenchPrep supports preparation for (US) exams and tests by providing materials and interactive quizzes from established content providers like McGraw Hill and Wiley, plus social features that act as a real-time virtual study groups.  These allow subscribers to hold discussions, ask questions, add and share notes or YouTube videos.  The startup currently offers 17 courses and has about 150,000 users, but a further 100 courses are planned.


Building m-Learning Apps

[Liam Green-Hughes; ALT; Jill Campbell; Stephen Downes]

For those who fancy developing their first mobile app, the Harvard Extension School is offering, as open courseware, its Building Mobile Applications course.  The lectures, seminars and project materials include videos, slides and source code for HTML5, Android and iOS apps.

Tribal Labs is offering a free 18 page report on Cross-platform mobile development which considers 22 commercial and open source frameworks/tools, three of which – Rhodes, Appcelerator and Phonegap – are considered in greater detail.

If you specifically wish to target iOS, Jill Campbell (via LinkedIn) suggests the iPadAppsPlus site as a source of good design advice, followed by the use of development tools such as AppMakr, AppsGeyser, appOmator, Buzztouch and Conduit.

Adobe has launched a new tool called Adobe Edge which will allow creative professionals to design animated Web content using Web standards like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.  Aimed to coexist with Flash rather than replace it, Edge is Adobe's big bet on how to solidify its market position as the Web goes increasingly mobile (and therefore Apple-flavoured).

Finally, if you have an existing Flash app and want to make it iOS-friendly, you could try to convert it to HTML5 using Adobe’s Wallaby or Google’s Swiffy.




MathJax is an open-source JavaScript display engine for LaTeX and MathML that displays crisp mathematics on a wide range of browsers, tablets, or smartphones.  In addition, it allows students to copy-and-paste a mathematical expression into other applications so they can visualize it or play around with an equation in a computer algebra system.  MathJax also claims to help readers with poor vision, dyslexia, or learning disabilities to access mathematical content.



  • BPP is running a Facebook app competition with daily prizes for prospective students awaiting 'A' level results.  [Matthew Moran]
  • The US Education Management Corporation is being sued is being sued for overclaiming $11 bn in state and federal aid.  [NYT]
  • Useful article by Wesley Fryer on options and costs of publishing your own eBook.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Apple is vying with Exxon Mobil to be the world’s largest company, with both hovering around $350bn.  [Mashable]
  • You have until 14 Sep to enter your innovative m-learning solution for the Mobile Learning Challenge.  [Rhodri Thomas]
  • Northumbria’s Catherine Montgomery considers how representative (or important) the ‘student voice’ really is.  [University World News]
  • Dyslexie is a new typeface developed (by a dyslexic graphic designer) to reduce common dyslexic reading errors.  [Matthew Moran]
  • Talkwheel creates a visual roundtable collaboration platform to allow online groups to interact more effectively.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Epic’s latest e-learning debate considers the impact of social learning on traditional training departments.  [Epic]
  • Happy 20th birthday WorldWideWeb.  Here’s a copy of the first public web page.  [TechCrunch]


And Finally…

[Robin Stenham; TechCrunch]

Do you work in an atmosphere of hushed concentration?  Bring back those traditional values and authentic sounds of the busy office by adopting the USB Typewriter.  US designer Jack Zylkin has created a $74 conversion kit that allows computer users to use a typewriter keyboard which plugs into the USB port on a laptop, monitor or iPad via a sensor board.

Alternatively, you might be more concerned about the heat in your office, in which case you could consider trying a $35 USB-powered necktie clip cooler fan.  Simply plug into your PC or the included battery pack and be the envy of your friends.



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