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e-Learning Digest No 85 - Sep 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 September 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Commercial News

[Matthew Moran; Campus Technology; University World News; Joel Greenberg]

BPP has set its 2012 fees at £5k per annum, or a £12k charge for those who wish to complete their degree in 2 years.  The company, which offers degrees in law, business, accountancy and finance, has already been highly visible in this year’s recruitment round, with a presence on UCAS and Facebook, listings in the press (e.g. The Independent) and the offer that prospective students can tweet clearing advisers directly.

US ed tech vendor EduTone will purchase Cambridge University Press’s UK-based Global Grid for Learning, a digital content aggregation business boasting 1m digital video, audio, images, interactive activities and documents from 40 providers.  GGfL will then become EduTone's distributor in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Kaplan has dumped plans to establish a university in Adelaide, blaming complex regulatory approvals in Australia and the US.  However, rival US group Laureate International Universities is pursuing its own bid to establish a university in the South Australian capital.

Roddy Boyd writes at some length on the Seeking Alpha site, unpicking Blackboard’s business model, customer base, pricing and finances.  Commenting on the future of CEO Michael Chasen after the company’s recent sale to Presidium, he observes, “there will always be a place in the world for a man who can sell people what they don’t need at a price they can’t afford.”


Student Finance

[University World News; The Independent; THE; Ian Blackham]

Student loans have now become a central issue in the HE strategies of several countries.  Bruno Dente and Nadia Piraino take a theoretical look at the components of such schemes, whether loan policies are effective and what criteria might make them so. 

OECD reports that Britain’s tuition fees are the third highest in the developed world and a report by HEPI warns that universities may have to reduce their fees to an average of £7,500 as they struggle to fill places. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, the percentage of people in the UK with a degree has more than doubled from 12% in 1993 to 25% in 2010.  The median hourly pay for differently educated groups was:

  • No qualifications - £6.93
  • GCSE or equivalent - £8.68
  • A-level or equivalent - £10.00
  • Sub-degree - £12.60
  • Degree - £16.10

But the report also shows that the worst paid 20% of graduates had lower earnings in Oct-Dec 2010 than those who left school with qualifications at 18, and the worst paid 15% earned less than those who left school at 16 with only GCSEs.

A report by the University of Birmingham found that only about 46% of 2009 engineering graduates were in jobs directly related to their degree subject six months after leaving university.  Some 20% were employed in roles that were not directly related to their degree but 24% were in ‘non-graduate’ employment, for example working as waiters or in shops.

And a separate report from HEFCE suggests that the falling proportion of home students on postgraduate STEM courses could threaten the viability of entire disciplines.  The number of international students studying taught courses has almost doubled in eight years, whereas home students increased by just 1 per cent.  In mechanical engineering, international student numbers grew from 22% of the total studying 2002/03 to 54% in 2009/10.

A planned Free University of Liverpool partly represents a protest against rising tuition fees, but also evidences a longer-standing dissatisfaction with the current structure of HE.  Founded by a ‘committee’ of artists, activists and educators – who are offering their time voluntarily – the university's first course is a six-month foundation studies degree for just 15 students which will start next month.  Next year should see the launch of a BA in cultural praxis.


Windows 8

[TechCrunch; Gizmodo]

Windows 7 has sold 450m copies since launch (650,000 licences per day) but the tablet variant of its successor, Windows 8, was previewed earlier this week.  It draws, not surprisingly, on many features and gesture-based interface design techniques from existing tablets and the Windows Phone 7.  Early signs are promising, with Gizmodo claiming, “It goes beyond what Apple has done by quite a bit”.


Virtual Education

[Ian Blackham; Matthew Moran; Richard Easterbrook; Seb Schmoller]

The Telegraph’s Emma Barnett asks whether virtual degrees are the future of university education, in the light of future UK fees.  She cites various examples including the free Stanford AI course mentioned last month.  At the time, Stanford had had 8,000 expressions of interest; Barnett reports an increase to 53,000 – a class nearly four times the size of Stanford’s entire student body – and Seb Schmoller notes that the cohort has now grown to over 200,000.  The two Stanford lecturers have devised an automatic system for grading homework submissions (which they admit would not work as well for arts courses) and are using Google Moderator to take students queries; the tool algorithmically finds the most popular and similar questions from a huge number of queries, allowing the lecturers to answer as many questions as possible in the most efficient way.  They would also like to consider peer to peer marking in the future.

NYT’s Tamar Lewin reports that, “new online enterprises are making earning a college degree cheaper, faster and flexible enough to take work experience into account”.  Online services like Straighterline allow students to package their credits and top up to full qualifications without the cost of attending full-time institutions.  Critics worry that the online courses are less rigorous and more vulnerable to cheating, and focus more on providing credentials for specific jobs than encouraging critical thinking.  However, most experts agree that given the exploding technologies, cuts to university budgets and the growth of people expected to earn postsecondary degrees, there is no end in sight for online programs preparing students for careers in high-demand areas like business, computer science, health care and criminal justice.

More than three-quarters of US colleges and universities now offer online classes, according to a Pew Internet survey, and 23% of graduates have taken a course online.  Some 51% of college presidents say online courses provide the same educational value to one taken in a classroom, but just 29% of American adults agree, although that figure does rise to 46% amongst adults who have actually taken an online course.


HE Social Media Adoption Soars

[Stephen Downes; Mashable; TechCrunch]

The University of Massachusetts has been analysing the use of social media in US colleges and universities since 2007/08.  Its latest report shows that HEIs are experimenting more and re-evaluating their use of new communication tools and that 100% are now using some form of social media, with Facebook the most prevalent (98% of the 456 interviewees), followed by YouTube (86%) and Twitter (84%).

And a Nielsen survey shows that Americans now spend 23% of their internet time on social networks.  Nine of the 10 most popular social networks were dominated by women (LinkedIn being the exception).  Women also watch more video content than men, although men watch longer videos.

InSites Consulting has taken a broader view with Social Media Around the World 2011 and is packed with so many relevant stats that I won’t even begin to try and summarise them here.


Education at a Glance: 2011

[George Siemens]

OECD’s 2011 version of Education at a Glance contains almost 500 pages of useful data, including teacher salaries, the impact of student background on performance, educational attainment and employment, educational access, and so on.


Not So Digital Natives

[Stephen Downes; Zite]

IET has published a recent paper, Older Students’ use of Digital Technologies in Distance Education, that “explodes myth of ‘digital native’,” according to reviewer Gerald Haigh.  The research is based on a survey of more than 4,000 OU students, aged 20 to 60.  It concludes that while there are clear differences between older and younger people in their use of technology, there’s no evidence of a clear break between two separate populations.

Students in Canada are also not as digitally native as researchers expected.  They may be addicted to Facebook and slaves to their smartphones but, as universities spend millions on e-learning tools to help cater to this tech-savvy generation, current students say they prefer, and are learning more in classes when a live lecturer stands at an unadorned podium than in sessions full of technological bells and whistles. 

Harvard’s Prof Eric Mazur and University of Maryland’s Prof Joe Redish are shunning technology and lectures in favour of a highly successful peer-instruction approach.


Latest on iTunesU

[Catherine Chambers]

There are two OU offerings related to the anniversary of 9/11: Reflections on political leadership comprises 7 audio podcasts in which Drs Richard Heffernan and Simon Bromley discuss the consequences of September 11th and the impact it had on the United States' hegemony, its global leadership and its diplomatic and military strategy.  Attack on the Wires contains 3 videos that give a snapshot of how communications company AT&T dealt with the unprecedented technological challenges during the course of the disaster, when they handled in excess of 400 million calls.

The Linux operating system is 20 years old and the OU presents a series of audio podcasts (available via iTunes or the OU podcast site), presented by MCT’s Blaine Price and including contributions from Linus Torvalds.  The series begins with the origins of Linux but then moves on to include broader topics including open source software and cloud computing.



[Jeff Cobb]

Zite is an iPad app that allows you to construct a ‘magazine’ based on personal topics and feeds of interest.  You can drill into items and rate or share them and the app learns your preferences over time so it can present new content that is more relevant.  Yes, it’s effectively a glossy aggregator but I it works really well - I was getting interesting, relevant information and good design.  Google Reader is certainly more succinct but Zite is considerably more engaging.


Mobile Learning

[Campus Technology; BBC; Zite; Liam Green-Hughes; Tony Hirst; Rhodri Thomas; ASTD]

Google Education has provided seed funding for the opening of the MIT Center for Mobile Learning which will focus on new mobile technologies, apps, and their uses in education, including location applications, mobile sensing, data collection and reality gaming.  Their first project will study and extend, for educational technology use, App Inventor (AI) for Android, a tool developed by Google Labs to allow anyone to create apps by using a graphical interface of buttons and menus in a browser.  Directors of the new centre include Eric Klopfer, leader of MIT’s STEP programme, and Mitchel Resnick, responsible for the Scratch visual authoring tool.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 45% of UK internet users are going online via mobile phone data connections, compared with 31% in 2010.  The most rapid growth was among younger people, where 71% of internet-connected 16 to 24-year-olds used mobiles (compared to just 8% aged 65+).  Domestic internet use also rose, with 77% of UK households now having access to a net connection.

Similar research by IDC predicts that the number of US mobile web users will grow annually by a compound growth rate of 16.6% between 2010 and 2015, meaning more people will then access the web by this method than on desktop machines.  The study also predicts that the total number of Internet users in the world will reach 2.7 billion, or 40% of the world’s population, in 2015.

AChartEngine is a Google charting library for Android applications that supports a range of chart types, singly and in combination.  Charts can be built as a ‘view’ that can be added to a view group or as an ‘intent’ that can be used to start an activity.

JISC has launched a new guide, Emerging Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced institutional innovation.  This is augmented by a Mobile Learning infoKit, a practical guide for educational institutions planning to implement mobile learning initiatives.  The current version (0.1) comprises a wiki-based resource collating information and guidance from JISC and others sources.

KMSI surveyed 200 learning technology users in the US to solicit their mobile learning preferences.  The ability to switch between Smartphone, mobile, laptop, and desktop devices without losing progress and scores or having to restart was of major importance, as was the ability to search for and use learning objects, PDFs, MS Office files and other file formats for just-in-time or just-enough performance support, although 22% claimed they had no need for e-reader devices.


Learning Analytics

[George Siemens]

George Siemens notes that learning analytics is getting substantial attention in education (IET has just published a white paper), but he thinks it’s a multifaceted term that needs to be broken down so it can be meaningfully used.  With this in mind, he offers a presentation he gave earlier this month to UNISA in Pretoria which reviews some analytics trends, their implications for education and potential links with connectivism.


Free Learning

[Stephen Downes]

Stephen has published Free Learning, a 240 page collection of essays relating to e-learning, open educational resources and copyright.  According to George Siemens it covers, “a wide territory of Downes’ work in open education, covering almost a decade.  It includes a few classics (to the degree that our field has classics), such as his discussion with Dave Tosh (co-founder of Elgg) on the role of openness in economics or earning a living and numerous encounters with David Wiley.”

The Change MOOC began its 36-week run on Monday and Stephen has launched a MOOC Guide, the purpose of which is to offer an online history of the development of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and use that to describe the major elements of a MOOC, together with practical tips for success and contributions from former MOOCers.



[Tony Bates]

WriteCheck is a new service for students made by the same company that makes the anti-plagiarism software, Turnitin, which is used by many universities (including the OU) to check for plagiarism.  For $7, as well as checking grammar and spelling, WriteCheck also checks for plagiarism.  Some academics are understandably concerned that this will allow students to change just enough to avoid being identified as a plagiarist.



[Matthew Moran; Wired Campus; TechCrunch]

BookRiff, currently in Beta, allows users to create, buy and sell digital and printed books.  “Create books by mixing content from virtually any source: published books, your own files, web sites… you name it.  You pick the mix and the order & we'll deliver your custom book – digital or printed – to you and anyone else!”

But LibraryPirate is encouraging users to make digital scans of their printed textbooks and post them to the site for others to share, with the site now boasting 1,700 textbooks that can be downloaded via BitTorrent.  Edward McCoyd, director of digital policy for the Association of American Publishers, claims LibraryPirate exaggerates the cost of electronic textbooks, which he says are often 60% cheaper than printed versions.  He also points to research that suggests the average US student spends more each year on movie tickets than on textbooks.

Sony has launched its $150 ultra-light PRS-T1 e-Reader.  It weighs 168g/6oz (around 70% that of a Kindle), is 8.9mm thick and has a 6″ e-ink touchscreen plus 5 function buttons.  The T1 offers WiFi and comes with 2 GB of flash memory preinstalled, storing up to 1,200 eBooks, and a microSD card can provide an additional 32 GB.


HTML5 Video Player

[Stephen Downes; Nick Freear]

Zencoder has developed videojs, a free, open-source, javascript-based HTML5 video player.  It comes well documented (including some comprehensive video tutorials on and supports most recent browsers, plus fallback support for IE 6, 7 and 8.  Android and iOS are supported and plugins are provided for Wordpress, jQuery and Drupal.  The current main drawback is somewhat limited accessibility.


Free Content

[ALT; Jane Hart; Open Culture]

Codecademy is billed as, “the easiest way to learn how to code.  It's interactive, fun and you can do it with your friends”.  It’s a little simplistic and I had to stoke up Firefox to get it working properly, but I did find myself learning-by-doing some JavaScript without too much trouble.

The Virtual Experiments Team at Southampton University has launched a new website and several new virtual experiments, covering electronics, computer science and chemistry.  There is also a link to a similar site at Reading that contains a slightly broader portfolio.

BullBearings is a virtual online trading website that allows users to set up virtual stocks and shares and embark on conventional trading or spread betting – for personal interest or in competition with friends.

The Alcohol Learning Centre is making one of its e-learning programs freely available.  Alcohol Identification and Brief Advice (Alcohol IBA) helps professionals identify and advise those individuals whose drinking might be impacting on their health, but there’s a lot of useful information in there for us consumers.

Great Courses has a portfolio of around 350 pay courses featuring top academics and high quality material.  However the Open Culture site has links to 10 sample lectures for those who want to experience what ‘great’ really looks like.

If you’re a child of the 60s, you’ll be well aware of musician James Taylor.  Well, the drugs have worn off, he’s still going strong and his latest venture is to offer online acoustic guitar lessons.  The pedagogic approach is interesting because he doesn’t actually ‘teach’: he shows in close detail how to play and assumes the learner has enough basic knowledge to emulate the moves.


76 EdTech Resources You May Have Missed


These lists can be a bit hit and miss but I liked this one from Jeffrey Thomas simply because of its diversity.  It contains press articles, tools, hints and tips, links to other listings and a whole section of iOS items.  It does have a mainly schools focus, but you’re bound to find something useful.




And Finally…

I haven’t yet read Martin Weller’s new book, The Digital Scholar, but it apparently contains embedded audio as this photo of the author listening to chapter 3 clearly shows.  This will be a significant step forward in educational technology because it will allow users to listen to the book almost anywhere: on the train, at the beach, etc.  When the batteries start to fail, the device offers an ocular assimilation mode, and improvements in print technology mean this is almost as clear as e-ink displays; multiple bookmarks are also possible thanks page-fold™ functionality.


Extra content

This is list is great. i will use some of it in my next paper about e-learning process. I have also come across some material for children's mobile e-learning that can come handy. Here is the link:

Willow Cockley
14:21 on 26 November 2015

Embedded Content


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