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e-Learning Digest No 86 - Oct 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
14 October 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Higher Education?  Myths, Mantras, Illusions and Delusions

[Donald Clark; George Siemens]

Donald Clark gives his own perspective on this recent book by Hacker & Dreifus and to what extent it may apply to the UK.  He notes a number of shortcomings in both our teaching and research, suggesting, “The core problem is the indirect subsidy of 2nd and 3rd rate research.  Reduce research and you improve teaching and reduce costs.  It’s that simple.”  Whilst not everything is directly relevant, he concludes, “We are now third in the world on the cost of Higher Education to students, with only S Korea and the US ahead of us.  We would do well to listen to what these researchers have to say.”

George Siemens considers the value crisis in higher education.  This is tricky because different things have a different perceived value to different people at different times, and the non-physicality of the internet, and the many ‘free’ offerings it carries, further complicate life.  He believes, “Universities that thrive in the future will be those that recognize the need for new value point positioning.  Some will pursue an integration approach to value creation, others will rely on world-class faculty, and still others will rely on huge research projects or successful sports teams.  Those will be anomalies and outliers.  The vast majority of universities that will educate humanity in the coming decades will be those that structure their value point on elements that cannot be easily duplicated and scaled, or at minimum, require input costs to do so.”


Trying to Save Administrative Costs

[Tony Bates; University World News]

A recent study concluded that US universities are complex, decentralized institutions which waste a lot of money on redundant administrative activities and could probably save money in the long run if they made big changes to their structure.  The report notes that, “multiple layers of management can exacerbate complexity” and “local optimization, although well-intentioned and efficient on an individual basis, has unintentionally undermined pan-university effectiveness.”  The article also refers to the Delta Cost Project, whose report provides details of funding and spending at more than 2,000 US institutions over an 11-year period.

Hundreds of academics, including some from the OU, have published an Alternative White Paper in response to government plans for universities.  In it, they put forward their idea of what a public university should be for and draw attention to the wider public significance of the reforms and the threat they believe these represent.


Rise in Stay-at-Home Students

[Matthew Moran]

This research by insurer Liverpool Victoria came out in April but is worth noting.  The company predicts that, by 2020, 52% of all younger students will choose a local higher education establishment and stay with their parents, a significant rise from the current level of 21%.  However, the research also shows that 48% of current stay-at-home students say that living at home has made it harder for them to feel fully involved in student life.  Seven cities are predicted to see decreases in student numbers of more than 40%, with Newcastle topping the bill at -52%.


Publisher News

[Hack Education; David Wilson]

Pearson has acquired Connections Education, an online virtual school provider that serves about 40,000 students in 21 US states.  And the New York Times is questioning the probity of Pearson sending various US state education commissioners on free trips to Helsinki, Rio and London in pursuit of “educational excellence”.

McGraw-Hill has announced that it will be splitting into two companies.  One would focus on its education division, now second only in size to Pearson, and the other would handle the company’s financial business, including its ownership of Standard & Poor.  The company is also funding Unigo, an online resource for college students which will now power the student review section of the US News & World Report‘s college rankings.

US textbook rental giant Chegg continues to expand by buying Zinch, a website that connects high school students to colleges.  Chegg is seeking to become the platform for college students to get their books, course schedules, college recommendations, tutoring, and more.

Pearson has joined Google to launch OpenClass, a free LMS that combines standard course-management tools with advanced social networking and community-building, and an open architecture that allows instructors to import whatever material they want, from e-books to YouTube videos.  The program will launch through Google Apps for Education and will be hosted by Pearson with the aim of freeing institutions from the burden of supporting theuir own LMS.


Major Publishers Join e-Textbook Project

[Wired Campus]

An e-textbook project at Indiana University has the support of major publishers including McGraw-Hill and Wiley.  Students on certain courses are required to pay a materials fee which gets them access to the assigned electronic textbooks or other readings for the course.  The university essentially becomes the broker of the textbook sales, but their high bulk volumes ensure good prices.  The university’s vice president for information technology says that students save more money through the program than they would if they bought a printed book and resold it to the second-hand market.  McGraw-Hill said the deal gave the university a 20% discount off its usual e-book prices.


Open Publishing

[George Siemens; Stephen Downes; Zite; Matthew Moran]

George refers to a recent Canadian paper, A Comparison of an Open Access University Press with Traditional Presses, which finds that “releasing academic books on open access does not lessen printed book sales online in comparison with traditional university presses using Amazon”.  He advises authors to think beyond the financial impact of a book and consider broader factors such as extending the reach of their work and connecting with colleagues.

Meanwhile, the IET Capitalist Writers Guild dominates a new book, Web 2.0-Based E-Learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching, with current and former OU staff contributing six of the 21 chapters.

For those interested in do-it-yourself, Christian Cantrell has updated the considerable amount of guidance he offers on his Everything You Need to Know About How to Digitally Self Publish web page.

Prof Daniel Flint wanted his students to read a white paper on public relations, a couple of case studies, an industry report, and a chapter of a forthcoming book.  He used a build-your-own-textbook service called AcademicPub, which compiled the material and resolved the rights issues.  The result was a 100-page book which students could download for $14.95 or get in paperback for $27.

And Phil Davies, writing on the Scholarly Kitchen blog, asks: “Are journal editors an anachronism? A throwback to an age of print publishing that no longer exists?”  He argues that, in an age of self-publishing and overabundant information, the importance of journals and editors should increase rather than diminish.


Increase in US e-Reader Use

[David Vince; TechCrunch; PC Pro; Hack Education; Stephen Downes; Giles Clark]

BlackBerry shipped only 200,000 PlayBooks in three months whereas Apple sells that number of iPads in about three days, so can anything compete?  Amazon hopes to hot things up with a series of announcements at the end of Sep.  Its new model line-up includes a basic Kindle at $79/£89 (still with buttons but no full keyboard), a touchscreen model at $99/£109 and a 3G version at $149/£149.  But star of the show was the new $199 Android-powered Kindle Fire, with a 7” colour touchscreen, wi-fi, ‘silk’ browser and cloud storage.  Within days, Fire pre-orders were rolling in at the rate of more than 2,000 per hour.

UK Kindle prices are apparently higher because our versions will not have adverts, and a launch date and price have yet to be announced for the Fire.  There now also seems to be evidence to support the long held view that Amazon sells each Kindle at a loss, recouping this in book sale profits. 

A Harris Poll on e-books, e-readers, books and readership finds that one in six Americans owns an e-Reader.  Overall, 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books a year, with 20% reading 21 or more books.  However, of those who own an eReader, 32% read 11-20 books a year and 27% read 21 or more.  The most popular genre is mystery, thriller and crime – read by 47% of the 2100 respondents.

But MIT’s Christopher Mims wonders, Will E-Books Destroy the Democratizing Effects of Reading, given the tight controls currently imposed by publishers?

The Publishers’ Licensing Society publishes a periodic accessibility newsletter.  Issue 13 is currently available and includes a report that the RNIB has found that 43 of the Top 50 books were available as e-books, and that 41 of those were available on the Kindle with text-to-speech enabled (up from just 21 a year ago).


iPad to Dominate Tablet Sales Until 2015

[The Guardian; Upside Learning; Nick Watson]

A Gartner report predicts that Apple will ship nearly 47m iPads this year, commanding 73% of the tablet market.  It further predicts that tablets sell 60% as many units as PCs by 2015 – and iPad will still have almost half the market by then (148m of an estimated 326m devices).  It does not currently see Windows taking off in a big way on tablets (just 11% market share by 2015).

However, two separate reports from JPMorgan Chase & Co and DigiTimes suggest that Apple is revising down its sales forecasts for the next quarter and may reduce the iPad pricing.

And a separate report by Ambient Insight predicts that the worldwide market for mobile learning will grow from $3.2bn last year to about $9.1bn by 2015.  The report analyses trends and current expenditure across varied markets, predicting the US, China and India to be the top buying countries by 2015.

India hopes its home-grown Aakash tablet will satisfy its internal market at a bargain price of £25.  The spec is quite poor, with a slow processor, limited memory and a resistive touch screen which is less responsive than the capacitive system on most tablets.  If they can deliver on the promise, it has the potential to make a huge difference but, as the BBC points out, India’s $10 laptop, announced in 2009, came to nothing.


Using iPads to Teach Music


Neil Johnston is on a mission to increase the use of new technology to encourage potential music students.  This video shows what happens when you take a classroom of students, add 24 iPads, sound recording gear and a few live instruments.  The resulting song has received so much acclaim that it’s available to buy at iTunes.

Also on iPad is Steinway’s new free Etude 2 app which aims to teach budding pianists by highlighting keys as the music progresses, following either a traditional score or switching to piano-roll mode (à la Guitar Hero).  Most of the free scores are classical for copyright reasons, but more modern songs typically cost £1.99 – which I find curiously high, given that I can buy MP3s for £0.69.


You Tube for Teachers

[The Whiteboard Blog; Zite]

Although we already have YouTube/edu, there is now a more specific teachers’ channel which, apart from videos, also contains guides on how to use YouTube in the classroom, as well as curated video playlists that will be suitable for teachers to use.  There is also a YouTube Teachers Community which will provide regular updates from the YouTube team, tips and tricks and best practices from other teachers.

BP has launched a How Science Works Clip Bank – aimed mainly at UK schools – which contains short videos, animations, slideshows and interactive activities which teachers and students can use “to put science in a real-world context”.  And along similar lines comes a new beta site from Canadian organisation, Spongelab.

Earlier this month the OU broke a world record, having now achieved 40m downloads from iTunes U.  90% of these are streamed overseas and 70% go to mobile devices.  The OU currently averages 275,000 downloads a week and its latest offering is 60-Second Adventures in Thought: six animations voiced by David Mitchell that explain six famous thought experiments.


Learning Analytics

[Stephen Downes; Matthew Moran; TechCrunch]

Attention Please! is a good paper on learning analytics by Eric Duval that encourages educators to go beyond simply tracking where students visited and for how long: “one of the big problems around learning analytics is the lack of clarity about what exactly should be measured to get a deeper understanding of how learning is taking place”.

If Google is your analytics tool of choice, Kissmetrics offers its 2011 version of 50 Google Analytics Resources.  Or, if you’re a Facebook page owner or platform developer, you could investigate Facebook Insights for reporting and analysing trends within user growth and demographics, consumption of content and creation of content.

And if you want to know who’s doing what with their smart phones, Google has just launched Our Mobile Planet: a site that, “provides insights into smartphone usage and mobile attitudes. Use it to create custom charts that will deepen your understanding of the mobile consumer and support data driven decisions in your mobile strategy.”


Collaborative Tools for Study

[MindShift; Matthew Moran; TechCrunch; Slashdot]

Instead of the typical Facebook prompt, “What’s on your mind?” the app asks its users “What are you working on?”  Students can then join the live study sessions on that topic which can include video-conferencing and a “smart chat” function that allows you to type formulae in English which are then automatically translated into mathematical notation. also saves and archives study sessions so that people can search for answers in these.  A screen-sharing option is also coming soon.

The London School of Economics has published a guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities.  This includes general guidance on terminology and tweet styles plus more specific advice on using Twitter for research and teaching.

Google+ has moved from field trial to beta, which means we can all sign up for it.  It now boasts several new and improved features compared to the original, including search (for posts or people) and a much improved ‘hang out’ – video chat, which now incorporates public broadcast, screen sharing and integrated Sketch and Google Docs.  However, Chitika Insights reports that Google has lost over 60% of its active users on Google+, prompting suggestions that people simply wanted to see what it was like before going back to Facebook.


Truth, Lies and the Internet


A new report from Demos, Truth, Lies and the Internet, examines the ability of young people in Britain to critically evaluate information they consume online.  The report reviews current literature on the subject, and presents a new poll of over 500 teachers, showing that that the web is fundamental to pupils’ school lives but many are not careful, discerning users of the information they find.  This makes them vulnerable to the pitfalls of ignorance, falsehoods, cons and scams.


Government Launches New e-Learning Selection Service

[Virtual College]

The government has launched an online lifelong learning accounts service for adults who want to take up learning opportunities or develop new skills.  The site offers a skills diagnostic tool to identify interests, strengths and needs, localised course and job searches, a CV builder and an eligibility checker to identify any government funds available to support the user's learning.  It is hoped that 1m accounts will be opened by the end of the year.


Encyclopedia of Life

[Matthew Moran]

EOL’s version 2 site is now live, with a mission to “increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates and shares knowledge in an open, freely-accessible and trusted digital resource […] Expert curators ensure quality of the core collection by authenticating materials submitted by vetted content partners and individual contributors.”


Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

[Stephen Downes]

The Israel Museum’s new Digital Dead Sea Scrolls site provides access to five complete digitised scrolls: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll, plus short explanatory videos and background information on the texts and their history.  All five scrolls can be magnified so that users may examine texts in exacting detail.  Details invisible to the naked eye are made visible through ultra-high resolution digital photography shot at 1,200 mega pixels.  In addition, the Great Isaiah Scroll may be searched by column, chapter, and verse, and is accompanied by an English translation tool and by an option for users to submit translations of verses in their own languages.




This seems to have been a fertile month for e-learning lists, so take your pick…




And Finally…

From LTS’s confectionery correspondent, a Cambridge study of 114,000 adults showed that people who ate the most chocolate were 37% less likely to have developed cardiovascular disease and 29% less likely to have had a stroke than those who ate the least amount of chocolate. [Lara]

But if coffee’s your thing, research from UEL shows that drinking decaf boosts mood, vigour, attention, psychomotor speed and reward responsivity, so long as you think it's got caffeine in it.  [BPS]

I’m a doctor!  I haven’t blown my own trumpet in the previous 85 issues of this digest, but now seems a good occasion to do so as I have successfully completed an OU EdD.  So, if anyone wants chapter and verse on the effectiveness of different forms of content in e-learning tutorials, I’m your man.  There is the usual cast of thousands to thank, but I’d particularly like to single out whoever invented the staff fee waiver, without whom…


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