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

e-Learning Digest No 90 - Feb 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 February 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops


New iTunes U App and iBook Announcements

[TechCrunch; Jonathan Martyn; Mike Sharples; Yishay Mor; Mashable, Non Scantlebury]

Apple’s mystery ‘education event’ last month saw some significant announcements including: a new iTunes U app that provides access to over 500,000 free lectures, videos & books; the launch of iBooks 2, together with news that Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will sell US high-school textbook downloads for $14.99 each; and a free iBook Author tool, but only available for Mac OSX (hands-on review).

Apple’s 1hr video of the event is available online.  Key components (thanks to Jon Martyn) are: iBooks (circa 8–22 mins of presentation), iBooks Author (22–32 mins) and iTunes U (circa 47–56 mins).  The OU was one of 6 universities featured in the latter segment, although it was not mentioned that the OU provided 51 of the 100 initial courses (and, by the end of the launch day, accounted for five of the top 10 downloads).

After the initial wow, some concerns started to surface: is iBook Author OER compatible? (Patrick McAndrew); Apple may claim ownership of work created using iBook Author (Dan Wineman and Ed Bott); and whether glitzy iBooks (‘interactive TV documentaries’) will triumph over pedagogically sound ones (Seb Schmoller).


Digital Publishing

[Gill Gowans; Stephen Downes; Educause; MindShift]

The evolution of books into interactive, digital products is far from over, according to Henry Volans, head of digital publishing at Faber & Faber.  Speaking at the Independent Publishers Guild's digital quarterly meeting, Volans said there is plenty more scope for innovation in book-apps and eBooks.  Publishers are acutely aware of the threat from the wave of 99p competition, but they hope that quality will be their key weapon in the fight to retain and grow market share.

Wired reports on why education publishing is big business, suggesting that this might account for Apple’s growing interest.  The article notes that education publishers are much bigger than other media companies that attract more attention.  Pearson – the largest educational publisher – is far bigger and more profitable than AOL or The New York Times.  Outside education, Pearson also owns Penguin (the world’s second largest trade publisher), the Financial Times and 50% of The Economist.

And the latest data from Pew Internet shows that American e-Reader and tablet ownership almost doubled in the month over Christmas, rising from 10% to 19%.

A group of US universities has entered into a contract with McGraw Hill to create discounts for students on digital course materials.  This follows concerns at the extent to which publishers are now in the driving seat when it comes to eTextbook pricing and licensing, particularly given that the lucrative second hand textbook market could soon disappear.  Geoff Cain also blogs about similar doubts he has about the costs and licensing of commercial eTextbooks.

Educause has formed an eTexts Constituent Group to discuss the rapidly evolving domain of digital textbooks and to share ideas, analyses, experiences, and practical outcomes of using eTexts.

A new report, iLearn II: An Analysis of the Education Category of Apple's App Store, examines nearly 200 top-selling education category apps for Apple’s iPad and iPhone with the goal of understanding this market’s dynamics and trends.  The analysis highlights industry best practices and future opportunities for developers, educators and researchers to influence the education category.


Self e-Publishing

[TechCrunch; Yishay Mor; Edudemic; Zite]

iBook Author is a good tool, although it is probably aimed more at enthusiasts (teachers, etc) than professional users, but Inkling Habitat aims to fill that gap.  Habitat will enable publishers to easily deploy XML-based content, including multimedia, interactive quizzes, guided tours, 3-D exhibits and HD video.  It allows publishers to push updates to every target platform (including iPad and HTML5-based players) once, while automatically customizing layouts for each device.

If all you want to do is create ePubs rather than apps or iBooks, Yishay Mor suggests that Sigil might be the solution you need, and the Edudemic site offers an insight into the process of making your own textbook, plus links to some useful resources.

The Scribble Press free iPad app lets kids create and share their own books, using the app’s 50 story templates, over 500 drawing tools (markers, stamps, etc), layout tool, sticker collection and their own photos and imagination.  Books are private unless you elect to have them vetted and shared in the public gallery.  It will shortly also be possible to get printed copies made.


e-Learning Industry Reports

[Campus Technology; Epic; Ground Report; Skillsoft]

The annual NMC Horizon Report (copublished this year with Educause) focuses on the key technology areas likely to have a major impact on teaching and learning institutions within the next five years.  Six of these were identified: near-term - mobile apps and tablet computing; mid-term - game-based learning and learning analytics; and long-term – gesture-based computing and the 'internet of things' (“interconnected items in which the line between the physical object and digital information about it is blurred”).  The report also lists challenges which include institutional barriers to the adoption of new technologies and lack of digital literacy preparation among faculty.  If you don’t fancy registering and wading through the full report, an eight-page summary is also available.

Analysts Education Dynamics have released their annual e-learning index, based on prospective US student demand for online degrees and covering 3,400 degree programmes from more than 200 colleges and universities.  At bachelor’s level, demand has remained relatively unchanged with business degrees maintaining the largest percentage of market demand.  But business masters degrees (including MBA) have seen the most precipitous decline in demand as a percentage of market share, with education showing the greatest growth in demand.  Similarly at doctorate level, education is the largest field of study demanded by prospective students.

ASTD’s annual state of the industry report has just been published.  Evidence from 400+ US organisations suggests that employers spent $171.5 billion on employee learning in 2010, up from $125.8 billion in 2009, although learning hours per employee remained largely unchanged.  40.1% of formal learning hours were delivered via technology-based methods and this included a notable increase in mLearning.


Dramatic Growth of Mobile Data


Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update examines in detail the dramatic growth we’re seeing in the mobile Internet space, including the massive demands for mobile data, the growth of mobile video, and the rise of the smartphone as new gateway to the web.  Global mobile data more than doubled for the fourth year in a row during 2011, with video accounting for 52% of that traffic.  The report also concludes that the number of mobile devices will exceed world’s population by the end of this year.


Commerical e-Learning Developments

[The Guardian; Zite]

Pearson has bought a controlling stake in education firm TutorVista for $127m.  TutorVista provides technology and content to private and government schools, online tutoring to more than 10,000 students per month, a network of 60 centres across India delivering tuition courses and a full schools development service.  Pearson derives around 70% of group revenue from the education sector, and 65% of that currently comes from the US.

Software supplier Assima has acquired Kaplan Learning Technologies from Kaplan, Inc.  The deal covers all assets and intellectual property associated with the STT Trainer and Atlantic-Link product lines but excludes the PerformIT product line.


Public vs Private Education

[University World News; Stephen Downes]

William Leonard considers the different perspectives evident in public vs private education in the US, noting that, in 2007/08, the Apollo Group (University of Phoenix, etc) spent $800m on sales and marketing, against just $675m on teaching and classroom expenses.  He wonders whether the two worlds are showing signs of convergence, citing some specific US public sector trends: tenure is on the demise; part-time faculty is on the increase; a growing number of traditional institutions are using direct marketing tactics; and some institutions are launching ‘no-frills’ courses.

Derek Morrison reports on (and transcribes part of) a recent edition of Peter Day’s ‘World of Business’ on Radio 4.  The programme considered the business of education and included, “some pretty insightful perspectives about the advance of the private sector into all levels of education but also offers some thought provoking contributions particularly from people like Martin Bean.”


UK Salary Surveys

[Clive Shepherd; The Guardian]

UK learning and development recruitment agency, Blue Eskimo, has published its 2011 training and e-learning work and salary survey, based on responses from 813 clients.  Key findings include: 60% had not received a salary increase in the past year; daily rates for contractors are shifting downwards, with more people moving into the <£300/day bracket; 80% work longer hours than they are paid for; 53% receive a company pension but 30% receive no benefits.

The heads of UK elite universities were awarded an average pay rise of £9,700 (3.9%) last year, taking average earnings beyond £333,000.  Top of the form was Oxford's Prof Andrew Hamilton, who received a pay packet of £424,000.  The Guardian’s list of the top 13 salaries does not include Martin Bean, so I guess the Audi will have to last another year.



[Adrian Bickers; Liz Mallet]

MIT has announced its first free course that will “shatter barriers to education”.  An electronics course, beginning in March, will be the first prototype of an online project, known as MITx.  The interactive course can be studied and assessed completely online and is designed to be fully automated, with successful students receiving a certificate.


AI Professor Quits Stanford for Online Teaching Startup


Sebastian Thrun, one of the two professors who taught the recent Stanford AI course for which 160,000 online students signed up, has given up his tenured academic position to found a startup that will deliver low-cost, online, university-level education.  Udacity joins a growing number of tech-driven efforts (such as the Khan Academy and Floating University) to revolutionize the traditional classroom model.  “Having done this, I can't teach at Stanford again,” Thrun said. “You can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture to your 20 students, but I've taken the red pill and I've seen Wonderland.”


Online University Education in Canada

[Stephen Downes; Tony Bates]

The Canadian Virtual University consortium’s glass is definitely half-empty.  Its latest report, Online University Education in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities, finds that, “Unfortunately, online education, particularly in Canada, has often been perceived as a poor fit with education and training needs (which is ironic, given online education’s inherently flexible nature).”  The report also states that, “Canada has weak national innovation indicators” and, quoting Tony Bates, “…unlike nearly every other country in the OECD, Canada does not have a national strategy to support e-learning or the use of technology in teaching.  As a result Canada has lost its lead in e-learning and is slipping behind countries such as Australia and the UK.”

However, the University of Toronto’s Prof Ben Levin argues that what the education system needs is not more innovation, but tested and evaluated improvements.  In particular, he singled out technology as an area that had failed to lead to improvements in the educational system.  Similar sentiments came from a dean in a Canadian university who was heard to complain to a Director of Learning Technologies, “All you guys want to do is to keep finding things to keep you employed.  We don’t need innovation; we need stability in our teaching.”


Wolfram World

[Jonathan Fine; Chris Hough; Zite]

The OU has received a £1m grant from the Wolfson Foundation to help establish the Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory, an online resource for undergraduates and more experienced graduates at the cutting edge of practical science teaching.  The Lab will be a gateway to a range of scientific experiments and observations, many of which are developed by OU scientists.  Although operated entirely online, users will be able to access data from real physical instruments and equipment, enabling them to carry out authentic and rigorous science investigations.

The Wolfram Demonstrations Project currently contains over 7,000 interactive demonstrations (each defined as a ‘visualisation of a concept’) covering a wide range of topics from arts and business through to maths, technology and science.  They are written by the Mathematica community and the source code is freely available for use and adaptation.  The only downside is the need to install Wolfram’s CDF player

Also just launched is the Wolfram Education Portal (beta).  The portal currently contains a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive demonstrations and more, all built by Wolfram education experts.  You’ll need to sign up for a free account to get full access to all materials.


Learning Analytics

[Educause; Tony Bates]

Educause has released a new white paper, Analytics in Higher Education: Establishing a Common Language, which looks at the use of analytics in HE and, in particular, the multiple meanings and usage of similar terms as well as different terms with similar conceptual or functional definitions.  The paper aims to present the different descriptions of the various types of analytics being discussed in the academic and practitioner literature.

Tony Bates refers to a recent paper by Academic Impressions’ Daniel Fuchs on identifying students at high risk of drop-out or failure.  Vetting Early Alert Technologies includes advice from Jennifer Jones of Minnesota State University          about what to look for when introducing a software solution.  There is also a link to a second paper, Identifying At-Risk Students: What Data Are You Looking At? which considers effective use of the data once you have your system in place.

Blackboard is expanding field trials of a new learning analytics solution for Blackboard Learn.  This builds on a Blackboard Analytics tool that was launched last year and is already in use with over 150 HE institutions.


[Stephen Downes]

Jonathan Gray’s call to create an site has attracted some JISC funding.  A project will develop an open source platform called TEXTUS, which will enable users to create, manage and interact with collections of texts, and TEXTUS will power


Free Resources

[Educational Freeware; Zite; The Guardian; EmergingEdTech]

It’s an interesting sign of the times that the title of this item won’t set hearts a-flutter as much as it might have done 3-5 years ago.  Still, I’m sure this small collection will include something of interest…



  • 5-10 Mar is Open Education Week  [Janet Dyson].
  • OU staff can now use Videofinder to find and view more than 40 years of OU/BBC broadcast material.
  • Apple posted profits of $13.6bn for the last quarter, up 118% from the same period last year.  [BBC]
  • …in contrast to Nokia who, despite sales of ‘well over’ 1m Lumia phones, made a Q4 loss of €1m.  [TechCrunch]
  • The Guardian held a memory week last month and key messages, outcomes and useful resources are now available.  [BPS]
  • YouTube now sees 4 billion video views per day, a 25% increase over the past eight months.  [TechCrunch]
  • HTTrack is freeware that downloads entire websites, recursively building all directories and grabbing all image files.  [Zite]
  • CheckThis is a simple new micropublishing tool.  Imagine something bigger than a tweet but smaller than a blog.  [TechCrunch]
  • Adam Dachis reveals several useful things you can do with a long press on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.  [Lifehacker]
  • Jackie Gerstein’s Mobile Learning Reflections comprises 92 pages of aggregated blog posts about integrating m-Learning into the classroom.  [Liz FitzGerald]
  • ‘Research in Learning Technology’ has a call for papers on digital inclusion and learning open until 1 Mar.  [ALT]
  • Thailand is buying up to 900,000 tablet computers from China for its One Tablet per Child scheme.  [Zite]


And Finally…

[Lara Mynors]

BBC News asks about Trendfear, or whether you ever get a nagging fear that trends are passing you by?  Any article that cites Douglas Adams’s theory of new technology (everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal, anything created between birth and the age of 30 is incredibly exciting and creative, but whatever is invented after you've turned 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it) must be worth a read, and you might just learn about a few key newcomers.


Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

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