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e-Learning Digest No 91 - Mar 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 March 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops



[Wired Campus; Tony Bates; THE]

MITx’s first open class, Circuits and Electronics, began on 5 Mar.  Based on an introductory class offered to between 100 and 250 campus undergraduates, the course will help students make the transition from physics to electrical engineering and computer science.  Open students will get grades based on homework assignments, activities in a gaming-style virtual lab, and tests.  No MIT human intervention is planned - all interactions, responses and evaluation of submissions will be automated.

Tony Bates reflects on whether/how it will work, and whether it represents a welcome leap forward or just an online reinvention of the CAL and programmed learning of the 1970/80s?

Martin bean writes in THE about the developing world’s need for higher education and his assertion that this can be met by the digital delivery of open educational resources.

The Times Higher also discusses MITx as part of a wide ranging article which considers: “With novel credentials being developed and employers seeing the value of low-cost study based on open courseware, Jon Marcus asks if the bricks-and-mortar elite will end up on the wrong side of history.”


New iPad Launch


Apple’s next generation iPad was launched last week and goes on sale in the UK this Fri (16 Mar).  The new device features more pixels than you’ll know what to do with, faster graphics, a 5MP autofocus camera, voice recognition and 4G connectivity.  Prices range from £399 (16GB, wi-fi) to £659 (64GB, wi-fi and 4G).  The previous model will stay on sale at a reduced price, starting at £329 in a bid to, “make it more affordable for schools.”


Worldwide Student Numbers Forecast to Double by 2025

[University World News; The Telegraph]

The global number of students enrolled in higher education is forecast to more than double to 262 million by 2025, and more than half of these will be in China and India alone.  “Average annual growth in demand for international higher education between 2005 and 2025 is expected to exceed 3% in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central America and South America,” writes higher education consultant Bob Goddard.  As a result of this demand, the number of students seeking study abroad could rise to eight million – nearly three times more than today.

The number of full-time undergraduate courses on offer at UK universities has fallen by more than a quarter (27%) since 2006, according to a UCU report, Choice Cuts: How choice has declined in higher education, which finds that the number of undergraduate courses available has decreased from 70,052 in 2006 to 51,116 in 2012, despite an increase in student numbers.

‘Former Polys’ are 20 years old this month and their popularity and student numbers continue to grow.  They were helped by a recent announcement by David Willetts that 20,000 places have been removed from the HE system and redistributed: 9,643 places will be distributed to 35 former polys charging annual fees of less than £7,500 and 10,354 places will go to 155 FE colleges.


Pearson Sees Digital Publishing Income Beating Print in 2012

Pearson’s digital revenue grew by 18% to £2bn through 2011 and the publisher forecasts, “Revenues from digital and services businesses [are] expected to exceed revenues from traditional publishing businesses in 2012.”  Pearson-owned Penguin has sold 50 million apps and e-book since 2008 and the group reached 43 million students through digital learning services.  e-Books now make up 12% of its global (£125m) sales. “We expect this percentage to increase significantly again in 2012,” the publisher said.

Amazon has pulled more than 4,000 books from its e-shelves after publishers wouldn't budge for lower prices.  Google is cutting off partners in its e-book affiliates program because sales referrals are too low to be worthwhile.  Although e-book sales are rising, print still brings in more revenue for publishers because consumers expect e-books to be cheaper and so publishers can't charge as much for them as they might like.


How Important are Open eBook Standards to Universities?
[JISC; Pete Mitton; Wired Campus; ALT]

The ePub/eBook/iBooks debate continues.  Ben Showers writes on the JISC site about the effect of different (and open standards) on the university sector.  He also refers to a recent and very useful JISC paper, Digital Monograph Technical Landscape: Exemplars and Recommendations, which unpicks some of the technical and commercial landscape.

Inkling Habitat (mentioned last month) is attracting reasonable interest as a serious e-book authoring tool.  A video from the recent O'Reilly TOC Conference of Matt McGinnis’s presentation, The Death of the Page, the Dawn of Digital, is worth a view, but you might want to skip forward to about 7:00 to miss some of the introductory stuff.  Jenn Webb also reports from the conference about the e-Book revolution, what’s happened so far and where publishers expect/hope things will go. 

A free, open-source authoring contender is Booktype which, once installed on a Web server, allows teams of authors to work together to write and edit sections of books and chat with each other in real time about revisions.  The finished product can then be easily published on e-readers and tablets, or exported for print-on-demand 

Scott Hennessy writes of his experiences using Jutoh for mobile publishing.  Jutoh costs £24 per licence, runs on Windows, Linux and Mac and can also be carried on a USB stick.


Free Introductory Textbooks

[Tony Bates; Zite; Cult of Mac]

Rice University is offering online introductory textbooks for free, through the Hewlett/Gates-funded OpenStax College.  The books are peer reviewed and could save US students up to $90m a year, if adopted by university and college instructors.  In the next five years, OpenStax hopes to have free books for 20 of the most common college courses across a range of subjects.  Five are currently available, covering physics, biology, anatomy, physiology and sociology.

MIT OpenCourseWare and textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge have teamed up to provide free, high-quality textbooks to learners accessing three OCW Scholar courses: Principles of Microeconomics, Introduction to Psychology and Solid State Chemistry.  OCW Scholar courses include openly published course content (syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams) but are created specifically for independent learners, who typically have few additional resources available to them.

Apple is offering six free electronic books for developers.  Titles include iOS Application Programming, The Objective-C Programming Language and iOS Human Interface Guidelines.  Downloads are available via the iBookstore.


Samsung Learning Hub


Samsung has announced its own education service called Learning Hub, which it says will provide 6,000 textbooks and videos from 30 education providers across the world.  Content and features – including automatic scoring, note-taking abilities and learning management options – are initially aimed at the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 tablets, with smartphone support to follow.  Do we hear the sound of Apple running for the hills?  Probably not.


Google Play


And Google has announced the launch of Google Play, which brings together all of Google’s media offerings, including apps, music, movies and e-books, into one portal, with indications that audio books, magazines and journals may follow soon.


New President for Commonwealth of Learning

[University World News]

The Commonwealth of Learning has appointed its first female president.  Asha Kanwar, currently vice-president, will succeed Sir John Daniel when he steps down as president and CEO at the end of May.  Kanwar has more than 30 years of experience in teaching, research and educational administration.


Visual Impairment Support

[Wired Campus; Jonathan Fine; Slashdot; JE]

Florida State University has agreed to pay two blind students $75,000 each after they successfully argued that a maths course relied on e-learning systems that were inaccessible to people with disabilities.  The students could not access software that was used for homework and tests and the course also relied on inaccessible remote-control “clickers” that allow students to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures.

The BBC reports on the increasing provision of Braille in many walks of life, notably on packaging, signage and device interfaces.  There has also been a shift in emphasis in terms of what is provided; the RNIB’s Pete Osborne observes, “Manufacturers don't now say 'it'd be really nice if we could do Braille', they say we know we should, we need to know how.”  The article provides some useful examples of how Braille works and how blind people use it, including comments from David Blunkett and others.

Researchers at Georgia Tech University have built a free open-source app, BrailleTouch, that uses six large touch-screen buttons and speech synthesis to allow users to generate Braille text without needing to look at a the device's screen.  Early studies with visually impaired participants proficient in Braille demonstrated that users can input up to 32 words per minute with 92% accuracy.

The Connexions OER site has just made available two topics with content specifically optimised for blind students: Physics Concepts and Objected-Oriented Programming Concepts.


Nicholas Negroponte on Kids Learning by Themselves

[Stephen Downes]

Interesting fifteen-minute video from Nicholas Negroponte on the subject of personal learning, why some technologies that should be available are not, and what he hopes will happen as a result of placing 30 tablets loaded with e-books and educational software in a non-literate village in Somalia.


Latest and Greatest Apps

[TechCrunch; Zite; Agnes Kukulska-Hulme]

We heard last month how app downloads peaked in Dec, presumably due to the Christmas effect, but new data shows that downloads in Jan were even higher, with iOS up by 12% on the month.

Sonny Day’s Creative Can site lists 30 Cool Educational iPad Apps for Science Lovers, Kevin Whips suggests (one of many) Top 100 iPhone Apps and David Andrade has compiled a list of useful Android for Education resources and apps.

MIT has moved its Android App Inventor from closed test to open beta for users with a Google ID for log-in.  The service uses a graphical method of development whereby users drag functional blocks onto the editor screen, in much the same way as Scratch programs are created. 


App Data Privacy, or Not


Researchers at Cambridge University have been investigating information privacy provided by apps.  They developed an API to analyze 250,000 apps in the Android store, finding that 73% were free, 80% of those relied on targeted advertising as their main business model, and 70% of those were collecting data that is not relevant to the apps themselves.  They found examples of free apps that collected the user’s location, phone number, contacts, e-mails/sms, calendar, phone number and IMEI.


Cognition is Changing and so too Must Education
[The Atlantic; Tony Bates]

Elon University and Pew Internet have released a report, Imagining the Internet, based on surveys with more than 1,000 thought leaders who were asked to consider how the Internet and its environment are changing kids' cognitive capabilities.  By 2020, it is expected that Generation AO (Always-On) – brought up from childhood with a continuous connection to each other and to information – will have characteristics that differ greatly from their elders: multitasking will be the new norm; hyperconnectivity may be leading to a lack of patience and concentration; and that an always-on ethos may be encouraging a culture of expectation and instant gratification.

Tony Bates presents a useful student guide to studying online, with advice, tips and links to providers.  The OU gets a mention as the founder of, “modern distance learning.”  He also writes a separate piece bemoaning the underuse of video in post-secondary education, discussing the potential pedagogic benefits and roles of video and inviting readers to submit their own exemplars of good practice.


Reshaping JISC for the Future


The JISC Transition Group has published Reshaping JISC for the Future which “provides a blueprint for the implementation of the JISC Transition outlined in the Wilson Review” and contains 35 recommendations for the future.


HP Institute

[Donald Taylor]

Hewlett Packard has launched the HP Institute, an academic partnership programme with UK schools, colleges and universities to deliver a curriculum that will improve the IT skills of more than 20,000 people over the next four years.  “Customer and channel partners tell us that they are experiencing a growing shortage of job-ready IT professionals with the right skills to grow and innovate within our businesses,” commented HP’s Nick Wilson.  “We are working with education to continuously enhance the talent pool of graduates with the precise skills and experience businesses need most to help them succeed today and in the future.”


The World’s Most Innovative University?

[Avril Jamieson]

Who made it onto the list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies?  Well, the top three were Apple, Facebook and Google, but coming in at number 12 was Southern New Hampshire University “for relentlessly re-inventing Higher Ed online and off”.  The university has seen rapid growth in the past 10 years and President Paul LeBlanc hopes that by 2014 SNHU will boast the country’s biggest online not-for-profit education system.




And Finally…

[Nigeria Leadership]

From what must have been the business case to end all business cases, the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited claims that the use of satellite technology and other ICT multimedia solutions to deliver e-Learning to all the 774 Local Government Areas of the country will create 1.9 million jobs within the next five years.  MD, Tiamasaniyu Ahmed-Rufai, said that it would save the country $5bn annually, derivable from the penetration of indigenous software products services.

And don’t forget, you too could share in some of that $5bn.  Simply send your bank account details and passwords…

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