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e-Learning Digest No 94 - Jun 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 June 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops

The HEA runs various workshops around the country that are too numerous to list here.  A full events calendar is available on the HEA site.


Pearson Offers Exams for Udacity Students

[Seb Schmoller; Wired Campus]

Udacity has added five new ‘premiere’ courses to its line up and is now partnering with Pearson VUE to offer assessment.  Students will be able to sit secure exams for “a nominal fee” at one of 4000 VUE centres in 165+ countries, the aim being to make success on a Udacity course count towards a qualification that is recognised by employers.  Last month, Pearson acquired testing company Certiport, adding a further 12,000 authorised certification and testing centres to its portfolio.

Lifehacker ‘University’ list 30+ free online university courses (including 3 from the OU) that, “anyone with a little time and a passion for self-growth can audit, read, and ‘enrol’ in these courses for their own personal benefit.”

And is it then possible to turn all your open and lifelong learning into a ‘degree’?  New venture Degreed intends to offer this as a free service.

Finally, the New York Times is calling time on its foray into online education which began in 2007.  Spokeswoman Linda Zebian said, “We’re looking at what we’re doing in education, and online education specifically, to decide what we want to do in the future.”  In other words, whoever would have predicted that organisations would start giving this away for free?


Former Kaplan Exec Launches Civitas Learning


‘Big data’, predictive analytics and recommendation engines are transforming the way we buy products, play games and watch movies.  Civitas Learning plans to offer the same service for education and it has raised $4.1M in funding to help it do so.  Civitas will offer a service that combines student demographic, behavioural and academic info with complex analysis and data modelling to let institutions build and make sense of their data.  They are working with universities, community colleges and proprietary schools to build what it claims is already the largest cross-institutional data set in the industry, with over one million student records and more than seven million course records already on file.


Threshold for a ‘University’ Lowered to 1,000 Students


The government is set to push ahead with plans to create a new generation of universities by lowering the qualifying threshold for university title to 1,000 students as a way of making it “easier for new providers to enter the sector”.  At present, an institution must have at least 4,000 FTE higher education students, of whom at least 3,000 are studying for a degree, before it can apply for university title, a status awarded by the Privy Council.  Such a reduction does not require any changes to legislation; however, the proposed expansion of private provision via the opening of degree-awarding powers to non-teaching bodies will require legislation.


McGraw-Hill Want to Buy Your Ed Tech

[Matthew Moran]

McGraw-Hill is getting scarily benevolent.  During a presentation for reporters last month about adaptive learning and e-books, President Brian Kibby, frequently referred the growing number of start-ups, noting, “I encourage start-ups in this space because I’d like to acquire you and partner with you” and, “the more ideas that come into this space, the better off the student is going to be.”  As for players that are resistant to new and different models?  “I think they’re a little foolish,” he said.  “I think they need to try anything and be a little bold.”


Moglue Lets Anyone Create and Publish Interactive eBooks


Moglue aims to let users create and publish content-rich, interactive ebooks without programming skills or distribution power.  The company offers a desktop app for ebook creation and an ebook store on iOS for users who just want to browse and consume content.  The MoglueBuilder beta has so far been downloaded by more than 20,000 creators and this provides a drag-and-drop interface to create and directly publish eBooks to MoglueBooks without the need for programming.


Open Content Licensing for Educators

[Tony Bates; THE; University World News; Wired Campus]

UNESCO’s World Open Educational Resources Congress will be held from 20-22 Jun in Paris and, to coincide with this, the OER Foundation will be hosting a free online course – open content licensing for educators – that runs from 20 Jun-3 Jul and is designed for educators and students who want to learn more about open education resources, copyright, and creative commons licenses.

The EU is set to throw the weight of its €80bn research funding programme behind open-access publishing, according to Times Higher Education.  A pilot under way in seven areas of its current funding programme will be extended to become a mandate across all peer-reviewed research in the new scheme, which will cover fields ranging from particle physics to social science.  An EU official indicated that for researchers receiving funding from its programme between 2014 and 2020, open-access publishing “will be the norm”.

London-based academic publisher Versita plans to publish 100 ‘emerging science’ journals this year as part of its open access programme.  CEO Jacek Ciesielski said, “The journal editors hail from the world’s most prestigious universities and research institutes, such as Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge and the Max Planck Institute … One of the main reasons for this outstanding support is the open access publishing model”.

PeerJ is a new open access journal - focussing on biological and medical sciences - for which authors can pay a “modest fee” ($99-$259) to buy lifetime rights to publish their work.  However, membership alone doesn’t guarantee publication; all articles must go through peer review and meet a basic standard of scientific quality.  PeerJ leaves the rights in authors’ hands and gives them control over when and how to share preprints of their articles. 

And the Access2Research online petition is urging the Obama administration to require that work supported by taxpayer money be accessible online.  In its first three days, around 13,000 people had signed and, according to the White House site’s rules, if a petition gets 25,000 signatures within 30 days, it goes to the president’s chief of staff and will get a response from the White House.


Italian University Switches to English

[Ian Blackham]

One of Italy's leading universities - the Politecnico di Milano - has announced that from 2014 most of its degree courses will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian.  “We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language,” says the university's rector, Giovanni Azzone. 

Several French universities are expected to follow suit.  No, only joking…


Movies, TV Shows, Songs and Textbooks

[Stephen Downes]

David Wiley has been number-crunching and highlights some massive inconsistencies in the costs of access to different online media:

  • Netflix – $7.99/month for access to 20,000 movies and TV shows
  • Spotify – $9.99/month for access to 15 million songs
  • CourseSmart – $20.25/month for access to a single biology textbook

He notes the obvious but sad fact that, “One textbook costs more than the entire output of the film, television, and music industries combined.”  But for how much longer?


Sainsbury’s Buys HMV’s 64% Stake in Anobii for £1


Troubled retailer HMV is selling its 64% stake in e-book retailer Anobii to Sainsbury’s for the princely sum of £1.  This will give Sainsbury’s a jump start into the e-book market, allowing it to compete more directly with Tesco, which has its own e-books portal and resells devices like the Kindle.  It also gives Sainsbury’s a window for international expansion: Anobii currently has 600,000 customers — not just in the UK but internationally.


Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

[Stephen Downes]

Connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Stephen’s latest eBook, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, is a collection of eight years’ worth of blog posts, essays and transcripts from presentations in the field of connectivism and its implications for learning.


Data Journalism Handbook

[Seb Schmoller]

The data journalism handbook is a free online resource, written by practitioners, that aims to be, “a useful resource for anyone who thinks that they might be interested in becoming a data journalist, or dabbling in data journalism.”  It’s very readable (no, it’s not a stats textbook) and it includes many valuable case studies and lessons learned.


Google Knowledge Graph

[Tim Seal; TechCrunch; Stephen Downes]

Google hopes to improve search accuracy and relevance by rolling out Knowledge Graph, which uses a database of over 500m commonly searched-for items.  However, as CNET’s Rafe Needleman notes, users are only likely to benefit if they search for “things” (he cites TV shows and famous people as good examples, but suggests that Wikipedia might offer more information), whereas searching for concepts, non-proper nouns and companies invokes a standard Google search.

Not to be outdone, Yahoo has launched Yahoo Axis which offers web search outside the main browser in an expandable black lozenge.  There’s also a companion iOS app which can sync bookmarks between your computer and mobile.

If you prefer your searches to be social affairs, check out Microsoft’s ‘experimental’ social networking site called, which it describes as, “…an experiment in open search.  That means your searches on are viewable by other users and will also be available to third parties.”  The service seems to have borrowed features and approaches from Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Grockit Launches Learnist, a Pinterest for Education
[Audrey Watters]

Grockit is a social learning company that provides an online test prep service for students taking SATs and other similar forms of tests.  The company is now trialling Learnist which it describes as “a way for anyone to share what they know.”  Users will be able to pull together blog posts, music, videos, images, podcasts, etc, which can be annotated, sequenced and assembled into lessons.  Learnings can be pushed to a user’s Facebook timeline and they can choose to follow people as well as topics.


Delivering Web to Mobile


Mark Power has just released a JISC Observatory paper, Delivering Web to Mobile, which  looks at the growth of mobile, the state of the Web and gives an overview of approaches to delivering content and services optimised for the mobile context. This includes approaches to Web design for responsive sites, leveraging access to device functions and capabilities and the use of Web technologies to build mobile applications.


Sixty Seconds in Social Media

[Tim Seal; TechCrunch; BPS]

I’m starting to wonder if infographics are getting a bit overdone and contrived, but this one from Alltop is fairly straightforward and shows visually the sorts of social media traffic that occurs during a sixty-second period.

More specific data on Twitter use comes from Pew Internet’s latest survey which shows that 15% of online US adults say that they use Twitter and 8% do so daily.  For African-Americans those figures rise notably to 28% and 13%.

And two separate studies of Facebook profiles compared photos used by US and Asian students, whether studying at home or abroad.  They found there was a significant association between cultural background and style of picture, with users originally hailing from Taiwan being more likely to have a zoomed-out picture with some background context, whilst US users were more likely to have a close-up (and their ‘smile intensity’ tended to be greater).


Reflection on the Launch of the Ufi Charitable Trust

[Seb Schmoller]

Seb Schmoller posts about last month’s launch of the £50m UfI charitable trust and then reminisces about how UfI/LearnDirect came about and whether the taxpayer got a good return on their £1.5bn investment.  My own UfI experience was as an e-learning developer, commissioned to design and produce a CAL programme on ICT for small business managers.  However, our first design was rejected outright until we removed all technical terms and jargon on the grounds that they might cause confusion and impede learning.  Hmm.


Report Shows Hybrid Learning Has Same Outcomes as Classroom

[Tony Bates]

Tony Bates flags another research study that finds no significant difference between different modes of learning.  He applauds the rigour with which it was conducted but thinks the question to ask is not ‘Is one mode of teaching better than the other?’ but ‘Under what conditions?’  He concludes, “It’s good to have some real research being done in this area.  It’s a pity though that it didn’t take account of years of past experience of media research.  Different questions and a different research design might have resulted in something more useful.”


Build Your Responsive Open Learning Environment

[Alex Mikroyannidis]

The ROLE project featured in an eLC workshop earlier this year.  If you’d like to learn more about designing your own widgets and how you can build your personalised learning environment, all you have to do is register for the PLE conference on 11 Jul in Aveiro, Portugal, and join Alex & Co their interactive workshop.


Learning Technology Benchmark Survey

[Towards Maturity]

The sixth Towards Maturity Benchmark Study has just been launched, so why not join the 1800 organisations that have already taken part in the largest learning technology benchmark in Europe?  On completion you will receive a complimentary paper entitled 101 Tips for Success, plus a free personalised company benchmark report.


Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary Project

[Wired Campus]

David Livingstone kept a field diary during his 1871 expedition to Africa but, low on paper and ink, the explorer had resorted to writing on newspaper sheets using ink made from berries.  This has faded over time, but the Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary Project team has illuminated the text with different wavelengths of light to create 6 or 8 different images for each page.  That allowed team members to promote or fade out different features, making about 99% of Livingstone’s handwriting legible.  The “Livingstone Spectral Images Archive” provides Creative Commons access to the images, transcriptions, and metadata the project has created, no strings attached.


Colin Powell’s 13 Rules For Leadership

[Elliott Masie]

Elliott Masie is busy planning his Learning 2012 conference (21-24 Oct in Orlando, since you ask) and one of this year’s keynoters is Gen Colin Powell.  As a taster, Powell offers his 13 rules for leadership and life, including:

  • It ain't as bad as you think.  It will look better in the morning
  • Get mad, then get over it
  • Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it
  • Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier




And Finally…

[Open Culture]

Should higher education be free or paid for?  On or off line?  Solitary or collaborative?  Father Guido Sarducci doesn’t care – he wants to set up a five minute university to teach what an average college graduate knows after five years from graduation.



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