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e-Learning Digest No 95 - Jul 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 July 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.


BPP to Offer Healthcare Degrees

[Matthew Moran]

Private provider BPP, best known for offering business, accountancy and law programmes, is set to offer degrees to the health sector.  The company is launching a School of Health and will offer courses in psychology and nursing, starting this autumn, with a three-year degree priced at £15,000 or a fast-track two-year programme at £12,000.  BPP’s Carl Lygo said, “We have some exciting growth plans for the next five years, which include expanding into other sectors, increasing our range of programmes and providing highly flexible methods of study.”  However, UEL’s Prof Patrick McGhee is one of many following this on Twitter and he notes that many of the BPP health-sector courses do not seem to be aiming for recognition by professional bodies.


Private Providers to Compete Directly With Universities on Places


In its response to the public consultation on the HE White Paper, the government says it will create a “level playing field” without primary legislation.  This will allow private providers to compete directly with universities for undergraduate places, operating under the same controls on the number of students accessing public loans, and the same quality assurance regime, as the rest of the sector.  The number of students receiving publicly funded loans to attend private providers will no longer be uncapped, although David Willetts noted that providers currently accounted for “less than 1 per cent” of the student loans pot.  “I don't think existing providers will lose out,” he said.

However, concerns have been expressed by UCU and UUK that ministers are “falling over themselves” to approve degree and diploma-level courses at private colleges in England.  The Student Loans Company checks course descriptions against information on courses in the public domain, but David Willetts said in a parliamentary written answer that such checks did not cover the quality of education provided.  A total of 403 courses were approved in 2011-12, up by 77% from the previous year, with one college having 98 courses approved by officials in just a single day.


Gates Support for MOOCs

[Wired Campus; eLearn Magazine; Pete Mitton; Nick Watson; Audrey Watters]

The Gates Foundation has announced $9m in grants to support new approaches to HE, including its first contribution to MOOCs.  Specifically, the Gates Foundation is giving $1m to MIT for its MITx project to support the teaching of low-income students who will use MITx materials plus traditional classroom time at their own institution for additional exercises and to get help when they’re stuck.  “It’s a test to see how much can students get from what’s in the MITx course, and what do they need to get supplemented ... and what’s the best way to support faculty in the blended environment,” said Gates’ Josh Jarrett.  The foundation is also giving $500k to the University of the People, which uses volunteer professors to teach online courses that are free to students.

(Of course, not everyone is a fan of MITx.  Dan Butin explains in eLearn Magazine how MIT got it wrong and they should really have done.)

San Francisco-based UniversityNow raised $17.3m in funding to help create a network of affordable online colleges for adults; this includes a $300k research grant from the Gates and Hewlett Foundations.  The company’s New Charter University charges $199 per month for as many courses as students can take at one time, including books.  Students have access to individual student advisers and subject-matter experts and are assessed on competencies - courses can only be completed once the system determines they are ready to pass the final exam.

Also making the news, although they got their Hewlett funding a while back, is the Peer-to-peer university (P2PU) - an online institution where students learn together and support each other, at no charge, using materials found on the Web.  P2PU began offering courses in 2009 and now has about 33,000 registered users, with about 1,700 joining each month.  Courses, are offered in five languages and typically last six weeks.

Audrey Watters notes that the Khan Academy claims to have delivered over 168,000,000 lessons, although she queries what that means in terms of learning quality, noting that McDonalds famously claims to have served “over 200 billion”.  She also questions our current obsession with badges and wonders just who benefits from them.

Finally, if you’re done with MOOCs, Seb Schmoller now invites you to consider whether Mass Online Tutoring Systems (MOTS) might be the next big thing.


Free Access to British Scientific Research Within Two Years

[The Guardian]

The Government will today announce plans to make publicly funded scientific research available for anyone to read for free by 2014.  Under the scheme, research papers that describe work paid for by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world.  The move reflects a groundswell of support for open access publishing among academics who have long protested that journal publishers make large profits by locking research behind online paywalls.  “If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn't be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it,” said David Willetts.


Tablet Heaven

[ZDnet; TechRadar; Web Citation; Stephen Downes]

Although there seem to be mixed messages about a UK release date for Google’s new 7” Nexus tablet, sometime in July looks certain.  With prices of £159 (8GB) and £199 (16GB) – both including £15 Google Play credit – it looks like a clear (if slightly smaller) threat to the iPad in the consumer marketplace.

Microsoft has announced Surface, its new Windows 8-based tablet, although launch dates and pricing are not yet clear.  There were initial suggestions that they may have irritated other manufacturers by introducing their own competing device, and that they may confuse consumers who try to decide what the difference is between Intel and ARM-based models.  However, ZDnet cites three international ‘juries’ of CIOs, all of whom see Surface as a realistic iPad rival.

Morgan Stanley’s Tablet Landscape Evolution paper offers a detailed analysis of the hardware, software and supply chain landscape, arriving at three key takeaways: (1) tablet shipments in the last two years were over 20% higher than MS previously estimated and purchase intentions indicate shipments of 133 million and 216 million in 2012 and 2013; (2) survey responses suggest 25% of users expect to buy Windows 8 tablet, with MS Office being a key feature in that decision; and (3) pricing is the key variable that will determine the success of Microsoft and its partners and there is potential for MS to heavily discount Win 8 + Office, charging $82-114 before OEMs would lose money on tablets.

The Pearson Foundation also notes astonishing growth, and that ownership by US college students has tripled in the past 12 months so that a quarter of them now own such a device.  Research by Nielsen uncovers notable differences on how tablets are used: 59% of smartphone owners use their devices while shopping and running errands and 47% use them while commuting.  These figures fall significantly for tablet owners, to 21% and 20% respectively – it seems that tablet owners spend a majority of their time on the devices when they’re either watching TV or lying in bed.


Insights into Corporate Moodle

[eLearnity; Zite]

eLearnity’s David Wilson has published a detailed report offering Insights into Corporate Moodle.  It looks at Moodle’s origins, aims, evolution, use by the corporate sector and issues arising.  It also includes (on p28) a comprehensive case study of the OU, its use of Moodle and its role in shaping and developing the core system.

Moodle HQ has announced that further development of its iOS/Android MyMoodle apps will cease, to be replaced by a new modular Mobile Moodle app developed in HTML5+Phonegap.

The Moodle community has developed a plugin for Moodle 2.3 which allows users to save their files into Microsoft’s SkyDrive directly from Moodle.


HE Cheating Disputes Quadruple


Complaints by students against universities in England and Wales have increased by 20%, and expectations are that this will increase further next year when higher fee-payers are taken into account.  Most complaints concerned academic grades, assessments and appeals, with 10% relating to alleged breaches of contract between universities and students and 6% relating to disputes over plagiarism.


EU Urges Better Deal for Disabled Students

[University World News]

An EC policy paper has encouraged EU member states to work harder at helping disabled students to gain university places and good degrees, with data showing that their life chances improve considerably with higher education.  'Education and Disability/Special Needs – Policies and practices in education, training and employment for students with disabilities and special educational needs in the EU' was compiled by a French network of experts but refers to UK data that 75% of disabled adult men with degrees are in work, whereas 38% of those without are not.  For able-bodied adult males, those figures are 93% and 85% respectively.


Generation Y Researchers Fail to Use New Technologies

[Jonathan Fine]

Researchers of Tomorrow, published by the British Library and JISC, is based on a survey of more than 17,000 PhD students over three years.  Sixty Generation Y (born between 1982-94) were followed in greater depth and, despite being technologically savvy, they were found to know little about information available in new formats such as online databases, e-journals and repositories, or how to access it; many also believed their supervisors would not approve of citing open-access papers.  Although Generation Y students use some online tools such as bookmarking and RSS web feed alerts, very few employ collaborative technologies such as wikis, blogging and Twitter in their research, despite using such tools in their personal lives.


Learning in a Digital Age


JISC has released Learning in a Digital Age, the latest in its Effective Practice series.  The publication signposts some of the effective higher education practice taking place in the UK and addresses the benefits and challenges that arise in a digital age.  It includes 11 case studies and is aimed at individuals in FE and HE who have an interest in lifelong learning.


Condition 1 Immersive Video


Condition1 is an immersive video technology and, although I didn’t fully understand the description on the TechCrunch website, it seemed intriguing enough to investigate further – and it was.  Imagine watching a video on an iPad, but also being able to look left, right, up and down by tilting the device (or swiping).  I can’t do it justice here in words but I recommend you download the free iOS app: Popular Science @ ATLAS Immersive Video Tour of the Large Hadron Collider.  There are also several other demos on the C1 site.


Automated Short Answer Question Scoring

[Audrey Watters]

The Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring a competition to develop a scoring algorithm for student-written short-answer responses, in a bid to try and shift computerised assessment away from multiple-choice tests.  Entrants are given access to graded short answer responses and their corresponding prompts, so they can build, train and test their scoring engines against a wide field of competitors.  Success is based upon how closely they can align their scores to those of human expert graders.


Free eBooks

[Campus Technology; Wired Campus] is offering its digital textbooks free of charge to college students, funded by including advertising within the pages of the books.  For example, Strategic Management, a 52-page book, includes advertising for master's level programs and job recruitment ads.  Utah State’s Larry Walther notes that most books required for accounting courses cost around $200, adding, “This is one of the ways technology will lower the cost of educational materials.”

Similar, but different, is start-up, which asks users to pledge money toward “ungluing” previously published works, thus allowing them to become free and legal downloads.  Ungluing “is not really buying the rights, and it’s not really buying the license,” said founder Eric Hellman, “It’s compensating the rights-holder in exchange for them releasing something with Creative Commons.”  The company is starting with just five potential titles, including “Oral Literature in Africa”, by anthropologist and former OU professor, Ruth Finnegan. 

A new report from Pew Research finds that 62% of (US) respondents didn’t know if their library offered eBook lending (around three quarters of US libraries do) and only 11% had actually borrowed an eBook from their library.  Some 75% reported that an online bookstore was their first port of call if they wanted to read a particular book.


Academic Research Inefficient at Shaping the World

[Jonathan Gudgion]

Matt Welsh was a professor of Computer Science at Harvard but has more recently moved to Google, where he now finds himself questioning the practical value of academia because he, “…never built anything real until I moved to Google, after nearly ten years of college and grad school, and seven years as a faculty member.  And by ‘real’, I don't just mean a prototype that we developed for a couple of years and then threw away as soon as the papers got published.  In effect, I ‘wasted’ millions of dollars in funding, and countless man-years of development effort by my students and lab staff – apart from a bunch of papers, nothing of practical value came out of my entire academic research career.  What would the world be like if all of this hard work had actually translated into real, shipping products that people could use?  How could we change the structure of academic research to close the gap between playing in the sandbox and making things real?”



[Stephen Downes]

Conceptboard offers a blank work space (like an online whiteboard) on which you can create, review and discuss your ideas and concepts.  You can upload any document (e.g. PDF, PPT, Word, images) to work on, or just start to scribble.  There are different pricing plans but the free option allows you to work with up to five guest collaborators.




And Finally…

[Chris Hough]

Australian online retailer Kogan is introducing a 6.8% surcharge on its products for users who it detects are still using “antique browser” IE7.  The company says it now takes a lot of effort to get pages to display correctly in IE7 and, “It’s not only costing us a huge amount, it’s affecting any business with an online presence, and costing the Internet economy millions.”



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Gráinne Conole
11:45am 16 July 2012

Great thanks for this Jim - keep 'em coming! Really useful resources! Have tweeted and fb'd

Jim Ellis
4:12pm 16 July 2012

Thanks Grainne - hope all is well at the Zoo.

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