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e-Learning Digest No 97 - Sep 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
17 September 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.


MOOCs, MOOCs and More MOOCs

[Pete Mitton; Wired Campus; Zite; Stephen Downes; Inside Higher Ed]

It was only a matter of time.  edX has reached an agreement for Pearson to provide final exams in a global network of invigilated test centres in a move which the edX president will give their courses “real world value”.  As well as providing supervised exam centres Pearson will also authenticate the identity of online learners.

The World Education University plans to open its virtual doors towards the end of Oct with 150 roll-on-roll-off courses.  Enrolment begins with a ‘thinking style test’ which determines how WEU’s AI systems will present information to students.  Courses are free, but are subsidised by advertising, enforced answering of occasional marketing questions and consumer surveys.  According to co-founder Scott Hines, “I think we're either going to be an incredible global phenomenon or we'll crash and burn hard.”

The Gates Foundation has announced that it will award as many as 10 grants of up to $50,000 each for MOOCs in what have traditionally been, “high-enrolment, low-success introductory-level courses.”

Students taking Coursera’s free online courses have reported dozens of incidents of plagiarism.  One professor has now posted a plea to his 39,000 students to stop plagiarising and Coursera's leaders are now considering the use of plagiarism-detection software in the future.  The courses rely on students grading and offering comments on the work of fellow students; “I just graded my second batch of peer essays and was saddened to find one of them was lifted from Wikipedia,” wrote one student in a discussion forum, whilst another argued, “This cheating hurts everyone who is trying to take part in this class and learn with integrity.”  [Addendum: Coursera has now added an ‘Honor Code’ checkbox to its grading submission page].

Udacity has cancelled a planned course saying the lectures and materials it had prepared on the topic did not live up to its quality standards.  Logic and Discrete Mathematics was slated to start in June; at first Udacity announced that it would be delayed a few weeks, but last month they said they would “not be launching this course.”  Founder, Sebastian Thrun, said, “We have an enormous respect for our students’ time and don’t want to release anything that wouldn’t meet our bar.”

Amara, a crowd source subtitling platform that engages volunteers from around the world to translate online videos (and has already added more than 200,000 subtitles in 100 different languages) has announced that it’s being adopted by Coursera and Khan Academy, to make academic video content globally accessible.

The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning is an initiative by Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), who have collectively amassed 268 English-language online courses and made them freely available, thus giving access to 10,000+ video lectures covering a range of subjects, but predominantly biased towards science and technology.

They do things differently in Maine.  Welcome to the first LOOC – capped at a max of 7 free students.  According to Provost Michael Sonntag, “Students are not paying, but they are getting the full experience […] If they want to write every paper and take every test, our faculty members have agreed to give them feedback.”


Cal State Uni Partners With Pearson for Online Program

[Tony Bates]

Pearson is partnering with California State University to provide Cal State Online (for existing paying students), which will launch in Jan 13.  CSU has 23 campuses, approximately 427,000 students and 44,000 staff, and awards about 99,000 degrees each year.  Cal State Online will use a common platform (Pearson’s cloud-based LearningSystem with inbuilt data analytics), the EQUELLA digital content repository, course development and instructional design services, and lead generation, marketing and enrolment services. Cal State Online will use Pearson’s academic training and consulting services to provide additional support to instructors.


Tablets, Tablets and More Tablets


Amazon has launched a new range of Kindle Fire tablets and announced UK availability.  The 7” Kindle Fire HD with 16GB of storage will cost £159, and the lower-end Kindle Fire will be £129; both are available from 25 Oct.  There will also be a 9” Fire HD, but only in the US.

Kobo has unveiled a new range of e-book readers which, along with its existing Touch model, will give a UK line-up priced from £60 to £190.  The new range comprises the 5” screen Mini, the 6” Glo (with built-in backlight), the 7” Arc (an Android internet/multimedia tablet) and the existing Touch.  This appears to give UK users the following 16GB tablet choices:

  • iPad2 (9.7”) at £329
  • Google Nexus (7”); Samsung Galaxy Tab2 (7”, 8GB only) at £199
  • Kobo Arc (7”) at £189
  • Kindle Fire HD (7”) at £159

Having been available in the US for 3 years, Barnes & Noble is finally launching its Nook eReader in the UK.  The device will be available this autumn, along with around 2.5m digital titles.  The price has yet to be confirmed, but the cheapest US version currently retails at $99 (£63), compared with £89 for a UK Kindle.


GoNote £149 Android Touchscreen Laptop

[TheNextWeb; TechRadar]

GoNote is a £149 Android laptop with a 10” touchscreen, 8GB storage, Wi-Fi, 6hr battery, webcam, Kingsoft Office suite and more than 400,000 apps available from Google’s Play Store.  It launches in the next few weeks and is aimed at UK students.

At the opposite end of the scale is Sony’s Vaio Duo 11, due out next month.  This is a slidy-flippy notebook/tablet with keyboard, 11” display, Windows 8 and high-end Intel processors.  It’s powerful and well made, but it won’t be cheap.


One Laptop per Child Announces XO-4 Notebook


One Laptop Per Child has released further details of its forthcoming XO-4 Touch, planned for release in Q1 2013.  The device will be a notebook with a keyboard and a touch-sensitive 7” 1200x900 display.  Inside will be a Marvell ARMADA 2128 processor, 8GB of storage, 2GB of memory, an accelerometer, wi-fi and HDMI, SD and USB slots.  No word yet on pricing.

However, Michael Horn, writing in Forbes, reports on the Peruvian government’s five year initiative costing more than $200m to equip 800,000 of its public school students with low-cost laptops through the One Laptop per Child initiative.  The purpose was to use digital technology to fight poverty by boosting student learning and yet the experiment is now widely assessed as having been a failure.  Horn notes that simply throwing technology at education does little to improve it (e.g. the recent interactive whiteboard craze in our schools); transformations occur when technology, “…has been implemented in a new learning model”.


Free Textbooks from OpenStax

[Wired Campus]

I’ve just freely downloaded a high quality, 1200 page, university level physics textbook (with a choice of low or high resolution images) from Rice University’s OpenStax College.  This is currently one of just two available books, but more than 13,000 users have downloaded them in their first 10 weeks since launch.  Students can also buy print versions or purchase copies with add-ons (such as homework sets) and it is this aspect, plus grants from Hewlett, Gates and others, that is funding the project.  Three more books (covering anatomy and biology) are planned in the next few months and a further 20 will feature in a Phase 2.  OpenStax hopes to save one million students a total of $95m within five years.


Interactive Design Institute

[Donald Clark]

The Interactive Design Institute claims to be the UK’s leading provider of online qualifications in art & design.  Donald Clark has visited them and was impressed by what he saw, leading him to compile 7 reasons why online degree students outperform University campus-based students, most of which related to the quality of the material, the staff and the feedback to students.


Government Invests £10m to Help Universities Move to Open Access


A £10m Government investment has been announced by David Willetts to help universities with the transition to open access to publicly-funded research findings.  The investment will be made to 30 institutions receiving funding through Research Councils and UK higher education funding councils, enabling them to kick-start the process of developing policies and setting up funds to meet the costs of article processing charges (APCs).  Willetts said, “This extra £10 million investment will help some of our universities move across to the open access model.  This will usher in a new era of academic discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of research to drive innovation and growth.”


Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators

[University World News]

OECD’s 2012 Education at a Glance report has just been released.  It’s comprehensive stuff (the highlights alone run to 91 pages) that compares and contrasts individual countries and political/economic groupings (OECD, G20, EU) in terms of education levels, student numbers, costs, benefits, the school environment and equity of access to education.  There’s such a lot of detail, it’s difficult to find the key take-aways, although I did eventually find a useful four-page summary.


Freedom Stick


Michigan Dept of Education’s Freedom Stick is a 1.2GB free download that unzips into a 4GB suite of about 50 productivity and disability tools that run from a USB drive.  The suite includes OpenOffice, the Balabolka Text-To-Speech system, screen magnifiers and accessible browsers, plus other useful tools such as Audacity, a scientific graphing calculator, drawing tools, media players, password manager and file recovery utility


Fleksy Keyboard App


Fleksy is an impressive new keyboard app which uses a remarkable amount of interpretation to predict words or autocorrect common mistypings (e.g. hitting a key next to the required one).  It is also possible to hide the keyboard but still type on the positions of the keys, thus giving a full screen display.  Fleksy was initially conceived for visually impaired users, but it is receiving favourable comments from sighted users – and their 2:40 demo video is worth a look.


Inclusive Technologies for Reading


Dyslexia Action and RNIB are piloting a free 22 week online course, Inclusive Technologies for Reading, between 8 Oct and 22 Mar.  The course will give teachers, parents and others who support people print impairment problems a chance to explore in detail a range of free and inexpensive technologies they can use to improve the reading experience of people they support.


Media Use and Literacy

[Seb Schmoller; Steve Rayson]

Although the Ofcom annual UK communications market report (reported last month) provides a detailed view of UK ICT, it did not contain any specific references to online learning.  In contrast, the BBC’s Media Literacy: Understanding Digital Capabilities (based on recent Ipsos-MORI survey data) contains a whole section on learning, starting on p27 (and with apologies for the clipart).

Google has published an interesting survey into consumer cross-platform behaviour.  Not surprisingly, this shows that we use different screen devices, and that the device we choose to use is driven by context such as where we are, what we want to achieve and the time we have.  Steve Rayson believes that most serious learning which requires time and focus will continue to take place on a computer, but that smartphones allow people to quickly look things up on the move (hence a need for ‘performance support’ materials).

Following heavy criticism last month from a House of Lords committee, Jeremy Hunt has insisted that the UK will have the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015.  He plans to bring high-speed broadband - which he defined as greater than 24 Megabits per second - to more than 90% of the country.

A study from the Oxford Internet Institute looks at Low and Discontinued Internet Use Amongst Young People in Britain.  The report finds that assumptions and practices can make some individuals even more excluded from society because of a lack of support being offered; and a ‘digital by default’ strategy works well for those who need to be persuaded to do online but not so well for those who are willing to go online, but find it difficult to do so for a variety of reasons.


OER Inventory

[Audrey Watters]

Audrey has made a few recent posts describing her efforts to track down a definitive list of available OERs.  She quickly recognised the impossibility of this, but settled on OER Commons as the best inventory and her analysis of topics, licensing, formats and popularity makes interesting reading.


How ‘Open’ is Elsevier?

[Seb Schmoller]

Peter Murray-Rust is “appalled” by the way Elsevier breach licences and charge readers for ‘Open Access’.  He blogs on the matter at length, cites evidence from Elsevier and implores others to contribute to the debate and spread the word.


Developing a MOOC

[Stephen Downes]

A post from the University of Edinburgh’s MOOC team describes the challenges of building a MOOC in the Coursera model.  Stephen Downes notes that Coursera courses seem to be designed to rigorously emulate existing academic practice, focusing on coursework, content and elevating the status of the professor.  Rather than promote engagement, Coursera seems to move away from it, but he believes Edinburgh’s partnership with Coursera presents an opportunity “…to research the new and sometimes uncomfortable territory that the MOOC foregrounds.”


Who Hangs Out Where?

[Lara Mynors]

In the virtual world, just as in the physical world, different communities attract different types of people.  Harvard Business Review presents a brief snapshot of one month's activity (March 2012) by US users in several online venues including Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, along with their breakdown by age, sex, educational attainment, and household income.  Example: if an organisation wants to target young, lower income males, Reddit is the place to go, whereas LinkedIn is the place for older, better educated and better paid surfers.


Beyond Bars – Boosting HE for Prisoners

[University World News]

UWN presents a global view of problems associated with educating and upskilling the growing number of prisoners in order to increase employment opportunities and reduce reoffending rates.  Several recent studies are cited from a variety of sources, with the general conclusion that we can and should do more.


Perhaps OU History Offers Some MOOC Answers?


Many educators are watching MOOC-mania with interest, wondering how things will pan out and which club, if any, they should join – but perhaps the OU could look to its own history for some of the answers.  Although we haven’t done much open/free content until fairly recently, we have been running hundreds of successful MOCs for more than a decade, so some of the things that are happening out there should come as no great surprise.  For example, Wired Campus reports that many MOOC students are now, “…increasingly forming groups, both online and in the real world, to study and socialize.”  Hmm – sounds like OUSA groups, tutor groups, Moodle forums, FirstClass and CoSy to me.  Can it only be a matter of time before edX and Coursera start sending out Home Experiment Kits?




And Finally…

[Robin Stenham]

Robin Stenham is alive and well (and still complaining about the bell wire they use to deliver broadishband in Pembrokeshire) and has discovered a remarkable new invention – the iTypewriter.  Rubber “capacitive caps” deliver a minute electrical discharge to mimic your finger prods on the screen, but I’m afraid I still winced every time a key struck the glass.  However, what more do you expect from the person who also invented the iTurntable – possibly the world’s most pointless iPod dock.



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