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

e-Learning Digest No 98 - Oct 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 October 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops


Coursera Expansion

[Campus Technology; Stephen Downes; Seb Schmoller; Tony Bates]

More institutions are joining Coursera, with the total count rising from 16 to 33 last month.  The organisation now offers more than 200 courses from 33 domestic and international universities and reaches 1.3m “Courserians” around the world.  The initiative has also sparked the creation of in-person meet-ups in around 600 cities, according to the company.

However, not everyone is happy in MOOCland.  Blogger, AngryMath (Daniel Collins), reviewed Udacity’s Statistics 101 and found that the teaching “massively diverged” from the initial course description.  He also noted that it, “…manages to go almost its entire length without ever mentioning or making any distinction between the population and sample,” and the course runs “…without ever calculating any values for normal curves.”  [To his credit, founder Sebastian Thrun quickly responded with promised improvements].

Elsevier has announced that it will offer a free version of one of its textbooks this autumn to students who register for edX’s Circuits & Electronics MOOC.  “The version that is online on edX is a static version - a PNG file, which is not downloadable, not manipulable and doesn’t have all the flexibility that a true full e-book does,” said Elsevier’s Dan O’Connell.  However, registered students will be provided with a link to enable them to buy a “discounted copy” of either the print or the more dynamic electronic version of the text.

Tony Bates is impressed by Sir John Daniel’s Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility.  The document contains numerous insightful comments, such as, “A first myth is that university brand is a surrogate for teaching quality.  It isn’t.  The so-called elite universities that are rushing into xMOOCs gained their reputations in research.  Nothing suggests that they are particularly talented in teaching, especially teaching online.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on What You Need to Know About MOOC's [love that apostrophe] although, as Stephen notes, “With the Chronicle's unyielding sense of irony, half the publication's special coverage on MOOCs is locked behind a subscription paywall.”


Publisher News

[Forbes; Paul Hollins; Audrey Watters]

US e-learning industry giant Skillsoft has acquired Mindleaders, one of its major competitors.  This acquisition, on top of its acquisition of ElementK, 50 Lessons, Books24x7 and NetG in recent years, reinforces Skillsoft as a dominant player in online corporate training market.  However, Josh Bersin notes that, which offers free online video-based training, is growing at four times the rate of Skillsoft.

CourseSmart is a consortium of eTextbook and digital course material suppliers, led by McGraw-Hill, Macmillan, Pearson and Wiley, that launched in January.  The group has now added more partners including Sage and Taylor & Francis, bringing their total membership to 13 and boasting a catalogue of over 4,000 textbooks.

Wiley has just acquired for $220m.  Deltak helps colleges and universities offer online classes and the acquisition should “significantly accelerate Wiley’s digital learning strategy and diversify the company’s service offerings to include operational and academic solutions for higher education institutions.”

Wiley is also partnering with the learning technology company Knewton to offer the Knewton Math Readiness course throughout Australia and New Zealand.  According to Wiley’s Joe Heider, “Knewton’s adaptive learning technology personalizes course content, delivering the precise learning activity each student needs at the exact time he or she needs it most”.  Following an implementation at Arizona State University, course withdrawal rates dropped from 16% to 7% and pass rates increased from 64% to 75%.  Wow.  Surely Wiley’s solution to global poverty can be only days away?

Pearson’s Marjorie Scardino, one of Britain’s highest-ranking female executives, is stepping down as chief executive of the global educational and media conglomerate after nearly 16 years in post.


EU’s “Patchwork” University Fees System

[University World News]

University tuition fees cost more in England than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new EU report, National Student Fee and Support Systems 2011-2012.  Students in England pay up to €11,500 per year but those in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Malta, Norway, Scotland and Sweden pay little or nothing.  However, according to the European University Association’s Thomas Estermann, the headline figures are not the whole story for students sizing up how to survive, “One can't make a connection between enrolments and fees as a single aspect of the system […] there might be countries with lower or no fees, but high costs of living.”

However, an international survey of students from 80 countries has found that the UK is perceived as the safest place to study, with Israel as the least safe destination.  The multicultural nature of British society was the main reason cited for its ‘safe’ reputation.


Cracking the Credit Hour

[Campus Technology]

A new report, Cracking the Credit Hour, examines the history of the ‘credit hour’, a concept introduced in the US by Andrew Carnegie around the turn of the last century.  Before long, 120 taught credit hours became the norm for bachelor’s degrees and was used to calculate lecturers’ workloads, pay and pensions.  But how valid is all that in an online world?  The report recommends a variety of solutions that could help shift thinking from a time-based HE system to one based on learning.  “If the US is to reclaim its position as the most- educated nation in the world, federal policy needs to shift from paying for and valuing time to paying for and valuing learning.”


Technology Enhanced Learning in HE

[David Wilson; Zite; Campus Technology]

UCISA has been conducting JISC-funded surveys of 'technology enhanced learning' since 1999.  The 2012 survey report shows that UK HE has made notable progress in helping students and staff access library services, email and course announcements from their mobiles.  The report also reveals that academic staff knowledge is considered far less of a barrier to technology enhanced learning development than in recent years, but lack of time and insufficient financial resources remain the top two barriers to TEL development.

Educause has just published their ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2012 report.  Key findings include: students prefer blended-learning environments and want to access course material as well as ‘admin’ information and via their mobile devices; students rate technology training and skill development as more important than continually chasing latest technologies; and students use social networks for interacting with friends more than for academic communication.

A survey of 1,600 students, teachers, and parents commissioned by Dell suggests that students' technology needs are not being met and that China is ahead of the US and Germany when it comes to using technology in learning.  Of those who responded:

  • 82% of teachers said that “technology allows them to create a more personalized learning experience”;
  • 60% of US respondents said they do not think students should use social media in class to share what they're learning, but most Chinese respondents did approve of such use;
  • 40% of respondents from the US and 26% from Germany said their teachers understand technology better than they do; and
  • 71% said that they have access to better technology at home than they do at school


Students Find eTextbooks ‘Clumsy’

[Wired Campus; Zite; TeleRead]

A recent study by five US universities saw 1000 students at each using eTextbooks for their studies.  Whilst students appreciated the lower price (only 12% also bought a paper copy), many reported them ‘clumsy’ to use and navigate and few lecturers used the enhanced eText features such as sharing notes, tracking students, question/answer and providing additional links.

According to market research firm Student Monitor, only about 11% of US college students have bought e-textbooks.  Terry Heick suggests 10 reasons why that might be, including the usual commercial and usability suspects

Digital media company Aptara has released its 4th Annual eBook Survey of Publishers and some of the findings match those reported by Terry Heick.  For example, 4 out of 5 publishers now produce eBooks but 65% of these have converted less than half of their legacy titles into eBooks, and only 31% of eBook publishers currently produce enhanced eBooks.  Interestingly, 60% of publishers still employ print-based editorial and production workflows that add time and cost to each eBook.  Amazon is the most popular sales channel, used by 68% of eBook publishers, with iBookstore coming in second at 58%.


Students Publish Own eTextbook

[Stephen Downes]

Nine graduate students in an Advanced Technology for Teachers course at Georgia College have published their own eTextbook, Using Technology in Education.  The nine-chapter book explores current technologies that educators can use in K-12 and higher education classrooms.  It was developed during an intensive three-week summer course that introduced students to iBooks Author.  The students researched, wrote, photographed and filmed all content for the book, which is now available as a free download from Apple's iBookstore.


OERs: “Crown Jewels” or Not?

[Stephen Downes]

Open Educational Resources and Social Networks is an open access e-book available in English, Spanish and Portuguese from the KMi site.  It aims to present strategies on how OERs can be produced, reused and disseminated to promote collaborative open learning.  Chapter 8 is intriguing because it examines the “giving away the crown jewels” argument that offering OERs will make students less likely to enrol in paid courses.  A mix of the Dutch general public and OUNL students were asked about three scenarios (100% OERs available, 10% OERs and minimal OERs used mainly for marketing/goodwill purposes).  The study found that, “…the percentage of people inclined to take a course and to enrol increases when the share of OER in the offerings grows: the more OER offering, the more people and OUNL students seem to be inclined to enrol.”  However, the authors caution that not all results were statistically significant; and we should also bear in mind that what people say they will do is not always the same as what they actually do.


OER13 Conference Call for Abstracts

[Tim Seal]

Next year’s OER13 conference focuses on how we can build on the last ten years of investment in OERs and move to the creation of a virtuous circle of open educational practice - how to be a virtuous rather than a vicious circle and an open rather than a closed one.  They anticipate presentations which will share lessons learned to inform the feedback loop, stories of current activity to share good practice, and creative solutions to achieve greater emphasis on openness in education.  The call for abstracts is open until 31 Oct for papers/posters within its three key themes of Evidence, Experience and Expectation. 


Techn-ology: From The Stone Axe to Smart Phones

[Donald Clark]

Donald Clark is at his most entertaining when he rants, but he writes a mean factual post as well.  You may recall he presented 50 learning theorists in 50 days earlier in the year and he’s now moved on to try and conquer 50 educational technologies in 50 daily posts, starting with cave paintings and alphabets, and ending up with social media and mobile devices.  Very informative.


Rifts Over OECD Global Learning Test

[Inside Higher Ed]

OECD's Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) is an international assessment of student skills and knowledge that is several years in the making.  It involves scores of colleges from 17 countries and a feasibility study is nearing completion, but the initiative is proving controversial.  Representatives from the US, Canada and Europe expressed their concerns that OECD, “…is attempting to create a transnational ‘test’ of learning outcomes, without clarity of purpose or consultation with institutions.”


60 Second Adventures in Economics

[Catherine Chambers]

Following the success of last year’s The History of English in Ten Minutes, narrated by Clive Anderson, and 60-Second Adventures in Thought, with David Mitchell, the OU now presents  60-Second Adventures in Economics.   This latest series supports the OU-BBC 2 series Master of Money which began broadcasting last month.  The videos – available on OpenLearn, iTunes U and YouTube – went straight to the #1 spot on iTunes U global collections chart within a week of release.

The OU’s ‘Learn’ channel on YouTube has just passed 10 million video views, placing us ninth in the world for most viewed university/college channel and the number one most viewed in Europe.


Design for Disability

[User Focus; BBC; Zite]

Designing With People offers ten personas with differing impairments to help technology developers empathise with disabled users and their needs.  They are not fictional characters, they are real individuals with differing degrees of functional loss across the spectrum of capability.  They speak about their lives, their challenges, their relationship with design and the impact that poor design has on them.

OpenDyslexic is a free-to-use font designed to help people with dyslexia read online content.  The characters have been given “heavy-weighted bottoms” to prevent them from flipping and swapping around in the minds of their readers.  A recent update to the popular app Instapaper has adopted the text format as an option for its users and the font has also been built into a word processor, an ebook reader and has been installed on school computers.

Although aimed at younger children, Stephen Abram provides a helpful list of 50 iPad Apps to help support learners with reading and writing disabilities.


Top 100 Tools for Learning

[Jane Hart]

Jane Hart has just published her annual compilation of the top 100 tools for learning, based on responses from 582 learning professionals worldwide.  Top of the tree again is Twitter, but the list also contains productivity and development tools, many of which are free.  If you’re looking for something specific, a full listing of over 2000 tools is available by category.


New Publishing Tools

[Matthew Moran; Tim Seal; eLearning Guild]

USC’s Scalar is an open source semantic web authoring platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write, structure and publish essay- and book-length material in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.  Scalar allows media to be integrated from multiple sources and it also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary.

At the other end of the authoring spectrum is Edcanvas, designed to provide a free and simple, drag-and-drop environment for teachers to assemble components to create and deliver online lessons. 

But, if you prefer some audience engagement with your content, check out’s new SlideKlowd app which allows a presenter to share content and interact with a live audience via their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other mobile device.


Web Platform Docs

[Ian Blackham]

Web Platform Docs sees the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others coming together to collaborate on the development of HTML5.  The aim is to have, “accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive references and tutorials for every part of client-side development and design, with quirks and bugs revealed and explained.  It will have in-depth indicators of browser support and inter-operability, with links to tests for specific features.  It will feature discussions and script libraries ... It will have features to let you experiment with and share code snippets, examples and solutions ... It will have information you just can't get anywhere else, and it will have it all in one place.”  Sounds great.  It’s currently in Alpha, but it needs community input to move things further.



[Stephen Downes]

Chockadoc is a place to find full-length documentaries that you can watch online for free.  Although it pulls most of its content from YouTube, the benefit of using Chockadoc is the categorization of the videos, which makes it easier to find documentaries about a particular topic or theme.




And Finally…

[Howard Davies; JE]

The iPad mini launch is rumoured to be on 23 Oct but, if you can’t wait until then, console yourself with these archive details of the Macbook Wheel.  However, NewsBiscuit reports on fears that the proliferation of portable devices such as eBook readers is threatening children’s traditional Google skills.


Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

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