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e-Learning Digest No 99 - Nov 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 November 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops


Commercial News

[Audrey Watters; Wired Campus; Campus Technology]

The Apollo Group saw its fourth quarter income drop by 60% due to higher costs and declining enrolment at the University of Phoenix.  As a result, Phoenix will be closing 25 main campuses and 90 smaller satellite learning centres, affecting around 13,000 of Phoenix’s 328,000 students.

Pearson has paid $650-million in cash to buy EmbanetCompass, a business that helps colleges design online programs, recruit students, train faculty members, and keep tabs on student progress through data analytics.  Pearson’s Don Kilburn said the acquisition would allow the company to extend its reach in online education and to take advantage of the trend away from print.  “As more and more schools face budget cuts, they’re looking to online education as a way to increase access, achievement, and affordability,” he said. “We see this as a strong area of growth.”

Pearson is also launching Project Blue Sky which allows educators to enter keywords into Gooru (a nonprofit search engine) and get a list of Pearson content, free educational content and material from other commercial providers.  These can then be pulled together into one e-book (e.g. two chapters from a published book, three videos from MIT’s OpenCourseWare, a research study from Harvard University, plus a lecturer’s own material).

McGraw-Hill announced its new Digital Learning Partnership Program at last week’s Educause conference.  This will enable lecturers at participating institutions to provide their students with e-books from McGraw-Hill Education or its partners (CourseSmart, Courseload and Vital Source), although they retain the academic freedom to choose other textbooks.  The programme also provides access to other McGraw-Hill services such as the McGraw-Hill Connect teaching and learning platform, the LearnSmart adaptive study tool, the Tegrity Campus lecture capture system and the ALEKS adaptive maths programme.


Coursera Expansion

[Matthew Moran; Seb Schmoller]

A further 16 universities have joined the Coursera fold, including the University of London – who reported that 9,000 students signed up within the first 24 hours – making Coursera the largest MOOC provider with over 1.3m registered students.  Berklee College of Music’s Prof Gary Burton plans to offer a course on jazz improvisation although, unlike their $1400 fee-paying counterparts, Coursera students won’t earn credit, or be able to submit performing assignments and get personalised feedback, or participate in weekly 60-min discussions.  MOOC students will get access to nearly 100 instructional videos and automatically graded quizzes.  Is this really quite as attractive as we’re all being led to believe...?

The University of Texas is paying $5m to join edX and plans to set aside a further $5m to design online courses that it considers to be “rigorous and effective.”  edX plans to charge a “modest fee” for those who want certificates for completing a course but, in a new departure, Texas says it could offer degree credits through the online platform with a tuition fee attached.  “The UT System does plan to eventually offer courses for credit.  There will be a tuition charge for credit-earning courses, but the amount hasn't been determined,” said spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.

Seb Schmoller rightly points out that George Siemens and Stephen Downes seldom seem to get the credit they deserve for running the first MOOC way back in 2008 (although David Wiley probably ran the very first a year earlier, before the term had been coined).  James Bradshaw sets the record straight in an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail.


Udemy and OU Announce iPad Apps

[The Next Web; TechCrunch; Audrey Watters]

Udemy has released an iPad app which will bring its 5,000+ online courses into the mobile space.  The app includes offline viewing and will provide access to both free and paid courses.  “The future of learning is mobile and the iPad is the perfect lifelong learning device,” Eren Bali, CEO and co-founder of Udemy, said in a statement. “Udemy students are extremely active and want access to learning regardless of time or location.”

Simultaneously, and for the almost same reasons, the OU announced development of OUAnywhere, an iOS/Android/Win RT app that will make OU materials available to students from early next year.  The LTS team developing the apps say they are being designed from the ground-up for touch interfaces, and will offer “high quality visual images rather than lists.”

And Udacity has just announced that its lecture videos are now freely downloadable from YouTube, meaning learners can study offline.  Videos are bundled up by unit, with a playlist to go along, as well as optional subtitles.


Questions Over Government HE Funding

[University World News]

A report from HEPI, The Cost of the Government’s Reforms of the Financing of Higher Education, warns that the UK government’s new fees policy will have one or more of the following consequences:

  • Future taxpayers will need to pay more
  • Other parts of the higher education budget will need to be cut
  • Student numbers will need to be held down even further than currently planned
  • Former students will have to repay more

The White Paper that ushered in the new funding scheme quoted a cost to the government of the loans made to students of 30%, but at the time the DBIS quoted 32% for full-time student loans and 65% for part-time.  The cost represents the proportion of the loan outlay that will never be repaid – the so-called resource accounting and budgeting (RAB) charge.  Current official estimates have settled on 32%, dismissed by HEPI as “optimistic”.

Also just published by HEFCE is Financial health of the higher education sector 2011-12 to 2014-15 forecasts, which indicates that university finances are stronger than predicted a year ago, “although this is heavily dependent on the sector achieving its student recruitment targets”.


How Much Does It Cost to Run an Online School?

[Stephen Downes]

Ohio pays K-12 schools about $5,700 per student, regardless of delivery method and yet Robert Mengerink - head of the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County - found he could run an online school (one of seven in the state) for around $3,000 per student.  TRECA Digital Academy, another publicly operated provider of online K-12 education, says it can do it for about $3,600 per student.  Given that these schools are non-profit, and yet many pay private companies to run them, this raises the obvious question of what happens to that taxpayer-provided money?


Market Surveys

[Seattle Herald; TechCrunch; Campus Technology]

The market for Self-paced eLearning in Eastern Europe is growing at 16.9% and revenues will reach $1.2 billion by 2016, according to a new Ambient Insight report, The Eastern Europe Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis.  The report examines ten countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine.

Latest analysis by Gartner predicts 1.2bn smartphones and tablets being bought worldwide next year.  It also forecasts particularly rapid uptake of tablets in the business sector, with predicted business sales this year of 13m, rising to 53m by 2016.  However, the future is not so rosy for Microsoft, with Gartner predicting that Windows 8 will still lag behind Apple and Android in 2016.

And a new report from IDC, Worldwide New Media Market Model 1H12 Highlights, predicts that users accessing the Web from PCs will shrink from 240m today to 225m in 2016, whereas mobile web access will rise from 174m to 265m.  Alongside this, IDC predicts mobile advertising budgets to increase five-fold and the B2C mobile commerce market to grow six-fold.  The US is at the front of the migration to mobile devices for web access, with Western Europe and Japan about two years behind, according to the report.


International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning


Vol 13(4) of IRRODL has just been published, containing numerous relevant papers, including, Beyond the net generation debate: A comparison between digital learners in face-to-face and virtual universities which finds that, although use of ICT is widespread in HE, there is a clear relationship between the students’ perception of usefulness regarding certain ICT resources and the teachers’ suggested uses of technologies.  Who am I and what keeps me going? Profiling the distance learning student in higher education looks at the student retention issue from a different angle as Jacqueline Baxter reports on a small study at the OU that investigates not why students drop-out, but why they stay.


e-Learning Trends According to Google

[Gareth Hudson]

Being a commercial supplier, Kineo are interested in what e-learning-related terms people search for.  Their analysis of Google search volumes since 2005 proves interesting – with the three Ms in the ascendancy (MOOCs, Moodle and (just) Mobile learning) but with Avatars (and presumably Second Life) crashing and burning.  Rather surprisingly, searches for Informal or Social learning have been in very slightly decline since around 2007.


Internet Use by Teenagers

[Stephen Downes; Audrey Watters; Zite]

OFCOM's annual report, Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, found that UK 12- to 15-year-olds on average spend 17 hours a week on the internet, 80% have a social networking profile, each with an average of 286 online friends, although they have not met an average of 25% of these.  Girls aged 12 to 15 are the most prolific texters, sending an average of 221 messages a week, 35% more than their male counterparts.  This is more than four times the UK average of 50 texts per week.

In a Pew Internet survey of several thousand US teachers, 99% agreed that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available”.  However, 87% believe the internet and digital search tools are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans” and 60% agree that today’s technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.

A growing number of kids at increasingly younger ages are engaging in online social networking today.  Kids Online: A new research agenda for understanding social networking forums investigates existing research in this field, highlighting gaps that suggest a need for greater understanding and control of access.


Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves With Xoom Tablets


Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiments more than a decade ago showed the power of Indian children’s naturally enquiring minds to master basic PC and web technology and use it to discover and learn a range of topics.  Now Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child organisation has revisited the principle by providing illiterate children in two remote Ethiopian villages with solar-powered Xoom tablets, preloaded with educational programs, to see what happened.  OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets with no instruction. “Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up.  Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day.  Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said.  “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”


Student Mobility

[University World News]

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), there were 3.6 million mobile students in the world 2010.  The top source countries were China, India and Korea, and top destination countries were the US (19%), UK (11%), Australia (8%), France (7%), Germany (6%) and Japan (4%).  UIS has produced a comprehensive interactive map which shows source and destination details for each country (HTML5 – does not run in IE8).



[Stephen Downes; Campus Technology]

The Red Cross is running its first MOOC this December, aimed mainly at the development and humanitarian community.  It will comprise a series of online, interactive missions, initiated every Monday by an email briefing.  Each mission should take no more than 30 minutes to complete and participants are encouraged to meet online once a week to share what they are learning.

Leuphana University, based in Northern Germany, is offering a MOOC that will come with “university credit points” that it said could be accepted by degree programs.  The 3-month course, “Creating the ideal city of the 21st century”, will start on 9 Jan 2013.  Students will participate in five group projects and engage in virtual classroom discussions with peers and instructors.  In addition to video keynotes and support materials from lecturers, there will also be regular input and support from mentors and tutors.


'Crowd-Sourcing' Website to Decipher Ancient Writing


A collection of 5000 year-old clay tablets housed in the Louvre contain proto-Elamite writing, but no-one has ever managed to decipher them – partly because the writing system is so dissimilar to any other and because there may be mistakes in the writing which have disrupted attempts to identify a coherent pattern.  However, Oxford academic, Dr Jacob Dahl, now hopes to enlist the help of the web community to help decipher them.  His website contains high-quality computer images, details of the signs that have been deciphered and provides information about the historical context of the writing and the tools that have been applied to try to understand it.  He hopes the task might be completed in around two years.


New i-Book and e-Book Services

[AOL; Wired Campus; Campus Technology]

Apple has rolled out new iBook functionality.  iBooks 3 now includes the ability to see all iBookstore purchases in iCloud, free updates (e.g. corrections) to purchased books and the ability to share book excerpts through Facebook, Twitter, Messages or eMail.  iBooks Author 2 includes additional functionality and media support, versioning and support for LaTeX and MathML mathematical notation.

If you prefer to use QuarkXpress and you’re a teacher, you have until 31 Dec to register for the QuarkXpress for Educators scheme.  This will allow teachers to generate traditional print documents and also use it to create publications for the web and for digital tablets and eReaders.

CourseSmart has announced a new tool, CourseSmart Analytics, to help educators measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.  As each student begins to use a new e-book, its details are entered into the institution’s LMS/VLE and the software will track how much time students spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make.  That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.

Kno Textbooks - available for iPad, Android and Windows 7 machines - offers access to a catalogue of 200,000 electronic textbooks for K-12 and HE from 65 major publishers including Cengage, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill.


Updated QAA Quality Code


The QAA has published an updated Chapter B3 (Learning and teaching of the UK) of its Quality Code for Higher Education, “...the definitive reference point for all those involved in delivering higher education which leads to an award from or is validated by a UK higher education provider.”


Handbook of Social Media


Funded by Vitae, Shailey Minocha and Marian Petre’s Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors aims to assist researchers and their supervisors to adopt and use social media tools in the service of their research, and, in particular, in engaging in the discourse of research.  The handbook presents an innovative suite of resources for developing and maintaining a social media strategy for research dialogues.




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