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e-Learning Digest No 100 - Dec 12

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
10 December 2012

UK Conferences & Workshops


McGraw-Hill Education Sold to Apollo

[Campus Technology; Kineo]

McGraw-Hill is selling its McGraw-Hill Education business to investment funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management (not the University of Phoenix’s Apollo Group) in a $2.5bn transaction is expected to be completed late this year or early next year.

And it is reported that HarperCollins (News Corp) is in “preliminary” talks to acquire Simon & Schuster (CBS).

Brighton-based Kineo – which grew out of Epic and has rapidly expanded worldwide, counting Totara (a customised and fully supported Moodle-based VLE) as one of its success stories – has just been acquired by City & Guilds.


For-Profits Seek Access to Public Funds

[Matthew Moran]

THE has used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the extent to which for-profit providers have pressed the government to give them greater access to publicly funded student loans and open up teaching grant in high-cost subjects.  They have also called for university representatives on HEFCE to be replaced with members independent of the sector.  Meanwhile, one major US for-profit, Laureate Education, told the government it would welcome the opportunity to establish or buy a UK university.  Plans to ‘level the playing field’ are currently on hold, but ministers are expected to launch a consultation early in the new year to bring private providers seeking SLC funding within the student number cap - and may propose allowing them access to the full £9,000.


No-Exam University Courses Fuel Rise in First Class Degrees

[The Telegraph]

An analysis of data published by universities for the first time has revealed that hundreds of courses are now 90 to 100 per cent coursework, with first and second year exams and traditional finals abolished in subjects as wide ranging as history, English, psychology, philosophy, media, American studies, childhood studies, and business management.  At many universities where exams still play a part, they have been scaled back to only 20 or 30 per cent of the overall marks, with students allowed to fail question papers but still be awarded degrees.


Benefits and Threats from OER/MOOCs

[David Matthewman; TechCrunch; Pete Mitton; Seb Schmoller; Matthew Moran; The Chronicle]

Forbes profiles the success of Salman Khan and the Khan Academy which, with just 37 employees, is currently offering ‘3,400 short instructional videos along with interactive quizzes and tools for teachers to chart student progress’ at no cost to an estimated 10m students studying in up to 24 (volunteer-translated) languages.  What’s more, they’re now all available via the iPhone.

And MIT Technology Review presents a real life example of a beneficiary of the OER/MOOC approach.  Carlos Martinez, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of El Salvador, not only enrolled in an electronics MOOC offered by edX but he also convinced another 50 of his countrymen to join him.  He communicates with them on Facebook and, for those nearby, he sets up a weekly experiment in a hallway to accompany the class.  He describes it as, “…all very chaotic.  There’s no obligation.  No grade.  It’s ‘How are you, don’t give up, can I help you?’”  However, free MOOCs are placing universities in poorer countries under pressure to compete.  For example, fellow MOOC provider Coursera recently reported that 62% of its students were from outside the US, led by students in Brazil, India, China, and Canada.

Clay Shirky has some views on all this, comparing the emerging free HE market with Napster and the music industry.  It’s a long post, but interesting and informative – and has attracted over 70 quite passionate comments (and a separate response on Doug Clow’s imaginatively-titled blog).

Martin Bean also refers to Napster in a Guardian piece that suggests UK HE is generally too wary of MOOCs.  According to consultant Matt Robb, investors are ready to inject ‘serious finance’ into the right idea; however, “UK higher education is extremely good, but the scale of ambition is low”.  Across the pond, Tony Bates reports that, “a staggering $463 million has already been invested this year by venture capitalists into educational technology companies in the USA.”

Udemy does things slightly differently.  Anyone can create a video-based course on a range of topics – from web design and entrepreneurship to yoga and photography.  Instructors can choose to offer them for free, but the average price for a course is $19 to $199.  Many of the top classes draw about 500 students, with some reaching students in the low thousands.  For each class, Udemy takes 30% of the earnings; however, it reports that top instructors are earning ‘six figures’ and around a quarter will earn $10k or more this year.

And Coursera is pursuing a new business model – selling student performance data (with their permission) to potential employers.


Must All Postgraduate Research Have ‘Impact’?

[The Guardian]

By next October, every UK HEI will have to prove the “impact” of its research on public life, as this will count for a fifth of its score when assessed for REF.  However, as the University of London’s Dr Shahidha Bari points out, “the value of research is not always something you can predict from the outset – that's the point of research in a way [and] if you're in the business of producing ideas and culture as you do in arts and humanities research, then you're not producing tangible, measurable effects – what we do has non-tangible effects that are no less important.”


CETIS Analytics Series


The CETIS Analytics Series explores a number of key issues around the potential strategic advantages and insights which the increased attention on, and use of, analytics is bringing to the education sector.  For a high level overview, check out Sheila MacNeill’s Analytics; What is Changing and Why Does it Matter?


Aakash-2 Tablet Launches


An improved Aakash-2 Android tablet has been launched in India, featuring a 7” capacitive screen, 4GB storage, 3hr battery, WiFi and front VGA camera.  With a 50% government subsidy, Indian students will pay around £14 for the Aakash and it is estimated over 200m will be distributed over the next 5 years or so.


University of Reading to Develop m-Learning Tool


The University of Reading has received £2.5m funding from the European Commission for a three-year project to develop a new e-learning tool.   INTUITEL will deliver lessons via a mobile phone, but offer feedback previously only available from a real-life tutor.  The aim is to provide an integrated learning environment that can configure and adapt itself to the needs of any learner.  It will monitor their learning behaviour and progress, and provide feedback based on the learner's profile, and the relevant models of teaching and learning.  Feedback will be informed by monitoring the student's learning style, pace and attitude.  It also plans to assess the ‘cultural and emotional context’ in which learning takes place, as well as environmental influences, such as noise, download speeds, and screen size.


Gapminder Desktop

[Seb Schmoller]

Nobody does enthusiasm - or dynamic data representation - quite like Hans Rosling, as his TED Talks prove.  Now his software is available for us mere mortals to use in our presentations, in the form of Gapminder Desktop – freely available for Mac, Windows, or Linux desktop.  Not only that, but the download site includes a video of Rosling explaining how to use it.


Surveys and Polls Galore

[ASTD; Kineo; Elliott Masie; TechCrunch; Inside Higher Ed]

ASTD’s 2012 State of the Industry Report questioned 461 organisations to deduce that the US spends approx $156bn on employee learning ($1,182 or around 35 hrs per employee).  Of this, 56% is spent internally, 30% externally and 145 on ‘tuition reimbursement’

Kineo and e.learning Age have a conducted a more qualitative survey based on over 30 detailed interviews with leading UK companies for their Learning Insight Report 2012.  In it, Clive Shepherd notes that technology is still a significant factor but he looks forward to the day when, “E-learning will soon be dead and we’ll be able to concentrate instead on people and performance.”  Survey participants also noted that, “Good enough content is good enough” and “We need a single version that works on all devices.”

UCISA has released its 2012 Technology Enhanced Learning Report, based on responses from 98 of the UK’s 165 HEIs.  Compared with previous years, academic staff knowledge is no longer seen as a major barrier to TEL development, although lack of time and money are.  Use of plagiarism detection, e-submission, and e-assessment tools remains high across the sector, and mobile technologies top the list of challenges which institutions face.

Elliott Masie’s Mobile Pulse Survey gathered responses from 823 global organizations relating to the trends and challenges they face as they pursue mLearning.  Approx 80% of organizations reported at least a moderate interest in mLearning and many have conducted small projects to explore and test the practicalities, although less than 30% of organizations have an enterprise strategy for mLearning.  Chief concerns relate to security of information, lack of connectivity to LMS/VLE and the need to reformat material for mobile use.

Capterra has analysed the LMS/VLE marketplace to come up with a top twenty listing.  Moodle, with an estimated 60m users, is clearly heading for the platinum disk, but Edmodo is curious in second place as it appears to have lots of customers but not many users.  The other interesting outcome is the clear distinction in most cases between solutions that are deemed to be ‘academic’ or ‘corporate’.

Inside Higher Ed and Babson have released two survey reports - Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012 and Digital Faculty: Professors, Teaching and Technology, 2012.  No need to download – I’ll summarise for you: online education is scary; we’re doing it OK but other people aren’t, especially those nasty for-profits.


Windows 8 — Disappointing Usability

[Jakob Nielsen]

Jakob Nielsen finds Windows 8 usability disappointing for both novice and power users.  He has concerns about hidden features, flat iconography (without shadows, it’s not obvious what to click), lack of multiple windows and low information density.  His conclusion?  “I'll stay with Win7 the next few years and hope for better times with Windows 9”.


MOMA Launches MetPublications

[Stephen Downes]

Earlier this year, the Guggenheim Museum put online 65 modern art books, giving free access to books introducing the work of Alexander Calder, Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon, Gustav Klimt & Egon Schiele, and Kandinsky.  Now the Metropolitan Museum of Art has launched MetPublications, a portal that will eventually offer access to nearly all books, Bulletins, and Journals published by the Met since 1870.


Symbolab Scientific Equation Search

Symbolab, from Israeli start-up Eqsquest, describes itself as a scientific equation search.  User can either enter a full equation or select an initial term from a menu and then pick from available options and permutations.  It’s all sourced from open source repositories and these are growing all the time.  Use the web site or a install an extension for Chrome or Firefox.


Mobile Device and App Trends

[TechCrunch; Audrey Watters]

Figures from Gartner show overall mobile phone sales down by 3% in the last quarter, although the smartphone component of the 428m units sold is up by 47%, driven largely by demand in China.  Samsung and Nokia shipped the most units, with Apple laying in a distant third place.  Twice as many Android units were sold compared to one year ago and they now dominate iOS by about 6:1.  Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Millennial Media sees life differently...

But brighter news for Apple from Strategy Analytics, whose Mobile Apps Download Forecast: 2008–2017 report predicts that Apple’s dominance of the tablet market will continue for the next five years.  It forecasts more than 350bn app downloads between 2008 and 2017, with an Apple:Google share of 55:45%.  The analyst thinks that market will generate more than $57bn, but that free apps will represent more than 91% of all downloads by 2017.

Of course, Windows 8 apps could eat into that market.  According to Distimo, the Win 8 app store has made a strong early showing: 20,000 apps were available within the first month of launch and download figures are three times those of Apple.  However, 86% of those apps are free and so, for now, Apple continues to generate five time the revenues.

And Pew Internet’s latest survey, Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy, reveals (yet again) that the majority of parents are ‘very concerned’ about what their kids are doing online.


Which Country is Most Educated?

[eLearning Learning; Matthew Moran; Stephen Downes]

You can’t beat a good set of statistics. has taken OECD ‘Education at a Glance’ data and created a snazzy infographic to show which are the most educated countries in the world.  Russia, Canada and Israel top the chart, with the US in fifth and the UK at eight.  The site also offers a new infographic on the future of higher education.

The EU has been mulling over the fact that, “The youth unemployment rate is close to 23% across the European Union – yet at the same time there are more than 2 million vacancies that cannot be filled.”  Its Rethinking Education strategy sets a way forward, including a stronger focus on transversal skills, language learning and basic literacy skills (some might expect 40% low achievers in reading in Romania, but Austria (27.5%) and Luxembourg (26%) come as more of a surprise).



[Matthew Moran; Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes]

David Byrne has produced an enhanced eBook version of his book, How Music Works, in which users can enlarge images and play short musical exemplar clips.  However, he documents his struggles in getting it to market and grappling with different publishers’ proprietary files formats, “both to try to lock you into buying from their stores and (probably at the insistence of big publishers) to make it really, really hard to share or lend a book to a friend”.

Rice University’s OpenStax College has announced the launch of its first iBook, becoming the latest publisher to try to make the free-with-paid-options model sustainable.  The interactive, iPad-based version of OpenStax’s free-to-read online College Physics text is available through iTunes for $4.99.

Audrey Watters writes about the battle to open textbooks, which forms part of her top ed-tech trends of 2012.

Jeffrey Beall blogs a long list of Predatory Publishers, many of which he believes, “…are corrupt and exist only to make money off the author processing charges that are billed to authors upon acceptance of their scientific manuscripts […] we recommend that researchers, scientists, and academics avoid doing business with these publishers and journals.”




And Finally…

[Lara Mynors; TechCrunch]

Does chocolate make you clever?  Columbia University’s Franz Messerli analysed the number of Nobel Prize winners and compared that with their nation's average annual chocolate consumption.  “When you correlate the two - the chocolate consumption with the number of Nobel prize laureates per capita – [the] correlation has a 'P value' of 0.0001,” he says.  Eric Cornell, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001, told Reuters: “I attribute essentially all my success to the very large amount of chocolate that I consume.  Personally I feel that milk chocolate makes you stupid… dark chocolate is the way to go.”

Wondering whether to buy an iOS device for Christmas, but not sure about the reliability of Apple’s new mapping app?  Don’t worry – Apple has unveiled ambitious plans to fix the problem by rearranging the Earth’s geography.


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