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e-Learning Digest No 103 - Mar 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
18 March 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops  


Commercial News

[Audrey Watters; Giles Clark; TechCrunch; Campus Technology]

Pearson’s 2012 preliminary results show North American education revenues were up 2% “in a year when US School and Higher Education publishing revenues declined by 10% for the industry as a whole” and “International Education revenues up 13% with emerging market revenues up 25%.”  The company’s assessment services wing, Pearson VUE, has acquired examination software development company Exam Design.  This gives them ownership of ExamDeveloper, a Web-based suite of tools that helps users develop assessments for credentialing purposes, with less reliance on face-to-face meetings.

Barnes & Noble’s results show losses in its third quarter (which includes the normally lucrative Christmas period) including a decline of 26% in sales in its Nook device and e-books division.  “It simply doesn't have the assets to make its tablet a useful productivity tool the way Apple and Google do”, according to analysts, Forrester Research.

Macmillan Digital Education has invested in two Brazilian edtech startups: Verduca offers a video platform that curates content from top universities around the world and provides metatags and Portuguese subtitles; and Easyaula is a Udemy-type marketplace for people to offer or take online classes in Portuguese.

Pearson Catalyst is an incubator programme that aims to identify promising education start-up businesses which have the same attitudes and ethos towards global education as Pearson does.  Once identified, the companies will be matched with Pearson brands and offered access to Pearson resources and product experts to deliver pilot programmes.  The start-ups should be “dynamic” and “technology-centric” and Pearson will incubate and accelerate up to 10 of them for at least three months starting in mid-April. has bought video2brain, a European company that provides online video training in German, French, Spanish, and English.


University of Phoenix to be Put on Probation

[Audrey Watters]

The US Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the University of Phoenix, has recommended that the institution be put on probation because it has ‘insufficient autonomy’ from its parent company, Apollo.  The announcement signals that university accreditors are tightening reviews of for-profit colleges, which have seen student numbers grow significantly during the recent recession.  The University of Phoenix last year received 84% of its revenue from federal financial aid programs totaling more than $3.2bn.


Willetts Urges UK Universities to Put Courses Online

[BBC; Matthew Moran; Gill Marshall]

David Willetts, speaking at the Guardian Higher Education Summit, told university leaders that online universities were going to be an important part of the global expansion in student numbers, particularly given the soaring demand for university courses in countries such as India and Indonesia.  But he questioned whether the classic model of a traditional campus university would be able to respond to such a “huge appetite” for higher education. “Online learning is going to be a big thing, very significant, when you look at the hunger for higher education,” he told the conference.

Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser for Pearson, says in a new report – An Avalanche is Coming – that online courses will be a “threat and opportunity” for the UK's universities, and that “complacent” ones that fail to respond to the rise of online universities will be swept away by global competition.

However, there has been a “dramatic decline” in the number of people studying part-time for degrees in England, according to a new HEFCE report, Impact of the 2012 Reforms, which shows that numbers taking up part-time undergraduate degrees have fallen by 105,000 (40%) since 2010.  But don’t worry – according to DBIS, “There is a new focus on the quality of the student experience and the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university is at record levels […] There are no financial barriers to higher education”.

But according to the US Community College Research Center, everyone does worse with online learning.  And it must be true because it shows a stock image of a really frustrated student.


Hole-in-the-Wall Academic Wins $1m TED Prize

[Donald Clark]

Prof Sugata Mitra has been awarded a $1m prize from TED to set up a new ‘school in the cloud’.  Mitra is of course famous for his hole-in-the-wall experiments, in which children from the slums of India self-taught themselves to use computers and the web – an inspirational tale.  However, I then read Donald Clark’s version of events in which he paints a somewhat different and more jaundiced picture of events.  Clark details seven specific doubts about the validity Mitra’s research – including commercial influences from NIIT and lack of long term support – before concluding, “There’s no silver bullet here and we shouldn’t be lulled into thinking this is the answer.  The real danger is that we get carried away by under-researched ‘feelgood’ initiatives.”  Mike Caulfield is equally scathing: he believes Mitra seems to think, “our educational system was invented [at] a specific time to solve a well-defined, identifiable problem: the production of clerical workers.”



[Wired Campus; Pete Mitton; Campus Technology; TechCrunch; Audrey Watters; Inge Ignatia de Waard; ALT]

Both Coursera and edX have expanded their partnerships, with both adding numerous non-US institutions.  And EdX has released its XBlock SDK to the general public; XBlocks provide an application programming interface for hierarchically combining EdX courseware components such as video players and learning sequences.

Berlin-based iversity - launched in 2011 to offer online collaboration tools for learning management – has reinvented itself as a MOOC platform, with its first courses due to start around September/October.  But iversity won’t be creating any courses itself; these will come from universities and individual professors.  CEO Marcus Riecke believes that MOOCs are still, “a bit of an insiders’ topic” and that, “Continental Europe compared to the UK - not to mention the US - is probably six months behind, in terms of the awareness of the phenomenon.”

Duke University’s analysis of its first MOOC (Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach) is both informative and readable.  Developed in three months, it required 600 hours of effort to build and deliver, including more than 420 hours of effort by the instructor.  12,000 students registered and there was the now familiar tailing off of engagement down to the 350 who eventually completed eight weeks later.  Student backgrounds, motivations and participation are captured in the report, which concludes: “Patience, flexibility and resilience on the part of instructor, Coursera students, CIT staff, and Duke University Office of Information Technology media services staff were key elements in the success of this course.”

PhD student Katy Jordan has been compiling and plotting MOOC completion rates according to assessment method and duration.  So far, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (via Coursera) takes the prize for Functional Programming in Scala, with 50,000 enrolments and a 19.2% completion rate over 7 weeks.  Bringing up the rear is Princeton’s (Coursera) A History of the World with 83,000 enrolments but just 0.7% completion over its 14 weeks.  Would badges have helped?  Mozilla has just made its Open Badges 1.0 software freely available.

A Coursera MOOC offered by the University of California - Microeconomics for Managers - has lost its academic lead.  Prof Richard McKenzie sent a note to students about to enter their fifth week announcing that he would no longer be teaching the course.  “Because of disagreements over how to best conduct this course, I’ve agreed to disengage from it, with regret,” he wrote.  Dean of distance education, Gary Matkin, believed the problem stemmed from Mr McKenzie’s reluctance to loosen his grip on students who he thought were not learning well in the course: “In Professor McKenzie’s view, for instance, uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning”.

Prof Mark Guzdial questions the focus of some MOOCs, many of which he believes work well for self-motivated, tech-savvy students, “But what about those students who don’t have the resources required to support their learning, who have not been raised in intellectually stimulating environments, who don’t even know how to study well?  It is hard to see how MOOCs will work for these students, yet these are the students that it is most important that we reach in order to meet the challenges of 21st-century education.”  He suggests MOOC designers and facilitators should focus more on pedagogy than technology.

ALT is looking into setting up a MOOC SIG.  You can register your interest by completing a simple Google form.


UK e-Learning Market


IBIS, in conjunction with Sheffield-based Learning Light, has produced a report into the e-learning and learning technologies market.  They estimate that the UK corporate e-learning market will grow at 8% per annum over the next three years for both large and small companies and that the LMS market specifically will grow at 12% per annum.  The report finds that the UK and Spain are leading the adoption of e-learning in Europe (the UK has 500 of Europe’s 6,000 e-learning companies) and it also notes that, of the 130 Indian companies identified, 100 of these were established in the last 3 years.

In contrast, a briefing note from Bersin/Deloitte finds that UK companies are cutting L&D budgets and that the UK has a greater reliance on instructor led training than the US, leading to a much higher number of L&D professionals per head of staff in the UK.  Compared with 2009, twice as many UK firms now use LMS/VLEs and three times as many use rapid e-learning tools.  Large businesses allocated around 15% of their L&D funds to learning tools and technologies in 2012.


Learning at Work Day

[Towards Maturity]

To celebrate national Learning at Work Day, this year on Thu 23 May, the Charity Learning Consortium is giving free access to its e-learning portfolio for the whole of Adult Learner’s Week – starting Mon 20 May – to all charities and not-for-profits working in the voluntary sector.


Bill Gates: Education Needs to Increase R&D Spending

[Pete Mitton]

Speaking at this month’s SXSW education technology conference, Bill Gates said that given the impact of education on all other parts of society, investment in the sector is “absolutely not” enough.  “If you had to say what is the sector of the economy you’d like the most R&D, the most risk-taking in, because any improvement you make benefits all the other areas of the economy and, more from an equity point of view, allows the country to deliver on its promise of equal opportunity, you’d think that education would be a very high R&D sector,” Gates said.  Advancements in computing, the growing penetration of technology (particularly mobile devices) and the rise of cloud storage have helped make this a “special time for technology in education.”


Open Access Publishing

[University World News; Inside Higher Ed; Stephen Downes; Wired Campus]

The EU appears ready in principle to endorse the EC’s proposals for developing open access to scientific information arising from publicly funded research.  However, despite enthusiasm from the UK, officials say there is some way to go before a detailed system can be agreed.  The goal was for 60% of European publicly funded research articles to be available under open access by 2016.

New taxpayer-funded research must be made available to the public free of charge within a year of its publication, the Obama administration has announced.  The president's Office of Science and Technology Policy told federal agencies to work on plans to release federally funded studies to the public.  The policy applies to future unclassified research by agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more.

However, Gerd Kortemeyer, writing in Educause Review, believes that “OERs have failed to significantly affect the day-to-day teaching of the vast majority of higher education institutions.”  David Wiley agrees, estimating that universities have poured more than $100m into creating OERs, but he believes faculty members and administrators have been slow to use the resources as alternatives to expensive textbooks.  So Wiley has helped found Lumen Learning to offer guidance and support to institutions looking to use those resources.  One of the company’s goals is to help develop an associate degree in business administration that can be completed entirely with free open-education materials.


‘One Billion Rising’ – Universities Must Play a Role

[University World News]

Brenda Gourley, writing for University World News, believes that there is a clear role for HE to take in tackling the growing problem of violence, murder, rape and slavery of women.  She refers to a new campaign group, ‘One Billion Rising’ and to a symposium held earlier this year in Oxford, at which authoritative speakers presented evidence of the scale of the problem.


Educause and Internet2 to Launch e-Textbook Pilot

[Campus Technology; Inge Ignatia de Waard]

Educause and Internet2 are launching a new pilot programme to give US universities and colleges the chance to explore and evaluate digital educational materials from more than 50 providers, including Courseload, CourseSmart, and McGraw-Hill Education.  The programme will have two main goals: to help the HE community learn more about digital educational materials and how they can be more effective, accessible, and economical than traditional textbooks; and to explore new business models for digital materials that are advantageous for both the HEIs and the publishers.

Nota is a free web tool/mobile app (currently in beta and currently focussing on STEM subjects) for collaborative mLearning with eBooks.  It allows anyone to, “add videos, links, images and comments directly to the pages of a book” and it also keeps a timeline of your actions, which helps if you can remember doing something but can’t recall where in the book you did it. 


2013 ORIOLE Survey

[Chris Pegler]

The Open Resources: Influence on Learners and Educators (ORIOLE) project is conducting an online survey which aims to collect and share data about how learning resources are used and sourced in higher education.  This is a topic which should be of relevance to anyone who is working directly in the delivery of learning and teaching, and those who support this work.  The project team is keen to get as many responses as possible, including from participants outside the UK and so the survey is available in English and Spanish and will be open until 30 Apr.  As with the previous survey, rather than offer a prize as a reward we will donate £300 to Oxfam education programmes, with respondents choosing the specific initiatives to receive money.  Comments or queries can be directed at Chris Pegler or Gema Santos-Hermosa.


2013 e-Learning Pulse Survey

[Elliott Masie]

Elliott Masie is conducting his annual ‘Pulse’ survey, gathering global data on how organisations are shifting (or not) their learning directions or approaches.  Are we doing more/less/same levels of classroom, e-learning, mobile, social learning and even supporting learning for teleworkers?  The survey will take about 7 minutes to complete and Elliott would welcome your input.




And Finally…

[JE; Steve Wheeler]

According to TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, we burn about 2,600 calories per day sitting at our desks but 3,400 by walking around.  Enter the walking desk, such as the Lifespan TR-1200-DT5 ($1,500) which places a square standing desk atop standard-size treadmill.  Simple controls vary your speed from 0.4 mph to 4 mph (about the pace of a light run) and an armband and software app show those calories burning off.

A variation on this theme comes from the Belgian University of Hasselt.  It has introduced study plinths, at which students can plug in their laptops or tablets and then generate electrical power and burn some calories by using the pedals at each seat.

And what to do if you don’t have your laptop handy?  Drexel University has just installed a new $30k vending machine which dispenses MacBooks 24/7 for free loan to Drexel library card holders.

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