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e-Learning Digest No 104 - Apr 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 April 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops


UK HE Marketplace

[The Guardian; BBC; THE]

London’s Regent's College will become only the second private university in Britain after receiving confirmation from DBIS that it meets the criteria for the university title.  This will make Regent's the largest private university in Britain, its 4,500 students making it twice the size of the University of Buckingham.  Fees for full-time undergraduate courses are around £14,000 a year, with postgraduate fees – such as the college's taught MA in “luxury brand management” – rising to £18,700.

Joan Bakewell, president of Birkbeck, says higher fees and a failure to communicate new rights to government loans has led to a 40% drop in part-time student recruitment in England.  Lady Bakewell says “unprecedented” support is needed to ensure the future of part-time higher education.

In last month’s budget speech, George Osborne said that the coalition government’s reforms of schools, universities and apprenticeships are “probably the single most important long-term economic policy we are pursuing”.  But lying behind the speech is a ‘red book’ which contains a section suggesting that previous plans to grant VAT exemption to for-profit higher education providers are on the way out.  It says: “At Budget 2012 the Government announced a review of the VAT treatment of university degree level education.  Responses to the subsequent consultation on whether to extend the existing exemption to commercial entities supplying such education identified a number of issues with the options proposed.”

The University of South Wales has opened for business, having been created by the merger of Glamorgan and Newport universities.  USW offers more than 580 undergraduate courses and, with around 33,500 students, it is now the largest university in Wales and sixth largest in the UK.  It has also been announced that overall funding for Welsh universities is set to increase by 13.6% next academic year.


edX Adopts Essay-Grading Software

[New York Times; Stephen Downes]

edX has just introduced software that uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, and will make it available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it.  The tool requires human graders to first score 100 essays or essay questions.  The system then uses a variety of machine-learning techniques to train itself to be able to grade any number of essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously.  Anant Agarwal, president of edX, predicted that the instant-grading software would be a useful pedagogical tool, enabling students to take tests and write essays over and over and improve the quality of their answers.  Really?  Elijah Mayfield gives the matter some thoughtful consideration.


Commercial News

[WSJ; TechCrunch; Silicon Republic; DBW; Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes]

Berlin-based online language tuition company Babbel has acquired San Francisco startup PlaySay in order to gain a “foothold in the US market.”  Launched in 2008, Babbel offers online language learning through the web, apps and a freemium business model, all of which have seen it gain around 15m users worldwide.

Rosetta Stone has acquired language learning community Livemocha (currently with 16m members) for $8.5m as part of its strategy to transition away from boxed.

Ireland’s Onwards Learning has signed two major Chinese deals worth €4.4m over three years that will see its English language portal,, marketed to more than 2,000 education locations across China.  The company also recently secured an agreement with China’s Central Institute for Vocational and Technical Education to develop and run an English language portal and provide content and apps for use by up to 30m students.

Wiley is making big inroads into online education and has launched, a new e-learning website which, for $20 per month, will offer access to 2,500 video tutorials and 50 ebooks on the latest web/software development technologies.  It is notable how Wiley has actively repositioned itself away from print, having last year sold Frommer’s to Google and Webster’s to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, acquired and entered into a digital content partnerships with BlackBoard and OpenStax.

Macmillan has acquired Late Night Labs, a US start-up that creates virtualised science labs and Elsevier has acquired Mendeley, an open collaboration platform for scientific research.


US Proposal to Create Online HE Common Market

[Washington Post]

Educational organizations and state officials have proposed a kind of ‘common market’ for US online education, providing better consumer protection and making it easier for institutions to enrol students anywhere in the country.  Nearly 7m US students are currently accessing college courses online, but the regulations that authorize the universities and companies which provide those courses to operate vary from state to state and the resulting confusion has somewhat hampered the spread of online options for students.  The proposal would not affect international students taking courses from US providers, nor would it affect the popular MOOC market.



[Stephen Downes; Gigaom; Inside Higher Ed; Campus Technology; e.learning age]

Open Universities Australia (OUA) has entered into the world of MOOCs with a new online platform called Open2Study.  CEO Paul Wappett said students wouldn’t “pay a cent” for courses with no hidden costs for textbooks, student admin or exams. “We’re focused on delivering outstanding quality, but without the price tag”, he said.  He also noted that the courses were designed “unashamedly to let the student taste what is available, getting them familiar with higher learning, so they can build the confidence to go onto further study.”

Udemy is launching a corporate training option that will enable companies to create private online learning sites for their employees.  Clients will be able to select content from Udemy’s library of 7,000 premium and free courses and provide them to employees through a secure site bearing the company’s branding. They can also use Udemy to create their own online courses and view analytics on employee activity and performance.  Udemy will initially waive access fees, so corporate clients only pay for the cost of the content, but subscription pricing is likely to follow.

Coursera is apparently ‘contractually obliged’ to turn away the vast majority of American universities who apply to join it.  The company will only offer classes from elite institutions – the members of the Association of American Universities or “top five” universities in countries outside of North America – unless Coursera’s advisory board agrees to waive that requirement.  However, co-founder Daphne Koller, said the AAU-only rule is not ironclad and that the company has already made several exceptions for non-AAU institutions.

Stanford has announced that it will suspend work on its Class2Go MOOC platform and will instead work with Harvard and MIT to develop the edX platform ahead of the public release of the edX source code on 1 Jun.  Though it will fold key features of Class2Go into edX, such as technology designed to analyse how students use online videos, Stanford will continue to allow professors to choose from among multiple platforms to host and deliver their online coursework. 

The University of Massachusetts has teamed up with Synaptic Global Learning to use its new Adaptive Mobile Online Learning (AMOL) system to deliver what they claim is the first adaptive Massive Online Open Course (a-MOOC) ever offered.  ‘Molecular Dynamics for Computational Discoveries in Science’ launched last month.


[Tony Hirst] “aims to bring together the higher education community and the wealth of data it has access to, and encourage that community to share, utilise, update, grow and generate demand for open data.”  The site aims to provide access not only to data sources but also the know-how and tools to discuss and create linked data and data aggregation sites.



[Stephen Downes; Matthew Moran; ALT]

The Chronicle has conducted a comprehensive survey of US professors who have taught MOOCs (184 were approached; 103 responded).  Before their MOOC, only 35% had ever taught an online course and 30% were “somewhat” or “very” sceptical, but afterwards the sceptics had fallen to less than 9% and 74% felt inspired to change the way they teach their traditional classroom courses.  But despite this enthusiasm, 72% did not believe that “students who succeed in your MOOC deserve formal credit from your home institution”.

Phil Hill has been tracking emerging student patterns in MOOCs.  The bad news is that lurkers predominate; the good news is that they form the bulk of those inevitable early drop-outs.  Todd Tauber also considers why MOOC students are dropping out – he concludes that it’s because they are bored and he believes, “it’s about time we accept that the future of online learning looks a lot like the University of Phoenix.”

A new CETIS white paper, MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education, aims to help decision makers in HEIs gain a better understanding of MOOCs and implications for their institutions.  The theory of disruptive innovation is used to help form the questions of policy and strategy for HEI.

Patrick McAndrew, speaking at OER 2013 last month, praised the work of platforms such as Peer to Peer University and the OpenCourseWare Consortium for being careful to do everything in a way that truly meets criteria of ‘open’, but he noted that, “a lot of the organisations involved more recently, like Coursera and edX, have not paid so much attention.  Often you can’t actually see into the materials until you make a commitment […] they are creating a sort of closed community in the open.”

MOOC News and Reviews is a new “independent and user-centric” online publication devoted to “thoughtful critique of individual MOOC courses and to discussion of the evolving MOOC landscape.”  The site has been in beta but should be going live any day now.


Digital Public Library of America


The Digital Public Library of America will launch later this week, offering approx 2.4m records in a move that aims to aggregate a number of separate collections, including those from Harvard, the National Archives and Records Administration, ARTSTOR, the New York Public Library and the Smithsonian Institution. 


Teacher Knows if You’ve Been e-Reading

[Giles Clark]

Professors at nine US colleges are testing technology from CourseSmart (owned by Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other major publishers) that allows them to track their students’ progress with digital textbooks.  Publishers already collect generic data from millions of digital material users, but CourseSmart is able to supply each professor with an ‘engagement index’ figure for all the students in their class, enabling them to identify, for example, students who are regular readers versus those who ‘cram’ immediately before an assessment.


Keeping an Eye on Cheaters

[Campus Technology]

With a reported 6.7m US students now taking at least one course online, the use of human proctoring to curb online exam cheating is clearly impractical - but there are alternatives with varying degrees of acceptance and credibility.  Campus Technology gets the perspectives of three online learning practitioners.


Android Eclipsing All Other Major Operating Systems

[Campus Technology; Stephen Downes]

According to Gartner's most recent forecast, Devices by Operating System and User Type, Worldwide, 2010-2017, 1Q13 Update, Android was installed on 497m devices that shipped in 2012, putting it ahead of Windows as the world's dominant operating system (counting PCs, tablets, and phones).  This is forecast to grow to about 861m this year and 1.07bn units by 2014.  By the end of this year, Android will be in more devices than the next four competitors combined (Windows, iOS, Mac OS and BlackBerry) and before the end of the decade, Android will be in nearly as many devices as all other operating systems combined. 


Samsung Unveils Galaxy Mega Smartphone


Samsung seems to be leading the field in pushing ‘phablets’ (large phone/small tablet) but, just as people were querying whether users really wanted a device with a 5-6” screen, along comes Samsung’s new Galaxy Mega with its 6.3” screen.  But technology analyst Chris Green is concerned that, “When you've got this up against your head you'd have to argue you're using a tablet and not a smartphone - it's definitely going to compromise its functionality because it's simply too big and too cumbersome to use as a traditional telephone device.”


UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning


UNESCO’s newly developed Policy guidelines for mobile learning have been developed in consultation with experts from schools, universities and colleges in over twenty countries.  The guidelines seek to help policy-makers better understand what mobile learning is and how its unique benefits can be applied to advance progress towards Education for All.


Trend Report: Open Educational Resources 2013

[Stephen Downes; ALT]

OER 2013 is a substantial (114pp) document that describes trends in OERs and open education from the perspective of Dutch higher education.  Topic coverage includes OERs, MOOCs, open textbooks, human factors, mobile apps, badges and learning analytics in a series of short but well-written papers, each interspersed by resource pages with links to further information and guidance.

Also recently available for free download is the JISC CETIS-funded, Into the Wild – Technology for Open Educational Resources, which looks at what was tried and what was learnt during the three years of the UK OER programme by way of technology to support OER management and dissemination.  The authors claim the book “is not intended as a beginners guide or a technical manual, instead it is an expert synthesis of the key technical issues arising from a national publicly-funded programme.”


How the Internet Transforms Our Existence

CELSTEC has published The Digital Turn: How the Internet Transforms Our Existence, in which Prof Wim Westera describes the ways digital media influence our existence and the consequences of the digital revolution of the past 20 years for mankind and society.


TEL Thesaurus and Dictionary


A group of European leaders in TEL, led by Nicolas Balacheff, is putting together a multi-lingual, open access, thesaurus and dictionary of TEL.  Nicolas is looking for further entries to be written, such as for Pervasive Learning, Augmented Reality Learning, Handheld Learning and Blended Learning.  Each entry is short (one page) in a structured format and contributors will be credited as editor of that entry.



  • Presefy lets you control presentations in the browser using your mobile phone without the need for an app.  [TechCrunch]
  • The Home Office has reinstated permission for London Met to recruit and teach foreign students.  [BBC]
  • For $80, Leap Motion will bring 3D gesture control to your desktop or laptop.  Impressive demo video.  [Mike Stock]
  • IMS has announced development of an Educational App Store Project.  [Stephen Downes]
  • New research finds that playing video games has little negative effect on the conduct of young children; watching TV can have a slight adverse effect.  [BPS]
  • ADL is exploring how best design mobile learning solutions and they’d love you to take part in their online survey.  [ASTD]
  • Got to grips with Windows 8 yet?  Microsoft will be previewing its successor, Windows Blue, in June.  [TechCrunch]
  • …Around the same time Apple is now rumoured to be launching its new iPhone 5S.  [TechCrunch]
  • On top of their banking crisis, there are now concerns about the legality of some of Cyprus’s universities, popular with African students.  [University World News]
  • Within a week of the launch of Facebook Home, an unofficial solution allows users to run it on any Android device.  [The Next Web]
  • Nick Shackleton-Jones invites comments on his draft eBook, Learning: A Field Guide.  [Stephen Downes]
  • Twitter may be launching a music service (as early as this week), having bought music discovery site We Are Hunted.  [BBC]
  • …and Apple is also reportedly close to launching its streaming iRadio service.  [TechCrunch 


And Finally…


Google Glass is still something of a novelty but has been generating some positive reactions.  Buoyed by this, the company announced a beta release of Google Nose earlier this month.  Just Google for your scent of choice, tap or click the Smell button and sniff away.  Google will “intersect photons with infrasound waves” to emulate the requested aroma.  This two-minute Google Nose video explains how.


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