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e-Learning Digest No 105 - May 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 May 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops  


Commercial News


Pearson has acquired Learning Catalytics, a cloud-based learning analytics and assessment system devised by two Harvard professors, which allows teachers to ask their students open-ended critical thinking questions and receive feedback in real time.  Students can respond to questions in class or for homework via text, numerical, algebraic or graphical responses.  Meanwhile, faculty can drill down into individual student data, get a better understanding of student comprehension within the particular course and as compared to the class, allowing teachers to split their class into groups of similar ability.

However, Huff Post’s Alan Singer thinks Pearson has fingers in too many pies – and is failing to deliver.  According to a report in The Texas Observer, “Pearson has it all – and all of it has a price.  For state-wide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams.  If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass.  Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman.  Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson.  And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit.”  Wow, you’d almost think there was a strategy at work.

Microsoft is reportedly offering to pay $1bn to buy the digital assets of Nook Media, the digital book joint venture with Barnes & Noble and other investors.  Microsoft would apparently redeem preferred units in Nook Media, which also includes a college book division, leaving it with the digital operation – e-books, as well as Nook e-readers and tablets.  To date, around 10 million Nook tablets and e-readers have been sold.



[Wired Campus; University World News; Wired Campus]

MOOC providers from Stanford are like London buses.  Having already spawned Udacity and Coursera, now along comes NovoEd, which is offering seven public courses as well as ten just for Stanford students.  So what makes this one different?  Chief executive, Professor Amin Saberi, believes it’s peer interaction: students form groups at the beginning of each course, conduct class discussions by messaging one another or in discussion boards under an assignment, and evaluate their peers’ performance, much like team projects in face-to-face lecture courses.

Coursera is expanding into teacher education and will offer MOOCs taught by instructors in graduate programs at the Universities of California, Virginia, Washington and others, plus some non-affiliated organisations such as non-profit, Match Education.

Copenhagen University is to offer four MOOCs starting in Sept, and 40,000 students have registered so far – already outnumbering its 38,000 in-house students.  The courses will run over 6-10 weeks, with topics including Nordic diet, global health, Muslim constitution and that old favourite, “Søren Kirkegaard: Subjectivity, irony and the crisis of modernity”.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has run its first MOOC.  Around 17,000 students registered for “Science, Technology and Society in China” which launched via Coursera on 4 April and ran for three weeks.  Some 60% of the students are from the US, UK, Canada and other rich nations, with the rest from countries like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, and middle-income countries in Asia.  “We do have students from China as well, in places where internet connections are more reliable,” said course lead, Prof Naubahar Sharif.

German learning platform company, Iversity, has invited professors and others interested in creating and offering MOOCs to compete in a contest to win one of 10 MOOC Production Fellowships – and a prize of € 25,000.  About 1,300 people have viewed details of the contest, and hundreds have at least begun to apply.  Online voting for the finalists continues to May 23 and the 10 winners, to be selected by a jury, will be invited to Berlin in late June for a two-day symposium where they can share ideas with one another on ways to present their courses.

Understanding Cheating in Online Courses, from Concordia University, is an eight-week MOOC that began earlier this month.  Unusually, one of the assignments requires students to deliberately cheat, but with the proviso that they disclose to the rest of the class exactly how they cheated.



[Pete Mitton; Stephen Downes]

A European MOOC initiative was launched last month by the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) (President, W Swann).  OpenUpEd will be offering an initial batch of around 40 MOOCs in the 11 languages of its partners, plus Arabic.  Courses typically involve from 20 to 200 hours of study and “may lead to recognition”.  Students will also have the option buying a certificate, “with the cost ranging from € 25 to € 400, depending on the course size (the hours of study involved) and institution.”  It was interesting to note that the OU is a member (Futurelearn…?).

Five more organisations have joined Futurelearn - The British Museum, Loughborough University, University of Sheffield, University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde.  However, Strathclyde’s Lorna Campbell blogs her concerns that “Futurelearn doesn’t appear to make any mention of using, creating or disseminating open educational resources.”


Why Universities License Degrees to Foreign Colleges

[University World News]

Transnational education has become big business for UK universities, according to data from HESA, with the sector supporting more international students studying wholly offshore than on universities’ home campuses.  In 2010-11, more than 330,000 foreign students were enrolled on UK degrees through such franchisees, compared with 94,000 taking courses by distance learning and 10,000 students enrolled at satellite campuses like the University of Nottingham Malaysia.  The annual value to UK HE of international (non-EU) students on campus exceeds £2.5bn in tuition fees alone.  The HESA study also shows that money is not the only motivator for HEIs – university staff develop strong professional affiliations with colleagues in partner colleges and many champions of licensing passionately believe they are supporting the educational development of the countries in which they operate.


MOOC Analysis

[THE; Inside Higher Ed; Donald Clark; ALT; Stephen Downes; BBC; the Chronicle of Higher Education]

Edinburgh is reflecting on its first experiences of being a Coursera MOOC provider.  Its six, five-week courses attracted 308,000 students (Introduction to Philosophy topped the rankings at nearly 100,000), had an average completion rate of about 12% and each one cost about £30,000 from development to delivery.  Taking the ‘e-Learning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC as an example, the staff opted against taking the video lecture route, choosing instead to curate open-source online content, including YouTube footage and academic papers – although many of its 42,000 students said they had been expecting the former approach.  One of the instructors estimated he spent about 8 hours per week for the 4-5 months preparation, rising to 16 hours during the MOOC.  There was a lot of social activity before and during the MOOC: its Facebook group attracted more than 4,500 members, with a further 2,000 on Google+; nearly 1,000 blogs were started and there were around 700 tweets per day.

Coursera has made some money.  It brought in $220,000 in Q1 of 2013, partly from an affiliates program if users buy books suggested by professors and also by charging for verified “Signature Track” completion certificates.  Users who pay for this have to submit a photo ID of themselves to the company and are also tracked based on their “unique typing pattern” to ensure that people who take tests or turn in assignments are who they say they are.  Prices are set around $50 so far.

If you’re interested in how Coursera has grown over the past year, Donald Clark has found (but does not attribute) a graphic containing some key stats.  From a base of zero last Feb, Coursera now offers 328 different courses from 62 universities in 17 countries to 2.9m registered users in 220 countries.  28% of students hail from the US, followed by India (9%), Brazil (5%) and the UK (4%) but, interestingly, he reports that “nearly 42% of the target audience for MOOCs are not the developed world”.

A survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup found that US college presidents remain sceptical about the true value of MOOCs.  Of the nearly 900 that responded, most are not at all convinced that MOOCs are going to transform learning or reduce costs, for either students or colleges.  However, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales believes the boring university lecture is going to be the first major casualty of the rise in online learning in higher education, referring to the importance of MOOCs as, “massive and transformative”

Coursera has announced a partnership with several publishers to provide portions of certain textbooks free for students to use while they take the courses.  Materials from publishers including Macmillan, OUP, SAGE and Wiley would be available through e-readers from the student-services company Chegg, but students would be prevented from downloading or printing texts.

JISCinfoNet now has a page of links to all sorts of useful MOOC information.  And if you want to see who’s got their commercial and charitable fingers in which MOOC pies, this simple but informative infographic from The Chronicle highlights the major players and connections.


Educators Optimistic about Technology

[Campus Technology; University World News]

Most educators believe technology makes them more imaginative, creative, and productive at work, according to a recent Economist study, Humans and Machines: The Role of People in Technology-Driven Organizations.  Findings suggest that education leaders are more optimistic about the use and effects of technology than their peers in other industries, with 90% saying they agree that technology improves imagination and creativity, compared to 74% from all fields surveyed.  Similarly, 80% of educators reported that technology has made their organization more productive versus only 73% of all respondents.

The African Virtual University (AVU) and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) have launched an e-learning partnership to provide better access to HE in Africa.  The internet penetration rate in Africa in June 2012 was 15.6% (167m people) and, although rising rapidly, this still lags behind the world average of 34%.


Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead


Recent research from IPPR, An Avalanche Is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead, co-authored by Pearson’s Sir Michael Barber, calls for “deep, radical and urgent transformation” in HE.  However, the authors fear that “perhaps as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety, or a combination of all three, the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change too incremental.”  A major upheaval is predicted due to the advent of MOOCs, although the University of Exeter’s Sir Steve Smith thinks, “the likely impact of MOOCs is being overstated.  That is not to say that they will not transform much of the way in which university education is delivered, but I do not think that MOOCs themselves can replace the education offered by or the brand value associated with traditional universities.”


The Myth of Learning Styles


We haven’t poked the nest of vipers that is learning styles for a few months now, so here goes.  The OECD’s 2002 Brain and Learning project emphasized that many misconceptions (“neuromyths”) about the brain exist among professionals in the field of education.  New research using 242 British and Dutch teachers has confirmed that these are alive and well, particularly in respect of learning styles.  When given the statement, “individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style” (for which the researchers claim there is no evidential support), more than 90% of teachers incorrectly agreed with this.  Similarly, more than 85% incorrectly agreed with the statement, “differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain, right brain) can help explain individual differences among learners”.  An interesting national divergence came with the statement, “environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children”: 95% of British teachers incorrectly agreed with this, whereas only 56% of Dutch teachers did so.


eBooks Prominent at London Book Fair

[BBC; Audrey Watters]

London Book Fair’s Digital Zone has been growing steadily over recent years, with around 70 exhibitors at last month’s event.  This 4-minute BBC video includes contributions from some of this year’s innovators.  And a lady selling cushions.

Back in 2011, 42 of Washington State’s high-enrollment courses were released under a Creative Commons license.  A further 39 have now been added, meaning that anyone can use, customize, and distribute the course materials.  Analysis by the project found that “The Open Course Library has saved students $5.5m in textbook costs to date, including $2.9m during the 2012-2013 academic year alone.”


Smart Sparrow

[Wired Campus]

Smart Sparrow is a new online-learning portal that offers not content, but a “productivity suite” with which teachers can create adaptive learning content.  According to founder, Dror Ben-Naim, a basic example is a quiz in which the difficulty of a question is based on a student’s response to a previous question.  “Get the question right, your next question is harder,” he said. “Get it wrong, and the next question could be easier.”  The platform also allows students to receive immediate and detailed feedback and the student cannot move on until a concept has been mastered, in a process that’s like a having a personal tutor.


MOOCs: More Action in 1 Year Than Last 1000 Years

[Donald Clark]

Has Donald Clark’s claim hit the nail on the head?  “It took a drop-out like Gates to turbo-charge the PC industry, a maverick like Jobs to take it much further, Bezos to transform book selling, Torvalds open source and subsequently OER, Jimmy Wales to give us Wikipedia and Khan, then Thrun, to give us MOOCs.  As I keep saying, we’ve had more pedagogic change over the last 10 years than the last 1000 years”.  Martin Weller doesn’t think so.


The Mobile Consumer

[Nielsen; BBC]

Nielsen’s 2013 Mobile Consumer Report “pulls together findings from surveys, custom and syndicated research conducted around the world”.  In 21 pages, it offers a quite detailed but very readable snapshot of differences, similarities, behaviours and trends among mobile consumers around the world.

And, according to a new report from the UN’s International Telecoms Union, there will be more mobile subscriptions than people in the world by the end of next year.  There are currently 6.8bn mobile subscriptions and 7.1bn people.  The Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union countries) has the highest mobile penetration, with 1.7 subscriptions for every person, and Africa has the least, with 0.63.  The report also found that 2.7bn people – almost 40% of the world's population – are online, with Europe having the highest penetration (75%), followed by the Americas (61%) and Africa trailing at 16%.


Boston Bombings: Social Media Spirals Out of Control

[LA Times; The Independent]

Last month’s Boston marathon bombing was the first notable incident of this kind since social media has become so prominent – but the experience was not a good one, as the LA Times reports: “Within seconds of the first explosion, the Internet was alive with the collective ideas and reactions of the masses.  But this watershed moment for social media quickly spiralled out of control.  Legions of Web sleuths cast suspicion on at least four innocent people, spread innumerable bad tips and heightened the sense of panic and paranoia […] Web forums were cranking out rumours that there had been four bombs instead of two, that an area library had been targeted and that the death count was well over a dozen.”  One suspect (wrongly) named extensively online as one of the bombers, Sunil Tripathi, has since been found dead off Rhode Island, although the date and reasons for death are not yet clear.  Now the very media that condemned him in absentia have provided channels for messages of support that his family said “poured in from around the world”.


Learnist App Updated, Now Includes BBC Content

The Learnist digital curation iOS app has had an update and now includes improved features designed to give users the information they want “before they have to search for it”.  Learnist also now has a partnership with BBC Worldwide which includes provision of a BBC Earth multimedia board which offers followers of environment and life sciences issues the opportunity to interact with a host of BBC multimedia content.

And if you need more help to discover, manage and share digital content, here are another 55 content curation tools for you to try.


Tactus Tablet With an Amazing Disappearing Physical Keyboard


At the CES show earlier this year, Tactus demonstrated a prototype tablet that uses a special fluid-filled layer to provide users with a physical keyboard that ‘grows’ when a text-entry app is used and recedes back into the screen when it isn’t needed.  Tactus has since partnered with touch panel experts at Synaptics to create a reference device (a 7” Android tablet) that should emerge in June, with the aim of a commercial launch around the end of the year.




And Finally…

[Audrey Watters]

Not sure if the US has quite got its responses to school violence quite right yet.  In Florida, a teenager was experimenting with common household chemicals in science class that resulted in a minor explosion. There were no injuries and no damage to school property but she was taken away in handcuffs, arrested and expelled from school.  And in Virginia, a small group of elementary schoolboys were suspended for pointing pencils at each other and making shooting noises which officials described as, “intimidating and threatening” and in violation of the school district’s weapons policy.

But it’s not all depressing news.  As we approach exam season, the BBC reports that one in three students wear “good luck underwear” to try to boost their exam chances.

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