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e-Learning Digest No 106 - Jun 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
17 June 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops


Commercial News

[TechCrunch; Campus Technology; Audrey Watters; The Motley Fool; Stephen Downes]

The Edxus Group is planning to spend up to €60m acquiring schools technology firms, with the intention of creating a “European education champion” to rival the likes of Pearson, Blackboard, Kaplan and McGraw-Hill.  Its goal is to establish a single technological platform that will offer curriculum, data and instructional systems to schools across the continent.  The company plans to spend €15-20m over the next few months, and €50-60m by the end of 2014.  It will initially focus on northern Europe and the UK, before considering other regions.

McGraw-Hill Education continues to woo talent from competitors and other organisations to build up its education business.  The company – which has just opened a new ed tech R&D centre in Boston – already has a number of HE products and services including LearnSmart Advantage (an adaptive learning suite), Connect (a digital teaching and learning environment) and ALEKS (an adaptive maths program).

News Corporation has announced plans to divide into two companies: 21st Century Fox (dealing with entertainment and broadcasting) and News Corporation.  The latter will deal with news, press and book publishing, and digital education.

Xerox is acquiring digital education solutions provider LearnSomething for an undisclosed sum.  The e-learning specialist focuses particularly on the food, drug, and health care industries, and delivers programs to 85% of all US retail pharmacy chains.

Knewton has partnered with textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to bring, “truly personalized learning experiences to K–12 students, using HMH’s comprehensive portfolio of education solutions including market-leading products in math, reading, and other core subject areas.”

Parents in New York State have presented Pearson with an invoice for $38m because they claim children have been used as “uncompensated research subjects in a commercial R&D product development process”.  The figure is based on the use of 434,000 students at a fee of $75 per head, plus the costs of academic staff used for administration.


Coursera News

[Wired Campus; Donald Clark; Campus Technology]

The University of Pennsylvania has exceeded 1m enrolments in its Coursera MOOCs from students in 162 countries.  Overall, 12 courses have been completed, seven are in progress, and four are set to begin over the next few weeks.  And, according to Penn Open Learning Initiative director, Deirdre Woods, many students are signing up for multiple courses; “They average one-and-a-half to two courses per person,” she says.

Last month’s Digest reported on some analysis of Edinburgh’s first Coursera MOOCs.  The full 42 page report is now available (with more to follow) and the data make interesting reading in terms of who is doing MOOCs, why and what they are doing, and how much effort is required to support them.

The MOOC arms race continues as Coursera signs up a further 10 US Universities and, after a long and notable absence, Yale is joining the MOOC club, with plans to offer four courses through Coursera, beginning in January.  The initial focus will be on constitutional law, financial markets, morality and Roman architecture.


OU Role in the Future of HE in England

[Stephen Downes]

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published a detailed 150pp report, A Critical Path: Securing the Future of Higher Education in England, which calls for vocationally focused 'fee only' degrees for local students and a new postgraduate student loans system amongst its 23 recommendations.  On the subject of MOOCs, it says, “English higher education institutions should embrace the potential of new technologies by recognising credit from low-cost online courses so that these may count, in part, towards degree programmes.  To make a start down this road we recommend that the Open University should accredit MOOCs provided via the FutureLearn platform so that they can count towards degree programmes offered by the OU itself and its partner institutions.”


Other MOOC News

[Donald Clark; Wired Campus; Martin Weller; Audrey Watters; University World News; Pete Mitton]

Donald Clark recently questioned Simon Nelson on his hopes and ambitions for Futurelearn.  Here’s his ten-answer synopsis, plus some inevitable Donald commentary.  In a separate post, Donald also writes about the growing number of African MOOC initiatives, and the obvious benefits these can bring by offering free education to a wide and needy audience.

Georgia Tech is launching “MOOC 2.0” [wince] in the form of a $7,000, three-year, online masters degree in computer science.  The programme will run through Udacity, who will take 40% of the revenue.  That leaves 60% from an estimated 10,000 students to cover the costs of the “eight or so” new instructors Georgia Tech expects to employ.  But, as Martin Weller observes, “If you take the MOO out of MOOC you're left with just a C, and no-one's that interested in just a C […] Georgia Tech’s not free, online Masters MOOC … looks awfully like a not very well supported e-learning course.”

Do the maths – if you can.  In a press release, Australia’s Open2Study MOOC provider has announced “completion rates above 25%”.  This, they claim is “almost five times higher than the industry average – despite research suggesting average MOOCs completion rates below seven per cent.”  Not sure that adds up, but neither does the comment from Paul Wappett, Open Universities Australia’s CEO: “With one in five Open2Study students completing their study, we are proud to see that we are really engaging our students”.  Baldrick would be proud of them.

Struggling to develop your new MOOC platform?  Simply pop over to the edX code site and liberate theirs…

Several dozen professors in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences have signed a letter to their dean asking for formal oversight of the MOOCs offered by Harvard through edX.  It appears the professors were irked that Harvard had become so deeply involved in MOOCs before consulting with them and some faculty members are said to be “deeply concerned about the program’s cost and consequences.”

UWN reports on the growing numbers of Indian students who are using MOOCs to complement and diversify their main studies.  Indians form the second-largest group of students on edX and, on Coursera, 8.8% of those enrolled are from India compared to 27.7% from the US.

Business Basics No 1 – differentiate yourself from the competition.  I’m just not sure I’d have done it with a tutti-frutti website?


UK-US Launch Global University Partnership

[University World News]

America and Britain have joined forces to forge university partnerships with emerging economies.  The UK-US Global Innovation Initiative, which will last for up to five years, was announced by William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month.  The British Council said in a press release that, “Institutions in emerging economies will be the first to be targeted in the programme, with an aim that up to 40 trilateral partnerships involving 120 universities worldwide will benefit in its first year and up to 600 over the five-year period”.


Is Minerva the Real Future of Online Education?


The Minerva Project is a non-profit Ivy League-style university created and designed especially for America’s most talented students.  It uses an online curriculum but will mix this with offline living in physical dorms as students rotate through six different countries during their 4 years of college.  Minerva plans to launch in 2015 and each online class will consist of no more than 25 students.


BBC Scraps Digital Media Initiative

[The Next Web]

Because of the unique way the BBC is funded…

First we had BBC Jam – the corporation’s brief foray into online education – which was deemed to pose unfair competition to commercial suppliers and so was pulled in 2007, having spent around half of its £150m budget in its 14 months of operation.  The following year, the BBC set up a Digital Media Initiative to create an integrated digital workflow for staff.  Now comes news that this too has been cancelled, £98m downstreamn, due to a failure to meet targets and also because there are now standard off-the-shelf production tools that didn’t exist five years ago.  According to new DG, Tony Hall, “we will stop developing our own in-house production tools, and instead use the industry-standard production systems that are now available”.


French MPs Vote for Lectures in English at French Universities

[University World News]

France's lower house has approved a plan to allow more courses to be taught in English at French universities, despite concerns that such a move might undermine efforts to promote the French language.  The vote followed two hours of heated debate, with members of the main right-wing opposition party saying the measure threatens France's identity.  The aim of the measure is to improve the employability of French young people and also to increase the proportion of foreign students at France's universities from 12% to 15% by 2020.


eLearning Papers: MOOCs


A special edition of eLearning Papers No 33, co-edited by Yishay Mor, addresses the MOOC phenomenon.  Ten papers examine social aspects, design principles, peer learning, open design (from Patrick McAndrew) and their impact on education.

And the Summer 2013 issue of Research & Practice in Assessment contains three papers on assessment in MOOCs, plus a detailed analysis of edX’s first MOOC: Circuits and Electronics.


Nearly 75% of All Smartphones Sold in Q1 Were Android


Gartner’s analysis of Q1 mobile handset sales figures shows that Android now accounts for nearly 75% of all handset sales - a jump of almost 20 percentage points on a year ago.  In that 3 month period, 425m handsets were sold worldwide; 210m of these were smartphones and 156m of those were powered by Android.  Samsung dominated with a 31% market share with Apple a distant second at 18%.

The Pew Internet project has published new research into smartphone ownership, showing that 56% of all American adults are now smartphone adopters, whilst 35% have a non-smartphone.  The remaining 9% of Americans do not own a mobile phone at all.


Moodle Mobile App

[Campus Technology]

Moodle Mobile, which was initially released in April, has had an update.  The new HTML5 app runs on iOS and Android and is designed to work both online and offline.  It offers a subset of Moodle features such as notifications and access to course materials, but also allows users to record and upload images and audio, send private messages and take notes.  The app also supports synchronisation with an institution's Moodle site.

Blackboard has launched an updated Collaborate app for Android devices.  The app allows conference participants to chat, use two-way audio, answer survey questions, raise their hands, join breakout rooms, and view presentations which can include annotations, images, shared applications, and shared desktops.


Moodle 2.5 Adds Open Badges Support, Bootstrap Theme

[Campus Technology]

Moodle 2.5 has been released, offering a new bootstrap theme which will allow administrators to create layouts that automatically adapt for the device being used.  The new version also offers Moodle Badges, which are compatible with Mozilla's Open Badges standard and can be displayed in users' profiles or pushed out to their Open Badges backpacks.


Should Summer-born Children Get Exam Mark Boost?

[Chris Nelson]

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a detailed investigation into what effect a child’s birth month has on their educational performance.  When You Are Born Matters: Evidence for England reports that a child born in August [yes, I admit an interest here] compared to one born the previous September is:

  • 5.4 percentage points more likely to be labelled as having mild special educational needs at age 11
  • 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve five GCSEs or equivalents at grades A* to C
  • 2 percentage points less likely to go to university at age 18 or 19, and around 2.3 percentage points less likely to attend a Russell Group institution if they do

The report recommends that national achievement test scores should be age-adjusted to account for the fact that children born at different times of the year have to sit the tests when they are different ages.


Technology Reports

[Audrey Watters; ASTD; Pete Mitton]

Pew Internet has published its latest Teens, Social Media, and Privacy report, key findings of which include:

  • 91% post a photo of themselves (up from 79% in the 2006 survey)
  • 71% post the city or town where they live (61%)
  • 53% post their email address (29%)
  • 20% post their mobile phone number (2%)

About 60% of teen Facebook users set their profiles to ‘private’ (friends only), and 56% say it’s “not difficult at all” to manage the privacy controls on their Facebook profile.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition, examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative expression within the K-12 sector.  Technologies identified as having an impact within the next 12 months are cloud computing and m-learning, with learning analytics and open content impacting in 2-3 years and, further downstream, come 3D printing and virtual labs.

A new McKinsey report, Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy, identifies 12 technologies that they believe could drive massive economic transformations and disruptions in the coming years.  No big surprises as the list includes: mobile internet, cloud technology and automation of knowledge.

Not so much a report as a slide deck, but Mary Meeker’s detailed examination of internet trends is always highly informative.  Just 4 of the 117 slides cover education, but the OU does get a favourable mention in terms of iTunes U downloads (slide 101).


Employees Want Social Tools at Work


Nearly half of employees report that social tools at work help increase their productivity, but more than 30% of companies underestimate the value of these tools and often restrict their use, according to new Microsoft research.  The survey of nearly 10,000 information workers in 32 countries, also found that 39% of employees feel there isn’t enough collaboration in their workplaces and 40% believe social tools help foster better teamwork; 31% said they are willing to spend their own money to buy social tools.


Reading Comprehension Just as Good on Kindle or Paper

[BPS; Seb Schmoller]

A 2010 study found no difference in recall after reading material electronically versus paper. Now, more recent research has investigated comprehension and found no deficits in understanding of material consumed on a Kindle or a computer versus paper.  Ninety participants read ten short passages of text (five factual and five fiction, each of about 500 words).  One third of them read on A4 paper, a third used a Kindle and the final 30 read PDFs on a computer monitor.  They then answered multiple-choice comprehension questions, showing overall accuracy of around 75%, regardless of medium/device.  The researchers concluded, “While new technologies have sometimes been seen as disruptive, these results indicate that students' comprehension does not necessarily suffer, regardless of the format from which they read their text.”

The University of York has set up a Reading on Screen site, packed full of help, advice, links and downloadable guides, for users and developers alike.

But, according to US research, students and professors are still not yet ready for digital textbooks.  While publishers are increasingly offering digital materials, and students increasingly have the right devices, only 3% of the 1500 surveyed used a digital textbook as their primary course material last semester.  When asked why, about half “prefer the look and feel of print;” nearly half say they like to highlight and take notes in the textbooks; and a third cite that they can’t re-sell digital textbooks.


History of Computer Programming Languages

Being a sad old former programmer who sweated over lines of Pascal, Ada and C (without any plusses or sharps), this history of programming languages infographic brought back some memories.




And Finally…

[BPS; Audrey Watters]

If someone gave you a bag of 14 chocolates to carry around for five days, would you be able to resist eating them?  A recent study with 137 participants compared the effectiveness of two different ‘mindfulness’ resistance techniques.  One group used ‘cognitive defusion’ (“you are not your thoughts”) whilst another group used ‘urge surfing’ (riding the wave of their cravings).  The cognitive defusion group ate fewer chocolates (0.02 over 5 days compared with 0.27 for the urge surfing group) because the technique appeared to reduce mindless automatic consumption of chocolate more than the other interventions.

For those who can’t resist snacking, beware the wrath of NYU Professor Geoffrey Miller who tweeted, “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”  A flood of rebukes from his NYU colleagues and Twitter's active academic community caused him to replace his message with the more apologetic, “My sincere apologies to all for that idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet.  It does not reflect my true views, values, or standards”.  However, his past came back to haunt him as someone found a tweet he posted in January: “Dean Kamen's new device to suck food out of people's stomachs? Or, fat people could just STOP EATING?


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