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e-Learning Digest No 109 - Sep 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 September 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; TechCrunch; University World News; THE; Wired Campus, Audrey Watters]

Paul Fain writes gives a detailed assessment of Kaplan’s fortunes now that The Washington Post has gone its own way.  The company introduced the Kaplan Commitment in 2010 a three-week try-before-you-buy scheme which saw student numbers fall by 47% and revenues drop by more than $600m, leading to plans to close nine campuses and consolidate four others.  However, Kaplan is now back in profit, new student enrolments are up by 21% and Kaplan accounts for 62% of the WP parent company’s total revenue.

InstaEDU has just received $4m funding to expand its online service that allows students to instantly connect with a top tutor.  Students can browse tutor profiles, message with tutors, connect instantly or set up a video/audio/text lesson with a specific tutor at a specific time.  Tutoring sessions typically $25-45 per hour, compared with $50-100 for more traditional tutoring.

Australia is now the most expensive destination for overseas students, with annual tuition and living costs hitting US$38,000, followed by the US ($35k) and UK ($30k).  Despite that, Australia remains popular with students, with a 2011 study showing that 21% of Australia’s entire student population was from overseas. is a web-based service that helps students improve writing and grammar skills by generating grammar questions based on their personal interests, Facebook friends and favourite celebrities, adapting quizzes and exercises according to student performance.  The company has just received $2m in seed funding.

The University of East London has ordered an investigation into its international activities after the closure of its Cyprus campus, which recruited just 17 students in its first six months.

Collegefeed has raised $1.8m in funding to boost its social networking/crowdsourcing service that connects students with each other and potential employers.  Its Facebook-like news feed lets students access tuition help, mentors, job opportunities and interview guidance.  

Malaysia’s Allianze University College of Medical Sciences (AUCMS) has bought a 32-hectare site from Middlesex University for £30m as part of its plans to expand into Europe.  Around 300 existing students from Malaysia are expected to be on campus by October but AUCMS aims to secure accreditation as a British university in order to be able to enrol British medical students.

London Metropolitan University has written off £2m after its partnership with the privately-owned London School of Business and Finance collapsed.  LMU was to have validated business courses and sponsored international students at LSBF – until the Home Office stepped in last Dec and stripped LMU of its licence.

Mindsy is a UK startup that aims to offer a Netflix-style service for video-based e-learning content.  A $29 per month ‘all you can eat’ subscription will currently provide access to over 5,000 video lessons.  Mindsy believes it can offer a wider spectrum of courses – ranging from computer programming to learning the piano – than competitors such as

Two Texas Colleges are working with Pearson Education to launch the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program – a 90-credit-hour online program leading to a degree in organizational leadership.  The program will use a hybrid model that combines an academic coach and a competency-based curriculum created by Pearson and the two state institutions.  The curriculum will be offered in seven-week sessions, each costing less than $1000, and can be completed as slowly or quickly as a student likes. 

Who says there’s no such thing as bad publicity?  The State of New York is suing Trump University for alleged fraud on behalf of the 5,000 people who’ve paid Trump around $40m, only to discover they weren’t getting what they’d been led to expect (e.g. pyramid selling techniques; have your photo taken next to a cardboard cut-out of Donald). 



[Pete Mitton; George Siemens; TechCrunch; Stephen Downes; New York Times; Campus Technology]

edX has announced a partnership with Google to jointly develop the edX open source learning platform and tools.  In collaboration with Google, edX will build out and operate, a new site for non-xConsortium universities, institutions, businesses, governments and teachers to build and host their courses for a global audience.  This sees Google expand further into education, coming on top of Play for Education, Apps for Education and Course Builder.

Udacity has announced the launch of the Open Education Alliance, which aims to provide students worldwide with skills and knowledge to pursue successful careers in technology.  Other partners include AT&T, Autodesk, Google, Khan Academy and NVIDIA.

Coursera claims that 25,000 learners have signed up for Signature Track since its January launch, generating around $1m in revenue.  In addition, some 25,000 less fortunate learners have been given access to Signature Track at no cost by Coursera.

The City of Boston has teamed with edX to create BostonX.  The programme will offer free online MOOCs available at community colleges and libraries throughout the city.

Udacity is different from many other MOOC providers in that it mostly makes its own courses (typically with a core team of around 8 people) and hires instructors to present them.  Founder Sebastian Thrunn has also kept their course list small because, “I want to solve the question of how to make education work and only scale up once I figure that out” and he now believes he has the answers.  Part of his formula is to provide plenty of support in the form of mentors, a help line and proactive phone calls to students but he believes the next big thing will be adaptive learning which can respond to learner performance and progression.

Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier has announced that he will no longer teach his non-credit “Introduction to Sociology” MOOC despite having already reached more than 40,000 – because he is concerned that it could undermine public higher education.  His decision was apparently triggered when Coursera asked him about licensing the MOOC so that other schools could use the content for a blend of online and offline instruction.

A MOOC on creativity is interesting enough (well, 120,000 people seem to think so) but so too is Penn State’s attempt to cope with different types of participant.  The course design allows learners to select one of three profiles that best suits their circumstances.  ‘Adventurers’ are those who are willing and able to make the biggest commitment to the course and get most involved.  ‘Tourists’ can pick and choose their course activities, whilst ‘Explorers’ fall in the middle of the spectrum of course commitment and involvement.

The University of California, Irvine, is collaborating with US TV company AMC to launch a MOOC based on a zombie TV show, the Walking Dead.  Academics from UCI say the course will be, “academically rigorous and tackle serious scientific issues, related to events in the show”.  For example, a physicist will look at the “science behind decay”; the public health department will use the series to study questions such as “What can we learn from past epidemics?” and maths lecturers will show how “post-calculus maths can be used to model population and epidemic dynamics”.  This may push drop-out rates to whole new depths…

FutureLearn’s initial course list – containing MOOCs from over 20 UK and international universities – will be launched on Wed 18 Sep.

The latest issue of Merlot’s JOLT (Vol 9, No 2) is a special issue devoted to MOOCs.



[NYT; Campus Technology; UBC; Pete Mitton]

Georgia Institute of Technology, in partnership with Udacity, will offer a MOOM (MOOC-based Master of Science in computer science) for $6,600 compared with on-campus fees of $45,000.  Georgia Tech will provide the content and professors and take 60% of the revenue, with Udacity providing the platform and course assistants for its 40% take.  The projected budget for the Jan 14 test run is $3.1m (including $2m from AT&T) with $240k profits, rising to $14.3m costs and $4.7m profits in year 3.

An eleven-week DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course) starts on 23 Sep, looking at technology through a feminist lens.  Planned activities include a “storming” of Wikipedia to “write women and feminist scholarship of science and technology back into our web-based cultural archives.”

The University of British Columbia is introducing its first LOOC (Local Open Online Course) as part of its Master of Educational Technology programme.  The LOOC is essentially a localised form of a MOOC, open to all members of the UBC community.  It will help users “acquire, maintain, refine and promote” digital literacy skills but they will be able to build their skills in any area, in any order and at any speed that they wish

Two professors from the University of Texas have just launched a SMOC (Synchronous Massive Online Class) on introductory psychology, with the aim of eventually enrolling 10,000 students at $550 and earning $$$s for their school.  The pedagogic model is very simple the professors lecture into a camera and students watch on their computers or mobile devices in real time.  I hope they’re good.


MOOC Analysis

[Wired Campus]

Vanderbilt University has published some facts and figures from its first three MOOCs that ran earlier this year.  There was the usual downward trend from initial interest, watched a video, took a quiz, etc - but completion rates of 7%, 15% and 16% are at the healthier end of the current MOOC spectrum.

Detailed analysis of three recent algebra and stats MOOCs also comes from San José State University.  These were remedial and introductory courses offered to ‘at-risk’ students during the Spring.  Emerging from 48pp of tables and graphs is the news that what mattered most was how hard students worked: “Measures of student effort trump all other variables tested for their relationships to student success”.


Khan Academy Learning Dashboard

[Audrey Watters]

Khan Academy has introduced a personal learning dashboard that tracks each student’s progress, helps with claiming badges and makes recommendations about what videos/exercises to work through next. 


Innovating Technology 2013

IET’s second annual Innovating Technology report has just been published.  This is where that well known firm of solicitors, Sharples, McAndrew, Weller & Partners, attempt to predict the future in terms of, “new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, in order to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation”.  Their top ten includes some old favourites (MOOCs, badges, analytics), plus some interesting new arrivals such as seamless learning, crowd learning and citizen inquiry.


Where Student Fees Go


Where Student Fees Go is a new report from Universities UK which explains the effects of the shift from HEFCE grants to tuition fees.  The report contains a number of national statistics and trends, plus numerous case studies from individual institutions.  Some HEIs appear to have benefitted from tuition fee income whereas others have seen a reduction in income; high levels of investment in staff and facilities are evident and this seems to have had a positive impact on National Student Survey results.


40% of University Language Departments Face Closure

[The Guardian]

A-level candidates for French and German fell by 50% between 1996 and 2012, and the number of universities offering degrees in modern languages has plunged from 105 in 2000 to 62 at the start of this academic year.  Now former government adviser, Prof Mike Kelly, warns that as many as 40% of language departments are likely to close within a decade.  It has emerged that just 3% of EU staff are British despite the UK contributing 11% of Europe's population.  The Foreign Office is so concerned that it has built its own languages school and is spending £1m a year to bring the civil service up to scratch.


LinkedIn University Pages


LinkedIn began life as a useful service to allow professionals to network with each other.  That seems to have degenerated recently with the proliferation of seemingly endless (and often dubious) endorsements.  However, LinkedIn is now trying to capitalise on some younger users’ reported lukewarmness toward Facebook by targeting secondary school students (13+ will be able to sign up from 12 Sep) and with the introduction of university pages.


Students and Recruiters Suspicious of Online Education

[Audrey Watters]

According to a new report, See the Future 2013, 50% of employers would not consider recruiting someone who had studied for their degree wholly online and more than 70% said they did not believe that an online degree offered the same opportunity for students as a campus-based one.  However, 80% of those same managers and directors believed that their own companies would use technology to deliver more workplace learning in the future.  Business students were also wary of online degrees: although more than 40% would consider studying for part of their business degree online, only 30% would consider studying on a MOOC.  The report is based on responses from around 5,400 people from 137 countries.

A survey of 2,251 professors, conducted for Inside Higher Ed by Gallup, finds significant scepticism about the quality of online learning, with only one in five of them agreeing that online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.  However, many negative views are expressed by professors with little or no exposure to online learning.  Only 30% of respondents had taught at least one course online, but 50% of these agreed or strongly agreed that online courses were as effective as F2F, compared to just 13% of professors who had not taught online.  There is more universal scepticism about MOOCs with most respondents wanting faculties to be able to decide how these are used and that accreditors review their quality.


Elsevier Launches Open Video Journal

[Campus Technology; Nature]

Elsevier has launched a new open journal on gastrointestinal endoscopy that includes videos with each article because, “many pathologies, current endoscopic techniques, and materials are too complex to be explained by conventional written articles.”  All content (including videos) are peer-reviewed; each video includes auditory comments and transcripts are included as plain text and PDF files.

A new report by the EU finds that the number of freely available research papers is growing at a faster rate than expected.  Researchers found that around 50% of research articles published in 2011 can be obtained via open-access journals or from other free online sources.  Brazil appears to be the most ‘free’ country, followed by the US, with Biology and Biomedical research topping the subject rankings.


Facebook and Six Phone Companies Aim to Improve Internet Access


Facebook has announced a partnership with Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera and Qualcomm to launch, a project aimed at bringing affordable internet access to the 5bn people without it.  Around a third of the world’s population currently has internet access and this is growing at just 9% a year. will see companies working together on data-compression technologies and cheap, high-quality smartphones to make the web more accessible.


Every Little (Tablet) Helps

[The Independent]

Reports are emerging that Tesco will soon launch its own brand of tablet, rumoured to have a 7” screen, run Android and sell for around £100.  The device will come loaded with apps for Tesco online shopping and banking, plus Blinkbox - the video-on-demand service Tesco bought two years ago.  This will see the retailer compete directly with Netflix and iTunes, but with a possible deal-clincher of Clubcard points.


Current Use of Blended Learning

[Clive Shepherd]

A recent report from Kineo and The Oxford Group, Blended Learning: Current Use, Challenges and Best Practices, is based on a survey of over 100 organisations.  This found that 86% of organisations report using a blend of development methods; F2F is the most prevalent method (reported by 75% of respondents) but its use is decreasing, with self-paced e-learning at number two (51%) but on the increase.  Expectations for the coming two years predict an increase in m-learning (56%), virtual classrooms (54%) and webinars, learning resources and social learning (all at 49%).  Interestingly, 51% never or rarely calculate the return on investment or construct business cases as part of the blended design process.


Planet Apple


Where to begin?  Data from StatCounter shows how Apple devices dominate certain markets, especially in the ‘developed world’, but that Samsung is ahead in worldwide sales.  Kantar WorldPanel presents a similar view based on latest quarterly sales figures, 65% of which were Android.  Might all that change with the new ‘cheaper’ iPhone 5C?  Probably not: the UK price will be £469 for the 16GB model (£80 cheaper than the new iPhone 5S, but still more expensive than the HTC One and Galaxy S4) – so nobody’s yet predicting a flood of new recruits in China, India and other Android strongholds.  Perhaps competition for Apple and Samsung might start to come from Microsoft, who are buying Nokia’s mobile phone business for £4.6bn?

Analytics firm Flurry tells us who does what with their iOS devices and new analysts on the block, Appurify, lift the lid on how a mobile app’s ranking in the iTunes App Store can be significantly affected by user ratings and other metrics in order to help determine its place on the charts.  They also explain what causes some of the lower user ratings.


Facebook in Education

[Stephen Downes; Audrey Watters; ASTD; Elliott Masie]

The Facebook Guide for Educators (20pp PDF) compiles the views and experiences of various UK educators and offers advice ranging from ‘what is Facebook?’ and ‘how to get setup’ through to examples and case studies on formal and less formal uses in education.

The newly published Almanac of Higher Education reports that 94.8% of all US institutions have an institutional presence on Facebook.

According to a survey of 1000+ senior managers, 68% of them report feeling uncomfortable at being “friended” by their bosses or by the employees they supervise (62%) – up from 47% and 48% in a similar 2009 survey.  In addition, 49% prefer not to connect with co-workers on Facebook.

Adam Grant reports on Why Some People Have No Boundaries Online, suggesting that ‘Integrators’ strive to blend their jobs with their private lives, tweeting or posting about their kids at work and sharing the same information with colleagues as family and friends.  However, ‘Segmentors’ like to keep their professional and personal lives separate; for example, they might use LinkedIn for professional contacts and Facebook for personal contacts.



[TechCrunch; BBC; Stephen Downes]

Oyster has launched a Netflix-style service for books, offering subscribers unlimited access to its library of 100,000 titles for $9.95/month.  At launch, Oyster’s library offers titles from a wide range of genres, from sci-fi to biographies, including both classics and bestsellers.  Of note is that the deal includes titles from Harper-Collins - one of the ‘Big Five’ publishers who have been fighting subscription model tooth and nail.

Amazon has introduced Kindle MatchBook which allows purchasers of print books to also buy a Kindle version at a discount.

The BBC reports on the rapid increase in self-published books around the world, and the fact that major publishing houses are having to find new ways to maintain their market share, through innovative pricing or offering interactive features for their e-books to help stand out in a crowded market.

Flooved aims to offer open access textbooks for undergraduates, starting with Maths and Physics subjects.

And of course, the ongoing ‘why do students prefer print?’ discussion continues.


Smartwatch Roundup

Smartwatch stories having been simmering for several months, but we now seemed to have reached the point where the mockups and prototypes are tipping into actual products.

The $149 Pebble Smartwatch launched a couple of months ago and, whilst not as pretty as some of the more recent launches, it uses an e-ink display which should help preserve precious battery life.  The Italian I’m Watch has been around for a few weeks and is more expensive (£219) but more stylish. 

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch launched on 4 Sep, although no prices or shipping dates have yet been confirmed.  Initial reviews are favourable but the Gear is tied very closely to other Samsung products (it currently only works with the Samsung Note III), so that will greatly limit initial uptake.

The £160 Sony Smartwatch 2 should be available any day now and claims to be “the world's first Android compatible SmartWatch with one-touch NFC.”  Omate’s TrueSmart is actually Android powered and will be available at $299 in time for Christmas.  Unlike the competition, the TrueSmart is also a phone, whereas most smartwatches just link to your phone via Bluetooth.  But of course, most interest surrounds Apple’s iWatch - although this seems to be the furthest away from actual launch (predicted for mid-2014).

And once we’ve all finished gasping at the coolness, it should only be a matter of time before developers start coming up with useful e-learning apps.  I’m a great believer in the power of immediacy and, whilst it’s no great problem to get your phone out and swipe/log-in, simply being able to lift your wrist is much more spontaneous and seems to open up all sorts of opportunities for just-in-time nuggets of learning.



[Stephen Downes]

Having failed to takeover the (virtual) world with SecondLife, Linden Lab is now trying its hand at consumer apps and is doing very nicely with Blocksworld - which has consistently been in the top-ten grossing apps list since its launch last month.  No firm figures on income, but New World Notes estimates that the current front runner, Candy Crush Saga, is generating income of around $880,000 per day.


Researchers Demo First Brain-To-Brain Control


No, it’s not e-learning but it’s fascinating.  Two researchers at the University of Washington have created a remote, non-invasive, brain-to-brain interface (using a transcranial magnetic coil) that allows one person to trigger another’s finger remotely on a keyboard using his thoughts.  They stress that this is not mind control or mind reading, but a way of sending a small shock to create a predictable but involuntary motion.




And Finally…


A soft toy controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer has re-created Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking 24-mile skydive.  Babbage the bear has now leapt from a similar height after ascending beneath a hydrogen-filled balloon.  The Raspberry Pi micro-computer inside Babbage transmitted his position and shot stills and video throughout the flight until his (her?) landing in a field a couple of miles south of Shaftesbury.

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