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e-Learning Digest No 110 - Oct 13

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
14 October 2013

UK Conferences & Workshops


Commercial News

[The Telegraph; University World News; THE; TechCrunch; Audrey Watters; Kineo]

The number of US institutions marketing themselves to British students has almost doubled in four years.  More than 9,000 British students took HE courses in the US in 2011-12, but this is expected to grow in 2013 and 2014.  The number of British students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT– the US HE entrance exam) has risen by a quarter in the past three years.  UWN also reports that more UK independent school sixth formers are seeking out university courses abroad, according to headteachers of the UK’s leading independent schools.

CBI chief, John Cridland, thinks England has too many universities.  He warned a fringe meeting at last month’s Labour conference that some institutions are “a little bit too small” and are vulnerable to falls in recruitment from overseas.  But Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, challenged this view, suggesting that rather than “too many students” or “too many universities”, the problem was “a funding system that is not doing the right things”.

The Government has introduced some reforms to ELQ funding for some upskilling students, but Birkbeck’s David Latchman argues that they should go further in supporting part-timers.

US for-profit UniversityNow has raised $20.4 million in funding to help build a network of accredited, online universities where students earn undergraduate and graduate degrees at a low cost and in a flexible environment.  Students take an initial assessment which generates an appropriately adapted curriculum.  Then, through a combination of online videos, textbooks, assignments, assessment tools and peer discussions with instructors and classmates, students move through the course until they are ready for final exams, which can be taken at home. has been quietly building a social networking platform for academics and researchers for the past 5 years and now boasts 4.3 million users.  About 1m new users join every three months and around 150,000 articles are uploaded every month.  The company has just attracted $11.1m in new funding.

Amazon is acquiring education technology company TenMarks for an undisclosed sum.  TenMarks provides personalised online maths practice and instruction to school students, with hints, videos and real-time results that aim to motivate and engage them.

Social publishing service, Scribd, has announced that the “majority” of HarperCollins US and HarperCollins Christian’s back catalogue will now be available to its 80 million active users via Scribd’s subscription service.  Readers pay $8.99 per month and can read unlimited books through desktop and mobile browsers or iPhone, iPad, and Android apps.

Pearson is about to undertake an e-learning pilot project in Southern Africa using Inmarsat’s global 3G satellite network.  A range of educational facilities, from schools to HEIs will use Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) to access Pearson’s education technology platforms.

City & Guilds and Kineo are launching an e-Learning Apprenticeship Academy which aims to develop key skills across the entire e-learning production process.  One of the academy’s offerings will be a multi-year e-learning apprenticeship programme, run in collaboration with the wider industry.



[Wired Campus; Stephen Downes; Paul Hoffman; THE; Audrey Watters; Adrian Bickers]

Harvard is introducing SPOCs (small private online courses) which are still free and delivered through the internet, but access is restricted to much smaller numbers rather than tens of thousands.  For example, Harvard has just launched a course in US national security strategy and, alongside the campus students, there will be a parallel SPOC version with a limit of about 500 online students, each of whom was required to submit a written assignment about the US government's response to the conflict in Syria, along with details of their academic credentials in order to gain entry.

The government has published The Maturing of the MOOC, a detailed 123-page “literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning”.  The headlines: MOOCs are disrupting HE; there are different perspectives on their value from faculty, employers and students (the latter – those that stick around – generally like them); and there is considerable lack of clarity over business models and ROI.

Stephen Haggard refers to both the previous items in Moocs: from mania to mundanity.  His assessment of FutureLearn is lukewarm: “The pedagogy seemed to be that old favourite, linear instructivism: watch an expert presentation, do some reading and an assessment, then go on to the next class” and “Many courses reheat existing material”.  And of course, he’s right: we really should invest much more public funding in giving this stuff away for free.

MITx will soon offer special certificates to students who complete a prescribed sequence of MOOCs (called an XSeries) from MIT.  The first XSeries – Foundations of Computer Science – will comprise seven courses that together “will cover content equivalent to two to four traditional residential courses and take between six months and two years to complete”.  Students will pay roughly $100 per course, or $700 for a whole XSeries, with online proctoring software ensuring they are who they say they are.

Getting a Wharton MBA involves taking off from work for two years, moving to Philadelphia, and spending about $200k on tuition and expenses.  Now, with the provision of three new MOOCs – financial accounting, marketing, and corporate finance – via Coursera, students can get much of the course content for free.  A fourth MOOC in operations management that’s already live rounds out the “foundation series” and there are also five existing elective MOOCs, including sports business and health care.

Brazilian EdTech company, Veduca, is introducing the world's first open online MBA in Engineering and Innovation, intended for professionals and entrepreneurs working in process management with a focus on innovation.  The online video classes are free, but those wanting a certificate will have to pay a fee and prepare and present a final project to a panel of examiners as well as taking exams for each subject in-person.

The EU has unveiled Open Education Europa, a website that aggregates MOOCs and other free online resources from European universities.  There are currently around 140 MOOCs on offer, including those old favourites ‘Algorithmen und Datenstrukturen’ and ‘Ohjelmoinnin perusteet’.

Given the high drop-out rates, Phil Hill considers whether centralised discussion forums are a barrier to MOOC engagement, citing data from edX and Coursera that suggests forums tend to be dominated by a relatively small proportion of learners.

The French Ministry of HE has announced France's MOOC and blended learning portal which will use the edX platform.  Over 100 HEIs throughout France will participate in the new venture, with the first CLOMs (cours en ligne ouverts et massifs) launching this month for starts in Jan 14.

The increasing rate of new information and opinions relating to MOOCs makes it quite difficult to keep up.  However, Stephen Downes has been doing his best to collate the notable items, which he’s organised into articles, presentations and posts.

Volume 1, Number 1 of MOOCs Forum is now available and includes an interview with Peter Lange, Provost at Duke University, a SWOT analysis of MOOCs and a case study of the first adaptive MOOC (aMOOC).


MIT OpenCourseWare Marks 10th Anniversary

[MIT News]

In its 10 year life, OCW has grown from offering 500 courses to more than 2,180.  The site has been accessed by 170m individuals who have generated 10bn server hits and 92m video downloads from YouTube and iTunes.  OCW is a voluntary effort for the MIT faculty and represents one of the largest intellectual philanthropy efforts ever by a HEI, with around with 1750 professors (including 5 Nobel Prize winners), researchers, lectures and teaching assistants contributing to the site over its history.


Khan Adds Personal Tutoring To Help Identify Skills Gap

[Campus Technology]

The Khan Academy is introducing a new “learning flow” personal tutor feature designed to help students figure out where to start their lessons and to know when they have mastered the concepts.  This has emerged from feedback which revealed that not all students know where to start their studies.  Once a student logs into their personal homepage, they will see a knowledge map comprising tiny tiles that represent new skills to be learned and, as they progress, these tiles change colour – from grey to blue, and then to a deeper blue as the student shows greater understanding.


Flexible Pedagogies: Part-Time Learners in HE


A new report from the HEA, Flexible pedagogies: part-time learners and learning in higher education, examines national part-time learning initiatives, current pedagogical theory and practice relating to flexible and part-time education, and presents case studies which illustrate the nature and form of these pedagogies and approaches.  The report is also supported by an audit tool and links to other guidance and research.


ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and IT

The latest ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology has just been published by Educause, based on over 113,000 responses from students in 13 countries.  Key findings are that: students recognise the value of technology but still need guidance when it comes to better using it for academic work; they prefer blended learning while beginning to experiment; they are ready to use their mobile devices more for academic work, but they also value their privacy.


Younger Children Reject Feature Phones in Favour Of Tablets


A new report from OFCOM, Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, shows that smartphone ownership amongst children is relatively stable at 62% of 12-15s and 18% of 8-11s.  However, ownership of non-smartphones has declined due to a massive increase in tablet ownership in the past year.  Some 26% of 12-15s and 18% of 8-11s now own a tablet and 28% of 3-4s use a tablet at home.  For the first time, fewer children have social networking profiles but they are visiting a greater variety of social networking sites.  And, according to my word search, there is no mention of ‘learning’ in any of the 221 pages.



[Campus Technology]

CourseWorld has launched a free library of educational videos focused entirely on arts and humanities materials.  There are currently around 16,000 indexed and keyword-tagged videos in 700 categories, based on crowd-sourced contributions.  Following a wiki-like approach, users can provide input and correct mistakes, leave comments, ask questions and add or change tags.


e-Readers Help Dyslexics Improve Reading Speed and Comprehension

[University World News]

US researchers have found that use of e-reader devices significantly improved reading speed and comprehension when compared with traditional presentations on paper “for specific subsets of these [dyslexic] individuals”.  However, it was not the device per se that improved matters, but its capacity to format text to give just a few words per line – which is known to improve matters for those dyslexics with visual attention deficits.


Australasian Virtual Worlds Scoping Study


In 2010-12, a team of researchers from Charles Sturt University, the University of New England and the University of Southern Queensland undertook a scoping study on the use of virtual worlds in Australian and New Zealand HEIs.  This comprised a literature review, questionnaires (117) and interviews (13) with participants who spanned range of subject  have been made relating to policy, practice and further research.


JISC Guide to Improving Curriculum Design

[Tony Bates]

A new JISC guide, Using technology to improve curriculum design, has just been published.  It provides guidance, a process model, information on validation and numerous real-world examples.

Learning or instructional designers are encouraged to spend 15 mins completing Concordia University’s annual survey of instructional designers.



Issue 14(4) of the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL) has just been published.  Amongst the usual selection of pertinent papers is Distance and e-learning, social justice, and development: The relevance of capability approaches to the mission of open universities by Alan Tait.


Fifth International m-Libraries Conference

[Sam Dick]

A call for papers is now open (until 28 Oct) for the 5th International m-Libraries Conference, to be held in Hong Kong next May and hosted jointly by The Open University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.  The conference will focus on the use of mobile technologies to deliver resources and support users in libraries around the world.  Themes will include: wearable technologies; enhancing Information Access for All; mobile OERs; and best practices, challenges and strategies.


Is Bunkr The New PowerPoint Killer?


It seems that gone are the days when hating Microsoft was an occupational pastime, but many of us still seem to harbour a grudge against PowerPoint – probably not because of the package itself, but the awful things some people do with it.  Prezi promised a different approach but it seemed quite complicated and never really took off.  Now comes Bunkr: a

web app that helps you collect visual content and organize it into slides.  The resulting HTML5 presentation works on your computer, phone or tablet – and can be exported as a PDF or PPT as well.


Which iPhone?

[TechCrunch; Digital Trends]

The new iPhones arrived with a bang, with Apple reporting that the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c combined sold 9 million units during their opening weekend – compared with total iPhone 5 sales last year of just 5 million.  Apple has also announced that 200 million devices are now running iOS 7, making this the “fastest software upgrade in history”.

But which one should you buy?  Digital trends offers a helpful comparison table to distinguish between the iPhones 4S, 5C and 5S.

And then of course you’ll need some apps.  Research from Gartner is predicting 102bn worldwide app store downloads this year, 91% of which will be (initially) free.  Those of us who chose to pay will spend a total of $20bn on apps and another 4.6bn on in-app purchases.




Illumoscope is a case for an iPhone 4/5 that provides illuminated macro photography.  There is a video clip that shows it in action, although some of the choices of subject are curious.  Never mind - if you need a low cost device to spot fleas, tick and bedbugs, Illumoscope could be just what you’re looking for.


Harvard Sues Milton Keynes School Over Name

[The Independent]

Harvard University in Massachusetts has launched a High Court action against Havard School in Milton Keynes for alleged trade-mark infringement.  Havard offers students the chance to study at what it describes as a “seat of wisdom” and points students towards the attractions Milton Keynes.  “The atmosphere generally nibbles and recommends itself to our noble senses,” Havard says of its environs.  It adds that the “posh and aesthetic beauty of houses” in Milton Keynes attracts students hoping to live “on the outskirts of London”.  Havard says it is the home of “legends and champions” but has yet to publish a full list of its alumni.




And Finally…

[TechCrunch; BBC]

Is this taking open source too far?  OpenDesk is a free, open source line of furniture that you can make yourself or order unassembled from a maker with a CNC machine.  The designs are available for download in .dwg and .dxf formats for driving a robotic CNC.  You can also download a PDF of the plans if you want to try to build the hardware by hand.

Better build yourself a chair.  You may need to sit down to contemplate the shocking news that Bill Gates believes the decision to introduce the key sequence Ctrl+Alt+Del was a mistake.

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