The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

e-Learning Digest No 114 - Feb 14

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
17 February 2014

UK Conferences & Workshops  



[Belinda Tynan; Audrey Watters; THE; Getting Smart; Paul Hoffman; edSurge; Stephen Downes]

Harvard is making some MOOCs available only to its alumni from next month in an effort to help Harvard graduates reconnect with the university and one another.  HarvardX for Alumni will offer versions of seven Harvard MOOCs exclusively to graduates of the university. The courses will not be full-length MOOCs but “segments” that include some new material developed specially for graduates.

One notable absentee from MITx/edX has been MIT’s own Sloan School of Management, but that’s about to change as Sloan offers its data analytics course for free in the spring semester.  Analytics Edge will offer the same curriculum for MOOC and campus students, including studies of the dating site eHarmony and the 2012 US presidential election, with MOOC students watching prerecorded lectures and submitting assignments online.

Belinda Tynan spots a “slightly confused article” in Business Week, reporting a Babson poll of more than 2,800 colleges and universities that finds 39% disagree that MOOCs are ‘a sustainable method for offering courses’ (up from 26% last year).  She comments that, “It wouldn't be entirely cynical to see this as a piece of simple product differentiation on the part of the 'elite' schools designed to bolster their position as custodians of the self-styled quality end of the market.  MOOCs may indeed be the democratisation of knowledge but the thrust of the article is that such new-fangled devices cannot be compared with the personal treatment available at the premium end of the market”.  She also wonders, if MOOCs are so poor, why Harvard/Wharton/MIT are still pursuing them, and is some form of hybrid solution possible that exploits MOOC precepts within a suitably supported student experience?

Diana Laurillard explains in THE why MOOCs are not necessarily the answer to all our problems.  In particular she notes that content which may be ‘free’ to the consumer is almost certainly not free for the provider, and she discusses in detail the myths that students might simply support each other through their courses and that MOOCs will bring education to the underprivileged.

Udemy has launched an Android mobile app which allows students to engage with course materials, watch videos on demand and download rich content for offline consumption.  Udemy’s existing iOS apps have already been downloaded nearly 1 million times and mobile course consumption now accounts for approximately 20% of content from Udemy’s catalogue of around 10,000 courses.

Coursera is partnering with Discovery Communications (The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet) to offer MOOCs on their new online learning portal.

A new paper from CETIS discusses three themes that have emerged from recent MOOC activity: the provision of scalable, open, online learning; different revenue models such as applying the concepts of freemium and premium offers; and disaggregated services such as offering paid-for assessment or support on top of free online course content.

edSurge offers an infographic that portrays the size and shape of the current MOOC marketplace and, although some data have been previously reported directly by Coursera, it still provides a useful numeric overview. 

However, if it’s detail you’re after, turn to Harvard and MIT’s detailed research into participants in their first 17 MOOCs.  There’s the standard demographic information we’ve come to expect, along with some more interesting but rarely reported details such as ages of certificate-earners (Fig 6), when students enrolled relative to the start date (Fig 8), forum posts (Table 6) and course grades vs content accessed (Fig 13).

Even more detailed and varied are the just-published proceedings of the 2014 European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit.  Even a rapid scroll through its 293 pages suggests that this must surely be required reading for MOOC theorists everywhere.

...but the most esoteric MOOC research of the month award goes to Cheng & Shatin in EURODL for the emotional affordances of the massive open online course.


Commercial News

[edSurge; Campus Technology; The Telegraph; Wired Campus; Audrey Watters; TechCrunch; ALT]

David Levin has taken over as president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education, following the retirement of Lloyd Waterhouse.  And McGraw-Hill has just bought Engrade, an online gradebook provider, for a reported $50 million, and acquired the remaining 80% of Area9, an adaptive learning company.

Pearson shares fell in London by 8% after news of higher than expected restructuring costs coupled with, “our trading and financial performance has been weaker than expected, particularly in North America”.

Publisher, John Wiley & Sons is teaming with Knode, a startup that offers a cloud-based biomedical search and profiling platform to create customized research portals for academic organisations and scientific societies.

The Government is proposing that UK visas could be auctioned off to overseas millionaires or offered in return for them endowing good causes such as hospitals, universities and colleges.  The proposals will be outlined in a report by the Government’s immigration advisers, which will say that foreigners will be able to bid for a proportion of investor visas, which will allow them to apply to remain here indefinitely.

Blackboard is buying student-centric web platform MyEdu, which helps students to map out their most efficient and cost-effective paths toward degrees.  The platform has been used by about a million US students at more than 800 colleges.

Google is buying London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMind for a reported $500 million and will compete against other major tech companies focusing on deep learning.  The move follows Facebook’s hiring of NYU professor Yann LeCunn to lead its new AI Lab, Yahoo’s recent acquisition of photo analysis startup LookFlow to lead its new deep learning group and news that IBM’s Watson supercomputer is now working on deep learning.

OpenSesame – “The for online training courses”, with 20,000 currently on offer – has raised $8.1 million in funding which it will use to boost its sales, engineering and marketing teams.

The University of Florida, in partnership with Pearson, has launched UF Online, offering undergraduate degree programs online for new and transfer students.  Under the terms of the partnership, UF maintains ownership of “all decisions related to curricula, faculty, admission and enrolment standards” whilst Pearson will provide technology, e-textbooks, marketing, enrolment management, and student support and retention services. UF Online aims to reach 24,000 enrolments within 10 years.

The University of London Computer Centre is entering into a partnership with Ephorus, a Dutch-based provider of plagiarism prevention software.  Customers of ULCC's hosted Moodle service will direct access to Ephorus plagiarism prevention services which will automatically check every essay and dissertation submitted by students.


Athabasca Moving Away From Tutors?

[Tony Bates]

Athabasca’s Faculty of Science is moving to a call-centre model of learner support for some of its undergraduate courses.  Students call with their query, are given a tracking number and then someone calls them back later, depending on who is available.  This replaces a previous system more akin to the OU’s AL/tutor model.  The move is expected to save around $1m a year.


New OU Research iBooks

[Alexander Mikroyannidis]

The OU has published two new interactive iBooks which showcase the latest research outputs of the European ROLE and EUCLID projects.  Self-Regulated Learning introduces and demonstrates a selection of learning tools that will help readers build their personal learning environment and become self-regulated learners; readers can try these tools through a set of interactive learning activities included in the book.  Using Linked Data Effectively facilitates professional training for data practitioners that want to use linked data in their daily work; readers can study various aspects in depth, watch movies and screencasts, as well as test their knowledge via quizzes and exercises.


JISC Technology-Enhanced Assessment Guides


JISC has published four new guides on technology-enhanced approaches to assessment and feedback.  These are built on the experiences, approaches and lessons learned from recent work with over 30 institutions in UK FE and HE, exploring a range of new approaches to assessment and feedback.


BBC is 'Stifling' Educational Innovation

[Belinda Tynan]


The ‘most biased and uninformed opinion of the month’ award goes to investment banker Hugh Campbell. He complains that the BBC is stifling educational innovation by giving away too much content for free, singling out BBC Bitesize as the main offender (an obvious next choice, given that the commercial sector managed to kill off the highly innovative (and also free) BBC Jam in 2007).  Oh Hugh.  There’s probably more educational innovation going on right now than there ever has been.  You just need to get over the fact that a lot of it isn’t making you any money and start seeing some of those perceived threats as opportunities – for example, just think what a next generation of Coursera’s signature track technology might do for reliable remote assessment across our industry.  And, yes, we know MOOC completion rates are around 10% but that’s not failure, it’s a different ‘normal’.  Have you read every textbook you own from cover to cover, Hugh?



Puttnam: Fear of Technology May Hold Back Change in Education

[The Telegraph]

OU Chancellor Lord Puttnam believes not enough is being done to allay the fears of education professionals who see developments in education technology as intimidating.  He also spoke of the “natural conservatism” of many people in education, particular in higher education, with regards to developments in education and technology.  “It is possible that those people, because of their fears, will hold back changes that could happen a lot quicker,” he said. “We really need visionary teachers who can use all these new resources, who are not intimidated by them.”


The Americanization of British Higher Education

[New York Times]

NYT believes Britain’s 200-year-old degree grading system is broken, reporting that 21 universities started to experiment in November with a US-style grade-point average (GPA) approach.  The hope is that this could offer a better evaluation of students’ efforts and help solve grade inflation and other problems, although many British academics think the GPA method itself is flawed.  “I think this GPA reform is a bit like giving academics American titles such as assistant, associate, or full professor.  It’s the Americanization of higher education,” said Christopher Hill, head of the politics and international-studies department at the University of Cambridge.  “I don’t think it will do what people are assuming it will do.  I don’t think it’s likely to make much of a difference.”


University of Leeds Plans to Capture 50,000 Hours of Video Annually

[Campus Technology; Gráinne Conole]

The University of Leeds is installing equipment to automatically capture around 50,000 hours of video lectures and teaching activities each year which will then be distributed via its Blackboard LMS/VLE.  The new system will “provide over 30,000 students with outstanding resources to support their learning.” 

I was all set to add a sceptical comment about the dullness and limited value of recorded lectures, but was stopped in my tracks by a blog post from Gráinne last year in which she reported that 85% of Leicester students said they would welcome lecture capture.


Psychometric Considerations in Game-based Assessment


Psychometric Considerations in Game-based Assessment is a free report based on case study using SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!  It explores the opportunities and challenges for psychometricians and measurement experts in using gameplay data to assess student learning, and also proposes a design approach that links the process of game design with the process of assessment design.


Free and Low-Cost Learning Resources Not Popular

[Campus Technology]

A Gates-subsidised OER trial in the state of Washington has failed to take off.  Thirty-four institutions in the Washington Community and Technical College system were selected to offer Open Course Library materials in 42 courses per campus.  But a survey of 25 of those 34 campuses found that only 2.8% of the 2,722 course units used OCL materials and that just 2.4% of students enrolled in the selected courses.  However, a rose-tinted, glass-half-full spokesman said “I don't think this data suggests the program is a failure. Quite the contrary: Students in the sections where OCL materials are being used have seen lower costs for those classes.”


The NMC Horizon Report

[Campus Technology]

The NMC Horizon Report is a collaborative effort between the NMC and EDUCAUSE.  This preview of the 2014 HE edition describes key trends accelerating ed-tech adoption in HE (e.g. social media use in learning), significant challenges impeding ed-tech adoption (e.g. low digital fluency of faculty) and important developments in ed-tech (e.g. learning analytics).


Mobile Media Use, Multitasking and Distractibility

[IGI Global]

IGI is offering a free download of a recent paper from International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning.  Mobile Media Use, Multitasking and Distractibility examines how multitasking with media affects users' performance in various domains (e.g. driving, work, studying) and why media multitasking is related to distraction, distractibility, and impulsivity.  The authors conclude that “Greater use of media is correlated with higher levels of trait impulsivity and distractibility, but the direction of causality has not been established.”


Short-Fat vs Long-Thin Online Study

[Tony Bates]

US researchers compared 58 students studying an online undergraduate course on abnormal psychology, designed to have a 16-week duration, with a group of 57 who took a condensed 8-week version.  The former group achieved a mean final score of 756/1000, submitting 15.5 of 18 possible assignments, whilst the latter group scored 763 and submitted 15.6 assignments.  Unfortunately, the paper is quite thin on background details so it is not clear to what extent this might be generalizable to OU students.


Devices Update

[TechCrunch, Campus Technology]

According to analysts IDC, total worldwide mobile phone shipments in 2013 were up by 4.8% to 1.82 billion units.  The number of smartphones shipped worldwide in 2013 topped one billion – or about one smart phone for every seven human beings alive and, for the first time, smartphones also made up the majority of all cell phone shipments, at 55.1% (up from 41.7% in 2012).

While Android is by far the most prevalent mobile OS worldwide, iOS remains particularly dominant in the US.  Q4 figures show that Apple shipped 51 million iPhones and 26 million iPads.  The demise of the iPod comes ever closer as sales halved from 12.7 million (2012: Q4) to around 6 million.

According to Juniper Research, phablet shipments are expected to hit 120 million units shipped by 2018, up from the estimated 20 million phablets shipped in 2013.  Juniper notes that, when Samsung launched its first Galaxy Note, the company sold 2 million units in the first four months, but the most recent Galaxy Note 3 sold 5 million units in a week.


Access to Research at Public Libraries


An Access to Research initiative, arising from the so-called Finch Group of publishers, libraries, universities and learned societies, will provide access to 8,400 academic journals from publishers such as Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor and Francis and Nature Publishing Group.  Online access will be provided via local libraries and over half of local authorities have signed up to the two-year pilot scheme.


Year of Code, UK Style

[Audrey Watters]

On 5 Feb, Newsnight featured an item about teaching children to code.  And I quote: “The reporter talking about the idea shows her ignorance of technology, Jeremy Paxman shows he's a technology luddite who knows nothing about nothing, and the director of the ‘Year of Code’ initiative, says she can't write any computer code, but you can learn it [and how to teach it] in a day!”





And Finally…

[Audrey Watters; Gill Marshall]

Missing Flappy Bird already?  Sesame Street now brings Flappy Bert to a (newer-than-IE8) PC near you.

Or if you prefer something more passive, lose yourself for a few minutes in the Blue Ball Machine.

Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.