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e-Learning Digest No 118 - Jun 14

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 June 2014

UK Conferences & Workshops


Focus on…

This digest has only ever aimed to present a brief synopsis of each item, on the assumption that those who are interested will follow the hyperlink and investigate further for themselves.  However, I have been asked to try and pick out some information of direct relevance to the OU each month and present a little more detail.  So here goes.

As an organisation, we strive to better understand what our students like, need and expect from us in the shorter and longer term, and we are investing much more effort in conducting surveys and analysing data from various sources to try and build that picture.  But we can’t ask every survey question, nor can we fully understand what it really means if a student spends 7½ mins on a VLE page, so relevant external studies can often help to provide additional useful guidance and evidence for us.

The 2014 Global Survey of Students is a report commissioned by Laureate Education which analysed opinions from 21,000 students at 37 Laureate institutions in 21 countries on what universities of the future would look like.  The key outcomes were as follows:

  • Accessible.  Some 43% of students expect all content to be free for most university courses and 59% expect courses, “will utilize social media to learn and teach skills to other students”.  One in three thinks a majority of classes, “will be taught online instead of in a traditional classroom”.
  • Flexible.  52% expect, “a majority of classes will be provided all day and night” and 42% expect to be able to study in certificate-sized chunks throughout their academic career, rather than a concentrated few years leading to a degree.  64% also think courses will be taught simultaneously in multiple languages.
  • Innovative.  54% expect a high degree of collaboration and group projects, with 43% hoping to receive, “personalised tutoring and instruction by professors online, not in person”.
  • Job-focused.  Students expect courses to be job-focused, 61% expect most of these to have been designed by ‘industrial experts’ (whereas only 26% foresee content being designed by other students) and 71% expect courses to, “teach students career-oriented skills” in additional to subject matter.  They expect that employers will place a higher value on internships (55%), teamwork (53%) and workplace skills (48%) over pure academic performance (39%).

There is considerable overlap between this report and the outcomes of Belinda’s recent ‘Learning Now - For the Future’ workshops, which included inputs from some of our own students.  But perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us because most of these things are quite reasonable expectations from busy students who want to acquire workplace-relevant knowledge and skills as efficiently as possible.  It almost seems as if many are yearning for a Technology Enhanced Polytechnic?

Also noteworthy is a pragmatic attitude to technologies as there appears to be no great clamour for lots of interactive or multimedia bells and whistles.  For those of Generation Y, technology is not ‘new’ or ‘special’ – it is simply part of what they do and what they use as part of their everyday lives.  I recall a session at an Online Educa conference a few years ago in which delegates were able to quiz half a dozen high school students on their attitudes towards e-learning.  The questions flowed and there was polite bemusement from the students.  We eventually established that they routinely used e-learning and social media on a regular basis, but they never referred to them in those terms and simply couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about on our part.

Further corroboration of a need for flexibility and an employment focus comes from two sources.  Firstly, a Guardian report of a recent HEA roundtable discussion (which included our own Musa Mihsein) on Conditions of Flexibility in HE, in which participants all seemed to accept the need for greater flexibility and workplace relevance.  Several examples of current flexible practices are described and the impact of MOOCs, analytics, student attitudes to technology and QAA considerations were all discussed.  Secondly, an article on the UA site of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada considers the merits of Competence Based Education (CBE), citing examples of flexible, employment-focused programmes in North America.  Athabasca’s Dr Dianne Conrad believes “CBE opens pathways to quicker and cheaper learning for students,” but also suspects the reason why it hasn’t been embraced by traditional Canadian universities (and some US ones as well) is because “it smacks too much of training”.



[Pete Mitton; Stephen Downes; Tony Bates; THE; Wired Campus; Audrey Watters; George Siemens]

Qualt is a new MOOC service with a difference.  Firstly, it is a mobile-only service, with content and services made available through a free app.  Secondly, all available courses cover a professional subject and are backed by a recognised industry body.  An obvious downside is the size of some mobile device screens, which has always limited some types of learning activities and content – but the other benefits may outweigh this, particularly for tablet owners.

Andrew Kelly’s Bellwether report: Disruptor, Distracter, or What? provides a thorough, readable and well-referenced assessment of where we are with MOOCs and where things could be heading. He notes that, “MOOCs are neither the cataclysmic disruptor that advocates predicted nor the flash in pan their critics were hoping for”.  He is also neither surprised nor concerned when MOOCs do not appear to completely solve a problem: “MOOCs are a tool, not a solution.  And like any tool, they are likely to be more useful for some jobs than for others.”

According to David Willetts, a mismatch between the content of university courses and the skills demanded by employers could lead to companies setting up their own MOOCs and bypassing universities.  “Once a significant number of employers say ‘we will take evidence that you have done this course as the basis for giving you an interview’, some of the more formal accrediting processes within education can be bypassed,” he said last month, predicting ”…the rise of the de facto accredited MOOC”.

A new EC report based on a survey of about 3,000 people, including 731 students, said that only one student in four was not familiar with MOOCs and that about 64% of respondents had taken such courses.  Most employers surveyed said MOOCs could help close a skills gap in web design, but only 56 MOOCs teach such skills throughout Europe, compared with 115 in the United States.  For the most part, respondents rated MOOCs as more effective than colleges in teaching such skills.

Harvard X is two years old.  The Boston Globe examines in some detail Harvard’s approach to the production of its MOOCs and particularly its use of video.  It also reveals that Harvard spends about $75,000 to $150,000 developing each new MOOC.

The first Arab language MOOC platform – Edraak – launched last month, powered by Open edX code. 

And George Siemens is planning an edX MOOC on Data, Analytics and Learning.


MOOC Analysis

[Stephen Downes; Harvard Business Review; Wired Campus; Campus Technology]

A new report from Columbia University, MOOCs: Expectations and Reality, is based on interviews with administrators, faculty members, researchers, and others from 62 different US institutions.  The report contains a number of case studies and “…investigates the actual goals of institutions creating MOOCs or integrating them into their programs, and reviews the current evidence regarding whether and how these goals are being achieved, and at what cost.”  The researchers conclude that MOOCs could potentially affect HE by offering participants credentials of economic value, and by catalysing the development of adaptive learning experiences.

The University of Pennsylvania has analysed data from over 875,000 students enrolled in nine MOOCs offered by its Wharton business school, concluding that MOOCs do not threaten its traditional MBA or executive education market but they do reach at least three new and valuable student populations.  For example, 78% of MOOC students came from outside the US and nearly half of these were from developing countries.  MOOCs also attracted greater proportions of unemployed adults and underrepresented minorities than traditional MBAs.  There remain concerns over completion rates and the researchers note that those who persist tend to be disproportionately male, well educated, employed, and from OECD countries.

Harvard and MIT have released de-identified learning data from the 16 HarvardX and MITx courses offered in 2012-13 that formed the basis of the first HarvardX and MITx working papers released in Jan and the open-source interactive visualization tools released in Feb.  However, Phil Hill suggests that the data are not as useful as we might have hoped, and that lessons can be learned from the analytics approach being taken by Apollo/Phoenix.

According to Stanford Online: 2013 in Review, 1.9 million people have registered for one or more of the 246 online/blended courses on either Coursera, NovoEd or Stanford OpenEdX since autumn 2012 and four million hours of instruction have been delivered.  Greatest participation was from 21-25 year-olds, 73% of enrolees were male (although women very more prevalent in older age bands) and most were well-qualified with a bachelors degree (33%), masters (40%) or PhD (12%).  Around 40% of students spend 1-20 mins studying each week, 29% spend 20-60 mins and 32% exceed an hour.


Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe

[The Chronicle]

A new report from the EU, Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe, finds that most European countries are failing to set precise targets or monitor progress in the key areas of access, retention and employability.  For example, of the 36 national education systems shown in Figure 1.2 (p18), staff and student ethnicity is only monitored in 8, labour market status of students prior to entering HE in 13, and disability in 17.  The researchers also found that 13 did not systematically calculate completion and/or drop-out rates.


Commercial News

[University World News; THE; edSurge; Audrey Watters]

NYT reports that some British universities are turning to the bond market as source of capital, particularly to fund infrastructure projects as contributions from HEFCE continue to decline.  Universities collectively plan to invest £3.3bn a year for the next three years to improve facilities and expect to borrow £560m in the current academic year, raising their total debt to £6.83bn, or 27% of their combined total income.  For example, Manchester University recently raised £300m to help finance a £1bn, 10-year capital investment plan.  The 40-year bond, paying 4.25% interest, was oversubscribed four times.

The Student Loans Company is investigating 24 private colleges after finding “potential irregularities” in the use of public funding.  SLC paid out £30m in 2010 to students at private providers but this will rise to around £1bn next year.  The Guardian recently alleged that classrooms at the London School of Science and Technology were empty despite it having 1,500 students, many of whom were in receipt of student loans.

UK Learning Technologies Group (Epic, Line, etc) has acquired educational game developer, Preloaded, for £2.2m.

Tute, which offers an online platform where students can engage in live, small-group sessions with tutors, has announced “a significant investment” from Irish VC firm, Leaf Investments.  And Third Space Learning – which also offers an online platform that connects students with tutors, specifically for one-to-one maths sessions – has also attracted some recent investment.

iParadigms - makers of anti-plagiarism software TurnItIn - has been acquired by the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners for $752m.

Pearson has announced two equity investments in education businesses in India and South Africa focused on increasing access to education at low cost.  Zaya Labs provides blended educational technology and services to 27 schools in India, as well as offering a “LabKit” which provides the components required to set up a blended online and offline learning lab in low-income school settings.  eAdvance manages SPARK Schools, Africa’s first private primary school network, currently teaching 360 primary school students around Johannesburg.   Apollo (University of Phoenix) is also targeting South Africa with a $25.6m (81%) investment in private education provider Milpark Education, which offers a range of courses tailored to the need of working adult learners.

And adaptive online learning company Knewton has announced a partnership with Elsevier, “to bring personalized curricula to health and medical students around the world”.


Part-Time Student Numbers Tumble in England

[University World News; The Telegraph; BBC]

Ten years ago, 47% of all entrants to HE in England were on part-time courses.  Today, that figure is down to 31%, with the biggest fall in undergraduate courses according to a new HEFCE report, Pressure From All Sides: Economic and policy influences on part-time higher education.  UWN reports that, “Some of the best-known providers have international reputations, such as The Open University, with 168,215 students when last counted by the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency, or HESA, in 2012-13.  That figure sounds enormous, but it was down from 208,710 the year before.  Birkbeck College … saw overall student numbers drop from 19,580 in 2011-12 to 16,460 in 2012-13 despite introducing new intensive evening courses, which enable students to gain a first degree in three years.” 

UCAS figures show that conventional university applications are up by more than 20,000 (4%) to 634,600 by the end of May, compared to this time last year.  This has partly been fuelled by rising demand from foreign students, with overseas applications up by more than 6%.

There is also evidence that students are starting to realise that they are (highly) paying customers, with more than 20,000 student complaints being made last year.  Responses from 120 universities across the UK revealed that total academic appeals and complaints were 10% higher in 2012-13 than in 2010-11 and that more than £2m has been paid out in compensation.

But a new HEPI/HEA survey of 15,000 students shows that 86% are 'satisfied' with their course, although 31% would have chosen another course if they were to have their time again.  At Scottish institutions, 70% of undergraduates believe their (free) courses represent good value for money, compared with only 41% in England.

And is it all worth it?  The ONS reports that one British person in five who receives university degree becomes a millionaire.  And the average 2:1 graduate is estimated to pay more than £200,000 extra in taxes to the government over their lifetime.


Growth in Online Post-Secondary Education

[Campus Technology]

According to the new report, Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State, 11% of all US undergraduate students enrolled on exclusively online courses in 2012, with another 14% taking at least some course components online.  The figures for all post-secondary students were 12% and 13% respectively; however, the highest rates by far were seen at private, for-profit institutions, where 43% of students were enrolled exclusively online.  There was also wide variation according to location, with Arizona having the highest proportion of online students (48%) compared to just 1.6% in more densely-populated Rhode Island.


Reclaiming Innovation

[Stephen Downes]

Jim Groom and Brian Lamb believe, “If any concept should be seen as an uncomplicated good thing in higher education, it's innovation.  Defined by a common-sense notion of ‘doing things better’.”  But they also note that, currently, “innovation is increasingly conflated with hype, disruption for disruption's sake, and outsourcing laced with a dose of austerity-driven downsizing.  Call it innovation fatigue.”  They then go on to consider what’s gone wrong, what part LMS/VLEs, MOOCs, Openness and disruption (“it's difficult to see the value in disruption for its own sake”) may have played in this, and what we can do to get things back on track.  The discussion is good (including references to Martin Weller and Tony Hirst), as are the video clips and supporting case studies.


The Condition of Education, 2014

[Audrey Watters]

The Condition of Education report from the US Dept of Education provides a mammoth (256pp) snapshot of US education based on 42 topics and trend indicators covering population characteristics, participation in education, elementary and secondary education, and postsecondary education.  Difficult to summarise it all here but some HE highlights include:

  • 90% of US adults aged 25-29 had a high school diploma and 34% had a bachelor’s or higher degree
  • Median earnings were higher for those with higher levels of education
  • Around 87% of students at non-profit colleges were under the age of 25 but this was much lower (29%) at for-profit colleges
  • Only around 60% of those who began their degree in autumn 2006 had completed it by 2012
  • In 2012, the US awarded over 1.8m bachelor’s degrees, and 750k master’s degrees


Should Universities Ditch Lectures?

[The Guardian; The Chronicle]

According to Diana Laurillard, “Intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology” and so Donald Clark suggests 10 reasons why universities should ditch lectures.  Sounds good, but it transpires that he only wants to cull one-off F2F lectures by recording them.  Okay, so that provides a convenient location and timing (reasons 8 & 9), plus a means of pausing the lecture (4), but it does nothing to improve the length (1), amount of detail (7) and skills of the presenter (10), nor does it enhance student engagement through participation (2).  Add some new factors such as dodgy sound, lighting and camerawork into the mix and I remain unconvinced.  Technology offers tremendous potential to improve teaching and learning, but I’m afraid recorded lectures don’t get my vote.

Prof Alex Small takes a contrary position.  He uses lectures as part of a broader mix of activities and techniques, and believes that a well-constructed and well-delivered lecture, “is engaging, it naturally invites discussion and dialogue, it operates at a level much higher than raw information delivery, it is a natural setting for the expert to act as a role model, and it can be integrated with more formal activities.”


Higher-Education Reforms in Australia

[The Chronicle]

There has been uproar over PM Tony Abbott’s plans to slash Australian government support for higher education and move closer to funding models operated by the US, UK and others.  Abbott’s plans will see government funding cut by at least 20% and students having to repay debts sooner, and at higher rates of interest.  Public universities (37 of Australia’s 39) will become competitors in a free-market system and allowed to charge whatever they choose for their courses.  However, Jamie Miller’s article looks at some of the problems this causes in other parts of the world, and suggests Australia should stay as it is and that some other countries should consider moving to its system instead.


Active Learning Improves STEM Student Performance

[Campus Technology]

A meta-analysis of STEM teaching led by the University of Washington, Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, found that 55% more students flunk purely lecture-based STEM courses than flunk courses taught with some sort of active learning component.  The report examined 250 previously published studies on STEM education and found that 34% of students taking STEM lectures that contain no active learning component fail, but this fell to 22% for classes incorporating active learning activities such as discussion, reflection and collaboration.


Internet Trends 2014

[ReadWrite; EdSurge]

Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends presentation is always one to watch.  This year’s 164 slides scamper from tablets and mobile internet growth, through social media and data to e-commerce and finance.  China is so significant, it gets its own section (slides 127-136) and buried in there on just 5 slides (24-28) is a dash of education.  Key messages are: it’s important; it’s expensive; it’s becoming much cheaper for newcomers to get a presence, and; we like the fact that online learning can be much more personalised.  And key stats:

  • Khan Academy received 430m views last year (up by 69%)
  • 65m OU iTunes U downloads (up 59%)
  • 25m use the Duolingo app to learn a new language (up 14x)
  • 7m enrolled on Coursera courses (up 2x)

Describing the present is always a safer bet than predicting the future and, whilst the upcoming trends in the latest NMC K-12 Horizon Report seem to make sense, it’s interesting to look at their track record of accuracy.  As the table at the bottom of the EdSurge web page shows, nothing NMC predicted more than a year out seems to have rolled forward in subsequent years.


Teens Addicted to Internet?


Tablets for Schools surveyed over 3,500 UK children aged 11-17 during Jan 14 with the key question: ‘Do you sometimes think you are addicted to the internet’, finding that 39% believed they were.  A series of supplementary questions showed that 64% took an internet enabled device to bed with them, on which they were mostly talking to friends (66% - with Facetime being the most popular method) and viewing video/photo sites (63%).  The report also gives further breakdowns by device, age, gender and activity.


Device News

[TechCrunch; Gigaom; Campus Technology; BBC]

Microsoft has launched Surface Pro 3, with a 12” screen (with an aspect ratio of 3:2), Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor and improved battery life.  The keyboard/cover is more flexible and comes with a larger and better trackpad, plus the device also accepts pen input.  Prices start at $799.  But for how long will Apple leave MS unopposed in this upper end of the mobile marketplace?

At the other end of the spectrum, the Toshiba Encore 2 is an 8” slate with a quad-core Intel processor, full Windows 8.1 and 10 hours of expected battery life – and all for $199.

According to ABI Research, 41.3 million tablets shipped worldwide in the first quarter of 2014.  Apple took the No 1 spot with 16.4 million units, followed by Samsung (13m) and Asus (2.1m).  That gave Android 56.3% of the overall market, followed by iOS (39.6%) and Windows (4.1%).  ABI also notes that 22% of those tablets included an integrated 3G/4G capability.

In a move to break its sole dependence on Android, Samsung has announced its first commercial smartphone powered by the open source Tizen platform, with initial sales likely to be in Russia in the autumn.  Tizen will have its own app store, but an OpenMobile application compatibility layer will enable the handset to run Android apps as well.

And Mozilla is likely to start selling $25 smartphones in India within the “next few months” running Mozilla's HTML5 web-based Firefox OS.


Moodle Analytics Plugin

[Stephen Downes]

LAe-R (Learning Analytics Enhanced Rubric) is a cloud-based assessment/analytics plugin for Moodle.  The rubric uses, “a blend of marking criteria and grading levels of a ‘classic/traditional’ rubric and performance indicators stemmed from analysis of learners’ interaction and learning behavior in a LMS based e-learning environment.”

And where to put all that data?  Learning Locker is an open source Learning Record Store that organisations can use to, “store, sort and share learning data as generated by their learners.”


Growth of e-Book Sales

[BBC; Wired Campus]

A report from Pricewaterhouse Coopers predicts that e-book sales will outstrip print by 2018 and that the consumer e-book market - which excludes text books and professional manuals - will increase in value from £380m to £1bn.  PwC expects 50% of the UK population to own a tablet or e-reader device by 2018.

A good example of bringing a subject to life is Digital Dubliners, an interactive iBook from Boston College, published 100 years after the original collection of James Joyce’s short stories.  This interactive book is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photos, video, audio, additional facts and a useful glossary of terms.



[Audrey Watters]

Edutechnica has published usage data for LMS/VLEs by US HEIs with >1000 FTEs.  Blackboard is way ahead with adoption (35.8% of institutions) and enrolments (7.62m) but Moodle comes in a clear second (19.7% and 2.82m users), with most users still running Ver 2.5.




And Finally…

World Cup fever is alive and kicking (sorry) and it provides opportunities for organisations to present us with information in a variety of visual and interactive ways.  Judge for yourself whether you think these are more at the style or substance end of the spectrum:

But if you have no interest whatsoever in football, you might be entertained by these kids trying to work out how to use an old Apple II computer.

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