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

e-Learning Digest No 119 - Jul 14

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 July 2014

UK Conferences & Workshops



Focus on … Employability

[The Chronicle; The Economist; New York Times; Stephen Downes]

I speculated last month that students’ expectations suggest they might be yearning for some form of Technology Enhanced Polytechnic.  Now news comes that China intends to turn 600 of the country’s general universities into polytechnics to focus on applied knowledge and skills rather than over-academic, highly theoretical studies.  Education vice-minister Lu Xin believes, “There is an urgent need to reform our current education system, which has been struggling to provide high quality talents with skills and knowledge that meet demand at the production frontline”.

The Economist reports that, “Around the world demand for retraining and continuing education is soaring among workers of all ages [...] In America, higher-education enrolment by students aged 35 or older rose by 314,000 in the 1990s, but by 899,000 in the 2000s.”  It believes campus-based degree courses – particularly those from “middle tier institutions” –are not well-suited to serve this growing and changing marketplace but that online education (MOOC or otherwise) can offer a viable solution.

Udacity reports that, “McKinsey estimates there will be a shortfall of 85 million skilled jobs globally in 2020 driven by the rapid changes in technology. Students will need to acquire new skills and hone previously learned ones in time for their next job or strategic initiative to keep pace.”  Hence the announcement of a NanoDegree programme, developed by Udacity with $1.5m funding from AT&T, designed to give learners, “…compact, flexible, and job-focused credentials that are stackable throughout your career.  And the NanoDegree program is designed for efficiency: select hands-on courses by industry, a capstone project, and career guidance.”  Learners pay $200 a month and, “AT&T will accept the NanoDegree as a credential for entry-level jobs (and is hoping to persuade other companies to accept it, too) and has reserved 100 internship slots for its graduates.”

In the UK, the government persists with its target of 50% of school leavers entering university, with David Willetts asserting that, “Graduates are the engines of our future growth”.  However, Ed Milliband last week called for the introduction of ‘technical degrees’ for those with more vocational aspirations, as part of a move to help drive a “high-wage, high-skill, high-quality economy”.  He expects students to study whilst working and cited Germany as an example of how vocational qualifications can be given a high status. 


Canada currently has an unemployment rate of 7% – similar to the UK (6.8%) – but a study from CIBC reports that, “Large swaths of those unemployed are not what employers are seeking.”  Might competence based education (CBE) be the answer?  A report from HEQCO, Productivity Implications of a Shift to Competency-Based Education, observes that, “Compared to traditional models for the delivery of baccalaureate education, competency-based education is said to lead to better and faster acquisition of skills directly relevant to employment so that graduates are more job-ready.”  However, it urges caution because, based on its recent investigations, “There is no systematic, comprehensive study indicating that the purported skills from a CBE program translate into performance, either in graduation results or in the labour market.”



[BBC; THE]  

In today’s Cabinet reshuffle, Education Secretary Michael Gove is to become Chief Whip and will be replaced by Mrs Nicky Morgan, a former lawyer who has been a Treasury minister since 2013; she will also continue in her role as minister for women.  David Willetts has resigned as Minister for Universities and Science, and education minister Liz Truss becomes Environment Secretary.

UCAS reports UK university applications are up by 4% over the same point last year, with slightly larger rises from applicants in Europe (5%) and non-EU nations (6%).  However, the HE sector is still reeling from further clampdowns on visas.  Glyndwr University and another 57 private colleges have had their licences suspended and the University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London have also been prevented from taking any new international students.

The UK HE International Unit has warned that a British exit from the EU would lose us access to an estimated €1.2bn of research grants, plus the power to influence the European regulatory framework with an impact on research and higher education.  PA Consulting’s 2014 survey of UK university leaders, Here Be Dragons, warns that the prospect of withdrawing from the EU fills many British vice-chancellors with dread and is described as ‘potentially disastrous’ for HE and the wider research community.

Expect fewer educational conferences and less research as a greatly slimmed down HEA concentrates on just four priority areas: improving curriculum design; promoting student engagement; exploring how to recruit and support more socially disadvantaged students; and promoting teaching excellence (more than 50,000 academics have become fellows of the HEA so far).



[Steve Rycroft; Ian Blackham; Pearson; Phil Hill; Wired Campus; Martin Weller; George Siemens; ALT; FutureLearn]

Now we’ve got ‘the year of the MOOC’ well out of the way, the University of Pennsylvania’s Deke Kassabian considers the value of MOOCs to elite early adopter universities, and the differences and overlaps between their goals and public perceptions.  He concludes that, “The exuberance of 2012 has faded, replaced by the skepticism of 2014, but at the early adopter universities, MOOCs appear poised to play an important role […] with a strong value proposition: supporting the goal of improving on-campus teaching and learning while also promoting the university and its faculty.  At the same time, the elite universities connect with the public through educational outreach, demonstrating leadership in an emerging higher education learning technology.”

The case of the disappearing MOOC continues.  The University of Zurich’s “Teaching Goes Massive: New Skills Required” course was one week into its planned three-week run when the course materials were apparently deleted from Coursera by maths professor Paul-Olivier Dehaye.  The university stated that this was part of Dehaye’s “pedagogical concept in order to get more students actively engage in the course forum”.  However, Dehaye wrote that his intention was to “confuse everyone, including the university, [C]oursera, the Twitter world, as many journalists as I can, and the course participants.  The goal being to attract publicity.... I want to show how [C]oursera tracks you.”

Pearson’s Amar Kumar considers whether MOOCs really are the magic bullet in opening access to education.  He believes MOOCs offer a poor learner experience compared to on-campus offerings and that completely open entry fuels the 90%+ dropout rates we often see.  Instead, he proposes a three tier model based on MOOCs for casual “tourists”, Selectively Open Online Courses (SOOCs) for “explorers” with some proven competency or credential, and a campus offering for “adventurers” who need greater depth, collaboration and mentorship.

Diana Laurillard also asks, if MOOCs are not providing mass education for millions in emerging economies, or reducing student loan debt, or encouraging large numbers of unqualified or unemployed adults into education, then what is the problem for which MOOCs are the solution?  She concludes (as have many others) that all the data suggests MOOCs are mainly providing free university teaching for highly qualified professionals.

Google is giving Carnegie Mellon $300,000 in each of the next two years through the Google Focused Research Award program to focus on “data driven” approaches to research on MOOCs, including “techniques for automatically analyzing and providing feedback on student work”.  Google’s goal is to develop platforms that are intelligent enough to mimic a traditional classroom experience.

Martin Weller believes MOOC completion rates do matter but that we need to better understand why they sometimes disappoint, and he uses Stephen Downes’ analogy: “no-one drops out of a newspaper, they just take what they want”.  He suggests that MOOCs might be more effective if they were designed more like newspapers rather than on a week-by-week basis (which we know currently means that “90% of your registered learners are never even looking at 50% of your content”).  Interestingly, George Siemens reports that corporate MOOCs, with their different motivators, see completion rates in the 70-80% range.

Norway’s International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) has collated ten useful reports on MOOCs and online education, designed to support stakeholders who may be unfamiliar with some of the details.  Each report is preceded by a handy synopsis.

As part of last month’s China-UK Prime Ministerial summit, FutureLearn has signed partnership agreements with two Chinese universities: Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Fudan University.


Characterising Online Learners

[Wired Campus; Campus Technology]

“Dropout” is an unfortunate term in the MOOC lexicon.  A study of MOOC engagement from Cornell and Stanford tracked the behaviour patterns of more than 300,000 Coursera students.  From this, the authors devised a taxonomy of engagement to differentiate between different types of participation:

  • Collectors primarily download lectures
  • Viewers watch lectures, handing in few if any assignments
  • Solvers hand in assignments for a grade, viewing few if any lectures
  • All-Rounders balance the watching of lectures with the handing in of assignments
  • Bystanders are registered for the course, but their total activity is below a very low threshold

A survey of 2,500 high school and college students by the Boston Consulting Group identified five distinct types of students who take online courses, based on their expectations for learning:

  • Open Minds (30% of students surveyed) value the classroom experience, are the “most satisfied” with blended courses and don't consider online programs less credible than F2F education.  They are receptive to virtual classrooms/whiteboards, searching learning resources and participating in online discussions.
  • Experience Seekers (23%) believe that blended courses are “generally effective” and enable “personalized learning”.  They want to achieve their degree by the most effective means and are open to game-based learning and simulations, collaboration and mobile learning.
  • Money Mavens (17%) are the least satisfied with all of education and are more likely to believe that “college is a waste of money”.  Many have taken blended courses and they are likely to be attracted by non-profits offering foundation degree programmes, career services and self-pacing.
  • True Believers (15%) tend to be the most satisfied with online learning, they take more than 75% of their courses online or as a blend and they don't believe online degrees are “inherently lower in quality”.  This segment should be fostered by bolstering the line-up of self-paced courses and career-advising services, improving credit transfer and offering the promise of faster degree completion.
  • Online Rejecters (15%) have tried online courses and are “skeptical of the quality, effectiveness and career outcomes of online education”.  They tend to be attracted by F2F offerings from non-profits, the quality of the faculty, “exclusiveness of admissions” and the positive aspects of campus life.


The Future of US HE

[The Chronicle]

A freely downloadable report from The Chronicle, The Innovative University, details how 350 US college presidents see the future.  There is a general feeling that change is needed but the divergence of views is remarkable.  For example: 60% believe US HE is heading in the right direction, 30% the wrong direction, but an astonishing 1 in 10 college presidents say that they “don’t know” (Fig 1).  Some 67% believe massive or moderate disruption is required but 33% want just evolution or small changes (Fig 3).  And as for OERs/MOOCs (Figs 8 & 10) – they are clearly the work of the devil. 


Benefits of Lifelong Learning

[University World News]

The EU-funded Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) project has just concluded, based on analysis 8,646 questionnaires and 82 interviews completed in ten European countries.  BeLL focused on liberal adult education or non-vocational courses, characterised by voluntariness, self-motivation and goals related to hobbies, and investigated the changes experienced by adult learners over a period of 12 months.  The study found that people involved in adult education activities become politically active, vote and are on the whole politically motivated, while adults aged between 50 and 71 will develop a higher level of self-confidence.  They are also less at risk of adopting extremist attitudes and tend to develop more tolerant behaviour.


Learner at the Centre of a Networked World

[Stephen Downes]

According to the Aspen Task Force’s new report on learning and the internet, “American students are falling farther behind their counterparts in other countries, which suggest that our 18th and 19th century model of education is not working as it should in the 21st century.”  The report goes on to highlight five essential principles and twenty-six action steps to achieve a new vision of learning.  In summary: all learners should have access to, and be at the heart of, learning networks; those networks should be interoperable; students should be sufficiently information-literate, and their learning environment should be safe and trusted.


Essay Fraud

[The Mirror; ALT]

A Mirror investigation suggests that up to 100,000 students a year pay essay-writing companies to produce bespoke assignments, with one leading firm claiming to have produced “nearly five million words” for students in the current academic year.  A mirror reporter was offered a 10,000-word masters dissertation on international relations for £2,000 and undergraduate politics essays for £85 per 1,000 words.  A study by Birmingham City University found there had been more than 19,000 attempts at cheating by UK students since 2005.

A paper in the latest issue of JOLT scores more highly than the Mirror for academic rigour, although it is notably thin on evidence gathered from shady meetings in BMWs.  Prof David Ison compared 184 doctoral dissertations submitted to traditional HEIs between 2009-2013 against 184 submitted to online institutions.  Analysis using Turnitin revealed no significant difference between the originality indices of either batch, although more than half of all dissertations contained some level of plagiarism.  Whilst basic plagiarism was slightly more prevalent at online institutions, the more extreme examples were found amongst bricks and mortar.


eLearning Africa Report

[Stephen Downes; University World News]

The 2014 eLearning Africa Report contains 55 national ICT profiles (p76), a number of interesting articles – including a spot of Mitra- and Negroponte-bashing from Donald Clark (p52) – and the results of this year’s eLearning Africa survey (p62).  The survey shows that, when using the internet, 40% of African users connect by wireless, 48% cable/DSL, 8% dialup and 4% satellite.  However, 75% cite poor connectivity as a barrier to using eLearning and, more disturbingly, 76% of those in rural areas cite a lack of electricity.  Also disturbing is news from Zimbabwe that HIV prevalence in the 15-24 year age group now exceeds 10% and it has become commonplace at graduation ceremonies for students to be awarded degrees or diplomas posthumously.


Hardware Update

[Campus Technology; TechCrunch]

ABI Research reports a 30% decline in tablet shipments in 2014 Q1 compared with 2013 Q1, although it expects growth to pick up.  Samsung and Apple are expected to share about 70% of the estimated $85bn marketplace this year, with iPad remaining the No 1 device but Android combined having the larger worldwide user base by the end of 2014.

ABI has also been looking at the wearables marketplace where, in 2014 Q1, nearly 3 million devices were shipped.  Of those, 2.35m were fitness trackers (with Fitbit, Garmin, Nike and Jawbone top sellers) and just 510,000 were smart watches (Samsung, Sony, Pebble, Casio).  ABI forecast shipments of about 17m wearables this year, including 10m fitness trackers and 7m smart watches.  It will be interesting to see how things go once Google and Apple kick into gear.

Gartner forecasts that total device shipments (desktops, tablets, phones) are set to break 2.4bn units this year.  Nearly 88% of those will be mobile phones and tablets, with Android dominating iOS by about 4:1.  The tipping point for tablet sales exceeding PCs will occur in 2015.  Separate analysis from IDC predicts smart phone sales outpace traditional PCs by a 6-to-1 margin by 2018, with desktops, laptops and other portable PCs all falling to around half their current levels, with IDC confident that smartphones will, “become the first and primary computing device for many”.

Blackberry’s new Passport ‘padfone’ features a 4½” square screen which, it claims, makes it better suited to reading documents, e-books and text-heavy web pages: research suggests that an optimal line length is 66 characters; most phones support about 40 but the Passport offers 60.  Blackberry is aiming at business users but the potential for more content-rich m-learning is interesting.

A new Smartboard can virtually share its contents in real-time to tablets and other devices running its free app.  Work is saved as a final PDF or JPEG file and the app activates live web-sharing with up to five users, access to the snapshot library, and the ability to open saved notes in Evernote.

Gimmick or must-have functionality?  Amazon’s new Fire Phone has four corner-mounted, front-facing infrared cameras enabling head-tracking to produce ‘Dynamic Perspective’ 3D effects.  


Mobile Learning at Work

[Towards Maturity]

Towards Maturity’s Mobile Learning at Work report is based on research derived from the TM 2013 Benchmark Study using responses received from 481 organisations in 44 countries.  The survey found that:

  • 71% of respondents are using mobile devices (up from 36% in 2010 and 47% in 2012)
  • 52% of organisations provide learners with smartphones
  • 48% provide learners with tablets
  • 10% of learners are using their own tablet often to access work-related resources and information
  • 43% of learners find accessing learning from their mobile device ‘essential’ or ‘very useful’

TM has also benchmarked workplace technology-enabled learning in Australia, finding a somewhat rosier picture at home.  Only 27% of Australian organisations use off-the-shelf content compared to 65% in the UK; 54% create their own in-house content (71% in the UK); and 31% use virtual classrooms (44% in the UK).  However, there is much greater use of VOIP conferencing in Australia (65% vs 47% in the UK) and greater support for user-generated content (28% vs 20% in the UK).


Improved iTunes U Features


The latest iPad release of iTunes U includes new tools for educators (to create, edit and manage courses) and learners (to collaborate, discuss and ask questions).  In-app updates allow content to be used from iWork, iBook Author, other educational apps and the iPad's camera.  A discussions module allows students to, “automatically follow classroom discussions and join conversations on new topics, or set up push notifications for when new topics are started or replies are added to active exchanges”.  Teachers can also participate in forums and moderate content.


The New Digital Learning Playbook

The New Digital Learning Playbook: Advancing College and Career Ready Skill Development in K-12 Schools is the second in a two part series from Speak Up which looks at how well US K-12 schools are preparing students for college and a digital world.  Key findings are:

  • More than 40% of high schools offer online classes for students in key subjects
  • Most popular reasons are to provide academic remediation (66%) and keeping students engaged in staying in school (63%)
  • Teachers believe technology use helps students understand how to apply academic concepts (58%), take ownership of their learning (57%) and develop problem solving and critical thinking skills (57%)
  • Two thirds of parents would purchase a mobile device for their child to use within class if the school allowed, and two thirds of the community would pay an extra $0.50 per month on their phone bill to increase school access to the web for student learning


Virtual Reality Resurgence

[TechCrunch; Thenextweb]

Is it renaissance time for virtual reality?  Following last month’s launch of Sony’s Project Morpheus and Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, comes the launch of Alchemy VR – a London studio that aims to produce content for both.  Alchemy has already been working with Sir David Attenborough to produce a VR documentary of Earth’s earliest inhabitants.

There is also news that Linden Labs celebrated Second Life’s 11th birthday by announcing a major remake of the virtual world software, with a beta release planned for 2015 and relaunch in 2016.


Discovering Literature

[The Guardian]

In a survey of 500 English teachers undertaken for the British Library, 82% said that students struggle to identify with Victorian or Romantic authors, while 57% said that the resources currently available to them are “uninspiring”.  In response, the British Library’s Discovering Literature site offers over 1,000 of our greatest literary treasures, from the manuscripts of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to the notebook of William Blake, alongside newspapers, maps, photographs and other supporting materials which bring their lives – and works – to life.




And Finally…


Want to see a robot catching a range of flying objects or another one running at 46 km/hr and jumping over boxes?  Of course you do…

Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

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