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e-Learning Digest No 122 - Oct 14

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 October 2014

UK Conferences & Workshops


Focus on … Students and Technology

[JISC; University World News; Business Insider; Campus Technology; Stephen Downes; BBC; Pete Mitton]

Exact definitions of Generation X (born around 1960-80) and Generation Y/Millennials (1980-2000), seem to vary – but we know they will have had differing exposure to and experiences of online technologies.  However, there is increasing evidence that their attitudes, expectations and levels of competence do not necessarily accord with our assumptions that younger people will be happy for their higher education to be social, hi-tech and online.

JISC’s Digital Student project has released Incoming expectations of the digital environment formed at school, which examines what students entering HE expect from digital technologies.  There is no formal summary but a useful list can be found in the Appendix (p17) which tells us new starters’ expectation include: fast web access, BYOD, good quality digital information (VLE and elsewhere), knowledgeable staff and training in ‘how to use the Web for learning’.  They would also appreciate video lecture capture but do not expect the institution to engage with them in Social Media.

The Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey, 2014 questioned 1,200 US college students aged 18-30, finding that 35% believed they were “among the first people to check out a new electronic device or gadget”.  Some 81% agreed that tablets will transform the way they learn in the future and 82% think tablets encourage students to buy e-books rather than print, but fewer (66%) thought tablets actually helped them learn more.  However, only 33% used a tablet themselves for college work (29% of these had a separate keyboard) with laptops (89%) and smartphones (56%) proving more popular for study.  UK figures out today from OFCOM find that three-quarters of 12 to 15-year-olds have three or more digital, media or communications devices of their own and that one in three children now has their own tablet while the proportion with a TV in their bedroom has dropped to 46% from 66% since 2009.

Students Online: Global trends 2014 gathered 2,000+ responses from 35 countries and these echoed the JISC findings that social media is relatively unpopular, despite the fact that so many universities are investing heavily in developing these channels.  But as one UK respondent pointed out, students might increasingly use Twitter for “quick queries”, but often only because universities don’t respond to e-mails fast enough.  On which social networks were most popular, Facebook won hands down worldwide with all age groups, with LinkedIn as second choice.  But Piper Jaffray sees it differently.  Their survey of US 13-19 year-olds found that, between Spring 14 and Autumn 14, Facebook use dropped from 72% to 45%, although Instagram (owned by Facebook) showed an increase in use from 69% to 76%.  Yet another perspective comes from Niche, which found that Facebook is alive and well amongst the 7,000 teenagers it surveyed, but the real killer app is good old texting, used by 87% of teens each day.

A new report from Intel finds that Canadian post-secondary students spend one-third of all educational time online, and that “personal mobile technology in the classroom is having a major positive impact on engagement, empowerment and collaboration, and is helping students to overcome barriers imposed by increasingly large class sizes.”  The most commonly cited online educational activities were collaborating with peers (87%) and communicating with instructors or teaching assistants (86%), research (78%) and homework (52%). 

But Clay Shirky has had enough.  Despite teaching the theory and practice of social media at NYU, he’s just introduced a ‘no devices’ rule during lectures because he believes the distractions to learning have reached a tipping point.  As he points out, ‘“Your former lover tagged a photo you are in” vs “The Crimean War was the first conflict significantly affected by use of the telegraph.” Spot the difference?



[EdSurge; Campus Technology; BBC; The Chronicle; MIT; Campus Technology]

Irish-based Alison has launched Understanding the Ebola Virus and How You Can Avoid It, available in English and French and accessible on a mobile phone.  It is aimed at people living in regions affected by the virus and includes assessments on how the virus can be transmitted and treated.  So far, more than 10,000 people have signed up.

Marks & Spencer is offering a Coursera MOOC on business innovation in partnership with Leeds University.  It will use case studies, video from the company's archive and support from university academics to teach how “creative concepts are balanced with commercial thinking”.  The course will include examples of business innovation relevant to the retailer, such as the introduction of chilled foods and the development of man-made fibres.

“Built by industry for industry” Udacity has raised $35 million in new funding, bringing the total raised over three rounds to $58m.  Backers this time include the usual mix of VCs but also German publisher Bertelsmann.  Sebastian Thrun believes “these alliances will help grow Udacity as the premier industry education institution.”

MIT and Harvard famously released their edX source code under an open source licence but they’ve now announced that having one single licence doesn’t “fit all purposes”.  Currently, developers are free to remix the code as long as their finished products are open as well, but edX is now relicensing XBlock (an API used to create interactive components in MOOCs) under an Apache 2.0 licence which allows users to choose whether to share their creations or keep them private.

I mentioned last month the arrival of EdCast – a new MOOC service provider built on top of Open edX code – which currently has 39 universities signed up, including Columbia University and Trinity College Dublin.  EdCast has now announced additional funding of $6m to help it create “a whole new concept” which it refers to as Multiversities.  According to CEO and founder Karl Mehta, “Universities have to collaborate with each other and can’t be walled off” because students will be able to select the curriculum, teachers, and resources they need from a variety of institutions.

MIT is launching a series of four six-week “EdTechX” MOOCs covering ed tech, game and simulation design, development and evaluation.  Students who successfully complete all four courses can obtain a verified edX XSeries Certificate to demonstrate their achievement.

Following its recent announcement of MOOCs specifically geared to high school students around the world, edX has now announced edX professional education courses.  There is an initial offering of 5 courses from Rice, MIT and Delft, starting with Economics of Cybersecurity which runs from 20 Jan 15.  edX is also starting to enable partners to host courses “on a white-labelled site, branded by the institution and powered by edX.”

The University System of Georgia has begun to “Invent the Beyond” with a MOOC-like collaboration comprising three interactive sessions that will enable participants to visualise what learning models will look like in 15 years and explore the factors critical to the success of students, faculty and post-secondary institutions.

And a relatively small survey my QuestionPro suggests that 82% of Millennials think they could have skipped college and taken MOOCs instead.


MOOC Analysis

[The Chronicle; Tony Bates; Penn Gazette 

Are many MOOCs only fit for those who are already well educated?  MIT researchers analysed data from an edX course on Newtonian Mechanics and found that students who had spent significant time on the course showed evidence of learning no matter what their educational background.  The MOOC students also learned at a similar rate to those MIT students who had taken the on-campus version of the course – which included study in small groups for four hours a week and regular access to their professors.

The University of British Columbia has analysed the first 5 courses in its MOOC Pilot. A total of 330,150 learners signed up, 164,935 (50%) of whom logged in at least once, 12,031 (3.6%) took a final exam and 8,174 (2.5%) earned course certificate.  Based on the figures provided by UBC, Tony Bates estimates production costs at around $54,000 per MOOC, excluding faculty time and co-ordination support, but including academic assistance.  A total of 305 videos were produced, with a combined duration of 65 hours, and over 1,000 quiz questions.

U Penn has been offering MOOCs through Coursera for around 2 years, with over 2m learners registering.  A recent study analysed the movement of 1m online pupils through 16 Penn courses, finding that persistence is a rare commodity.  Completion rates averaged 4% across all the courses, although those with lighter workloads fared better at around 6%.  However, variables such as course length and the availability of “live chat” made no statistically significant difference to retention.


Commercial News

[The Chronicle; EdSurge]

Kaplan has launched competency-based Open College, which will provide free online services and personalised mentoring to help learners identify and organise their prior experience and skills that could count toward a degree or move them closer to a new career.  It will also provide fee-based services to help them to satisfy the remaining requirements for a BSc in professional studies from Kaplan University, although Open College students will be able to take courses at Kaplan University or from other sources, including MOOCs.

Plagiarism checker Turnitin has acquired LightSide Labs, developers of Revision Assistant, an application that “…incorporates automated assessment and feedback into the writing process for students.  This feedback is trained on the behavior of real instructors and provides personalized, positive, and constructive support for student writers.”

Edinburgh-based CogBooks is an adaptive learning company that allows educators to create and deliver adaptive courses using pre-existing web content and assessments.  The company has just attracted £1.75m of investment from a group that includes Scottish publisher DC Thomson (Beano, Dandy, etc).  CogBooks is also one of 7 finalists vying for $20m from the Gates Foundation to develop digital courseware for personalized learning in higher education.

The Chronicle investigates “Enablers” – companies that help brick-and-mortar colleges build online programs as quickly as possible.  It finds that the companies usually take most of the revenue – typically 50-80%, although they argue that they are taking most of the early financial risk.  It also cites an example of a deal between Cal State Online and Pearson, based on projections of 17,000 enrolments in the first year, when in fact only 138 FTEs signed up 


OU is Third Most ‘Searched For’ University Worldwide


Google has published the most popular searches worldwide for people looking for universities.  The University of Phoenix tops the listing, followed by MIT, but with the Open University in third place – making it also the top European search destination.  The four other UK institutions in the Top-20 are LSE (8), UCL (12), Oxford (13) and Cambridge (16).  The data show that the internet is becoming increasingly important in help students choose institutions and courses, and that those offering MOOCs and other online materials are growing in popularity.


The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey


The HEA has just released the findings of its sixth annual Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey, based on responses from 67,580 participants across 100 HEIs.  They find that 83% were satisfied with the quality of their course, 88% believed staff were good at explaining things and were enthusiastic (90%), but only 67% felt there was sufficient contact time.  Flexible delivery is an important aspect of course choice for 47% of part-time students compared to just 10% of full-time students.  Part-time/distance students were less positive about resources and services than full-time campus students, although STEM students were the most positive on this scale.


There’s a Skills Gap, But Not With Me

[Educational Technology Blog; BBC]

A Udemy survey finds that 61% of Americans believe today's workforce suffers from a skills gap, although 95% consider themselves to be either qualified or overqualified for their current position.  In another apparent paradox, almost half say their higher education helped them get their first job, although more than a third think they probably use less than 10% of what they learned in college in the workplace.

A British Chambers of Commerce survey of 3,000 firms found nine out of 10 thought school leavers were not ready for employment, and more than half said it was the same with graduates.  Three-quarters of the companies surveyed put the situation down to a lack of work experience, and more than 50% said young people did not have even basic skills such as communication.  Paradoxically, the chambers called for universal work experience in all secondary schools, although half admitted they did not offer work experience placements themselves.


University Gives Free Tablet to New Students

[Sam Dick]

The University of East London has given 4,000 first-year students a free Samsung Note 8 tablet, preloaded with “core e-textbooks”, information about starting university and links to online library resources.  The £2m project aims to reducing the initial cost of buying books and VC John Joughin says it will help to provide a “level playing field for all of our students”.


Securing our Digital Future


TechUK – representing about 850 tech companies including 3M, BT, IBM and Microsoft – has released Securing our Digital Future: The techUK Manifesto for growth and jobs 2015-2020, which is essentially a call to government “to secure our digital future”.  This includes a comprehensive package of science, innovation and talent and a promise to deliver a digital inclusion programme “to ensure that everyone has basic online skills by 2020”.


Investment in For-Profit Colleges Isn’t Paying Off

[Pete Mitton]

The Washington Post reports that US for-profit providers enrol about 12% of college students nationally but account for nearly four times that share of student-loan defaults.  Drop out is an issue – among students who attend the University of Phoenix’s online “campus”, only 4% achieve a degree in six years – but so too are employer attitudes to for-profit alumni.  Researchers sent out nearly 10,000 fictitious résumés in response to online job ads, and then tracked which applicants were invited to interview or otherwise continue the application process.  They found that applicants with a bachelor’s degree in business from an online for-profit school were about 22% less likely to get a “callback” than applicants with similar degrees from nonselective public institutions.


HE Leaders Worry Most About Declining Enrolment

[The Chronicle]

A survey by KPMG of 120 senior US HE executives finds that 85% were very or somewhat concerned about maintaining enrolment at their institution (up from 71% last year), although 80% thought they would probably increase or maintain the size of its faculty.  Less than a third said they would eliminate programmes that have less demand, and fewer than a quarter planned to freeze faculty salaries or delay capital projects.  Crisis, what crisis?


Sustainable Development Post-2015 Begins with Education

[University World News]

A new UNESCO report highlights how HE can reduce poverty, improve health, empower women and protect the environment.  “The evidence is unequivocal: education saves and transforms lives,” said UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova.  The report cites El-Salvador as an example, where only 5% of workers with less than primary education have an employment contract, compared to 50% of those with secondary and tertiary education.  There is also evidence that better educated people in Africa and Asia contributed to lower birth rates and tended to avoid behaviour related to such diseases as HIV-Aids.


Huge Growth in eLearning in Asia

[University World News]

Ambient Insight reports that the global market for ‘self-paced eLearning products’ reached $42.7bn last year and is projected to reach $53bn by 2018.  With the US leading sales, Asia is the second largest market and includes 7 of the top 10 fastest growing countries – Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan – all with growth of >30%, and with Myanmar topping 50%.  Adoption of eLearning for HE in Asia is described as “nothing short of astonishing.”  ChinaEdu has over 311,000 online students (second only to the University of Phoenix), Korea National Open University has more than 200,000 online enrolments, the Open University Malaysia has more than 90,000 online students and the Open University of Japan has over 85,000 students enrolled.


Millennials Still Prefer Printed Books

[Chris Nelson]

A survey conducted for The Bookseller showed that 73% of the 900 British 16-24 year-olds questioned said they prefer print, with only 27% favouring e-books.  That view was partly because “they like to touch books and see the creases in the spine” but there was also a financial element, with many regarding e-books as being overpriced.  Of those who do read e-books, 39% use an e-reader such as a Kindle, 37% smartphones and 36% tablet.


Hardware Update

[Campus Technology; BBC]

A new report from Gartner predicts that four out of every 10 devices worn on the wrist will be smartwatches by 2016.  Just two companies offered such devices a year ago, but that has now risen to seven.  And, whilst early products, such as the Sony SmartWatch and Samsung Gear generated little enthusiasm from consumers “due to their unclear value proposition and flawed design”, the new Apple Watch is expected to trigger much more interest and uptake when it launches next year, despite its premium pricing.

However, smartwatch growth may be at the expense of tablet sales, which ABI Research reports will slow to a “disappointing” 2.5% for 2014 and fail to hit the 200 million unit milestone.  iPad sales have fallen by13% so far this year, although Samsung's tablet shipments have increased by 26% in the first half of 2014.

The BBC reports on the development of Qelasy: Africa's first educational tablet.  Led by Thierry N'Doufou, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, the concept was to transfer a country's entire education curriculum onto a digital format, along with sounds, animations and interactivity, thus killing off the satchel crammed with school books.  The Ivorian government introduced the tablets to 5,000 students in public schools last month, while some private schools in both Ivory Coast and Morocco will be running pilot projects.  There has also been interest from Ukraine, Macedonia, Senegal, Nigeria and France.


Post-it Note Capture


Now be honest, no OU internal workshop would be complete without the participants generating a wall of post-it notes, which then have to be photographed and typed-up. 

But not anymore.  3M’s new Post-it Plus app allows you to photograph up to 50 of your creative gems on a phone or tablet, arrange, refine and re-organise them by tapping and dragging, and then share or export them as required.


User Experience Design Sprint

[User Focus]

You may have recently seen trailers on the BBC promoting its new iWonder website, but how was it designed and developed?  Dan Ramsden, a BBC User Experience Architect, blogs about how his team adapted an approach from Google and conducted a five-day design sprint, taking them through five design stages: understand (define the problem and desired output), diverge (generate lots of ideas), converge (filter and focus on best ones), prototype and test.

Still on the subject of design, Philip Hodgson describes how to conduct effective stakeholder interviews.  Although his focus is on defining the user experience, his message translates fairly readily into learning design, particularly if we wish to avoid this scenario: “design teams … often end up simply designing what they are asked to design, or rolling out the usual ‘one-size fits all’.  Project requirements arrive by decree from on high and go unchallenged.”



  • Pi-Top is a 3D-printed Raspberry Pi laptop with a 13” screen, keyboard, trackpad, wi-fi and 6-8hr battery life.  [TechCrunch]
  • Enrolment in HE in India rose from 11% in 2008 to 16% in 2013 and is forecast to reach 21% by 2021, according to Frost & Sullivan.  [University World News]
  • Treehouse has released 71 instructional videos to teach people how to code in Apple’s new Swift programming language.  [Campus Technology]
  • London Met has a new VC – John Raftery, ex-Oxford Brookes – and full restoration of its visa granting facility.  [THE]
  • The government is delaying for a year changes to Disabled Student Allowance to provide more time for universities to review their support arrangements.  [UUK]
  • PC Mag suggests thirty two iOS 8 tips you really cannot live without.  [PC Mag]
  • Scratch Jr has just been released, designed to give 5-7 year-olds a drag-and-drop introduction to programming.  [Tech Brekkies]
  • Useful page of around 100 apps to help dyslexic learners of all ages.  [Mark Coppin]
  • Just when you were wondering where you could get a $55 postage sized display for your latest device, along comes TinyScreen.  [TechCrunch]
  • Jane Hart has just published her annual Top 100 Tools for Learning list, compiled from the votes of over 1,000 learning professionals.  [C4LPT]
  • Google has launch Drive for Education: a tailored cloud storage service for educational users.  [ZDNet]
  • The Economist has just released a new report: The democratisation of learning.  [Tony Bates]

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