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e-Learning Digest No 123 - Nov 14

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 November 2014

UK Conferences & Workshops



[Stephen Downes; The Chronicle; Audrey Watters; EdSurge; University World News; Michel Wermelinger; IRRODL; Grainne Conole; Huff Post]

Yousef et al presented an excellent paper, MOOCs: a Review of the State of the Art, at CSEDU 2014.  This was not the usual facts-and-figures look at MOOC students and their activities (welcome as those are) but a comprehensive analysis 84 peer reviewed papers generated over the past 5 years and a template analysis that categorised the research into 7 dimensions: MOOC concept, design, learning theories, case studies, business models, target groups, and assessment.  They conclude that, far from being as radical as we have been led to believe, most MOOC implementations, “still follow a top-down, controlled, teacher-centered, and centralized learning model.”

Prof Yoonil Auh, from South Korea’s Kyung Hee University, also thinks that current MOOCs are a top-down way of achieving “a one-way transfer of knowledge from the West to the rest”.  Now here comes Collaborative MOOC 2.0, wherein, “Content will not have to be taken in a specific order but would be more like cafeteria-style modules that can be customised; only those modules taken that are needed for their community [sic].”  Auh also believes that, “MOOC 2.0 technology is such that students can actually learn from each other and the MOOC is the facilitator.”  Isn’t that what c-MOOCs have been doing since 2008?

Maria Konnikova’s Will MOOCs be Flukes? begins with a look back at the original aspirations of the OU to bring education to “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses”.  MOOCs appeared to set off along a similar road but have somehow ended up driving through mainly white, middle class, well-educated neighbourhoods – and with most of the travellers alighting before reaching the final destination.  She suggests we might learn some useful lessons from control theory – adjusting the content, sequence and break points according to past performance and other metrics.  We should also not allow our concerns over dropouts to limit when and how much we test students which, if done well, invariably leads to more effective learning – a view shared in a separate Huff Post article by Jonathan Lash, Test-blind and rigorous.

November’s IRRODL contains a paper examining the employer potential of MOOCs, based on a survey of 103 employers about their awareness of MOOCs (31% had heard of them) and their receptivity to using MOOCs in recruiting, hiring, and professional development.  Once they understood what MOOCs were, 59% were receptive to using MOOCs for recruiting purposes, partly because of their subject matter (especially for software/technical skills) but also because they demonstrated attributes such as drive, motivation, time-management and willingness to self-develop (see also Donald Clark’s similar comments about distance learning degrees from the University of Herts).  Still more (83%) were using or would consider using MOOCs for professional development because they provide a convenient way to take a “refresher course” or “stay up to date” in their field, and also “to take what they want”.

In Jan of this year, Coursera launched its Specializations certification programme for students who pass multiple MOOCs.  It has now announced an expansion of that programme – which requires learners to take Coursera’s fee-based “Signature Track” courses – by adding 18 new Specializations.  These are mostly practical, in-demand fields like project management, cloud computing, and data mining, and students who complete the sequences can expect to pay $100 to $300, depending on the number of courses.

In addition to Specializations, Dhawal Shah walks us through how Coursera makes money, starting with Career Services (Dec 12) which failed to take off with potential employers.  Then came Signature Track (Jan 13) which generated $1m+ in its first nine months through students paying $30-100 for verified certification, and which he now estimates is raising around $1m per month.  Finally, he looks at corporate collaborations, sponsorships, employee training and capstone projects – although the facts and figures relating to these are much less transparent.

Coursera is also exploring the possibility of offering online discussions with the university professors who teach its MOOCs.  According to CEO Rick Levin, “Down the road, we’ll probably go to a premium layer that you could pay for that would give you live interaction with a professor by video or something like that – a seminar within a MOOC”.

edX is hosting a free Advanced Placement course in biology from Rice University – the first edX MOOC advertised as an AP course for high school students.  Further AP courses are planned, with physics from Boston University, mechanics from MIT and electricity & magnetism from Georgetown University all starting early in the new year.

The European Multiple MOOC Aggregator (EMMA) is an EU-funded site that aims to provide a system for the delivery of MOOCs in multiple languages from different European universities “to help preserve Europe’s rich cultural, educational and linguistic heritage and to promote real cross-cultural and multi-lingual learning.”  There are 12 initial partners, including open universities from Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.  Although there are not many MOOCs available yet, of the ten I found, four related to eLearning and its design.

Katy Jordan has complied an impressive list of MOOC research dating back to 2009.  There are still one or two technical limitations and it will rely on some community input, but it looks like a really useful resource.

Since its launch a year ago, Berlin-based MOOC provider iversity has attracted nearly 700,000 enrolments in 51 online courses, cooperated with more than 30 partners (mainly European universities) and attracted €5m in venture capital investment.

FutureLearn is also a year old and they’ve published some key facts-and-figures in a nifty scrolling graphic.  This tells us there are 133 course titles available from 44 partners, the most populous of which had 121,965 enrolees.  There are over 650,000 registered FL users who’ve signed up to 1.4m courses.  And they’ve cracked retention (22%).  By counting it differently.


Commercial News

[TechCrunch; EdSurge]

10 Minutes With is a London-based startup that offers a career matchmaking platform for graduates which includes the option for students to reach out to companies they want to work for directly, while giving these businesses access to the site’s graduate user base.  It has over 100,000 students on its books and has just raised $4m to accelerate growth worldwide – including a forthcoming push into the US.  Its academic partnerships include over 150 institutions globally, including LSE, London Business School and Trinity College Dublin.

Ibis Capital plans to spend up to €60m through its subsidiary, Edxus Group, on education acquisitions in a bid to build a leading education business for the European market.  It has begun by investing $750,000 in London-based Primo which has developed a toy that teaches children aged 3-7 computer programming without the need for literacy.  It covers concepts like algorithms and prepares children for more advanced coding later in life, aiming to offer children “active and healthy consumption of technology, as opposed to passive entertainment.”


Martin Bean Warns Universities Over Digital ‘Irrelevance’


In his final public speech as OU VC, Martin Bean warned those in the sector that, “in the 21st century, students are demanding new, more engaging ways of teaching and learning”, and he cited some examples of retailers who ultimately suffered from failing to keep pace with evolving expectations.  He also commented on the phenomenal pace of societal and technological change, noting that, “If education doesn’t keep up with this changing environment … we risk the sector becoming irrelevant and even irresponsible.”


Third of FE Colleges Offering Degrees Fail Inspection


More than 200 FE colleges now provide HE courses, often with fees of £7,500 or less.  However, during recent inspections of 45 of these by the Quality Assurance Agency, 14 were classed as "requires improvement to meet expectations" or "does not meet expectations".

And writing in THE, Chris Rust questions whether degree standards are compatible across all UK institutions, claiming that, without a system for sharing assessment practice, it’s nonsense to assume that a 2:1 is the same everywhere.


Uncontrolled Expansion: How Private Colleges Grew


THE reports that new universities minister, Greg Clark, is being encouraged to welcome more private colleges into the sector, taking on the legacy left by David Willetts.  Bypassing BPP and the University of Buckingham, the article takes a detailed look at the operation and funding of Regent College.  For example, in 2013, Regent gained 70% of its students through one Romanian recruitment agent, whose Facebook page emphasised the availability of UK government grants and loans, urging students to “share the good news with all your friends”.


Multi-million Pound Giving to Universities Increases

[The Telegraph; BBC]

Figures from Coutts and the University of Kent show that, out of the ten largest donations made in the UK last year, 7 were received by HEIs, all worth at least £30m.  A total of 33 universities received seven-figure donations last year, and 11 institutions saw more than one donation of this size (e.g. 12 for Oxford and 7 for Cambridge).  The largest single donation was a £75m gift made to the University of Oxford from grant-making organisation, the McCall MacBain Foundation in Geneva.

And a study of more than 2,300 billionaires found that they were more likely to be graduates, a quarter have postgraduate degrees and more than 10% has a doctorate.  In a listing of universities producing billionaires, elite US institutions take the top 9 places (headed by the U Penn, Harvard and Yale), followed by Mumbai in ninth and LSE in tenth – the only UK institution in the top 20.  The most populous city for billionaires is New York, and more than 40% of billionaires in Europe live in just 10 cities, headed by Moscow and London.


Plymouth Providing 30,000 e-Textbooks to Students

[Campus Technology]

Plymouth University is rolling out more than 30,000 e-textbooks from more than 16 publishers to its students in a deal with Vital Source Technologies.  Students on science and technology, business, arts and humanities, medicine and health and human sciences programmes will access the books, and a suite of VitalSource learning tools, directly through the university's Digital Learning Environment.  The books can be used online or downloaded onto mobile devices.  Around half the materials will be available in reflowable XML and ePub formats for interactivity and all are fully accessible for students with print-related disabilities.


Mature Students: Lifelong Learning on Life Support?


In this THE article, Matthew Reisz talks to academics about their experiences of teaching older learners (they have life experience, broader knowledge, different perspectives and often have firmer political opinions), while Holly Else analyses the decline in the number of mature students.  At the OU, 90% of its 60,000 first-year undergraduates are aged 21 or over, but the UK as a whole has seen the number of mature students decline by about 150,000 since 2008/9 to about 290,000 in 2012/13, with the decrease being particularly acute in England.  Birkbeck’s Prof Claire Callender believes ELQ rules and part timers’ ineligibility for loans and maintenance grants to help with living costs have all contributed to this.


Global Postgraduate Student Mobility Trends to 2024

[University World News; The Chronicle]

A British Council report released last month, Postgraduate Student Mobility Trends to 2024, estimates that India will have by far the most tertiary students in 2024 – 48 million against 37 million in China – but Chinese students are likely to be more mobile, with around 338,000 studying abroad compared to India’s 209,000.  America will continue to be the world’s most popular student destination, with an increase of 154,000 students expected (to 407,000), followed by the UK with growth of 83,000 (to 241,000).  According to the British Council’s Zainab Malik, “Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan will become key postgraduate markets by 2024, next to India and China”.

Those predictions gained credibility this week with the release of figures from the US Council of Graduate Schools which showed that overall international enrolment increased by 8% this year.  Enrolment by Indian students grew by 40% last year and 27% this year, but enrolment by Chinese students grew by just 5% last year (down from double digit growth in the past 7 years) and actually declined by 1% this year.  Also notable was a 91% growth in enrolments in the US by Brazilian students.


Changes to UK Copyright Law

[Pete Mitton]

The government has recently made some changes to UK copyright law and has also issued a number of guides to help practitioners.  These include specific advice, FAQs and exemplars relating to education and teaching, accessibility, content creators, researchers and libraries.


History Channel Launches Online Course for College Credit


The History Channel is partnering with the University of Oklahoma to offer the very first television network-branded online course for credit.  ‘The United States, 1865 to the Present’ will run for 16 weeks from 12 Jan and will comprise video lectures, quizzes, discussion groups and social interactions, as well as integrated media assets from the History Channel.  The course will cost $500 for current college or high school students and $250 for lifelong learners.  Upon passing, students will receive three college credits and a badge of completion.


Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media

[Stephen Downes]

A new e-book from Athabasca professors Jon Dron and Terry Anderson, Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media, makes the case for an online learning model that places a high value on social media and the connections that technology can help to create.  Teaching Crowds is about technologies that celebrate the creative partnering of human beings and harness the enormous amount of information on the web, and the authors argue that these technologies will soon challenge the traditional, institution-based approaches to education that we know so well.


How Community Feedback Shapes User Behaviour

[Andrew Cupples]

Interesting research from Stanford on the effects of community feedback (comments, likes, etc) on web authors’ future behaviour.  By studying four large comment-based news communities, the researchers found that negative feedback leads to significant behavioural changes that are detrimental to the community in a number of respects.  Firstly, authors of negatively-evaluated content actually go on to contribute more, but their future posts are perceived by the community to be of lower quality; these authors are also more likely to subsequently evaluate their fellow users negatively, percolating these effects through the community.  In contrast, positive feedback neither encourages rewarded authors to write more, nor improves the quality of their posts.  Finally, those authors that receive no community feedback are most likely to leave that community.  


Modernising Learning: Delivering Results

[Towards Maturity]

Towards Maturity has launched Modernising Learning: Delivering Results (2014) – its annual benchmarking survey, based on responses from 600 L&D professionals representing 29 industries (64% private sector, 21% public sector).  Findings include the following:


  • 93% are using e-learning courses
  • 86% are using live online learning such as virtual classrooms
  • 80% are using an LMS/VLE
  • 74% are using mobile devices for learning


  • 70% learn what they need to do their job from web searches
  • 30% are creating micro-content (less than 10 minutes)
  • 26% are investigating the use of MOOCs in corporate learning
  • 14% encourage learners to share experiences and solve problems using online social media
  • 12% have content curation strategies in place to help staff make sense of the resources available to them


Skype Real Time Translation

[Elliott Masie]

Microsoft Research demonstrated a Skype speech to speech translator at the recent WPC 2014 conference.  The service combines speech-recognition, automatic-translation and machine-learning technologies to provide near real time translation, output in the form of synthetic audio and subtitles.  The company hopes it will “pave the way for a more personal and more human era of computing” once it becomes widely available, and it is now offering a preview version.  The potential for some global learning scenarios surely makes this worthy of further investigation.


Microsoft Teams Up With Dropbox


Best buddies Microsoft and Dropbox have announced a partnership that will allow Office users to quickly edit docs from the Dropbox mobile app, access Dropbox docs from Office apps. share Dropbox links of Office apps, and create first-party Dropbox apps for Microsoft’s mobile offerings.


Hardware Update

[TechCrunch; Campus Technology; Andrew McDermott]

Latest Q3 figures from Gartner show that tablet sales in 2014 will only see 11% growth over last year, compared to growth of 55% the year before.  This means around 229 million tablets are expected to ship in 2014, equivalent to 9.5% of overall worldwide device sales (phones, tablets, desktops) of 2.4 billion devices for the year.  Around 51% of all devices sold this year have or will be running Android.

IDC reports that Apple’s Mac marketshare hit record highs during Q3 2014, with shipments up by 12.9% from Q3 2013 to 2.34 million (13.4% market share).

Gartner predicts that worldwide shipments of 3D printers will more than double each year between now and 2018, when it projects sales of the devices to top 2.3 million.  The rise will be fuelled by the increasing availability of good quality sub-$1000 models.

And a new study from ABI Research, Mobile Device User Interface Innovation, suggests that mobile and wearable devices will start to rely less on screen-based user interfaces and increasingly on proximity sensors, voice, gesture, eye-tracking, GPS, GNSS and other input methods.  Take a look at Google’s Project Tango if you want to see where this might be taking us.

The Raspberry Pi-powered laptop has exceeded its crowdfunding targets and should be available for $249 from around next May.  But if you’re in more of a hurry and love dangly wires, the new Pi Model A+ board is now available at just $20 – smaller, $5 cheaper and more energy-efficient than its predecessor.


OER15 Conference – Call for Papers

[Anna Comas-Quinn]

The OER15 conference, Mainstreaming Open Education, will be held on 14-15 Apr 15 at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, and a call for abstracts, papers and other contributions is now open until 24 Nov.  Submissions for 60-90 min interactive workshops, 20 min oral presentations, 10 min lightning talks or posters are welcome on any of these conference themes:

  • Impact Research
  • Open Education across Languages and Cultures
  • Learners and Other Communities
  • Open Educational Practice (OEP) and Policy
  • Open Courses
  • Open Education in Colleges and Schools


OER Use Growing

[EdSurge; Audrey Watters]

A Babson/Pearson survey of 2,144 faculty members found that around two-thirds say they are unaware of OERs. However, more than 34% say they are regularly or occasionally using OERs as teaching resources, with images and video topping the list.  Searching for OERs is easy or very easy (60%) although the absence of a single comprehensive catalogue of resources is seen as a barrier by more than half.

Leicester City Council has become the first in the UK to authorise its 84 community schools to openly license their educational resources.  The council is recommending that school staff use the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to openly share materials created in the course of their work.


US Universities Partner on iPad-Based Degree Programme

[Campus Technology]

Two US universities are partnering to provide an iPad-based degree programme that will deliver a BSc in entrepreneurship in two and a half years.  Florida’s Lynn University describes its core curriculum model as “challenge-based learning” – focusing on using technology to apply course content to real-world problems, with over 70% of the school's 2,500 students required to use iPads.  Colorado’s Watson University uses intensive mentoring work to develop skills that emphasise “empathy, creativity, resilience, grit, bootstrapping, team building and fundraising.”  The new course will require students to spend four semesters on campus at Watson and three summers engaged in Lynn's online programme


If Learners Live Online, Teachers and Textbooks Must Follow Them

[Pete Mitton]

The title seems to say it all, but David White’s article in The Conversation also cautions that ‘online’ is not the same as ‘social’ and that, “Irrespective of how digitally savvy they think they are, most people will spend the majority of their time browsing online content before walking away without leaving a social trace.”  He refers to the difference between ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ – the subject of a JISC research project that can help universities explore the relationship between institutional and online cultures.


Putin’s Friend Profits in Purge of Schoolbooks


NYT reports that, when the Russian school year began a couple of months ago, the number of approved textbooks for Russia’s 43,000 schools and 14 million schoolchildren had been slashed by more than half due to a series of bureaucratic purges.  However, it was notable that one company, Enlightenment (previously the sole provider of school textbooks under Soviet rule), seemed to have emerged unscathed.  The fact that the company is chaired by Arkady Rotenberg, a judo sparring partner from Vladimir Putin’s St Petersburg youth, must surely just be a coincidence?




And Finally…


Juraj Holub is concerned that, “with so much great content and useful tools out there, creating a boring presentation is getting more and more challenging these days.”  However, he’s managed to find 10 ingredients for creating a boring presentation to keep the tradition alive.  It’s amusing, but with shades of embarrassing home truths.





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