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e-Learning Digest No 126 - Feb 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
12 February 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops


Focus on…  The Psychology of Social Networkers

[BPS; Science Direct; APA; The Chronicle]

It’s easy to make presumptions about social media users, but to what extend are these borne out by evidence?  Research suggests that Facebook users tend to be “more extraverted and narcissistic, but less conscientious and socially lonely, than nonusers”, but there is also evidence that narcissism is age-related, with student narcissists preferring Twitter, while more mature narcissists prefer FB.  Separate research reported that “higher degrees of narcissism led to deeper self-disclosures and more self-promotional content within these messages. [And] users with higher need to belong disclosed more intimate information”.

Further research suggests that personality was a more important factor than gender and FB experience, with high scorers in neuroticism spending more time on FB, although extraverts were found to have more friends on the network than introverts.  However, people who said they used FB as an informational tool (rather than socialising) tended to score higher on neuroticism, sociability, extraversion and openness, but lower on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”.  The same study also found that higher scorers in sociability, neuroticism and extraversion preferred FB, while people who scored higher in "need for cognition" preferred Twitter.  There is also evidence that anxiousness (as well as alcohol and drug use) predicts more emotional attachment to Facebook.

And what of academic performance?  An analysis of nearly 4,000 US students found that the more they used Facebook to socialise, the poorer their grades tended to be, although using the site to collect and share information was actually associated with better grades.  However, an earlier longitudinal study found no evidence for a link between FB use and poorer grades; if anything there were signs of the opposite pattern.

Research published last month suggests that students may learn to regulate their use of Facebook, both as a distraction from coursework and in their free time, as they progress through university.  The study of 1,649 US students showed that seniors spent significantly less time on Facebook and spent significantly less time multitasking with Facebook than newer students.  Time spent on Facebook was significantly negatively predictive of grades for freshmen but not for other students.  “Seniors were less likely to post status updates than freshmen and sophomores, comment on content less than the other class ranks, use Facebook chat less than freshmen and sophomores, post photos less than juniors, tag photos less than freshmen and juniors, and view videos less than all the other class ranks”.

In a 2011 study of about 300 college students, researchers from Cornell found that students who were asked to look at their own Facebook page for just three minutes showed a boost in self-esteem compared with control groups who either looked in a mirror or simply sat in a room for three minutes.  They speculate that we might get that ego lift because we self-select the information we include in our Facebook profiles and posts – and so looking at our favourite flattering photos and witty or erudite comments reinforces the version of ourselves we want to be.

Building on the ubiquity of Twitter, The Chronicle’s Adeline Koh posts on her experiences of getting students to live tweet whilst watching films (feature films, documentaries or recorded lectures).  The assignment does not require that students follow one another to read their tweets, they simply need to use public accounts and make sure each tweet contains the event hashtag.  She has tried this both in a classroom and remotely, and she reports that, “Every single time this activity has massively increased student engagement and learning”. 



[The Chronicle; Audrey Watters; Campus Technology]

The latest Babson Research Group annual survey of more than 2,800 academic leaders suggests that MOOC hype is fading, with the percentage of institutions offering MOOCs levelling off, at around 14%.  There is a growing feeling that MOOCs will not generate money or reduce costs for universities, with only 16% of those questioned believing that MOOCs are sustainable, while 51% think they are not – in stark contrast to figures of 28% and 26% respectively in 2012 – and only 2.4% of academic leaders offering MOOCs said their main goal was to “explore cost reductions.”  There is a similar shift in responses to whether MOOCs were “important for institutions to learn about online pedagogy”, with 28% agreeing and 37% disagreeing, compared to 50% and 19% in 2012.

Daphne Koller has announced that Coursera was rebuilding its ­platform ‘from the ground up’ to allow students to commence courses ‘on demand’ and to give university ­instructors access to student data on progress and performance.  She said Coursera had already shifted about 50 courses to an “on-demand” basis and by the end of this year most of its courses would be offered that way.  Indications were that on demand courses were also­ beneficial for students. “There’s a higher degree of learner engagement than with session-based courses,” she said.

The University of Central Florida has partnered with Educause and ed tech company Instructure to launch BlendKit2015: Becoming a Blended Learning Designer.  Building on the success of last year’s BlendKit2014, the 5 week MOOC starts on 23 Feb and will include: scholarly reading selections on blended learning; guest presenters each week; assessment and critique of course design work from experts and peers; and frequent interaction with other students and course facilitators via blogs or social networks.

Cybrary.IT is a new provider offering 20-plus certification MOOCs in IT systems administration, network administration and cybersecurity.  Courses range from 5–30 hours and combine individual study with instructional lectures, interactive demos, online discussions and collaborative activities.  Students also have access to study guides, white papers, case studies and other materials through the Cybrary Web site.  More than 3,500 students worldwide have joined so far.

Australian MOOC provider OpenLearning has raised A$1.7m to help meet its goal of increasing the number of students using its platform from 125,000 to a million by the end of thia year.  Roughly 50% of OpenLearning’s users come from Malaysia, while the majority of its other users are in Australia, the US and China.  The company has recently struck a deal with the Malaysian government to deliver 15% of the country’s public university courses using its platform, with the aim increasing this to 30% by 2020.

MOOC organisers can now include URLs that allow their registered learners to purchase print, eBooks and journal articles from Springer at discounted rates.

The folks at the Daily Genius have come up with LOOCs (Little…) which are “one-page courses that give you what you need in a simple step-by-step recipe format.”  Nice idea, but definitely over-egging the MOOC bandwagon: these aren’t LOOCs, they’re good old just-in-time learning factsheets.



[The Guardian; THE, The Independent; University World News]

Latest figures from HESA show the number of UK part-time students fell by 7% in 2013-14 compared with the previous year, with the worst-case market – foundation degrees – falling by 18% to just 24,000.  The figures underscored earlier research suggesting that part-time student numbers have fallen sharply since 2010-11, when fees rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year for full-time study.  “These figures confirm another reduction in the number of part-time students, and should be a significant concern for policymakers and the higher education sector as a whole,” said Les Ebdon, director of the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education.  Over the same period, full-time student numbers rose by 2%.

According to new data from UCAS, the latest rise in student admissions in this academic year takes the total up by almost 14,000 (3.2%) to 447,450, meaning that nearly all universities in England have bounced back from the £9k fees admissions slump, which saw core intakes shrink in some cases by 20%.

But not everyone wants to go to university for their degree.  There was an 11.8% in undergraduates joining FE colleges in the two years to 2012-13, helped in part by the relaxation in recruitment curbs.  The Association of Colleges estimates that there are around 115,000 students currently studying for degrees at FE colleges.

Analysis by UCAS shows that a record number of women started university courses last Sep, but they are still avoiding science, IT and engineering courses.  The biggest gap between the sexes were in education, with 85% per cent of acceptances being women, and “subjects allied to medicine”, i.e. nursing (81%).  In contrast, 87% of computer science undergrads were men, as were 85% of engineering students.  In a dubious pre-election comment, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said “…if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, then the arts and humanities were what you chose to do because they were useful for all kinds of jobs.  Of course, we now know nothing could be further from the truth.”

David Colquhoun suggests that honours degrees aren't well suited to all students and that some universities should focus on two-year ordinary degrees, similar to those offered by US liberal arts colleges, and these should be less specialist than what is now offered.  Some institutions should specialise in teaching such degrees, others should become predominantly postgraduate institutions and have the time, money and expertise to do proper advanced teaching.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last month, shadow HE spokesman Liam Byrne said the present university funding system was unsustainable: “We want to bring the cost down, but this has to be funded.  The right long-term shift is to a graduate tax.”  However, more recent speculation suggests that Labour may commit to a Robbins- or Dearing-style major review of HE and a cut in maximum tuition fees from £9k to £6k, described by UUK as ignoring the “legitimate concerns of vice-chancellors”.

Overseas fee-paying students at the University of the West of Scotland could benefit from a proposed initiative to have their costs waived if they fail to graduate.  UWS says it has broken ranks with other institutions to ensure it remains attractive in an increasingly competitive global market.  If the scheme is approved, UWS would become the first institution in the UK to offer students a refund for failing to complete their courses.


Commercial News

[EdSurge; Audrey Watters; Fortune]

AT&T's $350m Aspire Initiative has already committed $100m to provide free broadband access for US schools.  Now AT&T has announced a $2.25 million grant to Khan Academy, the majority of which went to support a new iPad app that boasts over 150,000 interactive exercises, handwriting recognition and an engine that recommends content based on a learner's skill level.  EdSurge estimates that Khan attracted at least $23.5m in funding during 2014.

A deal has been announced to merge Macmillan Science & Education with Springer Science & Business into a €1.5 billion giant with 13,000 staff.  The deal is expected to be approved by competition authorities by the end of June.

Pearson continues its quest to reduce global illiteracy (currently estimated at 774 million adults) by injecting a further $50m into its Affordable Learning Fund which, to date, has been particularly active in India, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and the Philippines.  But despite all this altruism, Fortune magazine considers why Everybody Hates Pearson.

Former TES chief executive Louise Rogers has become chairperson, with her vacant slot being filled by Rob Grimshaw who was formerly COO.

Just another day at Cupertino – 34,000 iPhones sold every hour of the last three months, one billionth iOS device shipped, $8.3 million dollars profit made every hour.  Recession...?


NMC Horizon Report

[Will Woods; Gill Smith]

This year’s NMC Horizon Report (HE edition) has been compiled by a body of 56 experts from around the world.  Two key long-term trends were identified: advancing learning environments that are flexible and drive innovation, as well as increasing the collaboration that takes place between HEIs.  In terms of challenges, improving digital literacy was identified as one that is already being addressed by actions at individual institutions.  The authors noted that, “At The Open University in the UK, they developed the ‘Digital and Information Framework’ to standardize and implement better digital literacy training in their curriculum.”  BYOD and the flipped classroom are expected to be increasingly adopted by institutions in one year’s time or less to make use of mobile and online learning. The time-to-adoption for makerspaces and wearable technology are estimated within two to three years, while adaptive learning technologies and the Internet of Things is expected to be mainstream in universities and colleges within four to five years.

Education Dive provides a useful infographic summarising Educause’s view of the top ten IT issues for HE (including funding IT strategically and optimising it for teaching and learning) and top ten strategic technologies (including intelligence/dashboards, mobile apps and performance analytics).


Tracking Online Education in the United States

[The Chronicle]

Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States is the 12th annual report by the Babson Research Group on the state of online learning in US HE.  The headline finding is that the number of HE students taking at least one distance education course in 2014 is up 3.7% from 2013.  This represents the slowest rate of increase in over a decade, and there has actually been a decrease among for-profit institutions.  Curiously, while 71% of chief academic leaders report that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy, only 28% say that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.”


Short Courses Offer Hope to US Education Companies


Short courses, Bootcamps and nanodegrees could be the way forward for traditional for-profit US education providers.  Companies such as Apollo and ITT have seen enrolments dwindle in the face of increased regulatory scrutiny for issues including student loans, poor placements and low graduation rates – and this has given a boost to smaller schools offering niche courses, which teach skills that give students an edge in the job market at a fraction of the cost of a degree course.  Apollo's shares have fallen 14% in the past year and ITT by more than two thirds.


OU Brainwave

OU Brainwave is a new, free, research focused, psychology app from The Open University and Reed.  Users are encouraged to play five simple but fun games which build up a profile of how their cognitive performance varies across the day – and whether they are a ‘morning’ or ‘evening’ person.  The app also anonymises your scores and uploads them to the OU research team, where the data is combined with that of all the other users of the app in order to provide new insights into how circadian rhythms and time-of-day affects cognitive performance.


e-Book News

[Audrey Watters; Mashable; The Chronicle; Ian Blackham; EdSurge]

Half of American adults now own an e-reading device and the Obama administration has set a goal of getting e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017.  However, it remains the case that many people just don’t like them and, in a 2014 survey by Scholastic, 65% of 6 to 17-year-old children said they would always want to read books in print (up from 60% in 2012).  In her new book, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, Prof Naomi Baron brings more data to the case for print, having surveyed over 300 university students in the US, Japan, Germany, and Slovakia.  Whilst the delivery format is less important for “light reading”, she found a near-universal preference for print for serious reading and study.  When students were given a choice of various media – including hard copy, phone, tablet, e-reader and laptop – 92% said they could concentrate best in hard copy.

Amazon has launched the Kindle Textbook Creator, which allows users to easily and freely transform PDFs into an e-book format and to organise images, graphs, equations, charts, etc.  The resulting e-books include Kindle tools such as highlighting, note-taking and dictionary/Wikipedia lookup but will run on multiple devices including Kindles, iOS and Android.  The company has also launched Kindle Convert which allows users (in the US only for now) to turn their paper library into e-books 

The US National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation will jointly provide $1 million to convert out-of-print humanities books into e-Pubs with a Creative Commons licence, ensuring that the books are freely downloadable with searchable texts and in formats that are compatible with any e-reading device.  Books proposed under the new Humanities Open Book programme must be of demonstrable intellectual significance and broad interest to current readers 

San Francisco’s No Starch Press produces “sharable books for geeks,” eschewing DRM and defying conventional publishing wisdom.  “We have never used DRM and we never will. It’s just foolish,” says Bill Pollock, founder of No Starch Press.  “People should have the same rights in an ebook that they do in a print book, I don’t believe in charging people three times for the same information.”

Reporting that one in five US students have a language-based learning disability, EdSurge considers how e-books and TTS audiobooks may improve learning opportunities for those with dyslexia


Critical Pedagogy

[Stephen Downes]

Sean Michael Morris posts about critical pedagogy – the theme of a 6-week “MOOC MOOC” that started on 19 Jan.  He describes CP as a philosophy of teaching that shows more than tells, and he equates telling to what Freire calls the banking model of education in which “the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits” (p53).  Compare that with an inquiry model which leaves learners free to ask, explore and experiment.  With this approach, Freire notes that, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention […] through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” (p53).  So how’s the balance looking on your latest module?


Workers and Technology

[Audrey Watters]

A report from Pew Internet Research looked at US workers and technology.  When asked about technological tools that are ‘very important’ for their job, 61% cited email, followed by the internet (54%), landline (35%) and mobile phone (24%); social networking came in at a tiny 4%.  Only 7% of working online adults felt their productivity had dropped because of the internet, email and cell phones, while 46% felt more productive and 35% work longer hours using these new online technologies.


Windows 10


Microsoft formally unveiled Windows 10 last month, along with news that existing Win 7, Win 8.1 and Win Phone 8.1 users will be entitled to a free upgrade during its first year of release.  Key features/changes include: an improved user interface; better integration/syncing between mobile devices, desktop PCs and Xbox; a brand new fast browser (Spartan); improved messaging that incorporates Skype; and a free Office suite for mobile users.  There will also be Windows Holographic which offers augmented reality, supported by the new Microsoft HoloLens headset/glasses.


Office Now Integrated with Moodle

[Microsoft; Campus Technology]

Moodle partner has developed code to integrate MS Office with Moodle, enabling educators to easily embed interactive online lessons created in PowerPoint with Office Mix.  These lessons may contain audio, video, digital ink, interactive simulations or assessments.  The Moodle plugin repository now contains an Office 365 plugin (single sign-on, OneDrive integration, Outlook Calendar integration and other features including Office Mix integration) and a Microsoft Services plugin (integration with OneNote Consumer - for use by students - as well as Office Mix integration).

Blackboard has updated Moodlerooms, its services for Moodle, with a new interface and improved accessibility.  The interface makes the user experience, search and navigation simpler and more intuitive. The forum now offers improved post sorting and searching, plus improved access via screen readers and other assistive tools for users with impaired vision.


Facebook Remains Strong with US Users

[Campus Technology]

Facebook continues to be the most widely used social network among US online adults, with 71% connecting to the internet via Facebook, according to data from Pew and the University of Michigan.  However, 52% of respondents said they used two or more sites, up from 42% last year, with popular destinations including:

  • Pinterest, visited by 28% percent of users (up from 21% last year)

  • LinkedIn, also at 28% (22%)

  • Instagram, at 26% (17%)

  • Twitter, at 23% (18%)

Although the median number of friends for Facebook users was 155, those reported as being ‘actual friends’ was much lower at 50.


Plagiarism: A Disconnect between Students’ Thoughts and Actions

[Faculty Focus]

Almost 800 US students completed a plagiarism survey, in which 75% agreed or strongly agreed that copying text without referencing it was plagiarism, 81% said such behaviour should result in strong punishment, and 84% said that they never or rarely engaged in this practice.  The same students were then given a scenario which opened with some original text from an academic paper and was followed by a piece of writing by a student which included two identical sentences from the original text that were not referenced.  Now, when questioned, only 30% agreed that inserting the text was a breach of academic guidelines, although 64% did agree that a reference was required.  So they did recognise plagiarism but the researchers speculate that they may consider that just two sentences (as opposed to lifting a whole section) didn’t count as serious plagiarism.


Hardware News

[TechCrunch; Campus Technology]

Latest data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech showed that, in the key Christmas sales quarter of Q4 2014, Apple sold more iPhones in the US than all of the various Android OEMs put together (for the first time since Q4 2012) – but only by a margin of 0.1%.  However, picture across the UK was quite different, with Android smartphone sales taking 51% of the market (down 8% compared to Q4 2013), followed by iOS at 42% (up 13%) and Windows at 7% (down 3%).  Apple’s 13% UK growth was the largest for any individual nation, with the iPhone 6 accounting for 20% of all smartphone sales (and the Galaxy S5 a distant second with 8%).

Separate research by IDC for Q4 2014 showed overall shipments of tablets and 2-in-1 devices dropped to 76.1m units worldwide (3.2% down from Q4 2013).  Apple continued to dominate the market with 28% of overall shipments (21.4 million units)

Microsoft’s new Lumia 435 smartphone has been announced, with an $81 (£50) price tag that pitches it against the budget Android market.  The 435 has a 4”, 800 x 480 LCD display, a 1.2GHz dual-core chip, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage and just a 2MP rear camera, but it runs Windows Phone 8.1 and comes preloaded with MS Office.

The new £25 Raspberry Pi 2 has just launched, featuring a quad-core chip and double the memory of its predecessor.  According to Pi creator, Eben Upton, “The big difference with the Pi 2 is it’s a PC.  It’s not a PC which is pretty good considering it cost you $35.  It’s a PC that’s pretty good.”  And that’s not all; Microsoft has announced it will be offering Windows 10 free to Raspberry Pi users later this year – as it seeks to keep pace with developments powering the Internet of Things (IoT).




Bunkr  is a French startup that promised a PowerPoint killer but failed to deliver.  They’ve now had a rethink from the ground up and, according to TechCrunch, “If you need to create 10 slides with bullet points and tables, PowerPoint is still the right tool.  But if you want to make a modern presentation with videos, articles from the web and tweet embeds, Bunkr is the way to go.”


WizIQ Live Mobile Learning


WizIQ boasts 4m learners and the company’s new Live Mobile Learning Platform is built on a cloud-based learning management system which allows students to “attend” live and interactive classes via their smartphones or tablets while on the go.  Students and educators can connect with each other in real time, as well as receive notifications of important dates like deadlines, tests, and class schedules.


Costs and Rewards of Making a Hit iOS Game


I’m not a massive gamer but I would thoroughly recommend Monument Valley as both a compelling game and a superb example of visual design.  Unusually, the company has released details of development costs and sales/revenue figures, showing a healthy profit from its 2.4 million sales.



  • UWN has an article detailing Martin Bean’s career and his move from the OU to Australia’s RMIT.  [University World News]   

  • John O'Brien will succeed Diana Oblinger as the next president and CEO of Educause from 1 Jun.  [Campus Technology]

  • Microsoft has launched Outlook apps for Android and iOS which will replace the existing rather inadequate range of Outlook-branded apps.  [TechCrunch]

  • CloudOn is partnering with Dropbox, and its 9m users will find their CloudOn app ceases to operate on 15 Mar.  [CloudOn]

  • UWN provides a useful list of UK and US newspaper archives.  [University World News]

  • LSE’s new learning project invites the public to crowdsource a new modern written UK constitution.  [ALT]

  • Expect the Apple Watch to start shipping around mid-April with a UK price of about £300.  [TechCrunch]

  • Sandstorm is an open source platform for hosting personal (and potentially decentralised) instances of web apps.  [Stephen Downes]

  • The Be My Eyes app connects blind people via live video to a sighted volunteer (99,000 of whom signed up in its first 12 days).  [BBC]

  • ReimaginED 2015 presents a relatively bleak insight into social and technology trends in US K-12 Education.  [EdSurge]

  • Berkeley plans to invite partner universities from around the world to set up a new global campus just 10 miles from Berkeley’s main site.  [University World News]

  • Bye bye Flash.  YouTube now defaults to sending HTML5 video to modern browsers such as IE11, Safari 8, Chrome and Firefox.  [TechCrunch]

  • The new ESRC-funded Poverty and Social Exclusion site is live and Breadline Britain, by Jo Mack and Stewart Lansley, is published on 19 Feb.  [Oneworld Publishing]

  • Google Earth Pro (previously $399) is now free.  [TechCrunch]

  • Carnegie Mellon students produced 5,000 games in a recent 48-hour global game jam.  [Campus Technology]

  • Grammarly monitors >250 grammar issues and offers error explanations to help students learn to improve their writing.  [Grammarly]

  • Look up from your phone (5m video) encourages us to reconsider our relationships with social media and each other. [Daily Genius]

  • The Government is investing £17m to provide free Wi-Fi on trains across the UK from 2017.  [The Guardian]

  • An EU copyright review comes a step closer as the Juncker Commission rolls out plans to create a digital single market.  [Stephen Downes]


And Finally…

[Audrey Watters; Gill Marshall]

For those who can’t resist a trip down educational memory lane, Audrey Watters offers two postings on teaching machines and multiple-choice testing machines.

And for those who prefer their technology cutting edge, Ikea brings us its new Bookbook, which comes with pre-installed content, high definition pages, bookmarking, “touch and grab” navigation and no lag between page turns.


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