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e-Learning Digest No 127 - Mar 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
18 March 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops



[The Chronicle; OERU; ClassCentral; EdSurge; Gill Smith       ]

Coursera announced last month that it had teamed up with more than half a dozen companies (including Google, Instagram and Shazam) that will help create capstone projects for its course series.  Nineteen colleges now work with Coursera to offer what amount to microdegrees (‘Specialisations’) that require students to take a series of MOOCs and then finish a hands-on capstone project.  This approach has proved an effective way to bring in revenue, as students end up paying around $500 in fees to get a certificate proving they passed the ‘free’ courses.  This strategy has already worked well for Udacity, which has bypassed universities and works only with industry to develop its courses and nanodegrees.  “We’re discovering that there are a huge number of willing and eager lifelong learners that are underserved by higher education,” says founder, Sebastian Thrun. “We’re getting to the point where we’ll be profitable as a company.”

Microsoft and edX have partnered to launch IT development courses that will be taught by Microsoft experts.  The courses focus on core development skills for cloud and mobile technologies, and feature interactive coding, assessments and exercises.  Courses start at the end of March and students can enrol for free or obtain a verified certificate for a fee.

The OU has launched a range of free Badged Open Courses (BOCs) which will differ from MOOCs because they are perpetual, enabling students to return to them at any time to refresh their knowledge, unlike MOOCs which tend to have set start and finish dates.

FutureLearn announced last month that it has reached 1 million learners from over 190 countries, becoming a top-five MOOC provider in a little over a year.  FL now offers 220+ courses from 44 partner universities and institutions, mostly in the UK but also including Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Korea.  Last week, FL announced nine new university partners including their first in Colombia, France, Spain and Switzerland.  Other interesting snippets: the most popular course is ‘Exploring English language and culture’ (120k learners); one video in that course has over 17,000 comments on its page; and around 25% of FL access is now from tablets and smartphones.

It remains the case that a great many MOOC students are educationally advantaged.  Bill Gates, in his capacity as guest editor at The Verge, explores why MOOCs need to change to help students who don't have developed literacy skills, easy access to internet, or face gender prejudice.  To be honest, the video is slick but relatively lightweight, whereas the accompanying article from Adi Robertson is much more comprehensive and wide ranging.

In a brief but interesting post, Austin Tate provides demographic and activity data for participants in the 2015 Edinburgh/Coursera AI Planning MOOC that completed this month.



[The Guardian; University World News; The Independent]

British sixth-formers leaving school this summer will be able to apply to some continental European universities through the UK admissions system for the first time, after UCAS reversed its opposition to the scheme, providing those universities meet equivalent quality standards to the UK.  High standards of teaching (often in English) and lower fees make studying for a degree in Europe an attractive option for many UK students, although only about 30,000 left Britain this year to study.

UCL is closing its School of Energy and Resources in Adelaide, opened five years ago with funding of A$4.5m from the South Australian government and A$10m from oil and gas producer, Santos.  The School has around 20 staff and 100 local and foreign MSc students.  UCL says it will honour its commitment to those students.

Plans for the UK’s first newly built university for three decades have been unveiled.  The private but not-for-profit New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE) aims to attract 5,000 students when it is fully operational, and to be the first UK HEI to achieve equal numbers of men and women among both lecturers and students.  Based in Hereford, NMITE is backed by the universities of Bristol and Warwick and aims to recruit an initial 300 students to start their courses in Sep 17.


Commercial News

[THE; EdSurge; eLearning!; The Chronicle; Audrey Watters; Kineo]

Fresh questions have been raised about the government’s drive to boost private providers after it emerged that the biggest, St Patrick’s College, is under investigation by DBIS, the QAA and the Home Office.  St Patrick’s students received £95.7m of funding in 2013-14, but the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, said the report showed that the government proceeded “without sufficient regulation in place to protect public money” and ignored “repeated warnings” on the risks.

Elsevier has bought London startup Newsflo, a bespoke media monitoring service that tracks over 55,000 English-speaking media sources from around 20 countries, enabling academics to get ‘impact’ analytics for their published research.

City & Guilds has acquired The Oxford Group, a global management training, leadership development and executive coaching company.  Together, they will work with 350 employers worldwide, including Barclays, GE, Pfizer, Nikon and McDonalds.

Blackboard is reported to be in final talks to purchase PowerSchool – a popular student information system that serves more than 13 million learners in the US and 65 other countries – from Pearson.  When Jay Bhatt took over as Blackboard CEO in 2012, he signalled an intention to overhaul its product, brand and strategy, particularly in the K-12 market.  Blackboard has snapped up eight companies since Jan 2014.

Chegg has reached a multi-year agreement to allow Ingram to take over its textbook rental operations starting on 1 May. Students will still be able to rent textbooks from Chegg, which will take a 20% commission from each rental.  Print textbooks raked in $213 million for Chegg last year, but maintaining these operations has been costly and the company's net loss increased from $55.8m in 2013 to $64.7m last year.

The Financial Times and Madrid's IE Business School have entered into a joint venture aimed at corporate executives looking to expand their education.  The program includes offline and online learning classes and courses that draw upon FT news and analysis.  According to Reuters, “several business schools across the world, including the Yale School of Management and Antai Business School in China, are taking part in the corporate learning program.”

Kaplan is selling 38 of its US colleges to the Education Corporation of America for an undisclosed price.  Inheriting more than 12,500 Kaplan students will push ECA’s enrolment to about 30,000, although Kaplan will continue to own Kaplan University, plus overseas colleges in Australia, Britain, Ireland, and Singapore.

German media group Bertelsmann is taking a controlling stake in US-based Alliant International University as the first step in a plan to build a global network of universities to share research and data.  The company has made education its top investment priority and has vowed to achieve €1bn in worldwide revenue this year.


‘World's Largest University’ is Scamming Students

[The Chronicle]

A global network of fraudulent online universities, leading back to a “Middle East Office of Academic Regulation & Examination”, has been uncovered by journalists.  The universities in the network, which typically say they are based in the United States, actively encourage students from the Arab world to enrol by offering what appear to be generous scholarships after just a few minutes of exchanging instant messages online.  But that financial aid is conditional on students paying the rest of their fees immediately.


The End of College

[The Washington Post]

Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Programme at the New America Foundation, suggests that HE is becoming increasingly unaffordable and unattainable and so is on the verge of a transformation that could change the role universities play in our society.  In his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, he sets out his vision for a digital, online future, with little bricks-and-mortar overhead, where students are taught in ways tailored to their individual needs, resulting in “an education, not a degree”.  Nice idea but I remain sceptical.  Carey states that “MIT is already moving in this direction”, but there is no sign that MIT has any plans to close its campus.  It is true that MOOCs (etc) have been a great success, but mainly as supplements to HE or to provide short bursts of education for specific groups.  Employers are not educators, most want a credential they understand – and that credential is the degree. 


A Typology of Web 2.0 Learning Technologies

[Stephen Downes]

Matt Bower has conducted a typological analysis of Web 2.0 learning technologies, identifying 212 tools that were suitable for learning and teaching purposes which he’s arranged into 14 clusters.  Links and brief descriptions are provided for all 212 tools and, whilst documents of this type tend to go out of date fairly quickly, it currently represents a comprehensive and valuable collection of goodies.


Crowdsourced Outlines Improve Learning from Videos

[Campus Technology]

Even though video is generally accepted to be one of the more engaging forms of learning content, we cannot assume that time-poor students will devour every clip from beginning to end.  Researchers from MIT and Harvard are using crowd-sourced conceptual outlines that work as navigation tools, so that those who are already familiar with some of a video's content can skip ahead, while others can backtrack to revisit content as required.  According to co-author Juho Kim, “It's really hard to find the exact spots that you want to watch.  You end up scrubbing on the timeline carefully and looking at thumbnails.  And with educational videos, especially, it's really hard, because it's not that visually dynamic.  So we thought that having this semantic information about the video really helps.”


Student Recall of Electronic Versus Handwritten Feedback

[Stephen Downes; The Chronicle]

Sadler (1998) defined formative assessment as that which is intended to accelerate learning and improve performance through the providing of feedback.  But how important is the medium by which feedback is provided?  Researchers at the University of Louisiana compared the effects of handwritten versus electronic textual feedback and found that, whereas students who preferred or received handwritten feedback recall more of that feedback (quantity), those who actually received electronic feedback recall the comments more accurately (quality). 

Meanwhile, at Australia’s Monash University, education lecturers Michael Henderson and Michael Phillips have been providing video feedback – typically 5 mins, unscripted, unedited – for about five years.  Not only does this take them less time to create than handwritten notes but 126 of their students reported that, “…they felt the feedback to be ‘real,’ ‘honest,’ and ‘authentic’.”  They also found it to be clearer than written notes, notwithstanding the lack of editorial polish.


Targeting Deeper Learning with Micro-Credentials

[EdSurge; Stephen Downes]

I used to think that deep learning was at the opposite(and preferable) end of the spectrum to surface learning (Biggs, 1999; Marton & Säljö, 1996) but I blinked and now it’s been redefined.  According to Developing a System of Micro-credentials: Supporting Deeper Learning in the Classroom, “Deeper Learning is an umbrella term for the skills, understandings, and mind sets students must possess to succeed in today’s jobs and civic life.”  It’s organised into 6 categories of activities:

  • Master core academic content

  • Think critically and solve complex problems

  • Work collaboratively

  • Communicate effectively

  • Learn how to learn

  • Develop academic mindsets

…and these are then divided into 40 micro-credentials (e.g. Resolving conflicts).  Looks useful, and quite an overlap with the 21st Century Skills retweeted a couple of weeks ago by Belinda.

So how can education systems help teachers engage in practices and behaviours that promote deeper learning?  The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) from OECD surveyed over 100,000 teachers and principals from 34 countries regarding their teaching and the conditions in which they work.  The site contains a nice (but unattributed) graph showing how worker tasks are now much more non-routine, analytical and interpersonal than was the case 50 years ago.  Findings from the survey showed that opportunities to share and learn from colleagues can help create the conditions for the innovative and effective teaching that provides the deeper learning today's students need.  Among the key findings are:

  • More than 94% of teachers agreed that their role was to facilitate students' own inquiry and yet teaching practices that foster deeper learning are relatively rare

  • Collaborative teacher professional learning supports instructional practices that promote  deeper learning for students and fosters a positive climate and ongoing teacher learning

  • Time, resources and funding all matter – and OECD data show that the high-performing education systems have invested carefully in teaching quality


US Universities Should Follow the UK in Promoting Soft Skills


Kevin Kruger reports widespread concerns in the US that graduates are not well enough prepared for the world of work: “Only about a quarter of employers surveyed believe recent graduates are well prepared in critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings.”  He cites comparative success in the UK, “…where the Higher Education Achievement Report has been adopted by 27 institutions.”


The Story of Now

[Jacob Niedzwiecki; Catherine Chambers]

The Story of Now is a BBC beta service that offers (according to the Idris Elba intro) “a voyage of wonder and discovery”.  What that means in plain English is video-rich coverage of a number of philosophical and scientific topics led by engaging, expert presenters, with plentiful links to related stories on the site and external resources from TED, the British Museum, YouTube and elsewhere.  Well worth a wander.

And if you like that, you may also like this BBC iWonder interactive video on Footballers United.  And this from The Guardian on the First World War.


Designing for Accessibility

[The Chronicle; UserFocus]

The UK-based Colour Blind Awareness organisation launched a campaign last month to raise awareness amongst educators of colour blindness.  The most common congenital forms of colour blindness are deuteranopia and protanopia, both of which affect our ability to distinguish between red and green, whereas tritanopia causes difficulty in distinguishing between blue and yellow. Natalie Houston gives some examples and offers advice and some useful links to help designers.

A case study from the BBC’s Henny Swan looks at the problems one screen reader user had with the iPlayer, and how this led the Beeb to reconsider the particular needs of different user types when designing the new iPlayer.  She suggests ten UX design guidelines based on four key design principles:

  • Give users choice

  • Put users in control

  • Design with familiarity in mind

  • Prioritise features that add value

The OU Accessibility Guidelines have also recently been updated by the Communications Unit, working closely with IT and Standards Working Groups.


Journal of Online Learning Research


The Journal of Online Learning Research (JOLR) is new a peer-reviewed, open access, quarterly journal devoted to the theoretical, empirical, and pragmatic understanding of technologies and their impact on primary and secondary pedagogy and policy in K-12 online and blended environments.  Vol 1, Issue 1 includes papers on research and evidence vs practice, the roles of students and teachers in online learning, the potential of MOOCs and the role of mentors.


WISE: Location-Based Social Learning

[Gill Smith]

The University of San Diego has launched the World Interactive Study Environment (WISE), “the first-ever interactive learning platform that allows students and professors to connect classroom concepts with real world discoveries through photographs, videos, interactive conversations and comments all occurring in real time.  WISE is the first of its kind to leverage the latest maps technology to enable students and professors to apply classroom concepts directly to the real world, thereby adding a completely new dimension to higher learning.”


Hardware Roundup

[TechCrunch; Campus Technology; BBC]

Data from Strategy Analytics shows Android now accounting for over 80% of all smartphones shipped globally.  However, when it comes to actually making money the position is almost reversed – with Apple taking 89% of all smartphone profits ($18.8bn) in Q4 last year.  This left Android suppliers sharing the remaining 11% ($2.4bn), although it is estimated that Samsung took around half of this.

Figures from Gartner confirm that global smartphone sales broke the 1bn barrier last year (1.2bn from a total of 1.9bn mobile phones), but Samsung’s previous dominance slipped in Q4 with iPhone 6 sales pushing Apple into first place with a 20.4% market share (74.8m iPhones).

In case you blinked, Tim Cook formally launched the Apple Watch last week.  Yours from 24 Apr, with UK prices starting at £299 for a 38mm (1.5”) screen, aluminium case, plastic strap model.  Battery life is around 18 hours, but it will continue to display the time for around 72 hours if all other functions are switched off.  TechCrunch compares it to the competition.

…or for less than £30 some nice people in China will sell you an Android-based iWatch that looks remarkably like the real thing.

Gartner predicts “strong growth” in wearables this year, with smartwatches, fitness bands and other trackers selling nearly 70 million units, or 38% more than in 2013.  Other analysts are predicting smartwatch sales alone rising from 3.3m (2014) to anything between 8m and 60m this year, led of course by the Apple Watch effect.  Let’s not forget that 14.8m iPads were sold in the first nine months after its launch – more than double Wall Street's most optimistic estimate.

Phorm will provide a tactile keyboard for iPads to make typing more accurate.  But this is not some cheapo sticky overlay – their $99 microfluidic panel generates physical keys from a flat surface on demand (and without batteries), giving a smooth, unbroken surface for general touch-based interaction and a physical keyboard when needed.


HTTP/2 Comes a Step Closer

[Campus Technology]

HTTP/2 will be with us very soon according to the chair of the HTTP working group.  HTTP powers the Web by defining how hypertext is to be formatted and transmitted and how web servers and browsers should respond to those commands.  Currently, HTTP/1.1 is most commonly used, but HTTP/2 will speed up loading of web pages by transporting data between browser and server.  The new protocol is backward-compatible with older versions and, importantly, it will speed up activities by carrying more data in a single pass with each request to load the requested Web site.  This is especially important for smart phone access, which now accounts for about a third of all Web access.


Educational Technology Usage

[McGraw-Hill; Campus Technology]

McGraw-Hill’s second annual survey of 1,700 US students, The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits, found that 81% now use mobile devices to study (up 40% over last year).  Some 77% said study technology has positively impacted on their grades, 62% feel better prepared for classes and 48% said technology saves them study time.

Meanwhile, in Faculty Perspectives on Courseware from Tyton Partners, 60% of (2,700) faculty members say they are being encouraged to use digital courseware and 54% did so in the 2013-2014 academic year.  However, only 30% had been trained and only 15% were incentivized to use digital courseware, with greater institutional prioritisation being given to research in their field over spending time on using new tools.  Respondents liked functionality relating to assessment and grading but were dissatisfied with difficulties in customisation and lack of interoperability with existing systems.


Digital Badges Survey


Extreme Networks has conducted a worldwide survey into adoption of digital badges in education and industry.  Based on over 1900 responses, they found that 38% of those surveyed currently use or plan to use badges, 81% of those who are using badges plan to maintain or increase usage and 61% believe badges will someday replace, or be combined with, formal qualifications.  The top three reasons for adopting badges were motivation (45%), display achievement (44%) and recognition of specific knowledge/skills.


It Took the Telephone 75 Years to do What Angry Birds Did in 35 Days


Predicting the future of technology and innovation has become a minefield.  Just think of all those things that have come out of the blue in the past few years, some of which are still around and some of which disappeared just as quickly without trace.  The Oxford Martin School and Citi have just released Technology at Work: The Future of Innovation and Employment which includes an examination of how quickly emerging technologies have spread.  The authors note that it took the telephone around 75 years to reach 50 million users, TV 13 years, the internet 4 years and Angry Birds just 35 days.




And Finally…

R.I.P. Professor Paul Clark.

I’ve lost track of whether the original idea for our OU e-Learning Community came from Paul or Chris Pegler, but I do know he was a staunch supporter from the outset.  Rest in peace.


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