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e-Learning Digest No 130 - Jun 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 June 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes; EdSurge; eCampus News; World Bank; Forbes]

Google announced at last month’s I/O conference that it will be designing curriculum for Nanodegree courses offered by Udacity, the first being a program in Android development.  The Android Nanodegree will comprise six courses and is expected to take nine to 12 months to complete.  It costs $200 per month, and top 50 students will be invited for a three-day career summit at Google's headquarters.

Matt Crosslin considers whether MOOC retention problems relate to student motivation.  He notes that much of education relies on motivation that is predominantly extrinsic in nature (grades, credits, fees, gold stars, etc) whereas MOOCs tend to rely much more on intrinsic motivation.  In other words, “What if MOOCs are just a mirror that shows us the sociocultural problems we don’t want to deal with in our system?  What if the problem is not with the learners, but the way they have been programmed through the years?  You can say MOOCs are failing because they lack sufficient ‘student motivation’, but what if it was actually the case that society has been failing for decades and MOOCs are just exposing this?”

Canadian researchers are digging beyond the headlines and analytics to discover much more about MOOC learners and learning experiences.  Through a series of interviews (70 so far), three initial findings have emerged that contradict the initial hope that MOOCs can help anyone, anywhere, anytime learners.  Firstly, MOOC learners possess sophisticated study skills (e.g. note taking, investigating new or unfamiliar subject matter).  A significant proportion also either live flexible lives that enable them to participate, or appear to be exceptional in their abilities to create time to study.  Finally, many say that learning experiences are deeply emotional, with the potential to offer not just pleasure and appreciation but occasional anxiety and embarrassment as well.  They believe these findings call into question, “whether open courses, in their current form, are the democratizing forces they are sometimes depicted to be – and even whether ‘educating a billion’ with MOOCs is a laudable goal.”

EdCast has announced a new social media platform that allows people to post mini-MOOCs, or video snippets of educational content plus short text comments.  EdCasting is a less formal version of online courses, and is akin to tweeting, “with the difference being that each post is based on a video or link that can be described without being limited to 140 characters”; however, there is no ‘re-tweeting’, meaning that content will not get diluted.  The launch platform includes 10 channels ranging from entrepreneurship, architecture, robotics, technology, and health, filled with insights from over 100 “globally renowned experts and influencers”.

With a population of 1.4bn, it’s not surprising that the Chinese online education market increased by 700% between 2013 and 2014 (compared to 9% in the US).  Part of this growth includes MOOCs, and one of the Chinese government’s goals is to train 13 million K-12 teachers on education technology skills in the next five years through MOOCs.

A new survey, Leveraging MOOCs and Open Learning Assets in The Workplace, sought the opinions of 222 heads of HR, Corporate Learning and Talent Management on the benefits and barriers, and the long term impact of MOOCs on corporate learning.  Key findings are that MOOCs are seen as innovative and attractive (to staff and externals) but many companies want to go further and curate a wider range of open learning assets.  Barriers to developing MOOCs include budget, technical and security issues, a lack of MOOC design skills among corporate learning professionals, and resistance amongst in-house L&D professionals.

Two-thirds of Udemy’s seven million students come from outside the US but the company has just raised $65 million in new funding to further expand its global presence.  Udemy currently offers 30,000 courses and those taught by its top 10 instructors generated $17 million in revenues, with between 25-97% of course fees distributed back to instructors.

The CourseTalk site lets users find, rate and comment on MOOCs, and more than 74,000 user ratings for over 7,500 courses from 46 providers have now been analysed in What Reviews Divulge About Online Education.  It’s not big on detail but the findings on pp3-9 give a succinct overview of what users are saying.  To summarise: low rated courses (1-3 stars) are confusing, boring, outdated (or wrong) and predominantly free; whereas those scoring 4-5 stars are easy to navigate and digest, fun and interactive, flexible and charge a moderate cost.  On average, paid courses were rated 1.4 stars higher than free courses.

According to Daphne Koller, “If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, Oh, I know exactly where I am”.



[BBC; The Guardian; University World News]

A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation tonight at 8:00 describes how shady practices and in some cases outright fraud are woven into the fabric of UK education.  This includes, over the past four years, more than 58,000 undergraduates have been investigated by their universities for plagiarism, of whom 40,000 were disciplined, 12,000 had marks deducted and 400 were expelled or excluded from HE.

Some 46% of UK academics said they have been pressurised to mark students’ work generously, according to a Guardian survey of university staff, while 43% said they did not feel supported in their job and 37% did not believe teaching was valued by their institution.  Nearly a third (31%) of women said they were worried that taking maternity leave would jeopardise their career progression and, among Russell Group staff members, 32% lacked faith in their vice-chancellor.

New Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, is behind a crackdown on 190 bogus universities that are known to be offering fake degree certificates in order to, “protect the reputation of the UK as a provider of high-quality education”.  After a BBC investigation last year found fake University of Kent degree certificates on sale online for £500, Radio Kent discovered a website in China selling degree certificates from dozens of UK universities and, in the first quarter of 2015 alone, Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) added 42 bogus institutions to their database.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills faces cuts of £450m, with the Treasury saying that this will include “savings in higher education and further education budgets”, but the Department for Education has indicated that this will include savings based on underspends in existing budgets, rather than cuts.  The savings in education spending were announced by the Treasury as part of a £4.5bn package to reduce public debt.

A new report from PwC, London Calling: International students’ contribution to Britain’s economic growth, estimates that international students in London are contributing £1.32bn on fees to the UK economy, £1.36bn on living costs and a further £121m from visiting friends and families.  London has “more world-class universities than any other city in the world” and as the “most popular city in the world for international students”, hosts 40,000 from continental Europe and 67,000 from the rest of the world.  More than one in five of the 310,000 international students in the UK studies at a London university and 18% of students in London are international, representing 39% of the total fee income of London’s universities and supporting an estimated 70,000 jobs in the capital.


Commercial News

[The Independent; FT; Audrey Watters; EdSurge; VentureBeat]

Aberdeen University is to become the first British HEI to open a campus in South Korea, co-funded by the South Korean government and specialising in teaching engineering relating to the off-shore oil and gas industries.  British universities and colleges have set up a number of overseas campuses, such as a Lancaster University in Ghana, Nottingham University in Malaysia and Leeds Metropolitan in India.

…but UCL is considering closing its expensive international physical campuses in favour of creating partnerships with existing institutions overseas.  First to go will be UCL’s Australian campus, which was originally established seven years ago, and Kazakhstan, with Qatar also under review.  According to UCL Vice Provost Dame Nicola Brewer, having a physical campus “is very expensive, and if you only have a limited number of students it takes time to build up funding for research, and usually research funding only covers about 80% of costs.”

British investment company Sandbox Partners has bought Pearson's Family Education Network, a platform designed to provide engaging learning activities for parents, teachers and students through games, activities, stories, homework help, and other resources.  One of the most popular features is Poptropica – a virtual world that draws 3.2m monthly unique users in 200 different countries.

Epigeum – a 2005 spin-off from Imperial College which offers online courses on teaching, research, leadership and management to over 200 universities – has been acquired by Oxford University Press for £10.7m.

UCL has launched UCL Press, the University’s in house publishing arm and the first fully open access university press in the UK – with all books, journals and monographs freely available online.

The EU has opened an official antitrust investigation into Amazon to determine if the company is abusing its power to distribute electronic books.  The investigation will focus on Amazon’s contracts that obligate publishers to tell the company if someone else is offering a better deal on electronic books.  The EU worries this may be hampering competition and reducing consumer choice.

TES Global has acquired Hibernia College UK, a provider of online teacher training courses, professional development and qualification services with offices in the UK and Ireland.


KPCB Internet Trends Report 2015

[Stephen Downes]

Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report (196 slides) is always a feast of facts and figures.  This year’s begins with a story of reach, with 2.8bn global internet users (39% of the world population) and 5.2bn mobile phone users (73%) – and with the greatest annual growth currently in India (web +33%, smartphones +55%).  Worldwide desktop traffic has peaked, but there is big growth in mobile data.  Consumer use of technology is solid but “government, health care, and education have the longest way to go”.  And “six of the top 10 mobile apps globally are messaging apps ... messaging apps could evolve into the central hubs for communications”.


UNESCO Framework for Action

[Campus Technology]

UNESCO has released a proposed set of 42 “thematic indicators” to monitor global education progress and equity.  Almost 200 organizations and individuals from 67 countries participated in a public consultation from Nov 14 to Jan 15, leading to the publication of Education 2030.  Indicators relate to: inequalities in education systems; education relating to global citizenship, HIV, sexuality and human rights; availability of ICT in schools; provision for people with disabilities; physical safety; and the effects of conflict and displaced populations.


The Human Capital Report 2015

[Stephen Downes]

The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report 2015 investigates how countries are developing and deploying their people, evaluating the levels of education, skills and employment available in five age groups across 124 countries.  It’s rich in detail (319pp) but thin on humanism, with terms such as ‘human capital’ and ‘talent’ abounding.  The model behind their Human Capital Index (p4) is also interesting, especially as I note that global workplace learning apparently ceases at age 54.  Top countries?  Finland, Norway and Switzerland, with Australia at 13, the US at 17 and the UK at 19.


Students 'Cannot Multi-Task With Mobiles And Study'

[BBC; The Guardian; The Telegraph]

Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning reports on a series of tests conducted with 145 undergraduates to investigate how well they coped with multiple tasks such as watching a lecture on a video and then taking notes and answering questions, while facing a series of interruptions on their internet-connected mobile phones.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers found that those sending and receiving messages while studying scored lower test results and were less effective at tasks such as note taking.  They described an effect where students are, “physically present, yet mentally preoccupied by non-course-related material on their mobile devices.”  Last month, an LSE study found that schools in four English cities which banned phones saw test scores increased by more than 6%.

But research from Miami University suggests using phones in class could actually be beneficial, provided students stay on topic.  Students used mobile devices to respond to messages that were relevant to classroom material, revealing a direct relationship between note taking and engaging in social media discussions: “Even if students are responding to messages from others, if that activity is related to class content, those students will take better-quality notes than students responding to unrelated content.”  Researchers believe this is because, “the related content allows students to engage in behaviours similar to note-taking: focusing on the material at hand, processing that material to determine key parts, and recording the important information.”


Learning and Teaching in European Universities

[Stephen Downes]

The European University Association (EUA’s) Trends 2015: Learning and Teaching in European Universities is a mid-2010s survey of trends in European HEIs, based on a questionnaire to which 451 HEIs from 46 countries responded.  The result is a detailed (133pp) PDF which covers a number of elements including a section (4.3) devoted to e-learning and its impact.  From this we learn that the most important objective is to “provide a more flexible learning offer, leaving it to the student to decide whether they learn on or off campus” (24%).  Only 16% of respondents offered institution-wide online courses, while 38% offered them in some faculties; 20% did not offer online courses.  MOOCs are currently only offered by 5% of respondents but this genre attracted the greatest “Not yet, but we are planning to” score of 24%.


Hardware Update

[Campus Technology; TechCrunch; Matthew Moran; BBC]

Analysts IDC expect worldwide shipments of tablets, e-readers and two-in-ones (laptops that can convert to tablets) to decline by 3.8% in 2015 although, within that declining market, the percentage of cellular-connected devices is expected to grow compared to WiFi only devices.  Sales of small-screen tablets (currently 64% of the tablet market) are also expected to decline as a result of the growing popularity of phablets.

Chromebook sales in 2015 will improve by 27% over 2014 shipments to hit 7.3 million, according to forecast from Gartner.  Most sales of the devices tend to be in North America (84% in 2014) and about two thirds are destined for educational use.

Ofcom reports that 54% of UK households now have a tablet, up from just 2% in 2011.  This proportion rises to 64% among people aged 35-54 and a further 21% of households currently without a tablet said they were likely to get one within the next 12 months.  Many households own multiple tablets, with 34% of kids aged 5-15 having their own device and 11% of 3-4 year olds now have their own tablet to keep them entertained.

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) predicts that 3.2bn people will be online by the end of this year – nearly half the world’s population of 7.2bn – and about 2bn of those will be in the developing world.  There will also be more than 7bn mobile device subscriptions, with 78% the US and Europe already using mobile broadband, although that falls to an average of just 17.4% in Africa.


The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era


An analysis of 45 million documents indexed in the Web of Science over the period 1973-2013 shows that in both natural/medical sciences and social sciences/humanities, Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor & Francis increased their share of the published output, especially since the advent of the digital era (mid-90s).  The top five most prolific scientific publishers combined account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013, with social sciences papers having the highest level of concentration (70% from the top five publishers) while the humanities have remained relatively independent (20% from top five publishers).  The paper also examined turnover and profits, both of which continue to head northwards.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Developer Portal

[Campus Technology]

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has introduced the HMH Developer Portal, a new online interface where developers, designers and educators can access the company's APIs to create new learning applications and integrate them with HMH applications.  HMH's Identity, Assignment and Document resources are currently available through the API, and the company will expose additional resources throughout 2015, “to provide greater opportunities for interoperability and ultimately an elegant, streamlined user experience for our customers”.


Moky Keyboard Will Offer Invisible Touchpad


Moky is a [prototype] Bluetooth pantograph keyboard with built in gesture-supporting touchpad functionality in the area above the keys.  Embedded Infrared laser sensors create a field over the entire keyboard that responds to swipe, scroll, pinch, drag, click and tap.  Shipping is expected around Oct and the device supports Windows, Mac and Android.  It will work as a keyboard only with iOS because iOS doesn’t currently include mouse input.


Should Actors Replace Academics as “On-Camera Talent”?

[Campus Technology]

Let’s be honest, not all academics make natural film stars.  But does the authenticity of having the module chair or main author in a video outweigh any thespian deficiencies they may have?  A recent trial by Purdue University saw an end to 30-40 min filmed lectures, replaced by sub-7-minute clips using a pair of actors in a studio setting.  Scripts were read from autocue and a subject expert was on hand to catch any errors or mispronunciations.  Feedback from the Purdue trial supported the use of actors: “We love our instructor, but we love what she does in the course content.  Go with the actors because we love to watch them”.


Cut a Long Story Short

[Catherine Chambers]

Catherine Chambers’ new Cut a Long Story Shortblog reflects her passion for short-form visual storytelling as a way of bringing complex concepts to life.  Each post identifies a key element of video storytelling, exploring the creative process (with a focus on, but not restricted to, educational content), supported by examples of content both OU commissioned and elsewhere, and identifying why they are effective in engaging audiences.  Take a look, and she’d welcome any feedback.


Windows 10 Coming Next Month


Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 10 will launch on 29 Jul and, for most Win 7 and Win 8 users, this means a free upgrade is available during its first 12 months or release.  What will you get (apart from a Start Menu)? 

  • Word, Excel and PowerPoint built in

  • Microsoft Edge browser, brand new and designed for speed and collaboration, although IE11 will also be available

  • Xbox Live and Xbox app for interacting with friends, recording gameplay and streaming games to the desktop

  • Windows Continuum, allowing you to sync and move between multiple Windows 10 devices

  • Windows Hello, providing face, iris or fingerprint recognition to login

  • ...and Cortana voice control, so shouting at your PC while it attends to 14 really important background tasks will take on a whole new dimension


Copyright Changes Afoot?

[The Guardian]

Current copyright legislation limits the amount of data that researchers can “mine” – using a computer to scan for facts and data within thousands of relevant articles to discover connections ­­– because the process requires the mining program to download and copy content first before scanning it.  Not surprisingly publishers are resisting any changes to laws in case content is used under the pretence of text mining but then re-published and charged for elsewhere.  However, the EU is consulting this summer with a view to updating its 2001 copyright laws to better suit the digital age, thus giving researchers greater access to published work.

But every day, millions of Europeans may be unwittingly breaking copyright law.  Due to an obscure rule known as Freedom of Panorama, those innocent snapshots of modern buildings you’ve taken in countries such as France and Belgium are breaches of copyright.  While the UK does have this freedom, we may be at risk of losing it in the ongoing copyright reform negotiations taking place in the European Parliament.


Data Visualisation

[Visualising Data]

If data visualisation is your thing, Andy Kirk collates an extensive monthly digest of visualisation exemplars, news, tutorials, articles and other useful goodies.  Too many to comment on here but I found The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 quite impactful.




And Finally…

[Rafa Hidalgo]

360 deg videos have been around for a while now but YouTube launched its 360 player back in March.  The technology is aimed mainly at the growing VR market (Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, etc) but the videos work well on iPads and Android tablets, where you can swipe or simply move your device around to see left, right, up and down.  Search within YouTube for “360 videos” or you might want to check out the wingsuit flying experience, Okinawa underwater, or some of the rides at Parc Asterix.



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