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e-Learning Digest No 131 - Jul 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 July 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[Education Dive; TechCrunch; Campus Technology; Stephen Downes; Peter Horrocks; EdSurge]

Kadenze is a new MOOC provider that has created a digital platform designed for arts courses.  They have already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions, including Stanford and Princeton, and the aim is to embrace high production values and provide a “multimedia rich” service that allows students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.  There are 4 initial courses, with another 18 planned, on subjects including music, art history, and technology.  Whilst enrolment and viewing will be free, students will be charged $7 to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback.  Credit-bearing courses come more expensive at $300, $600, or $900.

OpenClassrooms has partnered with IESA Multimédia to launch the first State-recognized bachelor degree in France that relies exclusively on MOOCs.  There are three learning paths –in engineering, design and digital marketing – and students will have to complete all the courses and required projects in order to get their degree, which will normally take a year.  The degree is the same the conventional one offered by IESA, apart from the absence of a physical teacher and students, but the MOOCs include a weekly video-chat with a mentor to discuss problems and maintain motivation.

The University of Pennsylvania was a founding member and investor in Coursera but has now announced it is joining edX, mainly because of its open-source platform.  Coursera MOOCs will continue but new titles launching on edX in a few months’ time will be branded as PennX.

Open edX is now available from the Amazon Web Services Marketplace for ‘free’ (AWS usage fees apply).  The download will provide a basic version of the platform that allows educators to connect with existing Open edX MOOCs and create courses for their own online learning communities. 

Stephen Downes flags a EURODL paper, MOOCs as a Method of Distance Education in the Arab World, which gives a good overview of MOOC technology being developed in the Arab world.  He also provides helpful links to Edraak (Jordan), Rwaq (Saudi Arabia) and MenaVersity (Lebanon) and to a related EURODL paper on the experiences of Saudi Arabian women studying online in international master programmes.

Extension Engine surveyed 136 US colleges and universities to enquire about their MOOC revenue models.  The most popular of the four that emerged was to offer for-credit online courses that students pay for (71%); this was followed by competing for grants to support research on new online pedagogy and course delivery (58%).  Much further down the list was the use of MOOCs as a new way to maintain an active alumni community and encourage more donations (19%) and, finally, as a recruiting tool for pre-matriculated students (10%).

Matt Walton gives a very readable account of how FutureLearn came to be, and some of the design issues encountered along the way.


MOOC Research

[The Chronicle; Campus Technology; Tony Bates]

A survey of more than 4,500 MOOC students found that more than 55% said they studied two to five hours per week, with 22% spending 6-10 hours.  This compares healthily with a recent survey of US first-year residential college students which found that about 43% spent more than six hours per week studying.  The data show that students do not dedicate one particular time of the week to complete their MOOCs: “People who are spending a fair amount of time on them are fitting it into their schedules in a very flexible way, not in a rigid way”.

Kalyan Veeramachaneni, a researcher at MIT has developed a model to predict when students may be about to drop out of a MOOC, based on analysis of key variables such as amount of time spent per correct homework item and amount of time spent on learning resources such as video lectures.  He cites the proportion of time that students spend on the course that falls on the weekend as being important because it is “a proxy for how busy they are.  And that put together with the other variables should tell you that the student has a strong motivation to do the work but is getting busy.”

A new survey by Duke University of 9,000 students on 13 of their Coursera MOOCs focused particularly on those aged <18 or >65, or with no easy access to higher education.  Researchers found that students in the younger group often took MOOCs in topics not taught in their schools or to explore different disciplines to help weigh academic and career choices; those in the over-65 group took MOOCs for lifelong learning, to keep their minds active and to mentor younger students in their own professional field.  Those with limited access to HE chose MOOCs because they were available despite their financial or mobility limitations.

Researchers from Humboldt and MIT examined the use of video in xMOOCs, finding that in many MOOCs it is the primary medium for content, “often separated by assessment questions”.  Two genres tended to be most used – the talking head or lecture, and screen capture with commentary – but the authors caution that it can be expensive and “there is often not enough consideration given to whether or not video is the right medium to accomplish a MOOC’s pedagogical goals.”

A special issue of BJET (Vol 46, 3) looks at MOOCs: ‘disrupting’ teaching and learning practices in higher education.  Fifteen papers consider aspects such as retention, media coverage, use of social media, assessment and learner characteristics.



[The Guardian; THE; BBC; Mail Online; University World News]

George Osborne announced two major changes to UK HE in the budget.  Student maintenance grants will be replaced with loans from 2016-17, but with an increased maximum of £8,200pa.  Those HEIs that can demonstrate excellent teaching via the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will be able to increase tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18.  Both of these measures should make the OU a more attractive proposition.

Peter Horrocks refutes George Osborne’s budget claims that a “record number” of students from low income backgrounds are going to university, and that the rise in tuition fees has not deterred people from applying – but Peter’s evidence suggests that the Chancellor (or his civil servants) was being creative with the data.  So 1-0 to the OU.  Let’s just hope George’s gang don’t get us at playtime…

In a survey carried out last month by ComRes, 73% of MPs say they are concerned by the decline in the number of students in part-time Higher Education.  Almost 200,000 fewer students were studying part-time in England last year compared to 2009/10 – a drop of 41%.  Addressing a reception at the Houses of Parliament, Peter Horrocks called on policy-makers to address the decline: “This Government has talked much about supporting those who work hard.  Right now there is a golden opportunity for ministers to deliver on this by realising the kind of social and economic benefits part-time study creates.  While it is encouraging to see MPs sharing our concern over the challenges facing our sector, now is the time to turn this into action.”

There are similar funding concerns in the FE sector, with King’s College’s Prof Alison Wolf warning that Britain’s supply of skilled workers may “vanish into history” if forthcoming FE budget cuts and relaxation of university student numbers caps are allowed to continue.  Her new report, Heading for the precipice: Can further and higher education funding policies be sustained? Concludes, “In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician-level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelors degrees and low-level vocational qualifications”.

In 2014, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) ruled on 2,175 complaints, ruling in favour of 500 students and with 200 of these awarded payouts amounting to £400,000.  Disputes over academic issues such as degree classification or marks for work formed 61% of complaints.  The OIA found that 59% of complaints were unjustified, 14% ineligible for OIA intervention, while 5% were withdrawn.

The UK is one of the top destinations for international students, attracting around 12.6% of the global market, but numbers from some sources such as India have been dropping and almost 24% of complaints received by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator last year were from international students.  The Guardian warns that (shock) not all international students are the same, not all stereotypical views (e.g. Asian students aren’t critical thinkers) are accurate, and simply mixing them with English students to help them adjust doesn’t work very well.

The Mail reveals that around half of UK universities (including 12 Russell Group) let foreign students use dictionaries in exams in order to allow “a level playing field” for students from outside Britain.

A PA Consulting Group survey of 160 HE leaders has concluded that UK universities are falling behind in educational innovation and “risk losing their world-leading reputation”, whereas global competitors were “innovating in response to student demands for more flexible and cheaper study options, new technologies that challenge traditional teaching methods and competition from new providers”.  Some 70% of VCs expect provision in the 2030s “to remain focused around three-year campus-based study” and nearly half thought it unlikely there would be a “substantial shift towards alternative models of work-based study or towards online learning through alternative providers”.


Commercial News

[BBC; The Chronicle; THE Journal; TNW; Audrey Watters; Campus Technology]

Eton College has created an online learning company called EtonX whose initial offering will be leadership classes for Chinese students, based on a mix of (English) interactive content produced at Eton, with one-to-one online teaching from tutors in the UK.  The lessons are aimed at China's aspirational middle-class families and will cost about £700 per pupil.

Apollo Education has had yet another poor quarter (to 31 May), with net revenue dropping by $113m and University of Phoenix student enrolments down from nearly 241,900 a year ago to 206,900.  Apollo laid off an additional 600 people last month, mostly enrolment counsellors but, in the finest spirit of you’ve-got-to-speculate-to-accumulate, the company has bought a controlling interest in the Iron Yard, a ‘coding boot camp’ that offers non-degree training.

Amplify, Rupert Murdoch’s education company, will stop selling the ruggedized tablet computers that were once a central part of the company’s plan to shake up education.  Despite an almost $1bn investment by News Corp, Amplify has struggled to gain a foothold in the education marketplace.

Blackboard has acquired X-Ray Analytics, a predictive analytics tool for education, and plans to integrate it with its Moodlerooms and Moodle Enterprise products.  This will provide educators with visualisations of past behaviour and evidence-based predictions of likely future behaviours, academic outcomes and risk factors.

Udacity has announced that all Nanodegree graduates (worldwide) will get 50% of their tuition costs back if they complete their degree within one year.  There are currently 8,600 students enrolled in its six nanodegree programmes and, as a further incentive, they will also be able to attend the Udacity Summit – an annual conference in Silicon Valley where students can “get a day to meet experts in the field, get career advice and meet with companies that are hiring”.

MoodleCloud allows anyone to deploy Moodle with no installation or hosting charges. Intended for individual classes of up to 50 users and other small learning environments, MoodleCloud provides the latest version of Moodle software (2.9.1), including integrated Web conferencing, delivered via Amazon Web Services.

The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand has released iQualify, an online learning platform (VLE/LMS) designed and built in-house from scratch.  Apart from all the normal content and assessment capabilities, it supports multiple devices, virtual study notes and includes inbuilt learning analytics.


Crossing the Pond

[Inside Higher Ed]

Interesting US perspective on studying for a degree in the UK.  Whilst we agonise over here about high fees, contact hours, teaching quality, etc, the view from across the pond is much more positive: “Annual tuition for British undergraduate degrees averages well below the expense of well-considered private colleges in the US and about the same as that of an out-of-state public flagship university.  By only taking three years to complete, however, British degrees stand in striking contrast to American four-year degrees that confront students and their families in the United States with severe, lingering financial challenge.”


What Is Teaching without Learning?

[Faculty Focus]

Maryellen Weimer cites Prof Keith Parsons who tells his first-year students, “At university, learning is your job – and yours alone.  My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge.  Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”  She acknowledges that learners don’t need teachers in the same way teachers need learners, but believes good teachers can and should offer more than Parsons claims, notably in areas such as guidance, feedback and motivation.


What Doesn't Work in Education


The University of Melbourne’s Prof John Hattie has written What Doesn’t Work in Education: The Politics of Distraction, released last month as part of Pearson’s Open Ideas series of papers.  He critiques five ‘distractions’ often proposed by pundits and policymakers – appease the parents and fix the infrastructure, students, schools and teachers – and finds that these “rarely make a significant difference” in terms of student outcomes.  And in a companion paper, What Works Best In Education: The Politics Of Collaborative Expertise, he discusses eight solutions.


Professor Says Facebook Can Help Informal Learning

[The Chronicle]

Research shows that informal conversations with friends can facilitate learning, but very little has been studied about their online equivalents such as Facebook.  Now researchers from Michigan State University have studied students using a Facebook application about climate change called Hot Dish which allows them to post articles and add comments.  Of the 346 people in the group, only about 30 started their own comment threads or participated regularly, suggesting that those who benefited from the discussion were already very interested in the topic.  Prof Christine Greenhow commented, “We did see argumentation, we did see that debate was on-topic and on-task … It wasn’t purely social, it wasn’t off-topic.”


Clear Objectives and Usability Key to Successful Online Courses

[Campus Technology]

Eduventures surveyed 28,000 students, mostly over age 25, who were pursuing an online degree or certificate.  The majority (22,437) regarded themselves as “high performing” and said the basis for their success was down to nine factors, the top three being clearly stated objectives/expectations (70%), easy-to-use technology (64%) and well-paced courses (54%).  These factors far outweighed others like faculty/peer interaction and tutoring services.  Amongst poorly performing students, by far the most significant factor was family/personal obligations (65%), followed by pacing (20%) and lack of interest (18%).


How Microsoft Will Release Windows 10


Current users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 will be entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 10 for its first year of release.  Microsoft has now announced how this will be rolled out to the public.  First in line on 29 Jul will be the 5 million or so ‘Microsoft insiders’ who are currently signed up and testing the pre-release code.  Next – in batches over the first few days of August – will be those who have clicked the icon that appeared on their task bar last month to ‘reserve’ an upgrade.  Thereafter, it will become available on demand to people like me who want to wait awhile just to see if any headlines of doom appear.


Teacher Guides for Technology And Learning

[Global Digital Citizen Foundation]

The Global Digital Citizen Foundation has pulled together a number of Edudemic teachers’ guides to technology.  If you’re a seasoned pro I wouldn’t waste your time looking but, if you’ve never really paid too much attention to Twitter, Pinterest, Badges and a few other technologies, they might offer just the introduction you need.


Learning Experience Design

[Stephen Downes]

Agonising over labels can be fraught with inconsequentiality, but the HE sector has never been completely happy with the (elsewhere) ubiquitous title of ‘instructional designer’, I presume because of its training connotations.  So here’s a suggestion from Connie Malamed that we move to a new name: Learning Experience (LX) Designer because, “Calling ourselves Learning Experience Designers acknowledges that we design, enable or facilitate experiences rather than courses.  This gives us a broad license to empower people with the tools and information they need to do their jobs, regardless of the chosen format.”


BBC micro:bit


The BBC has revealed the final design of its micro:bit pocket-sized computer that it plans to give to around one million UK-based Year 7 (11/12-year-old) children in October.  The 5cm x 4cm card has an ARM chip, an accelerometer, magnetometer, Bluetooth and USB.  A web-based programming environment supports JavaScript, Python, C++ and Blocks (a visual programming language).  BBC DG Tony Hall believes the devices will channel, “the spirit of the Micro for the digital age”.  I hope so, but of course the old BBC Micros of the 80s weren’t competing with smartphones, tablets, the internet, social media, Netflix and 300 TV channels – so it’s a tough ask.


Autodesk Project Ignite

[THE Journal]

Autodesk’s Project Ignite is a free open learning platform designed to give students (mainly K-12) hands-on design and modelling experience in areas such as 3D printing and electronics.  The platform combines Autodesk's Tinkercad and 123D Circuits and can also form part of purchased bundles with hardware, such as 3D printers or electronics kits, and training and professional development services with the support of partners including Microsoft.


MSc in Blended and Online Education


Edinburgh Napier’s fully online PGCert/PGDip/MSc in Blended and Online Education is “designed to give education practitioners a hands-on opportunity to explore technology enhanced approaches for their own teaching and training needs.”  It also includes an HE Pathway leading to recognition as a Fellow of the HEA.  Registration is open until 24 Aug.

…Or you might prefer Glyndŵr University’s online MSc in Learning and Technology or Huddersfield’s MSc in Technology Enhanced Learning (online and some Saturdays), both starting this autumn.


Tablet Sales Have Plateaued But There’s A Future In Business


Tablet sales boomed from 2010 to 2013 but replacement rates are not the same as for smartphones.  Most of the software and apps are ‘evergreen’ and latest models are thin on innovative “must-have” new features, so tablet sales have plateaued.  The rise in phablets also has affected tablet sales figures, with around 41% of global information workers saying their primary smartphone is 5 inches or larger; for example, Samsung sold 4.5 million Galaxy Note 4s in the first month after release.  However, there may be a brighter future in the business marketplace, with more than half of employees use a tablet for work purposes at least once a week, and 29% of employers providing tablets to use for work.


US Web Use and Technology Skills

[Audrey Watters; Campus Technology]

Pew Research finds that 84% of American adults now use the internet (the same figure as for 2014 and 2013).  Those aged 18-29 top the board (96%) but the 65+ sector (58%) is catching up.  Other stats are fairly predictable – you’re more likely to use the web if you are white, speak English, earn more or are better educated.

However, according to their employers, those 96% aren’t as tech-savvy as they may think they are.  Separate research by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found that US ‘digital natives’ may spend an average of 35 hrs every week on digital media, but nearly six out of 10 can't do basic tasks such as sorting, searching for and emailing data from a spreadsheet.


Edtech Fads, Trends and Myths


Mary Meeker’s internet trends report (last month) was extensive but very thin on online educational trends, so here’s New Zealander Frank Catalano’s 38 slides’ worth.




And Finally…

[BBC; EdSurge]

The BBC’s Justin Rowlatt reports on a ‘cheating vest’, bought from a shop in Delhi, which contains a microphone, transmitter and miniature Bluetooth earpiece with which to make contact with your accomplice.  Cheating during exams is illegal in India, but is still widespread, and the Indian Supreme Court recently ordered 600,000 students to re-appear for a test after reports of large-scale cheating.

What’s the point of earning a bit of money if you can’t splash out once in a while?  Liu Dejian, founder of Chinese online gaming and education firm, NetDragon Websoft, has spent a reported $100m and four years building his company’s new HQ modelled on the starship USS Enterprise.  “In my line of business, sometimes you have to make crazy decisions, unlike other businesses where you can adopt the normal plan approach,” Liu told CNBC.

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