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e-Learning Digest No 136 - Dec 15

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
21 December 2015

UK Conferences & Workshops



e-Learning MOOCs



[EdSurge; The Ed Techie; IRRODL; Kellogg; Inside Higher Ed]

EdSurge considers the future for edX, which has been less commercial/industry-facing than rivals Coursera and Udacity.  The provider has over 90 partner institutions, with close to a third now approaching the end of their three-year contracts, and CEO Anant Agawal is conscious of the costs of producing and supporting MOOCs.  He wants edX 2.0 to mark a “transition from a ‘curiosity’ platform to an essential pathway for learners in their education”.  Hence the article describes plans for a Global Freshman Academy, Alternative Credit Project and a now Micromasters.

Martin Weller predicts that 2016 will be (another) year of the MOOC, but that some hard questions will need answering.  He suggests five areas will lead to “an investment rethink”:

  • MOOC education won’t be as cheap for learners as envisaged

  • Producing MOOCs is expensive

  • MOOCs are usually not effective recruitment avenues for universities

  • MOOCs are not democratising education

  • Enrolments for repeat presentations will drop after the initial burst of enthusiasts

One problem with session based MOOCs can be gaining access to materials during the ‘closed’ period (and sometimes not knowing when or if a course would be offered again).  Class Central reports that 55% of all courses listed on its aggregator site do not have an upcoming start date and that around 300 Coursera and 180 edX MOOCs are now on-demand/self-paced.  However, students report that deadlines are a motivating factor and that forums and peer grading/commentary often do not work well with self-pacing.

IRRODL Vol 16 (6) is a special issue offering a European perspective of the past, present, and future state of MOOCs.  Among the papers is Theories and Applications of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs): The Case for Hybrid Design (Anders, 2015) which presents a meta-analysis of the research literature into MOOC pedagogies (nicely summarised in Table 1).  It’s an interesting theoretical perspective and the different hybrid design approaches all have their merits, but I’m not convinced that many current x-MOOCs are primarily as devoid of social learning as Anders suggests.

Researchers at Northwestern University investigated the impact of encouraging interaction and collaboration amongst MOOC students.  They sent a survey at the beginning of the second week to all participants, asking for feedback on the first week’s material.  Those who responded were divided into two groups, one of which received an email reminding them to contribute to the course discussion board.  This simple nudge increased visits to the board by 26.5%, increased posts by nearly 97% and made those students about 13% more likely to complete the following week’s quiz.  In a second experiment, the researchers invited some participants to take part in online one-on-one discussions about the course material.  Although only 7% of students took up this invitation, they were 10% more likely to complete their weekly quiz and their scores increased by between 2 and 10% in subsequent weeks.

Chairman Mao: “a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary strategist and theorist”?  Discuss.  Some Coursera MOOCs on Chinese history are raising eyebrows, particularly in the US.  “It’s propaganda,” said US Naval Academy’s Prof Maochun Yu, who believes the course is “part of a larger campaign to export a way of Chinese governance … China wants to be part of the world, but it doesn’t want to be part of a world where Western democracy and capitalism dominate.”  However, voice of reason Stephen Downes counters that there’s rarely such thing as neutral course and that “The existence of the perspective itself is valuable”.



[Wonkhe; THE; The Mirror]

Highlights from last month’s spending review are as follows:

  • Lifting the age cap on new loans to postgraduates from 2016-17 so they are available to all those under 60. A 50% intensity of study is required to be eligible and the loans will only be available to students at institutions with Degree Awarding Powers

  • Introduction of new part-time maintenance loans from 2018-19 to support the cost of living while studying. The government expects 150,000 part-time students could benefit each year by the end of this Parliament

  • Loans extended to high skill and professional FE courses offered at Levels 5 and 6

  • The ELQ bar is being lifted for all STEM subjects, with tuition loans extended to students wishing to do a second degree from 2017-18

  • A reduction in the teaching grant by £120 million in cash terms by 2019-20, but allow funding for high cost subjects to be protected in real terms. It is currently £1.4bn in total

  • Universities will now be subject to the apprenticeship levy which now covers all large employers with pay bills over £3m

  • Grants for student nurses are being replaced with loans and the cap is being lifted on places, the Government estimate this will free up 10,000 additional places

  • The introduction of Research UK – which will work across the seven Research Councils. “This will take the lead in shaping and driving a strategic approach to science funding”

  • A review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) “in order to examine how to simplify and strengthen funding on the basis of excellence”

A report from the UK HE International Unit – International Undergraduate Students: The UK’s Competitive Advantage – shows that international undergraduate student satisfaction with UK HE is at 91%, while 85% would recommend or actively recommend their UK study experience.

Pizza Hut is planning to create 1,500 apprenticeships over the next five years.  The degree level programme will be run with Manchester Metropolitan University, with a mix of academic and practical programmes covering a range of skills from food production to financial analysis.


Commercial News

[Peter Horrocks; The Independent; Pete Mitton; EdSurge; Campus Technology; Phil Hill]

The OU and India’s Manipal Global Education Services last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding which will allow collaboration between Manipal ProLearn – the certification arm of MaGE – and other parts of the Manipal Education Group and the OU in the areas of content and technology between the two market leaders in education.  “This partnership will explore and collaborate to support the development of innovative programmes, focused on equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace,” said a joint statement released by MaGE and the OU’s Peter Horrocks.

Another month, another all-is-not-well-at-Pearson story.  The Independent reports on life for the publisher after offloading the Economist and FT – and why its rosy future in the US education and testing market is looking more than a little rocky.  The Telegraph takes a similar view, noting that competitor John Wiley has just cut its revenue forecasts amid a greater than expected slowdown in sales of print textbooks – proving how tough the US education sector is at the moment. And that might explain further news that Pearson is contemplating a sale of its 47% stake in Penguin Random House.

itslearning has acquired Scandinavian-based LMS Fronter from Pearson, making the combined company the largest provider of learning management systems in Europe.

The University of Phoenix is reported to be moving away from its home grown adaptive learning platform, “Classroom” to the cloud-based Blackboard Learn Ultra.  Key factors in that decision were the functionality and user experience of Ultra plus a strong desire to invest more in learning analytics – at both an aggregate (course/group) and predictive (individual) level.

Blackboard has acquired Blue Canary, a higher education predictive analytics company that focusses on student retention.  The move marks Blackboard's latest investment in learning analytics and student success, having acquired X-Ray Analytics earlier this year.

UK and Estonia-based Lingvist has raised £5m in funding to further develop and promote its free French and English language learning tool which claims to teach words and expressions based on how often they are used.  This accelerates the learning process meaning that, after 200 hours, users should be able to have casual conversations and watch movies in a foreign language.

London-based BridgeU has raised around £2m in funding to build its platform that helps students manage university applications and university administrators manage student performance data.  The company expects to reach 15,000 students by the end of this year.


Universities Have Limited Impact on Students’ Soft Skills Development


The HEA’s UK Engagement Survey of more than 24,000 undergraduates reports little significant improvement in “soft” skills such as creativity and citizenship over the course of their university careers.  Eighty-three per cent reported a very high or reasonable amount of development in critical and analytical thinking skills, and half reported strong development in becoming an independent learner.  However, only about a quarter perceived a very high level of benefit to softer skills such as citizenship, innovation and developing personal values, and there were similar responses for employability skills and the ability to analyse numerical and statistical information.

And a new Jisc report, Technology for Employability: Study into the role of technology in developing student employability, also confirms that universities miss vital opportunities to equip students with the digital skills they need in the modern workplace.  The authors suggest institutions can better prepare for supporting good practices in technology for employability in five key ways (Sect 9):

  • Embedding and aligning technology for employability into polices, plans and processes

  • Professional development of staff in relation to employability and technology for employability

  • Technology tools, resources, infrastructure and support for employability and student-centred flexible curricula

  • Improving communication and collaboration to drive change in technology for employability

  • QA and continuous improvement through employability data monitoring, analytics and review


Deloitte No Longer Wants to Know Where Its Applicants Went to College


Deloitte no longer wants its recruiters and hiring managers to know where its applicants went to college, school or university, and so has introduced “school and university-blind interviewing”.  The company has teamed up with the UK-based consulting company Rare to incorporate a new screening process called “contextualisation” that uses an algorithm to judge an applicant’s performance in the context in which they achieved it.  For example, it will highlight someone who did well at school or university, despite perhaps being the first in their family to go to a university or qualifying for free meals at the university because of low income.  This allows recruiters to, “look for potential, instead of always focusing on past performance”.


Growth of European University Mergers


Since 2000, the number of European university mergers increased substantially and almost 100 mergers have taken place, according to a report by the European University Association.  France currently tops the mergers list, with 15 since 2002, followed by the UK and Belgium with 10 each.  Apart from economies of scale, mergers are also a good way of promoting institutions up the world university rankings.  The European University Association has produced an interactive map with all the details.


Horizon Scanning

[Audrey Watters; Will Woods; TechCrunch; Inside Higher Ed]

The 2016 NMC/EDUCAUSE Horizon Project HE expert panel has just selected the six key trends (e.g. measuring learning), six significant challenges (e.g. balancing our connected and unconnected lives) and six important developments in ed-tech (e.g. learning analytics & adaptive learning) that will be featured in next February’s NMC Horizon Report.  Now NMC is interested in learning about any kind of research, pilot programs, innovative projects, or faculty work happening at your institution or organization in any of the areas identified, ideally by 4 Jan 16.

Also just out is the OU/SRI Innovating Pedagogy 2015 Report and, although this has a pedagogic focus rather than the technology drivers of NMC, there are many areas of overlap such as: Blending Formal & Informal Learning – Crossover Learning – Incidental Learning; and Learning Analytics & Adaptive Learning – Adaptive Teaching – Analytics of Emotions.  Also interesting is the ebb and flow of the themes in Innovating Pedagogy over its four-year life (p7), with Extension and Personalisation trending this year while Scale has cooled.

There are also some remarkably close overlaps between some of Innovating Pedagogy’s themes and those envisaged by Pearson’s Amar Kumar, who believes we are, “on the verge of a tide of smarter innovation” that will include technology that learns from learners, adapts to how students feel and provides invisible, less intrusive assessment.

But Joshua Kim is sceptical about edtech, “we constantly hear about as ‘imminent’, but that always seem to fail to arrive”.  He lists 11 edtech advances that will not happen by 2020, such as a portfolio system that everyone will use, a mobile learning platform that will displace the browser based LMS, instructor accessible analytics that will enable data driven teaching and a learning object repository that is actually used.


Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators


Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators claims to be “the authoritative source for accurate information on the state of education around the world” (all 568 pages of it).  This year’s report finds that, across OECD nations, over 80% of tertiary-educated adults are employed, compared with over 70% of people with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education, and less than 60% of adults without upper secondary education.  Tertiary-educated adults also earn about 60% more, on average, than adults with upper secondary as their highest level of educational attainment.  However, countries are spending less on education and the teaching population is aging.  The report confirms that England has the highest university tuition fees and that the entry rate into tertiary education in the UK is 58% compared to an OECD average of 67%, but the UK has the highest proportion of tertiary graduates in the field of sciences among all OECD countries.


The Shape of International Education to 2025


A British Council report, The Shape of International Education to 2025, predicts that India will have the largest 18-22 population in 10 years (119 million), followed by China despite its population in this age group declining by roughly 35m to 80m.  Nigeria is forecast to see the highest increase in this youth population, up from 7.4m to an estimated 23m in 2025.  Sri Lanka is expected to see the highest annual percentage growth in household income over the next decade (5.8% per annum), with China in fourth place (5.1 per cent), although the British Council predicts that China will continue to be the top supplier of international students globally by 2025, followed by India, Nigeria, Germany and Saudi Arabia.


Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action

[Stephen Downes]

UNESCO’s Education 2030 paper affirms that education is, “a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights.  It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development.”  It’s full of similarly worthy words but it presents a comprehensive plan, targets and plentiful references to inclusion, opportunities, quality, implementation, the role of government, OERs, funding and more.


Gender Gaps Wider in Print than Digital Reading


Also from OECD’s Education at a Glance: reading tests of 15-year-olds showed that girls outperformed boys by an average of 38 points on a paper-based reading test (about a year's worth of formal schooling) although this lead dropped to 26 points for the equivalent computer-based test.  The researchers note, “The more frequently students play one-player video games and collaborative online games, which boys tend to play more than girls, the worse their relative performance on paper-based tests. Frequent video gaming appears to "crowd out" other activities, such as doing homework regularly, that help students to acquire reading and mathematics skills.”


The Digital Revolution in HE Has Already Happened.  No One Noticed

[Giles Clark; Will Woods]

Clay Shirky examines the growth of online components in US HE – “More than 95% of colleges and universities with over five thousand students offer online classes […] online education has stopped being ‘The Future’ and has become a perfectly routine way to learn.”  He also looks at the demographics of US HE, the haves vs the have-nots and the factors that heighten the risks of dropout.  He concludes, “Given the lousy fit between institutional assumptions and the actual lives of most students, we should applaud their inventiveness in using digital options to make college work for them.  But we should also recognize our complicity in creating a system that works so badly in the first place.”


The 2015 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology

[Inside Higher Ed]

Inside Higher Ed regularly surveys key US HE professionals on a range of topics.  Outcomes of their 2015 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology included the following:

  • The gap between administrators and faculty members widens as instructors – including those who have taught online – become more negative about the quality of online education compared to F2F

  • Faculty members are sceptical about new academic programmes that combine F2F instruction with MOOCs, fearing the model threatens traditional faculty roles

  • Nearly two-thirds of faculty members believe detection software can stop students from plagiarizing, but less than one-quarter believe students have a full understanding of what plagiarism actually is

  • Administrators and faculty members overwhelmingly say textbooks and other course materials are too expensive

  • A majority of faculty members are concerned about attacks on scholars for their comments on social media and feel that institutions must do more to encourage civil discourse online


HEA THE Supplement     


The HEA published in the Times Higher Education last month a magazine supplement to highlight HEA’s central role in raising the quality and status of teaching in higher education.  The supplement provides details of current work, future plans and opportunities for all staff involved in teaching and learning to participate in a range of events and initiatives during 2015-16 designed to inspire and share best practice.


How Online College Classes Adversely Affect Student Performance

[Audrey Watters; The Conversation]

Researchers from Stanford and Harvard examined data from DeVry University to investigate the effects of online HE courses on student performance.  The average DeVry student takes two-thirds of their courses online and the study covers 230,000 students across an average of 10 courses each over four years.  The authors found that, on average, online course-taking reduced student learning by one-third to one-quarter of a standard deviation compared to conventional F2F classes.  They also claim that taking a course online also reduces student learning in future courses and persistence in college.  They speculate that this may be partly attributable to higher levels of procrastination by online students, particularly those who are lower-performing.

Perhaps video lectures are the answer?  Not according to researchers from the University of British Columbia, who found that students (N=276) who watched a videotaped lecture recalled less of the material, and felt less engaged in the subject, than they did after sitting through a similar live lesson.  However, this was not due to inattentiveness because students in a control group reported roughly equal amounts of mind-wandering during the two lessons.  For students watching the video lecture, “memory declined as mind-wandering increased” but this was not true of the students watching the lecture live, suggesting that memory “is more sensitive to shifts in attention when the material is delivered online.”

But Australian researchers believe online courses can work if designed in the right way, finding that students who have access to better designed, and more personalised, courses tend to have higher engagement and better outcomes.  For example, a 2013 study of 1,200 engineering students showed that the introduction of measures including staff development, adaptive online tutorials and a community portal reduced failure rates from 31% to 7% between 2007 and 2011.  Adaptive tutorials also improved student performance on a medical degree course by 56% on standard exam scores.


Jisc Teams with ProQuest for Custom eBooks


Jisc has teamed with ProQuest to create a custom ebooks collection that provides key texts for FE institutions across the UK.  The move expands the relationship between ProQuest and Jisc which already provides access to more than 400 ebooks to 400 colleges across the UK.  The new special collection of 73 titles has been created using content from such publishers as Hodder Education, Bloomsbury, Taylor & Francis, and Pearson.


Open Degree Pathway Offers a Zero Textbook Cost Degree

[Audrey Watters]

Northern Virginia Community College’s Extended Learning Institute is collaborating with Lumen Learning to publish 24 online college courses for two complete degree programmes – all developed for zero student cost using OERs.


Raspberry Pi Zero


The Raspberry Pi Foundation has just introduced the Pi Zero which it aims to sell for $5 (£4).  “We really hope this is going to get those last few people in the door and involved in computer programming,” says Pi co-founder Eben Upton.

But if money’s no object and you want more than a naked circuit board, you may be interested in helping to crowdfund the $99 Pi-TopCEED, which gives you a desktop case, 13.3” HD screen, space for a breadboard and the option of adding speakers, keyboard and mouse.  The Pi-TopCEED runs Pi-TopOS, giving a user-friendly layer to simplify the Pi computing experience.


Jisc Mobile Learning Guide


Jisc’s guide to mobile learning was first published in 2011 but it was updated last month.  Described as a “practical guide for educational organisations planning to implement a mobile learning initiative”, it contains sections on strategy, pedagogy and implementation plus six case studies and snapshots.



  • Google has improved the natural language and semantic analysis capabilities of its voice search to cope with complex queries.  [TechCrunch]

  • MinutePhysics is a YouTube channel with over 130 short narrated sketches (à la Common Craft) on common scientific concepts.  [Stephen Downes]

  • Google and ASUS’s Chromebit is a full Chrome OS-based computer stick that will run on any screen with an HDMI port.  [TechCrunch]

  • The Smithsonian has released over 1.35 million objects from its 19 museums, research centres and zoo as OERs.  [Audrey Watters]

  • One outcomes of Dropbox’s recent partnership with Adobe is now an ability to edit, comment or sign PDFs within Dropbox.  [TechCrunch]

  • Excellent interactive infographic from the BBC showing how the components of the International Space Station were assembled.  [BBC]

  • Apple has made Swift, its OS X and iOS programming language, open source.  The code can be compiled anywhere on any platform.  [TechCrunch]

  • The £7.99 Duet Display app turns your iPad Pro into a second display for your PC or Mac.  [TechCrunch] 


And Finally…


Food artist Prudence Staite, from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, used 40kg of local cheddar to create a nativity scene entirely from cheese.  She has created Joseph and Mary, the baby Jesus in a crib, the shepherds, sheep, a donkey, a cow and Three Wise Men bearing gifts of Branston pickle, all in a cheese stable.  Prudence says the hardest part of the process was carving the faces of all her characters using a magnifying glass and a cocktail stick.




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