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e-Learning Digest No 138 - Feb 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
16 February 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[BBC; Audrey Watters; Steve Parkinson; Donald Clark]

Coursera is keen to expand on its 17m registered students and has set its sights on becoming part of India's drive to expand access to higher education.  At present only about 12% of young people in India get university places Coursera's Rick Levin believes there are an “awful lot of talented people [who] don't make the cut”.  The Indian government has a target to increase university enrolment by 30% by 2030 and that makes it a prime target for online providers.

New Delhi-based Flex Class has raised $2.5m to take on the expansion of online education providers like Udacity and Udemy in India.  Flex Class provides skill building courses like Spoken English and Accounts Management for a fee of up to $30 per course which is then refunded in full by sponsors.  The company aims to enrol 270,000 students in 2016 and will expand into Africa, Philippines and Thailand by 2018.

EdX topped the MOOC platform league table compiled by MoocLab, followed by Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn.  However, of edX's top five courses of 2015, only one – The Science of Happiness – is unrelated to programming, and none involve the liberal arts, despite 130 of edX's courses fall under “Humanities” with a further 65 in “Arts and Culture”.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, possibly the most famous living critic of President Vladimir Putin believes “Revolution in Russia is inevitable” but that “Our goal is to make it peaceful”.  He has launched the Open Russia University, the purpose of which is to cover aspects of Russia over last three decades that are often brushed under the carpet.  There are currently five, free Russian language programmes, the first of which – Culture and Politics – consists of 19 video lectures, each about 15 minutes long, exploring art and media in Russia during the period from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the present day.

Donald Clark discusses 10 ways in which he believes MOOCs have forced universities into a rethink on matters such as pedagogy, assessment, accreditation and costs/monetisation.



[Peter Horrocks; The Independent; THE; Wonkhe; The Telegraph]

Government figures published at the end of last month, based on a survey of 90,000 organisations, show so-called skills shortage vacancies now make up nearly a quarter of all job openings, having risen by 130% from 91,000 in 2011 to 209,000 in 2015.

The Government's HE spokesperson in the House of Lords, Baroness Evans said last month during a lengthy House of Lords debate that “adult education and lifelong learning have a vital role in strengthening the UK's economy” and Baroness Shirley Williams said “[the OU] enables people for the first time, all their lives long, to gain more education, understanding and wisdom”.  Following the distribution of OU briefing materials, cross-party Peers urged the Government to continue to focus on part-time HE in England and to create Individual Learning Accounts, relax ELQ restrictions and promote credit transfer. Digital skills, the OU's work with the BBC and FutureLearn also received mentions.

UCU’s Transparency at the Top report shows university leaders’ pay rose by around 3% past year compared to 2% for the proles.  However, the OU is one of few institutions to show a marked decrease in emoluments for a Bean/Blackman/Horrocks cocktail, down from £412k in 2013/14 (5th highest HEI) to £354k in 2014/15 (19th).

There has been a record 11% increase in EU student numbers across the UK sector in 2015-16, with some a number of English universities have increased their recruitment of EU students by more than 40% after the removal of controls on undergraduate places.  But funding for EU students, who are entitled to public-backed loans for tuition fees, has been criticised by Eurosceptics who note that continental graduates who return home are less likely to repay their loans than graduates who remain in the UK.

The number of Indian students attending British universities has fallen by 10% over the last year in the wake of concerns about immigration – a situation described as “alarming” by the British Council, with spokesman Gordon Slaven noting that, in the same period, the USA saw 10% growth, Australia had 8%, Canada 11% and Germany 7%.

Hannah Pudner, Assistant Director for the OU in Wales, considers the challenges and progress of the Diamond review of HE funding in Wales.  Themes emerging so far include: the current funding model is not sustainable; and Government claims about the importance of part-time provision have not been translated into policy implementation or funding.

The Russell Group of universities have demanded that they should be exempted from Britain's Freedom of Information laws because they are private institutions and not public bodies, claiming that this undermines their efforts to compete with new privately-run higher education colleges, which are not subject to freedom of information.

University Campus St Albans is offering a “mini MBA” in which students can gain a work-related BA (Hons)/Graduate Diploma in Leadership and Professional Development in 12 months for £5,500.


Commercial News

[Inside Higher Ed; Audrey Watters; Phil Hill; Steve Parkinson]

Pearson plans to cut 4,000 jobs (around 10% of its workforce) as part of a global restructuring process due to declining US college enrolments, fewer UK vocational students and a slump in textbook sales in South Africa.  The company said it plans to integrate its assessment operations, reduce costs and “focus more on adaptive, personalized, online assessment in an era of 'fewer, smarter' tests.”

Perhaps one reason for Person’s decline in UK vocational students is explained by last month’s damning Ofsted report on its apprenticeship provision which found “no key strengths”.  The company provides apprenticeships for around 80 members of staff through its subcontractor Pearson TQ but inspectors report that, “Too many apprentices drop out of learning or do not make sufficient progress to complete their programmes within the agreed timescale”.

Pearson has notified its approx 110 customers of LearningStudio that it will be shut down as a standalone LMS over the next 2-3 years.  This comes on the back of an announcement last Sep that its OpenClass system will no longer be available as of Jan 18.  A notice on the OpenClass front page proclaims, “While the LMS will endure as an important piece of academic infrastructure, we believe our learning applications and services are truly ‘where the learning happens’.  In short, withdrawing from the crowded LMS market allows us to concentrate on areas where we can make the biggest measurable impact on student learning outcomes.”

It was announced last week that the Apollo Education Group has successfully negotiated a $1.1bn sale of itself to the Vistria Group, which is affiliated with Apollo Global Management, and the private investment firm Najafi Companies.  The deal is expected to be concluded by Aug 2016.

Beijing-based TAL Education Group has invested an undisclosed amount in adaptive learning provider Knewton with the aim of integrating Knewton's adaptive learning engine into TAL's online tutoring platform, allowing TAL to develop proprietary digital adaptive content.

A new report from China’s Internet Education Research Institute finds that China’s online education market reached nearly US$6bn in 2015, spread amongst around 9,500 native ed-tech companies.  However, the report estimates that only around 5% of those showed a profit in 2015, with 10% breaking even, 70% posting losses, and the remaining 15% having gone out of business.


2016 NMC Horizon Report for HE


This year’s NMC/EDUCAUSE Horizon Report has just been published, in which a body of 58 industry experts predict the future for HE, with findings listed in three categories:

  • Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in HE

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning (1-2 years)

  • Increasing Use of Blended Learning Designs (1-2 years)

  • Redesigning Learning Spaces (3-5 years)

  • Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches (3-5 years)

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation (5+ years)

  • Rethinking How Institutions Work (5+ years)

  • Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in HE

  • Blending Formal and Informal Learning (Solvable)

  • Improving Digital Literacy (Solvable)

  • Competing Models of Education (Difficult)

  • Personalizing Learning (Difficult)

  • Balancing Our Connected and Unconnected Lives (Wicked)

  • Keeping Education Relevant (Wicked)

  • Important Developments in Educational Technology for HE

  • Bring Your Own Device (<1 year)

  • Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning (<1 year)

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality (2-3 years)

  • Makerspaces (2-3 years)

  • Affective Computing (4-5 years)

  • Robotics (4-5 years)

But did all those previous technology predictions bear fruit?  Audrey Watters has complied a useful comparative table dating back to the first report in 2004, showing that a year can sometimes be a long time in ed-tech.


Tracking Online Education in the United States

[Inside Higher Ed]

The 13th and last Babson survey of US online education has just been published.  Key findings are:

  • (Unlike the UK) a year‐to‐year 3.9% increase in the number of distance education students (2014: +3.7%)

  • 28% of students (5.8m) now take at least one distance education course, and 2.9m of these are taking all of their courses at a distance

  • 71.4% of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the  same or superior to those in face‐to‐face instruction; however, only 29.1% report that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy  of online education”

  • The proportion of senior academic leaders saying that online learning is critical to their long‐ term strategy fell from 70.8% last year to 63.3% this year

Perhaps the greatest endorsement for online education is the fact that this will be the last such Babson report because the medium is now accepted as business-as-usual.


From Bricks to Clicks

[Doug Clow]

A new report from the Higher Education Commission, From Bricks to Clicks - The Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education, examines data collection, learning analytics and the current barriers to implementing better data management and data analytics across UK HEIs.  The Commission finds that UK institutions are currently not making the most of the opportunities in this area, concluding that the UK needs to do more to catch up with the US and Australia.  The OU’s Prof John Domingue can not only see huge potential for tracking student progress and providing study advice but he believes that once students paying thousands of pounds in fees realise the possibilities for their learning, they will start demanding it.


Turnitin Launches Revision Assistant

[Inside Higher Ed]

Turnitin has launched Revision Assistant – an online writing tool that uses machine learning to tutor students as they draft their essays, giving them feedback in four areas: language, focus, organization and evidence.  The tool marks the start of a “realignment” of Tunitin’s offering and is based on a product from LightSide Labs, which it bought in 2014.


Digital Distractions

[Inside Higher Ed; Jisc]

Last month’s Digital Distractions in the Classroom report found that students waste about one-fifth of class time on laptops, smartphones and tablets, even though they admit such behaviour can harm their grades.  Students are distracted by texting, emailing and using social media on average 11.43 times in class during a typical day.  About 63% of surveyed students said they did this to stay connected, but an equally large share of students said they are attempting to fight boredom.  Students also overwhelmingly support using devices in the classroom, with about 90% of respondents saying devices should not be banned.

However, data from digital marketing agency Greenlight suggests that 24% of Brits now think that too much time on social media or digital devices negatively impacted their performance at work.  Some 6% intend to use apps less, 5% will reduce the size of their social media networks and 3% are considering taking a full ‘digital detox’ break where the use of technology is banned.


The Future is ‘Detachable’

[Business Insider]

New Year, new hype.  Lenovo has a cunning plan to deal with the continuing decline in PC sales.  The company is betting on a new technology trend it calls detachables, and is making products it calls “2-in-1” and “4-in-1” solutions.  Instead of having to buy both a tablet and a computer, for example, their products allow users to convert one product into many.  Fun facts: the hinge on the new Yoga 900 Laptop is made from more than 800 parts and allows the device to operate in laptop, tablet, tent or stand mode.


Are Paper Books Really Disappearing?


BBC Future plots the fortunes of e-books, widely thought to have started when Peter James published his novel ‘Host’ on two floppy disks in 1993, and wonders if printed books are, “destined to eventually join the ranks of clay tablets, scrolls and typewritten pages, to be displayed in collectors’ glass cases with other curious items of the distant past?”  Not surprisingly, the conclusion is that it’s not that simple because we see that different people engage with different forms of content in different ways.  One suggestion is that a bi-literate society will pervade, which values both the digital and printed word according to circumstances.

A separate BBC report notes that the use of e-books in UK schools is lower and more sporadic than in the US. However, a recent National Literacy Trust project found that e-book use accelerated reading performance, slightly more so for boys and particularly in the case of “reluctant readers”.


GitHub Classroom

[Kristoff van Leeuwen]

GitHub is essentially a massive repository of code, best known and used by programmers.  However, the organisation has now opened an education programme, Classroom for GitHub, which “automates repository creation and access control, making it easy to distribute starter code and collect assignments on GitHub”.  This not only streamlines the process of managing users’ code but also means they are learning within the environment in which they will eventually work.


Ed Tech Tools

[CultofPedagogy; Will Woods; David Travis; Gill Marshall]

News items sometimes arrive in packs, such as this flurry of ed-tech tools:


OpenLearn Tops Open Courseware Provider League Table

[Steve Parkinson; Audrey Watters; Stephen Downes]

OpenLearn has topped an international open courseware provider league table compiled by MoocLab.  The table measures various aspects of open courseware providers including number of courses offered, partner institutions, social tools and features and interface usability. 

New York-based panOpen has announced a learning platform exclusively based on OERs.  The company is running nearly 100 pilots with US colleges and universities, and its platform lets faculty curate and customise peer-reviewed content for free, while students pay $25 per course to access the materials.

According to Rice University, free textbooks from OpenStax “are now in use at one-in-five degree-granting US colleges and universities and have already saved college students $39m in the 2015-16 academic year”.


Computers Widen Testing Gaps in Writing


In 2012, the US Dept of Education gave laptops to 10,000 fourth-graders for two 30-minute writing assignments, but a recent report compared those 2012s results with the same tests conducted in 2010 using pencil and paper.  Whilst the top 20% of students scored better on the computer, the lowest 20% fared worse because they were less likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home.  There are now concerns about the impact on America's standardized testing which, in 2015, was conducted on computers in more than half of US states.


Personal Response Systems and Student Engagement


Prof Stephanie Blackmon writes about her experiences of introducing a mobile personal response system, Poll Everywhere, to allow students to report anonymously on their learning experiences.  She initially found that students would express feelings and concerns via the poll that they had declined to raise face-to-face but, as they saw her responding to these in class, they became more open in expressing themselves.  The tool also created opportunities for some simple but timely formative assessment.


Research in Online Learning Performance and Behaviour


Vol 17, No 1 of IRRODL is a special issue on research in online learning performance and behaviour and includes a paper from Janine Lim on user choice within self-paced learning.  She studied 543 university students on 89 different humanities courses over a two year period, finding that those who were allowed to complete at least one assignment or exam out of the intended sequence of tuition were more likely to complete the course, regardless of course format, content or level, or student demographics.


Migration to New Worlds


Migration to New Worlds is a multi-archive collection that provides an in-depth look at the movement of peoples from Great Britain, Ireland, mainland Europe and Asia to the New World and Australasia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Thousands of images and document scans dating from 1800-1924 are available free of charge from 15 contributing archives, libraries and museums.




And Finally…

[TechCrunch; Wired]

On my first trip to Disneyland in the 80s, I went on the McDonnell-Douglas ‘Mission to Mars’ which involved sitting in a circular auditorium watching screens whilst our seat cushions inflated and deflated to simulate G-forces during our ‘flight’.  Now Immersit, a Kickstarter project, allows you to convert your own couch into a motion system using a set of electric motors that can be synchronised to your movie or game.

Some people just have too much time on their hands.  Frinkiac is a Simpsons search tool that allows you to enter a quote which it then uses to parse three million searchable screengrabs from the first fifteen seasons of the show.

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