The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

e-Learning Digest No 139 - Mar 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 March 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[EdSurge; Audrey Watters; Class Central; Steve Parkinson; Donald Clark]

US researchers looking at MOOC enrolments, engagement, persistence and completion report counterintuitive findings that may help us better understand the drop-out problem.  Having analysed 2.1m students’ participation in 2,900 lectures from 44 (mostly STEM) Coursera MOOCs, their key findings were:

  • Students who signed up 1-3 weeks before the course started demonstrated highest levels of persistence

  • The strongest predictor of course completion was the student’s willingness to take a pre-survey (12 percentage points more likely to complete)

  • Students with Gmail or .edu email addresses showed worse persistence than students with other email addresses

  • Videos posted earlier in the week were more likely to be watched than those posted later in the week (although length of video seemed to have no impact on viewing)

  • Emails from instructors to students about new course material were ineffective in getting students to watch more

Some students were also asked which of three tracks they intended to follow:

  • Quantitative track (with weekly quizzes and maths based problems)

  • Qualitative track (weekly quizzes and a final project)

  • Auditing (watch the videos but not expected to complete assignments)

Quantitative were 20 percentage point more likely to complete than auditors, and qualitative were nearly 10 percentage points more likely to earn a certificate relative to auditors (and more likely to watch additional videos).

Researchers can now access anonymised learning data from 238 MOOCs hosted on the Canvas Network.  Canvas has taken the initiative to support research on online course design, large-scale informal learning and more, making data available from more than 325,000 aggregate records for MOOCs run from Jan 14 to Sep 15.

Hats off to George Veletsianos and Peter Shepherdson for their Systematic Analysis and Synthesis of the Empirical MOOC Literature Published in 2013–2015, published in IRRODL.  Among their findings are:

  • Researchers favour a quantitative approach, preferring to collect data via surveys and automated methods

  • Some qualitative/interpretive research was evident (e.g. interviews, observations) but it was often basic and very much in the minority

  • There is only limited research on instructor-related topics (e.g. motivations, perceptions) or learner sub-populations

  • More than 80% of papers are published by individuals based in North America and Europe

  • Nearly half of all MOOC papers are cited zero times

Coursera is piloting Mentor-Guided Courses where, for $248, you will be able to work with a professional who is current in the industry.  Students who sign up get 1:1 project feedback, email/forum support and access to live weekly office hours.  There are currently ten mentor-guided courses, each is 3–4 weeks long and has 50 slots for mentor/mentee guidance.

The proceedings of last month’s European Stakeholder Summit on experiences and best practices in and around MOOCs have just been published, containing 44 papers (279pp) covering MOOC pedagogies, management and support; and MOOC learners, expectations and behaviours.

Learning World compares the MOOC situation in China and the UK, examining how learners are engaging with successful courses and why just a small fraction of these are providing enough inspiration, information and motivation for students to see them through to the end.  Donald Clark shunned the allure of China and focussed instead on Derby, discussing seven ways on which designers made their dementia MOOC more ‘sticky’, thus upping persistence and yielding completion rates of around 35%.  But don’t worry if you can’t achieve persistence – Donald contends that completion is the wrong measure anyway: “775 learners [of the Dementia MOOC] were asked whether they expected to fully engage with the course, 477 said yes but 258 stated that they did not intend to complete.  This showed that people come to MOOCs with different intentions.”



[THE; The Guardian; University World News]

The OU’s latest accounts show that it ran up a £7.2m deficit in 2014-15 (2012-14: £16.9m).  This was described as “disappointing” but “not entirely unexpected” as the total number of students signed up for OU courses fell by 13,449 (7.2%) year-on-year, to 173,889.  This represents a fall of a third from a high of 260,119 six years earlier.  But is there any good news?  The OU predicts surpluses this year and next, and PA Consulting’s Mike Boxall believes the gradual erosion of the three-year residential degree as the dominant model of higher education could “play to [the OU’s] strengths”, but warned that the university’s progress in this area was “not very visible yet”.

Despite the OU’s woes, data from Hesa shows that HE providers in England spent a combined £25.9bn and took in a total of £27.7bn for a £1.8bn surplus for 2014-15 – well above the £1.1bn recorded each year in 2013-14 and 2012-13.  Fattest of the fat cats were Oxford, with a surplus of £191m, Imperial (£143m) and Liverpool (£65m).

A letter signed by 103 UK vice-chancellors and published in the Sunday Times just after the Cameron/EU agreement last month argues firmly for Britain to remain in the EU.  It cites easier access to collaborative research partnerships and research funding, plus employment of European academic expertise in UK HEIs as compelling reasons to retain membership.  UUK’s Dame Julia Goodfellow said, “Outside the EU, we risk cutting ourselves off from unique support and networks and undermining the UK’s position as a global leader in science and innovation”.  Universities for Europe calculates that students from other EU countries generate around £2.27 billion for the UK economy and support 19,000 British jobs.  Horst Hippler, president of the German Rectors’ Conference (equivalent to UUK), told THE, “To have Britain no longer belonging to the EU would be a disaster for international research in Europe.”  And Prof Philippe Moreillon, vice-rector of research and international relations at University of Lausanne warns that Swiss HE and research suffered following its referendum which supported restrictions on free movement of people from other EU countries, with Swiss universities finding themselves “kicked out” of EU collaborative partnerships such as Erasmus and the incoming Horizon 2020 research programme.

In just four years, the number of Indian students at UK HEIs has halved, from 40,000 to 19,500.  By contrast the number of Indians studying in the US has risen by 29% since 2010 and increases are also being seen in Canada, Australia, Germany and France.  Only two UK universities, Edinburgh and Aston, seem to be bucking the trend.


Commercial News

[Steve Parkinson; Will Woods; Audrey Watters; EdSurge]

Amazon apparently plans to launch a free platform for educators to upload, manage and share educational materials.  Indications are that the platform will be based around OERs but will come with a similar interface and ratings system to its commercial site.  Amazon already has a beta platform called Inspire which is rumoured to include the ability to self-publish learning materials and give establishments the ability to upload their digital libraries and users the ability to manage materials of interest.  The relationship between these two (or whether they amount to the same thing) is not yet clear.

Moodle and Blackboard announced a new agreement yesterday that will further enhance Moodle development, whilst reinforcing Blackboard’s position as a premier Moodle Partner in many parts of the world since its initial acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot in 2012.

A New York appeals court has decided that a lawsuit against Trump University can proceed.  The suit asserts that Trump University misrepresented itself and defrauded students individually of thousands of dollars and collectively of $40 million – which Trump refers to as “a minor civil case I have not settled out of principle.”  Go Donald.

Users of Instructure’s Canvas LMS/VLE will soon have access to instructional design support through a new partnership with iDesignEDU, a Dallas-based startup that offers instructional design services – because, “faculty and institutional leaders need support to maximize its potential to implement new modalities, identify at-risk students or measure learning outcomes”.

McGraw-Hill Education has announced that 2015 unit sales of digital platforms and programs exceeded those of print in its US HE Group for the first time.  The company also expanded the number of adaptive offerings for US HE to over 1,400 (up from 40 in 2012).  Activations on ALEKS (its AI-based maths assessment and learning platform) were up by 14% over 2014, those for its Connect digital learning platform rose by 16%, and activations for its LearnSmart adaptive program grew by 18%.


2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning

[Stephen Downes]

Ontario’s Contact North has published a 2016 Look at the Future of Online Learning (part one and part two).  It’s informative and nicely written, although there are no particular surprises for anyone who follows our industry or who has skimmed any recent horizon scanning reports.  However, Stephen Downes takes exception to many of their claims and reasoning, and I found his passionate critique much more stimulating than the original papers.


ALT Annual Survey


ALT’s second annual members’ survey has just been published.  Data and Analytics saw the biggest jump in perceived importance with a 17.3% increase in responses indicating this area was going to be important or very important this year.  Other current areas of work thought to be most important or very important were:

  • content management systems and VLEs;

  • electronic assessment, submission and feedback; and

  • web conferencing and virtual classrooms

In terms of key enablers and drivers for the general use of learning technology, respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that these were:

  • engagement from students and learners;

  • colleagues’ knowledge and expertise;

  • colleagues’ commitment; and

  • institutional culture


Should Instructors Require Discussion in Online Courses?


From last month’s IRRODL, should instructors require discussion in online courses?  One instructor taught the same online course for three consecutive semesters using three different conditions: no online discussion; discussion without instructor participation; and discussion with active instructor participation.  For the three components of Community of Inquiry (Arbaugh et al, 2008), no significant differences were found between the three conditions in respect of cognitive presence or teaching presence, but there was a significant difference in social presence for the two discussion groups.  However, no significant differences were found between conditions in terms of time spent in the VLE, course satisfaction or student achievement.


New Sci-Hub Website Hosts 47 Million Pirated Articles


Sci-Hub was started by Alexandra Elbakyan, a neuroscientist and researcher from Kazakhstan who found it difficult to afford access to academic journals.  The site has been shut down once by the US courts but has now registered a non-US domain name.  Sci-Hub works by researchers “donating” their university logins and passwords to the site and these allow visitors to search for papers which, once uploaded to Sci-Hub, then become available for subsequent users to access.  And how do the publishers feel about this?  A statement claims that health and public safety might be negatively impacted if academic papers are too widely available.



[The Telegraph]

Pindex – co-founded by Stephen Fry – launched last month and is being described as a Pinterest for Education.  The self-funded online platform creates and curates educational videos and infographics for teachers and students, including an initial video narrated by Fry that explains about the Large Hadron Collider, dark matter and extra dimensions.  Other planned videos will focus on science and technology, including ones on the Hyperloop, colonising Mars, and robots and drones but, as it expands, Pindex will grow its library by curating more material from external makers.


Learning and Teaching in HE Chats

[Beccy Dresden]

Learning and Teaching in HE Chats began life in 2014 and continue to this day.  They’re held weekly on Twitter on Wednesdays between 8:00-9:00pm (UK), and participants follow by using the hashtag #LTHEchat.  This means non-Tweeters are able to follow the conversation, but will need a Twitter account to make contributions.


Macmillan Learning Launches iOLab

[Audrey Watters]

Macmillan Learning has launched iOLab, a handheld tool for Physics that allows students to gather data dynamically and see the results of any activity graphed in real time.  Built-in sensors give students the ability to measure force, acceleration, velocity, displacement, magnetic field, rotation, light, sound, temperature, pressure and voltages in any field-based or classroom situation.  The device is integrated with Microsoft Office and students can share their data with their instructor, fellow students, or anyone else they choose.


Blockchain for Open Sharing of Academic Records

[David Vince]

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology which works with digital currencies such as bitcoin.  However, Sony Global Education has now developed technology that exploits blockchain's secure properties to realise encrypted transmission of educational data - such as an individual's academic proficiency records and measures of progress.  This has the potential to create a universal system for learners and their academic results, much like an official version of sites such as LinkedIn, that could allow students to pick n’ mix credit from several institutions to create their own, personalised, qualification.


Windows Phone Sales Have Almost Ceased


According to figures from Gartner, Windows Phone sales fell from 2.8% of the total market in Q4 2014 to 1.1% in Q4 2015, or just 4.4 million units compared to market leader Samsung’s 83 million.  Android and iOS now account for 98% of the smartphone market, with Samsung accounting for 20.7% of sales (19.9% last year), Apple at 17.7% (down from 20.4%) and China’s Huawei leaping from 5.7% to 8.0%.  A rumoured cheaper 4” iPhone for the budget market in this quarter could reverse its fortunes.


Australian Education City

[University World News]

The developers behind the proposed $20bn Australian Education City (AEC) in Melbourne are trying to lure Australian universities to join the project with a promise of an inside track to large numbers of international students and, “access to new sources of research funding made available by the Chinese government and multinationals”.  The proposed 400 acre development includes housing for 80,000 residents and 50,000 students in high schools, vocational colleges and “some of the most prestigious university faculties from Australia, China and the United Kingdom”.


Personality and Individual Differences


New research has reviewed 12 studies of 13,389 students to see how personality varies with students' choice of academic subject.  Among the main findings were: psychology, arts and humanities students tended to score higher on neuroticism (emotional instability) and openness; economics, politics and medicine students tended to score higher on extraversion; law, business and economics scored lower on agreeableness, particularly in comparison with medicine, psych, science, arts and humanities students; and arts and humanities scored lower on conscientiousness than most.




In 2013, Richard Saller, Dean of Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, argued that teaching the humanities online was nearly impossible. “The humanities have to deal with ambiguity [and] with multiple answers,” he said.  “I doubt that [current platforms] will come anywhere near the quality that we have in our introductory seminars.”

And then along came Slack – an online communication platform launched two years ago which now has more than 2.3m users logging 100m collective hours on the platform per month.  It facilitates an online version of watercooler conversations, enabling people to trade information and chat informally with colleagues.  It allows for threads, private groups, direct messages, file uploads, commenting, integration with common social media tools and syncing across devices.  Might it be the game changer that online education has been waiting for?  Read how +Acumen runs successful online seminars with it.



[Jonathan Darch]

I first mentioned the Spritz speed-reading tool in Mar 14, but had my doubts as to whether a relentless torrent of text was compatible with meaningful HE study. However, forum comments suggest at least one OU computing student is using it successfully.


New Learning Analytics Book

[Fridolin Wild]

Learning Analytics in R with SNA, LSA, and MPIA introduces Meaningful Purposive Interaction Analysis (MPIA) theory, which combines social network analysis (SNA) with latent semantic analysis (LSA) to help create and analyse a meaningful learning landscape from the digital traces left by a learning community in the co-construction of knowledge.  The book provides comprehensive package-by-package application examples and code samples that will allow the reader to progress to using and building analytics to guide students and support decision-making in learning.


3D Printing Project Transforms Public Library

[Liz Mallett]

Croatia’s Rijeka City Library has attempted to reverse 25 years of industrial decline by creating a lively community ‘maker space’ equipped with technology for 3D printing and computer coding, including 3D printers, laptops, design software and Raspberry Pi mini-computers.  The library’s 3D printing demonstrations reached 800 children and over 1,500 adults and inspired three more local organizations to install 3D printers and start designing and printing objects.  Librarians also teamed with doctors and engineers to 3D print the prototype of an artificial limb for a patient with severe leg injuries.




And Finally…


Teachers have complained about “cheating watches” being sold online for £40-50 to give students an unfair advantage in exams.  The watches hold data or written information include an “emergency button” to quickly switch from hidden text to a clock face.

And off-topic but great fun is the Marble Machine – a music instrument that uses 2000 marbles and one musician frantically cranking a handle.


Extra content

Embedded Content


Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.