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e-Learning Digest No 140 - Apr 16

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
15 April 2016

UK Conferences & Workshops


e-Learning MOOCs



[Steve Parkinson; Wonkhe; University World News; BBC; JISC]

A new report from the Social Market Foundation, Widening participation in Higher Education, predicts that the Government will not achieve its ambitions for widening participation – doubling numbers from disadvantaged backgrounds entering HE and increasing BME numbers by 20% – by its goal of 2020.  In response, Peter Horrocks said, “current efforts fail to take into account the vital role part-time and lifelong study has to play in driving social mobility.”  He added, “More than a third of such students entering the English university system last year were mature.  These individuals make a huge contribution to our society and economy, and it is in the national interest to make sure this is recognised in any future policy developments."

HEFCE has published a Revised Approach to Quality Assessment in Higher Education which it claims, “builds on established strengths and good practice, including institutions’ own robust quality assurance systems.”  The scheme is based on an initial assessment, annual provider review and an assessment visit at least every five years.  Piloting will take place during 2016/17, with full implementation the following year.

A report from Universities UK, The Future Growth of Degree Apprenticeships, suggests these new awards have the potential to help fill the country’s skills gaps and meet employers’ needs.  The government has pledged to create 3 million new apprenticeships in England by 2020 and an estimated 1,500-2,000 Degree Apprenticeships are due to start in 2016 across 40 universities.  The report finds that they can be particularly attractive to non-traditional students, they offer a way for universities to develop alternatives to traditional full-time on-campus study, but there is a need to raise awareness among potential apprentices, parents and careers advisers.

The University of Reading has opened the doors of an ultra-modern campus, with state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories and social spaces including an indoor park and amphitheatre, based in Malaysia’s purpose-built education hub, EduCity.  Reading has invested £13m in the project so far, and intends to increase the initial cohort of 200 students to 3,000 in five years.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that UK medicine and economics graduates are likely to command the largest salaries, with those qualified in the creative arts earning least.  Graduates of LSE, Oxford and Cambridge also earn more, and the male-female divide is still alive and kicking.

As of 1 Apr, all UK HEIs will need to comply with the new Research Excellence Framework Open Access policy.  The REF OA policy applies to journal articles and conference proceedings with an ISSN number accepted for publication and the move should support research outputs to become accessible both by academic and non-academic audiences, so that everyone can reap the economic and social benefits resultant from scientific research.

The University of Arizona’s Gary Rhoades has researched universities in the US, UK and South Africa and concluded that, in trying to appeal to foreign students, rather than moving to distinctive niches, British and American universities are managing differently to be largely the same.  Although they are situated in quite different settings with quite different strengths, those universities studied set their sights on the same privileged populations of well-resourced students from China and India interested in the private purposes and consumption value of higher education.


Commercial News

[Seb Schmoller; EdSurge; Audrey Watters]

The government has cancelled a contract with LearnDirect to manage Britain's driving theory tests and instead retained Pearson for up to four more years without a further re-tendering of the deal.  LearnDirect has received “a multimillion pound settlement” funded by you and I.

Barnes & Noble has acquired LoudCloud Systems – a developer of a learning management system used by schools and HEIs – for $17.9m.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has opened an online >HMH Marketplace where teachers, developers, companies and even students will be able to buy and sell educational materials.

The University of Phoenix is laying off a further 470 staff (8% of its workforce) due to declining student numbers and profits.

NASA has announced a five-year, $10m grant to Arizona State University to develop “next-generation digital learning experiences” that incorporate NASA science content on the Smart Sparrow adaptive platform, aimed initially at “independent self-learners of science” before expanding into formal K-12 education.



[Campus Technology; EdSurge]

A FutureLearn MOOC starting on 18 Apr will use adaptive technology to improve learning outcomes.  Through Engineers' Eyes: Engineering Mechanics by Experiment, Analysis and Design, from the University of New South Wales includes adaptive tutorials built on the Smart Sparrow platform.  “Learning foundational engineering concepts requires one-to-one guidance that can often be difficult in online settings.  Adaptive technology makes it possible to design online courses that support each student throughout their learning journey,” said UNSW’s Prof Gangadhara Prusty.

Coursera is partnering with the University of Illinois to offer a >MOOC-based Master of Computer Science in Data Science degree. “In a world where taking time off of work for a master's degree is increasingly difficult, this degree offers people a unique opportunity to choose exactly how much learning they need at different stages in their careers,” said Coursera’s Daphne Koeller.  The complete degree will cost $19,200 (Berkeley’s costs approx $60,000).


Distance Learning Universities “Must Prove Their Relevance”


Open and distance learning universities must determine their competitive advantage, according to the director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.  Richard Garrett said that the trend of traditional institutions becoming more versatile means that “the tide is against” ODL universities, citing the OU’s recent £7m loss amid a national collapse in part-time study.  He believes our involvement in FutureLearn is quite healthy but, “Can they claw back some of their market share by proving that if you go to the OU you’re going to get a better experience as a non-traditional part-time adult student than you get by going to some random UK university?  I don’t think they’ve answered that question.”


University of the People Launches World’s First Tuition-free Online MBA

[Audrey Watters]

University of the People is launching the world’s most cost effective MBA programme, with studies commencing in Sep 16 and comprising 5 nine-week terms.  Students can apply and be admitted to commence in any given term, with the university accepting only 100 applicants for the first term, and gradually expand the programme.  Study is free but there is a $200 end of course assessment fee (for each of the 12 courses) meaning that students can expect to pay a total of $2,400 for the degree over six terms (15 months).


MIT Calls for Learning Engineers

[Steve Rycroft]

MIT’s new report, Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reforms, includes a recommendation to support the professional category of Learning Engineer.  This would be: “a creative professional who helps build bridges between fields of education and develops additional infrastructure to help teachers teach and students learn.  Learning engineers must integrate their knowledge of a discipline with broad understanding of advanced principles from across the fields of education.  They must be familiar with state-of-the-art educational technologies, from commercial software to open-source tools, and skilled in the effective use of new online tools.  Moreover they must be able to work with educators, both to create new learning experiences from scratch and to integrate new technologies and approaches into existing experiences, whether online or in-person or both.”


Why Use Social Media to Support Learning?

[Steve Parkinson]

Steve Parkinson wonders: can using social media support learning, or is it simply a distraction?  He explains why he thinks it’s a good idea, what tools you might use and what sorts of things you might do with them.  It’s a very readable post with lots of examples, from which the takeaways seem to be that, used in the right way, social media can add a lot of value to learning and it doesn’t have to be that complicated or expensive to achieve.  But he cautions: “Don’t just do social media because everyone else is.  Do it because you have an idea of how you feel it will enhance the learning experience.”


Web Use Differs With Age

[TechCrunch; Nielsen Norman Group]

No big surprises here but a report from App Annie finds that those aged 13 to 24 now spend more than 3.5 times overall usage time in messaging apps than those over 45 years old, while the older users still default to apps that replicate desktop functions, like email and web browsers.  Video streaming is also highest in this younger age group; however, it’s the 25-44 group that are leading the mobile retail boom.

NNG also reports on the differences in web and social media behaviour between >teens, young and older adults.  For example:

  • Teens enjoy sites that provide interactive features like games and quizzes, but young adults want interactivity to serve a purpose and supports their current task

  • Young adults are much more confident than older users when encountering and navigating new interfaces, but this makes them error prone – they often click first, and ask questions later

  • Teens tend to be poor readers and prefer multimedia content.  Young adults are stronger but don’t enjoy reading large amounts of online text online – they prefer content that is easy to scan

  • The visual appeal and tone of sites can vary greatly between teens, younger and older adults

Participants came from 7 English-speaking countries, including the UK, and the researchers concluded that there were no significant differences between them.


How do US Employers Rate For-Profit Colleges and Online Degrees?

[Audrey Watters]

The US for-profit HE sector has declined in recent years but is still big business, but how is it regarded by employers?  The Value of Postsecondary Credentials in the Labor Market: An Experimental Study reports the outcomes of an audit study, in which researchers submitted fictitious applications to companies offering entry-level vacancies, and then monitored call-back rates.  For business job openings that required a BA, “applicants” from public colleges saw a call-back rates of about 8.5% but this fell by 10% for those from F2F for-profit colleges and by 25% for those from online for-profit colleges.  For jobs that also required some professional accreditation or licence (e.g. pharmacy), the provenance of the degree made little difference, but for jobs with no degree requirement, a for-profit degree often did not result in higher call back rates than for applicants with no college experience listed at all.


Is Online Tutoring the Future of Personalized Learning?


Bloom’s (1984) two sigma problem found that “the average tutored student [is] above 98% of the students in the control class.”  Great, and not unexpected, but 121 tutoring is expensive – so can technology help?  Dave Frey suggests that online tutoring may be the answer.  He cites services such HackHands and Codementor, both of which provide 1:1 support for programmers on a pay-per-minute basis, but notes that helping to correct someone’s coding mistakes is not the same as ‘teaching’.  However, online tutoring sites have proved successful in connecting students with subject experts, and in turn, offering flexible and affordable personalised learning that students need to excel. But he cautions that, “desired learning results won’t come from online tutoring websites that allow anyone to become a tutor.  Genuine learning comes from tutors who can provide in-depth subject knowledge and who can connect with students in a way that promotes development.”


Universities Build a 'Connected Learning' Network for Refugees

[The Chronicle]

Brendan O'Malley reports on a project by the University of Geneva that has created a solar-powered learning hub in Kenya’s Kakuma camp which is home to 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers.  The hub offers virtual courses, supported by F2F and virtual tutors, plus the chance to connect with fellow students, both locally and worldwide.  The UNHCR estimates that refugee student support on traditional courses costs on average $6,000 per head including fees and living costs, whereas the cost per head per year of this project is around $300.


OU Wins Four Awards for Open Education Excellence

[Martin Weller]

The Open Education Consortium announces the 2016 winners of Site, Course & Project Awards for Open Education Excellence.  The OU won in four of the sixteen categories:


OpenCourseWare Celebrates 15 Years

[MIT News]

MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) is celebrating 15 years of free and open publishing of MIT course materials.  OCW now provides access to the educational materials of more than 2,300 MIT courses from all five MIT schools and has been accessed by a worldwide audience of over 200 million people.   Website traffic now exceeds 2 million visits every month, with users downloading and saving OCW content, adapting and remixing it to meet their needs, and sharing with friends and colleagues.


Publishers Need to Realise e-Books are More Than Just Digital Facsimiles

[Wired; TechCrunch]

Amazon has released its new £270 Kindle Oasis.  Yes, £270.  For this you get the thinnest, lightest, whitest, crispest, chargest (two months’ battery) Kindle yet produced.

But TechCrunch’s Haje Jan Kamps despairs over publishers who simply recreate print books on-screen, noting that e-readers are great for sequential novels but lousy for repeatedly and quickly moving around content (he cites travel guides, but this applies equally to textbooks).  He notes that helpful interactive features are now available via iBooks Author and other publishing tools, but these are currently rarely used.



[Steve Parkinson]

Degreed is a new Lifelong Learning Platform that aims to provide a one-stop shop to enable individuals and organisations to find, log and recognise all learning activities and courses from a wide range of sources, based on your personal learning goals, social recommendations, trending topics and selected thought leaders.  It “helps you track and curate the best learning materials from thousands of platforms” and is “free forever”.


Does Engineering Education Breed Terrorists?

[The Chronicle]

Researchers Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog have found that the proportion of terrorists who come from engineering backgrounds/degrees far outpaces statistical expectations, as they explain in their new book, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education.  However, the relationship was not just confined to Islamist movements; violent neo-Nazis and neo-Stalinists in Russia and neo-Nazi and white-supremacist groups in the US also showed disproportionate numbers of engineers.


Volley Learning Assistant Camera App

[Stephen Downes; TechCrunch]

Volley lets students point their phone’s camera at a textbook page or piece of homework, and instantly see resources about key facts and tricky parts, prerequisites, and links to snippets of online classes or study guides that could help – all achieved automatically through machine learning and natural language processing.  Backed by Mark Zuckerberg and others, the company has attracted $2.3m in seed funding.  The app looks to have fantastic potential – sign up now as an alpha tester.


How Students Try To Bamboozle Online Proctors

[Campus Technology]

Proctoring software uses a student's own webcam and microphone to keep an eye on what's occurring as they take an online test.  US company Examity analysed 62,534 final exams taken online and scrutinised the 6% in which students tried to violate the rules.  They found the use of "cheat sheets" is the most common way students try to cheat in online tests.  The second most common tactic is to use Google Search and Translate, followed by copying test questions for distribution, hiding flashcards underneath the keyboard and hanging answers on walls.  Perhaps the most extreme example of cheating discovered by Examity was somebody positioned just outside the room and coughing answers in Morse code.


Access Courses on Your Next Virgin America Flight

[Audrey Watters]

Travellers with Virgin America can now access business leadership and learning video courses such as, “Getting Things Done,” “Creating Great Workplace Habits,” and “Managing Stress” via Virgin’s in-flight entertainment system.        


Difficult Interface Designs Are Better

[Nielsen Norman Group]

This was posted on 1 Apr so it only makes sense if you read all the dos as don’ts and vice-versa.  But make that transposition and it provides an excellent set of interface design criteria.



[TechCrunch; Tony Hirst]

I mentioned messaging app Slack last month.  Now comes news that threaded messaging is likely to be featured in a release during the next quarter.  This has been a notable omission to date and inclusion will pitch Slack against Yammer and similar competitors.

Tony Hirst has been busy exploring its possibilities, using Slack Bots to query ONS data and dabbling with data2txt scripts that generate text from data tables or spreadsheets.  He speculates that it’s not hard to imagine having something similar for queries along the lines of “latest enrolment stats on U101”, etc.




And Finally…


The Most Dangerous Writing App motivates its users with the following instruction: “Don’t stop. If you stop typing for more than five seconds, all progress will be lost.”  The free app – designed to help users overcome writer’s block – is the work of Manuel Ebert, who describes himself on Twitter as an ex-neuroscientist, data wrangler, designer and engineer.”


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