January 23, 2018

Grants for research on blended learning – from a lecture capture company

Nagel, D. (2013) Grants support research into blended, distance learning Campus Technology, January 7

Echo360, a vendor of a range of educational technology, including lecture capture technology, has announced the first six winners of grants for researching teaching practices involving the use of technology, including flipped classrooms and blended learning. They include four universities in the USA, and one each in Australia (Curtin) and New Zealand (Canterbury). Each grant is worth $10,000.

Additional information about the grants, as well as PDFs of the proposals submitted by the individual winners, can be found on Echo360’s site.


I have mixed feelings about this. First, it’s good that money is going into research in this area. We need to develop and evaluate a range of models for blended and hybrid learning.

However, there are models that could be developed that are not based on lecture capture. Who is willing to fund independent research that is not tied to a particular commercial product?

Surely this is the role of public national research councils, who in the past have been very slow to fund research into online learning. It’s more than time now for government-funded research councils to put significant money into research in online learning. However, in several countries these research councils have had their budgets decimated, and they tend to be dominated by mainstream academics with no interest in research online learning.

This makes it all the more incumbent on institutions that do move towards a mixed model of delivery to ensure that there are independent and well designed evaluations in place, with a strategy for dissemination to a wider public.

Posts from a foreign land: Online Educa 2011, No. 1 ( #oeb11 )

Why I’m here

This will be the first of several posts on this year’s Online Educa Berlin conference. This is the first time I have attended since 2001, and I am here for three specific reasons:

1. to see what the public post-secondary education sector can learn from the use of  online learning in the corporate training sector

2. to identify interesting developments in European online learning, and in particular the individuals or institutions driving change

3. to re-establish connections with European colleagues, since it is five years since I last worked in Europe.

I need to write up my experience anyway, so I thought I would share it with those who are interested but unable to attend.

Who else is here

2,000 participants from over 100 countries, with 360 speakers. The mix of participants is particularly interesting (figures from last year):

41% from the public education sector

38% from the business sector (including both corporate trainers and e-learning suppliers)

21% from other sectors (government, NGOs, not-for profit organizations).

This is a unique mix and one of the few places where both public and corporate e-learning come together on a roughly equal basis.

It was announced yesterday that the three countries with the largest number of participants were as follows:

Netherlands; UK; and Finland. This is interesting because both the Netherlands and especially Finland are relatively small countries in the European Union. This is a crude but helpful indicator of where the e-learning action is in Europe.

One interesting development was a relatively strong presence from Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, and Egypt, for instance).

The program

The conference program is 158 pages thick! Wednesday there were pre-conference workshops (which unfortunately I was unable to attend). On each of the other two days there are the following:

  • plenary sessions (more on this below)
  • three time blocks of 15 parallel sessions each day (nearly 90 sessions in all), most with three speakers, arranged under 10 themes (e.g. assessment, business, policy)
  • a bewildering range of special and interactive sessions (e.g. hands-on labs, interactive discussion groups, best practice showcases)
  • a very large exhibition area with just under 100 companies or organizations with stands. Pearson was the conference platinum sponsor, and its Learning and Blackboard were gold sponsors. The National Centre for e-Learning and Distance Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of several silver sponsors.

I describe this in detail, because in two days it is possible to participate in only a small part of the conference (less than 7%) so you have to be very focused. Thus my reports should be read in this context.

The main plenary session

There were four speakers in a 105 minute session, introduced by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh (Jordan): president of a business school in Jordan

  • There is no world crisis, only a Western crisis (so much for globalization)
  • we have to move from being teachers to being learning facilitators
  • we don’t need educational reform, but new education systems
  • we need to educate for citizenship
  • Saudi Arabia spent $35 billion on education last year, 25% of its overall budget

Neelie Kroes: (Netherlands), Commissioner, the Digital Agenda, European Commission

  • Digital education is important. We must do more, and do it better. Over to you.
  • Memorable quote (from a 16 year old she interviewed designing apps): ‘Sharing makes you a better competitor.’

Peter Novak: (Canada), a journalist and author of Sex, Bombs and Burgers

  • despite Occupy Wall Street, the world overall is getting richer; poverty (defined as income of $1.25 a day or less) is dropping dramatically world wide
  • this means a massive expansion of people demanding education: 8 million more teachers needed by 2015
  • demand can’t be met by the traditional classroom model
  • entrepreneurial learning is needed; adults teaching each other; learning is in our DNA
  • memorable quote (illustrated by Lady Gaga): ‘ ‘Quality is not a pre-condition for self-expression.’

John Bohannon: (USA), a journalist and writer for the journal Science

  • Google Books now holds copies of 15% of all the books ever published;
  • this is a gold mine for large-scale analytical research, e.g. analysis of names suppressed or promoted during the Nazi period, or during Macarthyism in the USA (providing you can get access)
  • Wikipedia is messy, often dangerously misleading, but still extremely valuable if used properly (i.e. checking sources): examples:
    • civilian casualties in Afghanistan; reliable sources not taken account of in commentary although listed in sources
    • the sections on psychology were very poor, until a US university professor got his students to do research and update the entries.
    • arguments between just a couple of ‘unqualified’ contributors can seriously distort entries

Jeff Borden: (USA), Senior Director of Teaching and Learning, Pearson

  • formal education needs learning frameworks to help organise teaching, e.g. tell, show, do, ask/review
  • use of social networking for solving problems, e.g. InnoCentive
  • learning analytics will be BIG, e.g. analysing who is talking to whom in online class discussions

Video recordings of the keynotes can be downloaded from here.

Comment on the plenary session

Yes, you have to have a European Commissioner and you have to have a speaker from the platinum sponsor, but I can’t express how disappointed I was with the plenary session. There must have been over 1,500 people present, and almost all the presentations were shallow and only barely on target for the audience. What a missed opportunity.

It would have been better to have had two or at most three speakers with more time to bring depth. Jeff Borden in particular was rushed because the session was late starting and running over time, and as a result, he came over more as a preacher (as the chair of the session noted). As a result his session was just very short ‘images’ of what looked like really interesting e-learning applications but there was no time to explore any of them. If you are going to bring speakers in from outside the field, they must have something very special to say, and all must have sufficient time to say it.

Peter Nowak’s arguments in particular need to be challenged. I think Western commentators should be very careful in suggesting educational solutions for the rest of the world. Suggesting radical changes to education for new economically emerging countries is not  a good idea when we are unable to make such changes in more economically advanced (but maybe declining) countries. There is a danger of suggesting solutions that we ourselves are not prepared to implement on a large scale. There is a good deal of innovation in e-learning in Africa these days and economically emerging countries will find their own solutions, as have South Korea, Singapore and increasingly India already.

So, in summary, a few good ideas and points were made, but it could have been much more.


Don’t despair – I attended some excellent parallel sessions, which I will discuss in the next blog.

For a more comprehensive and detailed set of notes on the presentations, see Hans de Zwart’s Technology as a Solution…

For-profits, student loans, new rules, and how these affect students in the USA, Canada and the UK

For profits are in the news again for several reasons.

The Obama administration has produced new rules that determine whether for-profit institutions will qualify for federal aid in the form of student loans. Schools will maintain access to government-paid tuition if at least 35 percent of its former students are repaying their loans, or the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate must not be bigger than 30 percent of his or her discretionary income, or 12 percent of his or her total earnings. (see Nelson, 2011, for full details of the new rules). Forbes magazine reports that the stock values of the major for-profit universities rose 12% on the news, since the final draft of the rules were clearer/simpler and easier to measure (and less severe than originally proposed).

At the same time, Apollo Group (the owners of the University of Phoenix) announced that it has written down the value of BPP, its UK-owned company, which suggests that it is less optimistic about making ‘easy money’ out of the attempt by the UK government to increase competition between UK universities. Nevertheless Apollo is still committed to the long-term future of BPP. Until the UK announces how it intends to ‘regulate’ competition between UK universities, BPP’s future will remain uncertain, but it looks like Apollo is taking a bet on the possibility that things will ‘open up’ for them in Britain. (See also: The calamitous state of higher education in the UK).

Also today, the Presidents of British Columbia’s four research intensive universities called for a reduction on the interest rates for student loans for students in public universities, which at 2.5% above prime, are the highest in Canada, and also with the shortest repayment time. The call is timely, because interest rates in Canada, which have remained very low since the 2008 recession, are predicted to rise from September.

Lastly, also this week, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities of Ontario announced that it will move away from funding post-secondary institutions solely by growth or number of FTEs, and will negotiate individually with each institution on its ‘strengths’, such as student satisfaction, employment rates and student mobility, with a special emphasis on excellence in teaching. (How this will be measured and rewarded remains to be determined).


Nelson, L. (2011) Your guide to ‘gainful employment’ Inside Higher Education, June 3

Associated Press (2011) Sector Snap: Higher ed. stocks surging on new rule, Forbes.com, June 2

Baker, S. (2011) New doubts on for-profits in Britain, Times Higher Education Supplement/Inside Higher Education, June 3

Steffenhagen, J. (2011) Student loan interest rates too high, say BC universities, Vancouver Sun, June 2

Bradshaw, J. (2011) Ontario shakes up education funding, Globe and mail, June 2


Underlying each of these moves is a more fundamental question: what is public policy regarding the funding of higher education? How much should students pay? It seems that we are seeing an almost unexplained or certainly less than transparent shift in public policy away from the state funding post-secondary education to a user-pay system. The UK is leading the charge, with the backdoor move to privatization through for-profits and increased tuition fees in public institutions occurring quite rapidly in the USA. Canada is still supporting a state-funded system but is gradually increasing the proportion of cost paid by students through tuition fee increases and could be doing more to reduce the burden of student debt, at least in some provinces such as BC.

On the other side, the Obama rules for for-profits look very moderate. But why would these be restricted to the for-profit sector? Would it not be reasonable to ask the same of our public institutions? Shouldn’t they be ensuring that at least 35% of their students are able to repay their loans after graduation? This still leaves plenty of room for universities to produce scholars with no interest in getting jobs, after all.

I am not against the principle of students paying tuition fees, as long as they are not a major deterrent to poor or disadvantaged students going to university or college. What I would like to see though from our politicians is where they stand on the issue of public funding for universities. Is it both a public and private good (which suggests a mix of state and personal funding)? Once that principle becomes established, then it becomes easier to deal with issues such as student loans, student loan repayments, etc. What is not acceptable is policy by default, or stealth, or even worse, on an inconsistent case-by-case basis, which seems to be the situation in all three countries at the moment, with the possible exception of the UK, where the government’s intention to privatize higher education is quite clear (or, rather,  it became so after the election).

Also, while I support the idea of having some means of measuring ‘output’ or ‘quality’ of our post-secondary institutions, is it not somewhat bizarre that the only regulated measure in the USA is the proportion of people able to repay their student debt? Or perhaps that says it all about what their higher education system has become. Meanwhile, I welcome the move by Ontario’s Minister to look at other factors besides student numbers in funding post-secondary institutions, especially the idea of negotiating individually with each institution on its ‘strengths’. However, the government could well be replaced after a fall provincial election, but if it isn’t, it will be interesting to see how viable the new method will be.

UNESCO signs mobile learning agreement

Somewhat late news, but still important for this interested in developing mobile learning applications for developing countries:

UNESCO and telecommunications company Nokia have recently signed a partnership to use mobile technologies to further the goals of Education For All.Under the initial three-year agreement, Nokia will contribute between five and ten million dollars which will be invested in three types of projects.

In a first phase, research will be conducted to identify possible applications of mobile technology to support Education For All. The results will be transmitted in the form of guidelines to education ministries and policy-makers in developing countries.

The second part of the agreement concerns teachers. It will promote the use of mobile technologies to support training and capacity-building, as well as the management of educational institutions, particularly in gathering data on staff, pupils and school facilities.

The third part of the agreement covers the development of new mobile applications that have educational potential. “Mobile technologies offer access to information and enrich learning environments. UNESCO wants to make sure they are used to promote the delivery of quality education based on the sharing of knowledge,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

“In education mobile technology is a great enabler for empowerment,” says Esko Aho, Executive Vice President, Nokia. “Through cooperation with UNESCO we can accelerate the transformation that mobile communications can bring to the availability and quality of education especially in developing countries.”

Text courtesy of UNESCO media services.

$300 iPads will eat Notebooks: Gartner

Nagel, D. (2010) Media Tablet Growth to be driven by iPad Campus Technology, October 26

Gartner Consultants has updated its forecast for overall worldwide enterprise IT spending

“The all-in-one nature of media tablets will result in the cannibalization of other consumer electronics devices such as e-readers, gaming devices, and media players,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, in a written statement. “Mini notebooks will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices (ASPs) drop below $300 over the next two years.”

An iPad for less than $300?! I told my wife to wait before buying one. Too late: $1,000 gone. That’s a really expensive way to read Jane Austen.

Lastly, remember you are getting this third hand (Gartner-Campus Technology-me-you). If your institution can afford the full report, click here