Category Archives: Education

FutureLearn: The OU Strikes Back

Having lost the public grount to the big US Universities on free online education, as Coursera, Udacity and EdX have gained massive numbers of users over the last 12 months, while OpenLearn has been largely ignored by the press over the same period – despite some re-branding and development on the web site. From a brief glance, one of the key changes to OpenLearn is the degree to which it now promotes the non-free OU courses, though that is only to be expected.

But now the OU is leading the first UK based open-learning consortium to try to regain ground lost to the American giants, with FutureLearn. The universities forming the initial grouping of the consortium are The Open University along with Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St. Andrews and Warwick. Overall, a slightly surprising collection of Universities, drawn from three different UK university groupings – perhaps highlighting the somewhat artificial nature of the groupings that do exist.

FutureLearn has been launched, but no details yet on what courses will be run, and nothing much to go on yet as to how it’ll differ in practice from any of the existing options. More choice is obviously going to be good for learners, but we are still waiting to see how universities will actually make these consortia financially sustainable in the long term.

Computer Games & Instruction – on sale

Computer Games & Instruction, edited by Tobias & Fletcher is currently on sale over at Information Age. There is in there a chapter that I wrote with Jon Richter, on multi-user games for learning – but this is just one of the chapters in a great book with some fantastic contributions. I mentioned it before when it was released, and previously posted the list of contents.

My favourite chapter has to be Chris Dede’s, where he discusses developing a cohesive research program – advice you don’t often see in print. The editors’ key contribution is a large literature review. Perhaps broader than deeper, it nevertheless is certain to mention some works worthy of greater study. Raplh Chatham’s chapter on game-informed training in the US military has a great deal of detail and is also a very rewarding read. Lots of other great chapters besides, covering the question of fun in serious games, the role of gender, instructional support, and so on. Even if I wasn’t one of the chapter authors, I’d be recommending it…

Higher Student Fees Cost Government More

How can Scotland afford to provide free higher education? Apparently, it’s cheaper than charging students fees in England and Wales – thanks to the fee levels and loan repayment scheme that was agreed. Don’t know how I missed this when it came out a couple of weeks ago, but belatedly:

Labour slam ‘chaos and confusion’ in Government’s higher education policy following report stating there was a ‘£1 billion a year black hole’ at its heart (Independent)

Not much else to say really…

Still considering applying to University? It’s not too late… depending on where you live

Recently I discussed the incredibly strange math that has emerged as a result of devolution and increased student fees. There has apparently been a dip in applications in England as a result – a dip not matched in Scotland where there currently are no fees (for Scottish students at least.)

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Who needs a degree now?

Want to get an interview with one of the world’s top IT companies? Facebook or Microsoft.

Perhaps you think they only look at folk with top degrees from top universities. Wrong. In fact, you can get an interview without having a degree – you just have to be good (really good) at coding, and be able to demonstrate that.

Say hello to Interview Street:

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Forward to the Past – Medieval University Strikes Back

I first started writing this post over a year ago, but it has sat as an unfinished draft for a long time.

I found myself wondering whether universities are going to experience a (likely painful) rebirth, one that leaves many in a very different shape going forward but with surprising echoes of the very earliest of medieval universities (unlikely as that may seem). It is a while since I read Charles Homer Haskins’ The Rise of Universities,but recall some of the details. Before universities came into being, anyone wishing to study would have to seek out a tutor or master and pay to join his classes. Over time certain towns (such as Bologna) became known for having many tutors, and hence attracted increasing numbers of students. In Bologna, the students who traveled to the town to study formed societies in order to be able to obtain citizen-like rights for living in the city and used these societies for collective bargaining with tutors over how much tutors should be paid and what they should teach. Thus the first European university was formed by the students themselves. (As per usual, Wikipedia has more on this)

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Alternate Reality Games, Massive Online Open Courses and Collective Intelligence

George Siemens has a nice set of slides up on MOOC as a new educative practice which do a very good job of capturing the differences between MOOC and the free online courses now offered by the likes of Coursera (the new home of the Stanford free online courses, plus some from other partner universities), Udacity and MITx. Where that latter are offering free online access to a very traditional form of education (based on lectures and learning a set content syllabus), MOOC are quite different. As George states in the introduction to each of his MOOC courses:

“the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person”

MOOC use a far more distributed model of learning and interaction, where most of the content is itself generated by the students as they share their learning.

Outside of education, I would say that the closest thing we have to MOOCs are probably Alternate Reality Games – which have been posited as a form of Collective Intelligence. Some (not all) MMO games also require very large scale collaboration (Eve Online is the one that springs to mind).

I was talking about Massively Collaborative systems in my Collaborative Virtual Environments class this week, and seeing this link between MOOC and ARG, I appended some of George’s slides (properly acknowledged of course) to the existing slides on ARG as collective intelligence (Why I love bees: ARG and Collective Intelligence, and below).

I would also say that while I totally agree with George on the key differences between MOOC and the other offerings, and that MOOC are more interesting to think about because they are a genuine attempt to do something different in a different way, I should say that I don’t feel that MOOC threaten the role of teaching universities nearly as much as the likes of Udacity.

2nd European Immersive Education Summit – Paris in November

Paris in November… what are you waiting for?

2nd European Immersive Education Summit

26th and 27th November 2012

École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratif EnsAD (Paris, France)

Important Dates

  • Paper submission: 27th July 2012
  • Notification of acceptance: 28th September 2012
  • Final paper submission: 26th October 2012
  • Summit: 26th-27th November 2012


The theme for the 2nd European Immersive Education (iED) Summit is:

Immersive Education: combining creativity, art and pedagogy

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Complete free online course text books

I have OLDaily to thank for discovering this excellent resource… are building a library of high-quality free online texts for a wide range of university courses. These all follow US based curricula outlines, but of course most will be equally useful anywhere in the world. The courses are arranged and grouped according to degree subject areas. So, for example, substantial progress has been made towards a complete set of texts for Computer Science degree level education.

There is also a current text-book writing competition, the Open Textbook Challenge, with prizes of $20,000 for accepted texts – and a number of job vacancies. I’d be very tempted to apply other than the requirement to attend monthly meetings in Washington D.C. (a big commute from Scotland!)