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The Guardian
  • Worries grow about the survival of the Open University | Letters
    Readers give their views on the proposed changes and cuts

    Unfortunately, the situation at the Open University is far worse than you reported (Open University plans major cuts to number of staff and courses, 22 March). Despite the university’s warm words about working with academics, the relationship between the vice-chancellor’s executive and the academic body is now characterised by deep mutual contempt. The dismemberment of the university under the Orwellian-sounding Student First Transformation Programme has involved endless ineffective consultations, which the leadership has used while enacting numerous changes outside of the normal processes of academic governance.

    Where voices of opposition have been raised, senior faculty staff are pressurised to keep quiet (and not to support the pension strike). With an ever-present threat of redundancies, others are simply fearful of speaking out in public. Disquiet with the direction of change and incompetent management has seen innumerable departures of senior staff under Peter Horrocks’s tenure, including three heads of finance, three heads of IT, two directors of strategy and a growing number of executive deans. The current leadership oversaw the disastrous closure of regional OU centres and the chaotic introduction of the group tuition policy, all against warnings from experienced academics.

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  • Don’t panic! Here’s how to make screens a positive in family life
    Yes, too much digital isolation can be a problem… but parents who integrate new media more wisely will reap rewards

    A few years ago we started reading The Secret Garden as a bedtime story to my older daughter. For an American, the Yorkshire dialect was rough going, until my husband hit on the idea of going to YouTube. There, we found a video of an angelic girl showing off her authentic Yorkshire accent. We also helped our imaginations with image searches of the moors

    This was around the same time that my daughter was obsessed with the Scottish “warrior princess” Merida from the movie Brave. She watched it again and again, had a copy of the heroine’s blue dress and a toy bow and arrow. We adopted some lines of dialogue into our family repartee, chiefly “How do ye know ye don’t like it if ye won’t try it?” – a key phrase for the dinner table.

    Home Halo

    If children’s online pursuits make us scared, they’re important enough to be curious about

    Related: Tech bosses limit their kids’ time on smartphones: why shouldn’t we? | Jean Twenge

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  • Here's what to consider before choosing an online degree

    With no open days or face-to-face meetings, how do you pick a distance learning course?

    For most students, choosing a university is as simple as counting up Ucas points, checking a league table or two, and signing up to a few open days to whittle the list down. But things are more complicated for distance learners, for whom studying off-campus brings a whole new set of considerations.

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  • Sugata Mitra – the professor with his head in the cloud

    He does amazing things with children and computers, and is said to have inspired Slumdog Millionaire. So why isn’t the
    educationist a household name?

    The story of how Sugata Mitra put a computer in a hole in a Delhi wall at the end of the last century and how uneducated children used it to teach themselves all manner of things is now well known. So is the story of how Mitra’s work inspired the novel, Q&A, that became the film Slumdog Millionaire. But no government has taken more than a passing interest in his vision. Nor, although teachers have often tried his methods and reported miraculous results, have professional associations and university education departments responded with much enthusiasm. Seventeen years after Mitra conceived the idea that a computer could act as a kind of village well from which children could freely draw knowledge, the educational world treats him with deep scepticism.

    So when I meet him over lunch at Newcastle University, where he is professor of educational technology, I intend to ask how he plans to get his ideas more widely adopted and what answers he has to critics who accuse him of “magical thinking”.

    Related: The 'granny cloud': the network of volunteers helping poorer children learn

    Most of them probably became rickshaw drivers, but the one doing evolutionary biology is surely worth it

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  • Moocs to earn degree credits for first time in UK at two universities

    Students will be able to use Moocs – massive open online courses – to gain accreditation towards final qualification

    Two major UK universities are to offer massive open online courses – or Moocs – which for the first time will earn credits that count towards a final degree, it has been announced.

    In what is being billed as an important step towards widening access to higher education, students will be able to take part of a degree through an online course and gain formal accreditation towards their final qualification.

    Related: Are Moocs the best chance we have to satisfy a global thirst for education?

    Related: Mooc fans step out of the shadows

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  • Eight smart ways to use social media in universities

    It’s easy to dismiss apps such as Snapchat and Instagram as mere distractions, but they can work wonders for learning and teaching

    It’s hard to imagine a world without social media, yet many academics still view Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as distractions rather than tools. But these resources can be harnessed to create more challenging and stimulating learning environments. So what apps could you be using to lighten your load and liven up your teaching?

    Related: Will video kill the lecturing star?

    Related: New year, new career goals? Here are our top tips

    Related: 'Will they switch off Game of Thrones for this?' The art of alumni communication

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  • ‘This change will be the end of the Open University as we know it’
    Staff are balloting for strike action as OU plans to close seven of nine regional centres in England amid competition from free online courses such as Moocs

    When the Open University announced last month that it would be closing seven of its nine regional centres in England, it said it was a response to the changing demands of students, rather than funding.

    “The way in which we support our students has changed significantly,” says Keith Zimmerman, the university secretary. “It is now almost entirely online. Very few of our students come into our offices.” He says that by selling off university buildings and concentrating on just three offices in England and another four in the rest of Britain and Ireland, the OU will be able to release money to spend on responding to student queries more quickly and outside traditional working hours.

    Related: It’s time to lobby against the collapse in part-time student numbers

    Related: Moocs, and the man leading the UK's charge

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  • 'Open university' of air and mail: from the archive, 11 September 1964

    A new distance learning concept is being launched, combining TV and radio tuition with correspondence and face-to-face residential courses

    The first scheme for an “open university” is announced today by Dr Michael Young, chairman of the Advisory Centre of Education. ACE’s National Extension College is asking the Department of Education for £2 millions a year for this purpose.

    Mr Young’s scheme is given in the form of a report of a conference on television and correspondence, which was opened by Sir Edward Boyle, Minister of State for Education and Science, and chaired by Mr A. D. C. Peterson, of the Oxford University Department of Education.

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  • 15 steps closer to quality higher education in Africa

    Improving higher education is a complex challenge, but essential to the continent’s development. An expert panel offered these routes to tackling it

    Collaborate across universities: Faced with a lack of essential services such as transport, water, power, healthcare and educational systems, and a government uninterested in investing in research, the question of how African countries can conduct cutting-edge research to tackle problems related to local needs can be difficult. One solution is to form collaborations among scientists in different universities. Sadiq Yusuf, deputy vice chancellor academic affairs, Kampala International University, director of African affairs, TReND, Kampala, Uganda, @sadiqyusuf12

    Related: Higher Education in Africa: Our continent needs science, not aid

    Related: Kenya's shuttling lecturers: university shortages are taking a toll

    Related: Higher education in Africa: Race is an invention

    Related: Ethiopia's higher-education boom built on shoddy foundations

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  • Out of Africa: e-learning makes further education a reality for tens of thousands | Mark Anderson

    As the eLearning Africa conference gets underway in Addis Ababa, there is a growing recognition that online courses can boost further education access

    Zuhur Yasin has never been to the US, but she holds a bachelor’s degree from an American university. Part of Yasin’s studies in Somaliland, a self-declared independent country in Somalia, were spent in a special classroom, lined with rows of computers equipped with webcams and microphones.

    The 29-year-old watched videos and took part in live virtual classes at Indiana University as part of her journalism programme at the University of Hargeisa. “We had discussions and shared any challenges or questions,” she says.

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  • E-learning in healthcare: benefits, challenges and limitations

    Our expert panel talks about what e-learning can offer the NHS and its staff

    Read the discussion in full

    Colin McEwen, account manager, eCom Scotland: One of the major benefits is the flexibility e-learning offers ... This can help ensure learning is more accessible and is not overlooked. There are also benefits when it comes to managing compliance and continual professional development, both from an individual and organisational perspective ... There can also be budgetary and time saving benefits for the organisation.

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  • How can the healthcare sector and staff best use e-learning? Live discussion

    Join us on Thursday 16 April from noon till 2pm to discuss the benefits and challenges of e-learning

    E-learning provides the opportunity for people to learn at their own time and pace, on a one-to-one basis, as and when needed. It can be useful both for newly recruited staff and for people changing roles within an organisation who need to top up their skills.

    It’s not hard to see its appeal as a cost-effective solution to learning for time-pressed healthcare staff.

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  • Distance learning taps in to virtual reality technology

    As technology advances, so the potential for online learning flourishes

    Eddie Chauncy is no stranger to traditional universities – he already holds a degree in English literature from Cambridge. But 20 years after first graduating, when he realised that a knowledge of psychology would benefit his career as a business and finance trainer, he chose to study with the Open University (OU).

    “I knew the OU from when I was a kid and I used to watch the maths lessons on TV,” says Chauncy, who graduated from the OU with a psychology degree in 2012. “I’d recommended it to one of my delegates and when I got home that night, I thought: why don’t I make a life change as well? My children were coming to the end of their schooling and my son was doing A-levels, so I had to be around to support him. I also had to earn a living. So it was the only option that worked. It was a wonderful experience and really helped me move forward with the kind of training I could offer.”

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  • Become a birdsong hero | video | @GrrlScientist

    Today’s caturday video introduces the online game, Bird Song Hero. It uses audio and visual cues to help people learn birdsongs so they can identify wild birds by voice alone.

    Those who follow along are aware that Saturdays are known as “caturday” amongst many within the blogosphere. Some “bloggers” only share pictures of and stories about their cats whilst others use this day as an opportunity to remind people about the world’s many fascinating animals, almost all of which are overlooked, under-appreciated or just plain unknown to the public.

    Since I’ve recently been having fun playing an online game that features my favourite group of animals, birds, I just had to share that with you. Today’s caturday video introduces the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s online game, Bird Song Hero. This fun little game uses audio and visual cues to help people learn birdsongs so they can identify birds by voice alone.

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  • Learning a language – 10 things you need to know
    Thinking about learning a foreign language? From ignoring your age to avoiding the F-word, our multilingual experts share their tips

    1. Make realistic, specific goals

    You have decided to learn another language. Now what? On our recent live chat our panellists first piece of advice was to ask yourself: what do you want to achieve and by when? Donavan Whyte, vice president of enterprise and education at Rosetta Stone, says: “Language learning is best when broken down into manageable goals that are achievable over a few months. This is far more motivating and realistic.”

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  • Live Q&A: What is the best way to learn a language?

    There are more ways than ever to learn a language, but how do you find one that suits your learning style and routine? Join us on 24 October, 1-3pm BST, to discuss

    Since its launch in 2012 the Duolingo app has gained 50 million users. Its success has led it to become one of the names synonymous with the tech revolution in language learning, and not without good reason. In a recent interview for the series, its creator, Luis von Ahn, said: “There’s an independent study that shows that if you use Duolingo for 34 hours you learn the same as you would in one university semester of language learning.”

    So does this mean that the days of poring over verb tables and memorising vocabulary lists are well and truly over? Not necessarily. Aside from the obvious fact that acquiring a new app doesn’t simply equate to mastery of another language, it may not be an approach that works for everyone.

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  • Ebola crisis: online courses help spread awareness and fill the knowledge gap
    Founder of e-learning firm says platform provides crucial lifeline for west Africans looking to educate themselves about virus

    Amos Gardy is lucky. Thanks to an online course he took last month, he has educated himself about Ebola and has been busy spreading that knowledge through his community in Monrovia, Liberia.

    Gardy, who has two sons, works for an NGO and runs a youth organisation in Monrovia. He undertook his study through Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online (Alison), a Massive Open Online Course (Mooc) provider that launched an Ebola learning programme in August as the outbreak raced through towns and cities across west Africa.

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  • Online learning: the UK’s scepticism is holding it back

    The UK has a long tradition of online learning, but regulation and a shift in attitudes are needed to stay top on the international stage

    Online learning is still seen as the poor relation in the UK – but it’s time for attitudes to change. As the student cap is lifted, and opportunities for expansion increase, online education offers a way for UK universities to compete internationally without struggling to meet capacity.

    It’s a different story in the US. There, online degree courses have turned a corner. No more lurking in the shadows as the lesser option, the fallback. If it wants to make the most of those opportunities for expansion, the UK can learn some useful lessons from the US experience of learning to love online education.

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  • The tales teens tell: what Wattpad did for girls

    Wattpad was just another story-sharing app, but then it was discovered by teenage girls. Hazal Kirci, 17, explains how it transformed her and her sisters’ lives, and made reading a craze

    “You have to upload your next chapter, Hazal, I want to know what happens next,” a close friend gushed to me one morning during registration. No, I do not have a publishing deal and no, I have no real experience in creative writing apart from a few amateur attempts at creating my own novel, a journey I began at the age of 11.

    What my gushing friend was trying to say was: “When will you upload on to Wattpad next?” If you’ve not heard of Wattpad, you don’t know a girl in her early teens. Wattpad is a global sensation in young adult literature. And I fell for it hard.

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  • Will a degree made up of Moocs ever be worth the paper it's written on?
    The University of the People can now hand out degrees to its online students – but will employers take them seriously?

    Even if the heady attention of one-to-one tutorials is the stuff of Oxbridge dreams for most, personal attention from tutors who challenge students' thinking in small seminar groups is often cited as critical to the quality of learning in higher education, and integral to the value of a degree.

    Now close your eyes and imagine studying for a degree entirely by communing with your computer. Not just that, but you're one of thousands accumulating credits via massive open online courses (Moocs), open to all, free to all and with no entry requirements besides an internet connection and reasonable fluency in English.

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