Monthly Archive for September, 2008

I don’t need your network, I’ve got Mobile Broadband

Mobile Broadband Logo 3G mobile operators are experiencing boom time. Having spent billions on a network which was heavily under utilised they are finally witnessing strong growth in traffic. This growth is largely down to the emergence of the new mobile broadband market. Formerly the domain of the business exec and pro-user, mobile broadband is now being marketed to general consumers as an alternative to fixed line connections. This has been achieved by a big marketing push in USB dongles, a recent Ofcom report recording almost a doubling in sales. Up until now operators have tried to entice customers by bundling a ‘free’ laptop or netbook when they sign up for mobile broadband contracts. Its probably not surprising that with these synergistic relationships between operators and manufacturers that a consortium of companies have got together to promote and develop 3G technology integrated inside laptops and netbooks. This move is backed by a $1 billion war chest which will put a new Mobile Broadband logo on a range of devices appearing for Christmas. 

The implications of this are that more students will not be reliant on the network provision provided by their university. They will not be limited by an institution’s Internet filtering, port blocking or other constraints imposed by the institution. It is inevitable that some may abuse this privilege exposing an institution to the risk of students accessing inappropriate material while on university premises but it is hard to see how an institution might prevent this, instead policy will have to  robust enough to define acceptable behaviour and the processes for dealing with any abuses. 

Scare stories aside it looks like more students will be bringing the Internet with them when they come to college or university, and sure if anything institutions will be embracing it. I’m just waiting for the first laptop purchasing programme offered to students by an institution in collaboration with a mobile operator and computer manufacturer.

Useful data for physics and chemistry students

Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre Logo I picked this one up from the Intute Science, Engineering and Technology New Resources feed. The Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre have produced two data sheets for chemistry and physics students (the physics sheet might also be useful for 1st year engineering students).

Useful data for chemistry students
Published by the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre, this reference guide, in PDF format, includes: the periodic table, physical constants, units, algebra, trigonometry, weights, SI unit prefixes, logarithms, the Greek alphabet, indices, moles, gases, thermodynamics, mixtures, reactions, phases, kinetics, spectroscopy, electrochemistry, lattice energies, quantum theory, pH equations, and magnetic moments.

Useful data for physics students
Published by the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Centre, this reference guide, in PDF format, includes: work and energy, thermal properties of matter, motion in one direction, temperature and heat, waves, simple harmonic motion, momentum and impulse, rotational motion, quantum mechanics, torque, elasticity, electricity and magnetism, and gravitation.

The week in Higher Education (Week 37)

Universities have allowed themselves to become the casual
Times Online - UK
That country, she said, invested 2.9% of its national product in higher education, compared with Britain’s paltry 1.1%. Universities therefore had to stop
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Higher, busier, costlier … a business motto for 2012
Times Online - UK
Although if you are working in high-tech medical research, London has some of the finest academic establishments in the world (London’s higher education
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Centre for Higher Education Practice
University of Ulster Online - Coleraine,UK
Professor Desmond Hunter has been seconded to Staff Development for up to a three year period to head up a pedagogic support unit and to provide academic
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Troubled university’s merger plan
BBC News - UK
A troubled university is in talks with other higher education institutions about a possible merger. Lampeter university in Ceredigion, the oldest in Wales
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UK slipping down graduate league
BBC News - UK
Getting half of all young people to enter higher education would, so we were told, devalue university degrees. Graduates would find it difficult to get jobs
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Bradford students rack up £80 million of debt
Bradford Telegraph Argus - Bradford,England,UK
But Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Higher Education, said: “I want people to aim for university confident that they’ll have the help they need to fund
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Students praise course teaching
BBC News - UK
But a spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) said the Kingston matter was a “very specific case”. “It [the National Student
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Minister wants to ‘lower threshold for complaints’ against
Independent - London,England,UK
John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said yesterday that he wanted the Quality Assurance Agency, which monitors higher education standards,
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How to Advertise
times higher education - London,England,UK
The Times Higher Education Supplement has been at the heart of the UK’s higher education sector for over 36 years. During this time it has built a solid
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Students more satisfied than ever before
times higher education - London,England,UK
A total of 149 higher education institutions from across the UK took part in the survey, with almost 210000 students taking part.
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UCISA Survey: Technology Enhanced Learning For Higher Education in the UK

UCISA have recently published results from the 2008 survey on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL).

The survey is the fourth in a series of surveys which have, over time, looked at the adoption of what have variously been described as VLEs, e-learning, MLEs and now ‘technologically enhanced learning’ tools.

The survey records increased use in technology enhanced learning the primary drivers being improving quality and meeting student expectations. The most important influencing factors in encouraging this are identified as committed local champions and the availability of internal funding. ‘Lack of time’ is still seen as the biggest barrier to uptake.

In terms of institutional provision of a centralised VLE Blackboard is still the most dominant platform (47%), followed by WebCT (23%) and Moodle (11%). When respondents were asked to list all the VLEs used within the institution Moodle was the most commonly used platform (55%) followed by Blackboard (50%) and WebCT (31%). The authors of the report suggest that this disparity reflects "a trend towards the adoption of Moodle across the sector … at departmental/school level and has not extended to institutional systems to date".

[At the end of the day I suppose it doesn't matter what VLE you have but how you use it that counts. Its also interesting to note different disciplinary approaches to TEL. This was picked up by David Muir who is blogging from ECER 2008 - VLE Use in Higher Education]

The full UCISA report is available here

The week in Higher Education (Week 36)

Not philistine, just practical - UK
It’s certainly true that the expansion of the higher education system since the 1950s has resulted in wider access to a university education.
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Academia and the NHS - bridging the gap
Health Service Journal - London,UK
The initiative and funds for the programme came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s strategic development fund.
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Made in Britain: the man who can see an industrial renaissance
Independent - London,England,UK
They also want greater incentives to get the young through higher education. The next priorities on the CBI’s hitlist are energy security and climate change
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Comment: How universities and graduates can thrive
Independent - London,England,UK
The extent to which this happens in UK higher education institutions varies. An NCGE study – Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education – mapped
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Providing vital information
Aberdeen Press and Journal - Aberdeen,Scotland,UK
Rachel Sandison, head of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The Grampian Higher Education Convention is a prime
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First Minister marks the opening of new university
WalesOnline - United Kingdom
These three colleges united in 1976 forming the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education. In 1992, this title changed to Swansea Institute of Higher
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Wales ‘Must do better’ in education, says professor
WalesOnline - United Kingdom
It should also be noted that capacity within the Higher Education system to monitor, evaluate and develop new educational policies may also have been absent
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Higher education funding ‘is broken’
Public Servant Online - Staffordshire,UK
The system of funding higher education is broken and the government shouldn’t try to ignore that fact, the National Union of Students has said in a report.
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Students in colleges have no one to complain to – so is it time
Independent - London,England,UK
If higher education is anything to go by, an FE ombudsman will be kept busy. Last year, the number of complaints made to the OIA rose by 25 per cent to 734.
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Education Officer
The Engineer - London,UK
Educated to degree level, you will need direct experience of planning and delivering attractive student programmes and events at the Higher Education level.
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Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks

I’m returning to university and wonder if you could recommend a gadget for note taking? I’d like to use my MacBook - typing would be easier than writing - but I’m not sure it would be practical. Is there a device designed for note taking?

Guardian Gadget Clinic, 23rd August 2008

This question appeared in the Guardian Gadget Clinic recently and the recommendation by Bobbie Johnson was to stick with the MacBook because of it’s larger keyboard and screen or alternatively go for a low cost PDA or a smartphone. An alternative family of devices not mentioned in the article are Netbooks.

These devices are defined by Wikipedia as “small-sized, low-cost, light weight, lean function subnotebooks optimized for Internet access and core computing functions (e.g. word processing)”. The first modern Netbook* hit the UK market in November 2007 was the ASUS eeePC 701. I was fortunate to be one of the first to hand over £230 and get my hands on a 701 and it has been close to my side ever since. So 10 months on if I was looking for a Netbook what would I be looking for?

Operating system - go for Windows

The majority of Netbooks have the option of Linux or Windows operating systems. When I got the 701 the only option was Linux which for me was a great opportunity to learn a new operating system. I’ve found that Linux does need a lot of behind the scenes tweaking to get it to work with some wireless networks and Bluetooth devices.  My advice would be either to buy with Windows or go for the cheaper Linux version and install Windows (if your campus agreement allows it).

Connectivity - wireless + Bluetooth

There are a number of manufacturers making very small Bluetooth adapters

The majority of Netbooks come with your standard wireless 801.1b/g connection. Having a Ethernet connection has come in handy when in the office. Built-in Bluetooth is a bonus but if it doesn’t come as standard you can get a small plug-in dongle for less than £10. For a data connection when your in a wireless blackspot you can use a USB modem dongle. The latest Netbooks are now including built-in sim cards to give you a data connection over 3G networks. Personally, I don’t like the idea of been locked into a contract  and the monthly tariffs still seem very high. My solution is to share the data connection on my mobile phone. Windows Mobile 6 is particularly good at sharing an Internet connection via Bluetooth. Here are other ways to connect to the Internet via a mobile phone (I personally use a PAYG account with the ’3′ network who have a £5/month fair-use Internet add-on).

Screen resolution - at least 1024×600

As the majority of web pages are designed for a screen width of 1024 pixels I would recommend that this is the minimum resolution you should go for (Note: there is a difference between screen resolution and viewable image size. It’s possible to have a small screen with a high resolution, so check the devices specification). Screen height is often an issue with Netbooks because of the widescreen format. Space can also be quickly eaten up by toolbars and drop down menus. In Firefox this can be overcome with carefully selected themes and add-ons. I recommend Compact Classic theme and Glazoom zoom extension.

Storage - 8Gb SSD

If you are prepared to do some windows maintenance, removing temporary files, 8Gb is enough to install windows and office applications. I would recommend going for a solid state drive (SSD) because it has no moving parts which should make it more reliable.

Size - keep it compact (225x165mm)

If you have nimble typing fingers I find a width of 225mm is the most you need for a decent size keyboard. I recently got a chance to see some of the new Netbooks from HP and Acer and felt that there portability was compromised by a larger keyboard.

Cost - less than £250

I don’t see a Netbook as a replacement for my home PC or laptop, but as a device I’m happy to chuck in my bag for when I’m out and about. Consequently, its a device I don’t want to spend too much money on. My original attraction to the ASUS eeePC 701 was its portability but it was it’s price which made it a justifiable purchase.

Which Netbook would I buy?

So if I was going to buy a Netbook today which one would I buy (new Netbooks are being announced regulatly so the list will quickly become obsolete).

  • ASUS eeePC 701 - Screen too small and not enough disk space.
  • ASUS eeePC 900 - Enough screen resolution, disk space and a similar compact form of the 701. At around £260 I might be tempted but the batery life is supposed to be poor.
  • ASUS eeePC 901 - Again similar compact form of the 701 and 900. More performance from the Intel Atom processor and integrated Bluetooth. This issue for me with the 901 is price.
  • Acer Aspire One - This ticks all the boxes and with a Linux version with 12Gb SSD you can pick one up for £200. I was almost tempted to buy as a replacement to my 701 but when I went to see it in the shop it immedaitely looked too bulky for me.
  • MSI Wind - It has a 10″ screen but the maximum resolution is only 1024×600. The bigger screen just adds bulk and drains the battery quicker.
  • HP Mininote - While having a 8.9″ screen it boasts a screen resolution of 1280 X 768. At 1.3kg its too heavy and bulky for me. Your also paying a premium for the HP branding.
  • Elonex One - Hmm, at £100 the price makes it very appealing but the screen is too small and the spec reflects the price. One of the worst keybaords I’ve ever used. Not for me.
  • Dell Inspiron Mini - Released 2 days ago. Currently Dell are only offering the higher spec Windows XP version with 1Gb RAM at £300. Potentially this device has everting I want but the price isn’t right yet.

In summary my ideal Netbook isn’t available for the right price yet but I’m sure with such a competive market I may be retiring my 701 soon (possibly for the Dell Mini).

Do Virtual Worlds have a Place in Education?

Virtual Worlds 2008

This is the question being asked by the Scottish Regional Support Centres and Higher Education Academy (Scotland) at the Virtual Worlds Conference at the University of Stirling on the 29th October 2008.

Unlike many other events which deal with virtual worlds, like Second Life, this event is designed around giving participants hands-on experience of using this technology, seeing how virtual worlds are already being used to enhance teaching and learning.

For those new to life seen through the eyes of an avatar, the Scottish RSCs will also be running a series of workshops around Scotland to familiarise delegates with Second Life - one of the applications used to demonstrate learning sequences during the hands-on sessions.

Date:       Wednesday, 29th October
Venue:    University of Stirling
Cost:       £50

Click here for more information and conference registration


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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