Science & Education News Digest: Feb 2017

Welcome to Learning Science’s News Digest for February 2017.

In case you missed the inaugural edition, each month we feature news stories, articles and blogs from across the Internet on topics including Higher Education Policy, education and tech innovations and other aspects of modern student life.

Here at Learning Science we are approaching our 10-year anniversary, an opportunity to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. So we were particularly interested in the new NMC Horizons Report on upcoming education technology. See the Guest Topic section below for more details, and stay tuned for our anniversary articles and lists later this year.

Wrapping up with some interesting science stories from this month, we learned how diamonds could be the key to turning certain nuclear waste into long-life batteries, and the real reason honeybees say “whoop!”.

If you know of articles, case studies or events which may be of interest to us – send us the link via Twitter or email.

Higher Ed Policy / News

UK Universities ‘must embrace technology or risk falling behind’ (Times HE)
Universities in the UK currently have a competitive advantage in their adoption of technology enhanced learning (TEL). However institutions from other countries are catching up, and if UK investment in TEL doesn’t keep pace, it risks falling behind. In the report, which was run by Jisc and published by Hepi, TEL was found to increase student learning outcomes at a delivery-cost saving of over 30%.

Johnson revs up plans for fast-track degrees (Wonkhe)
Two-year accelerated Bachelor’s programmes have recently been championed by Universities minister, Jo Johnson. Rather than reducing course content, the fast-track courses would instead utilise non-teaching weeks, adding an extra 15-weeks to the 30-week “full time” programme.
Besides confusion about fee levels, this raises questions of logistics (many unis currently use that time for outreach and refurbishment) and learning outcomes (will students burn out from lack of downtime, or suffer for lack of summer projects or other extra-curricular experiences?)


Pedagogy of Education / Technology

The curious world of ‘productive pedagogies’ (Filling the pail)
“‘Productive Pedagogies’ is a balanced theoretical framework enabling teachers to reflect critically on their work”, according to QSRLS, the organisation that developed the approach. In this post, Greg Ashman critiques the way productive pedagogies is implemented and asks what the associated literature is really telling us, in terms of student learning and assessment results.

How to optimise the flipped classroom using cognitive science (Learning from e-learning)
The notion of the “flipped classroom” is increasingly popular. By putting student’s main workload before the learning activity rather than afterwards, the intention is to enhance the deep, active learning potential of each contact period. Here, Anna Wood shares tips for this approach, using cognitive science principles including retrieval practice and spaced learning.


Student life

Half of £9000-per-year graduates now back living with parents (Independent)
Of the recent graduates who paid ~£9000 a year in tuition fees, 47% have moved back in with their parents, according to an NUS report. The tuition fees were tripled in 2012. Besides the tuition fee tripling Rising house prices and general cost-of-living expenses like rail fares - both of which are rising much faster than wages - are thought to be major factors in the decisions faced by recent graduates.

Plan to crack down on websites selling essays to students announced (The Guardian)
The UK government plans to introduce measures against students purchasing coursework from over 100 “essay mill” websites. Paid ghostwriters can avoid detection by anti-plagiarism software, disrupting learning and assessment efforts.
Universities can create and enforce plagiarism policies under their own discretion, but the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is now recommending new laws as reinforcement. Penalties for cheating could include fines up to £5000. The new guidance is expected to come out ahead of the 2017/18 academic year.


Guest Topic: NMC Horizon Report

What’s on the horizon for education technologies? This month, the New Media Consortium (NMC) published its 14th Horizon Report (and a shorter companion preview). The report sets out to identify upcoming trends, associated challenges and major developments in the field of education technologies.

Some key findings include:

  • Adoption of more blended learning programmes, providing the optimum balance of self-study online and face-to-face contact time.
  • A growing focus on learning metrics and analytics through enhanced data collection and processing.
  • Moving away from traditional lecture-based programmes and towards a system that more closely resembles “real-world” work, with physical learning spaces redesigned to accommodate this.  


Cool new science!

Diamonds turn nuclear waste into nuclear batteries (New Atlas)
Nuclear waste isn’t all rubbish. Researchers from the University of Bristol have converted radioactive carbon into diamonds which could be safely used in batteries that last for thousands of years. The diamonds are made of carbon-14 extracted from graphite blocks that became increasingly radioactive from decades of use in Britain's now-decommissioned Magnox reactors.

Honeybees let out a ‘whoop’ when they bump into each other (New Scientist)
There’s more to honeybee communication than buzzes and waggle dances! They also let out occasional “whoop” sounds, detectable when one bee headbutts another in an attempt to prevent it waggle-dancing. The whoop was assumed to come from the aggressor bee as a “stop” signal, but research from Nottingham Trent University showed it actually comes from the bee being bumped, and could be more like an expression of surprise!