Science & Education News Digest: May 2017

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

This month we’re talking tuition fees, top tips for digital learning, and student resilience among other things.

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

The pros and cons of abolishing tuition fees (Wonkhe)

“It appears that a promise to abolish fees is now a required manifesto promise for any major political party going into a UK election that they do not expect to win.” The £9000 tuition fees have been in force for a few years now, but they’re still very much a topic of conversation. This month Labour has announced scrapping the fees as a major part of its manifesto.

But the money’s gotta come from somewhere, so what’s it going to cost - and who’ll be footing the bill?


Education / Technology / Pedagogy


Digital Learning - how to keep your students switched on (The Guardian)

“If you want a student to engage in an online activity, you need to ensure they understand the task, and its meaning and relevance.” One of a range of tops offered by an instructional designer.

The tips may sound self-evident, but concern pitfalls familiar to many e-learning staff. When considering digital learning, watch out for over-complicating, dumping monolithic text on students or shifting goalposts by constantly changing the nature and appearance of activities. Simplicity and consistency are key.


Two thirds of Scottish students think staff need to improve their digital skills to keep up (Jisc)

It’s not only students who need to keep on top of digital learning - it’s an important part of academic life which is increasingly unavoidable.

Over half (54%) of those surveyed said they thought tech was progressing faster than educational institutions could adapt, and nearly four-fifths (79%) expressed the need for regular staff training in education technology.

The survey ties in with Jisc’s Connect More, which is focussing this year on digital capabilities of staff and students. This series of events during June and July in seven cities around the UK: including Glasgow, London and Learning Science’s home city of Bristol.


Student Life

Defining student resilience (hepi)

“‘Resilience’ has stealthily crept into higher education consciousness to become the latest buzzword.” But what is it, and how can we encourage it?

A new report from Dr Emily McIntosh from the University of Bolton and Jenny Shaw from Unite Students, discusses student resilience. According to the authors, resilience is a tangible trait - one which is correlated with higher life satisfaction.

Importantly, they argue resilience is not a fixed trait. Instead it can be developed through various teaching methods and the right environment.

In society, mental health is increasingly acknowledged and yet more strained. Talking about resilience could add a new dimension to the conversations about student health and welfare.

Cool new science!

Image Credit: Felix Moser / MIT. Click for source.

Image Credit: Felix Moser / MIT. Click for source.


Bacteria with multicolour vision (MIT)

Researchers at MIT have genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to be able to detect red green or blue light, and switch on different genes based on the colours they “see”.

As a lighthearted proof of principle, one application involved placing the E. coli on the petri dish with an image, such as a basket of fruit. The bacteria produced a red pigment under red light, same with blue and green.

After an 18 hour development period, the petri dish itself takes on the image. You’ve heard of painting by numbers, but this is painting by science!

Besides the aesthetic qualities, using light to control how bacteria behave would be a great boon to all kinds of research - growing the same bacteria under different lighting to switch a specific gene on or off.

The study, published in Nature Chemical Biology can be found here.


The ‘Alien Megastructure’ Star in Dimming again (The Atlantic)

There’s something very strange about Tabby’s Star (also known as KIC 8462852).

The star has getting brighter and dimmer in irregular ways - not the regular patterns that would be expected by planets passing in front. Astrophysicists tend not to jump to the “alien” conclusion, but in this case it might indeed be worthy of consideration.

Data analysed by citizen scientists over the last few years tracked these dimmings, but meanwhile the star itself was being annoyingly stable!

However on the 19th May, Dr Boyajian (AKA Tabby herself) announced the star was dipping again - rallying astronomers to point their telescopes to the star, hoping to get a real-time picture of what’s going on. Alien or otherwise, it’s certainly looking interesting!


We hope you enjoyed this News Digest issue. If you have any feedback, please via Twitter or email.