Science & Education News Digest: June 2017

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

There’s been some moving and shaking since our last News Digest. There’s a new parliament, after a bit of a delay and much ongoing debate. The TEF Year 2 results have also been announced, also after a bit of a delay and much ongoing debate!

Jisc reports findings of a 22,000-strong survey of students and their use of digital learning at their institutions.

We also look at the connection between birds’ egg and wing shape, and how drones could be replanting a forest in the next few years.

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

Teaching Excellence Framework: Postponement of Year Two results announcement (HEFCE)

The TEF results for Year 2 were postponed by a week and a half, as detailed in a letter to University Vice-Chancellors from Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE.

The decision was made by the Department for Education, “following the outcome of the general election… pre-election (or ‘purdah) restrictions on public announcements will continue until a new Government has been formed”. Said election results being, of course, the hung parliament.

TEF results 2017 (THE)

However, the TEF results did indeed come out, and they did indeed cause a stir.

Of the 21 Russell Group universities, which traditionally come high in other rankings, only 8 were assigned Gold status, and 10 received Silver.

Currently TEF assesses Universities at an Institutional level, so teaching in Physics could be graded together with French Studies, for example.

TEF is entered into voluntarily, but only by submitting to the procedure and coming out with Silver or higher will Institutions be able to raise fees in line with inflation.

The results have only heightened the discussions around the validity of TEF in its current format.

President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur from UCL (awarded Silver) says: “We support the fundamental idea behind the TEF, promoting and recognising excellent teaching and learning… We look forward to working with HEFCE to develop the framework into a robust and reliable measure of quality”.

However, Sir Christopher Snowden former Universities UK president and currently Vice Chancellor for the University of Southampton (awarded Bronze) accused the current iteration of TEF as being “fundamentally flawed”, and the results having “no logic” behind them.

Graduate outcomes for all students by University (

This month, the Department for Education has published official statistics on employment and earnings of UK graduates.

The main summary text includes figures on the distribution of incomes of graduates from various subject areas, and comparisons in male:female median earnings within each field.


EdTech / Student life

Student digital experience tracker 2017: the voice of 22,000 UK learners (Jisc)

This is the title of a recently released report from Jisc. In a blogpost and a news release, some key findings are highlighted.

For example, 80% of students report having reliable Wifi access at their institution. This is a majority, but still leaves a fifth of students unsatisfied. Given the prevalence and importance of online learning, including e-assessments in Higher Education, this could be a key limiting factor. In FE colleges, this number is even lower, with 69% satisfied with the Wifi access they rely on for their studies.

Also, 95% of HE students use online learning materials, but 42% had never used an educational simulation or game to support their learning. Here at Learning Science we believe this represents missed opportunities - and aim for that number to increase over the coming years!


Cool new science!

Pointy wings, pointy eggs: birds’ flight ability influence egg shapes (Forbes)

Why are eggs so egg-shaped? Well, the answer isn’t particularly straightforward. Among bird species, “egg-shaped” actually means all shapes and sizes. Near-spherical eggs, like those of owls, are more uniformly strong and require less shell-calcium for a given volume. However conical or oval-shaped eggs, common among seabirds and waders, can contain more respiration pores and pack better together.

Why such variety? Professor Mary Stoddard from Princeton University headed up a cross-disciplinary and international study to look for trends and patterns.

After analysing nearly 50,000 eggs from 1,400 bird species, one interesting correlation emerged: aerial ability.

Why? Birds evolved for strong, powerful flight generally have narrower oviducts, and could constrain the egg-shape during initial laying stages. Conical or elliptical eggs reduce overall girth - useful if width is at a premium.


Planting a forest with drone seed-bombing (Factor Daily)

A new forest restoration project started this month in southern India.

Professor KPG Reddy from IISc Bangalore, India, remembers a time from his youth when the region was green and the river flows. Now it’s dry, brown and barren - and he believes climate change is making it worse.

In an effort to stimulate regrowth, he has plans for 10,000 acres-worth of seeds over three years. The method? Drones. Large aircraft is too costly, and the steep hills are challenging or inaccessible for ground access. Drones can also photograph the area and geotag their paths.

It’s not going to be easy, or even guaranteed to work, but Reddy is optimistic the forests he use to play in and the wildlife he used to enjoy could be back before too long.


We hope you enjoyed this issue of News Digest, from Learning Science. If you know of articles, case studies or events which may be of interest to us – send us the link via Twitter or email.