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    Archive for the 'Matt’s Musings' Category

    UniVRsity – augmenting higher education with VR

    By Matt Jenner, on 5 May 2015

    Virtual reality (VR) has been hanging around for the best part of all your life and you’ve probably never tried it. But soon you might – it’s getting close to the mainstream. Gaming is often the focus for immersive technology but movies, simulations, social media, marketing and ‘edutech’ all have eyes on VR; curiously experimenting with what’s possible.

    What is VR?

    “Virtual reality is an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment”
    TechTarget.

    Hanging around the tributaries

    VR is booming in early innovation tech circles and it’s keen to play on the main circuit with the other tech that is taking over improving lives. We don’t know if this will happen, obviously, but for the sake of learning, we’re exploring what’s going on in VR and being in e-learning, we’re doing it with an educational focus. New major technologies don’t tend to come around that often, the Internet was pretty major, as were smartphones and social media. Game-changing, life-changing, readily accessible technology isn’t made easily. But when it comes; you’ll know it.

    VR might not ever go mainstream, and that’s OK. 

    History

    The promise of virtual reality has always been enormous but has never quite lived up to the hype. The idea that you put on goggles, physically go nowhere but transform into anywhere is magical. With modern VR, this is increasingly viable – but that’s not always been the case.

    VR in 2014 – “it was able to cross that threshold into presence where your brain is saying ‘Well, this is real’ and that difference is fundamentally the difference between VR that’s a promise and VR that’s actually here.”
    Cory Ondrejka, co-creator of Second Life and VP of engineering at Facebook

    VR was pretty bad in 1980s/1990s and did not get popular. Computer graphics were pixelated and that has a huge impact on the VR experience. You might remember any of the period between 8-bit games and Sony Playstation / Microsoft Xbox. Gameplay was compelling but the graphics were not close to realistic. The term ‘video game’ has always been slightly jarring; but now in the early 21st Century the live graphics rendering of computer graphics is very advanced; games and videos are becoming indistinguishable.

    Evolution of Lara Croft

    Evolution of Lara Croft 1997 (Eidos Interactive) to 2014 (Square Enix)

    Convergence of graphics and video

    Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has become very popular in the films industry. In early movies — like Jaws — big mechanical contraptions convinced us to be terrified of open water. Jurassic Park and Terminator II used CGI to encourage the real idea of fantasy and global destruction. The movie and games industries are merging; at least in terms of technology and invention. Blending CGI into real scenes has come a long way since Who Framed Rodger Rabbit; it’s now barely noticeable until something crazy-expensive or physically impossible happens. The offshoot of this is one industry can take the advances discovered elsewhere and then apply in their domain (or just gobble them up).

    Virtual Boy by Nintendo and a screenshot of a game. Released 1995.

    Virtual Boy by Nintendo and a screenshot of a game. Released 1995.

    1990 – VR != Popular

    The first steps into VR, mine at least, were to try a ‘Virtual Boy’ from Nintendo. The image above shows what it was like. Few but the dedicated player wanted one of these, Nintendo’s console didn’t sell well and sadly now they are expensive collectable items on shelves and clogging up eBay.

    1990/2010 – VR = wha?

    Mostly silence, ideas brewing and related technology advances…

    2010 onwards

    Oculus Rift released in 2012

    Oculus Rift released in 2012

    Bang – it begins. A particular Kickstarter project got some attention and raised over $2m from a modest $250k goal. The early backers got development hardware and some even had to build it themselves from kits. This, by the way, in development technology circles, only excites people. In 2014 the second development kit for Oculus was released and many more people began to play and make VR. Oculus Rift was leading the field and  many others were joining in.

    MIT Technology Review - VR headsets - how they work

    MIT Technology Review – VR headsets – how they work. Source.

    Oculus and others created headsets which when worn surround your eyes with into a virtually simulated space. When you turn your head, the space changes to naturally turn with you. Look up, see up, go down, yup – down it goes. It’s the same for any other direction. During 2014 Oculus Rift was purchased by Facebook for $2bn. If VR needed extra attention; it got it in 2014.

    Going mainstream – a few challenges

    Google released 'Cardboard' a low-threshold version which converts smartphones into VR machines (kinda...)

    Google released ‘Cardboard’ a low-threshold version which converts smartphones into VR machines (kinda…)

    A good way for tech to be mainstream is for it to be useful and affordable. Google released ‘Cardboard‘, not to directly compete with Oculus, but mainly as a tech-demo / developer eye-opener. Costing more like $20 and using all the wizardry of your smartphone & some lenses, Cardboard proves that consumer-grade hardware is [pretty much] already here. It’s not very physically aesthetic, or comfortable, but it works and it’s in your pocket right now.

    Smartphones might hold a part of the promise for consumer-friendly, cheap, VR and VR-related development. Hardware manufacturers are in a bit of an arms-race to get their smartphone-extenders into people’s homes. But there’s no major killer-app, yet. In other words; no-one knows why they want this & that’s problematic.

    And that’s where we are right now. 

    VR in education

    I would be confident to say this isn’t yet a field. Few people are active in the space of education and virtual reality. But that’s not a reason to be disinterested; in fact this is a great time to get involved, play, learn and understand more.

    Developing VR content

    This part remains tricky – creating multimedia content usually means a lot of talk and tech for the creation, and use of, video, images and text. 3D is not a commonly cited ‘media’ within the multimedia toolkit. Support is specialist/ non-existent and creation costs can grow quickly. This casts doubt over the rise of VR in education; but there’s no evidence to suggest this should remain the case.

    VR and Video

    Kodak SP360 camera records in 360 degrees, playback can then be 'discoverable'

    Kodak SP360 camera records in 360 degrees, playback can then be ‘discoverable’

    Video appears like this in a recording - but is then mapped onto a sphere, so it's then visibly flat again (think: Earth).

    Video appears like this in a recording – but is then mapped onto a sphere, so it’s then visibly flat again (think: Earth).

    Video, largely, is easy to make – turn on a camera and ‘do your thing’. Strapping on a VR headsets puts you in a world which you can be connected to and feel a part of. VR and video means a user can move (turn, pan, tilt) within that capture (or live) experience.

    Kittens

    Yeah, kittens.

    Yeah, kittens.

    In one example the camera is placed in a centre of a cage. Using your head enables you to turn around and watch felines play, eat, sleep etc. I have never felt so small; watching tall humans walk by from my tiny cage. TALK TO ME BIG SCARY PEOPLE! I felt like a kitten. I wondered what do kittens think? Are they scared or just kinda sleepy? Kitten empathy came easily. A similar, more serious but less cute, outcome has emerged at the UN who are using VR to capture life in Syrian Refugees, and the daily life of people.

    Augment, not replace, real

    VR does not replace real experiences. Mostly. Instead you can explore places or things in VR that are just not possible. This might be because of cost, feasibility, scale or simply ‘freedom’. For example travelling to the sun or through the nervous system would be really, really hard, especially if you wanted to return home afterwards. Reliving, interactively, an event or experience is a huge challenge. Seeing every possible angle requires many eyes. With VR opportunities arise that were only imaginable before. VR, however, can be used to just add a new layer, perspective or experience onto the existing.

    In education VR offers chances for connecting, disseminating, exploring or revisiting – and probably more.

    Connect

    Loneliness is cited as a problematic component of distance learning. I am not sure, yet, if VR can solve this challenge. But loneliness can come in many forms; if one is simply not feeling part of a group or culture; then I see this as a very cheap way of connecting someone to their campus, cohort or subject. International flight, as a means of connecting people, seems potentially wasteful. Instead VR might offer opportunities to connect people in ways we’ve never quite had before or just simulate stuff we do right now, meeting, talking, showing, etc.

    Disseminate

    Using VR to share findings with others. A top researcher may never have the time to explore all their findings, patterns, data, visualisations or other outputs from their research. With VR others can explore it as much as they like. There may brew open, shared environments – imagine ‘Physicsverse – a space to dump all your experiments’ simulating known physical rules, VR users can go and play, and combine, all the experiments. Maybe even discover something new..?

    Explore

    A camera can travel to places human bodies struggle with – in VR you can live the experience as if you were there. Gestures might control the robotic camera, and then you’ve got a live, immersive experience. Virtual worlds can be a model of fantasy or mapped out reality. Google have already snapped many of the world’s streets to a level of detail that you can now, in VR, go and walk down.  If you want to…

    Revisit

    VR provides a re-liveable experience for common, or abnormal activities. What is it like to be on the Apollo Space Programme, a kitten (see above), waking into a building, going down a hill on a roller coaster, skydiving from a plane or even being eaten by a cow. Video and models can capture or create the scenery but VR can let you visit time and time again. During each iteration you may focus on a different area; imagine a film where depending on which character you follow the film adapts to your viewing habits. Or you could rewatch that lecture, if you want to =) 

     

    For now

    I honestly have no firm idea but it’s really interesting to try and find out. We have some Oculus Rift and Cardboard VR kit to try and understand what it all means. The future is exciting in this space – but it’s not quite ready yet. VR will remain on the periphery for a little while longer. But don’t let that put you off; it could be quite transformational.

    Online courses as digital services; taxes and teachers

    By Matt Jenner, on 24 April 2015

    Fully online courses, with non-matriculated learners, are classified as ‘digital services’ and their income is subject to VAT (currently 20%). This levy applies to the fees charged. You don’t have to add tax if you add teachers instead; but does it all add up?

    Types of learners and courses

    Let’s make the first point crystal clear – we’re talking about non-matriculated learners here.  These kind of courses are generally branded as CPD and Short Courses; anything offered which you learn online but do not become a registered student of that institution or provider.

    The rules affect only fully online courses. If your course is face to face or blended / hybrid / mixed mode delivery, i.e. it has a face to face component, then tax does not apply. Your fully online course might also be known as distance learning – but it means there’s no physical fixed environment in which learners attend and they do not get awarded university credits or a degree.

    Credit bearing degree or Face to face teaching = not taxed. 

    E-services and Digital Services

    There is a UK Gov definition of what constitutes as an ‘e-service’ or ‘digital service’. These are the terms the UK Government use when defining a broad catalogue of things ‘electronically supplied’. The definition of ‘electronically supplied’ “covers e-services which are automatically delivered over the internet, or an electronic network, where there is minimal or no human intervention” (Gov.uk). The definition is not comprehensive, and judgement is required from the provider. And I must add if you’re unsure please consult HMRC on Vat2015.contact@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk or your tax/financial/legal advisors.

    Included on the Gov.uk site is a list of examples to help clarify what might be classified as an e-service, or digital service:

    Service e-service Electronically supplied? Covered by the new rules
    Pdf document manually emailed by seller Yes No No
    Pdf document automatically emailed by seller’s system Yes Yes Yes
    Pdf document automatically downloaded from site Yes Yes Yes
    Stock photographs available for automatic download Yes Yes Yes
    Live webinar No No No
    Online course consisting of pre-recorded videos and downloadable pdfs Yes Yes Yes
    Online course consisting of pre-recorded videos and downloadable pdfs plus support from a live tutor Yes No No
    Individually commissioned content sent in digital form eg, photographs, reports, medical results Yes No No
    Link to online content or download sent by manual email Yes Yes Yes

     

    I think what’s important to note are the two above which are highlighted (and that apparently they are not classified electronically supplied – this bit is important).

    The European Commission provides further clarification on the definition of a digital service in their ‘Explanatory notes on the EU VAT changes to the place of supply of telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services that enter into force in 2015’ publication (EC – pg. 85).

    Explanatory notes on the EU VAT changes to the place of supply of telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services that enter into force in 2015- nighttime reading for good teachers :-)

    Explanatory notes – nighttime reading
    for good teachers =*)

    There’s a lot to digest here, but their overview is:

    ‘Electronically supplied services’ as referred to in Directive 2006/112/EC shall include services which are delivered over the Internet or an electronic network and the nature of which renders their supply essentially automated and involving minimal human intervention, and impossible to ensure in the absence of information technology.

    Emphasis added – but it helps make my point; if you’re running online courses just be cautious around full automation. This would be defined as a self-paced, self-assessed (or automatically assessed) course with no critical teacher-based human input (i.e. it’s not automated). The EC are pretty clear that their “explanatory notes are not legally binding and only contain practical and informal guidance about how EU law should be applied on the basis of the views of the Commission’s Directorate General for Taxation and Customs Union” (EC report – P1). Pretty reasonable; we need to interpret and not jump to incorrect conclusions.

    My interpretation of digital services is there’s been a digital transformation to business this millennium and it is right that a TAX is applied to businesses profiting from this. I see it as if you’re selling  something, we want a slice of the profits to prop up the economy – and this is totally fair. For digital services I imagine it’s to do with scale; Apple iTunes can sell a [nearly] unlimited number of MP3 files, no problem. Professor Famous can’t teach an unlimited number of people, at some stage they’re going to crack, the quality will drop, the interactions fail, and something needs to change.

    As the rules are interpretative it seems from the new guidance that if you provide human-based interaction between learners and teachers (or facilitators) then you’re less likely to be classified as a digital service. Surely it’s therefore better to not say ‘avoiding tax’ but instead ‘adding value’ by adding teachers?

    Well, let’s try some simple calculations:

    Income = course fees – expenses (I=C-E)

    I run a course which teaches 20 people, they each pay £1000 (it’s pretty good)

    Example A – Fully online course

    • Fees = £20,000 (20 x £1,000)
    • Expenses = £4,000 (Tax on income of £20,000)
    • Income = £16,000 (£20,000 – £4,000)

    Example B – Facilitated online course

    • Fees = £20,000 (20 x £1,000)
    • Expenses = £4,000 (paying a teacher)
    • Income = £16,000 (£20,000 – £4,000)
    • Bonus – someone just got paid £4,000 to teach 20 people something

    Relax: There’s always tax

    Tax is inevitable, and perfectly acceptable – we need it. The point is you could’ve weighed up paying a teacher instead and likely boosted the learning experience. In Example B less (or more) than £4,000 could’ve been paid to a teacher; so the net income is still reduced – but it’s gone somewhere else. The teacher will still pay some level of income tax, so let’s not get too far into an anti-tax agenda.

    Also the fees could’ve also been much lower, but even at £100 each, the £400 spent on a teacher still seems like a solid investment. It does make checking your numbers a good idea; i.e. what’s a sustainable income required to keep this going / scale accordingly for projected fee:learner levels.

    It’s not avoiding, or saving, it’s enhancing learning with teachers!

    Learning online is lonely

    Learning online is lonely

    Learning with peers, and a teacher is a good thing. There is a vast array of data, research-informed evidence and general ‘feeling’ that teachers are needed. Quite frankly if teachers were not needed, they’d probably have been replaced by computers as quickly as possible. Obviously there is a place for self-directed and peer-to-peer learning; but that’s not the point I’m making – all that good stuff can still exist. This post is merely indicating the situation regarding tax and teaching. Take away the teacher, add the tax. It’s illogical, to a large extent.

     

    Closing thoughts

    If you’re offer online courses as a digital service, and paying VAT, you might just want to reflect on this. If you consider adding in a teacher; it’ll likely improve the dynamic, enhance the learning and maybe even save you some money. But also remember one other thing; this article is written by an expert in education and technology, not a tax advisor. If you take this as tax advice, you need to re-evaluate your sources of knowledge. You should then browse HMRC.org and GOV.UK and speak to experts! Also this post is not the view of UCL – and if it gets me in trouble it might disappear pretty quickly… 

    I wrote this because I was genuinely surprised that tax is a variable factor for online courses. Tax is important, as is good education. I trust being slightly more informed you’ll make the right choices. I’d also welcome a debate on my interpretation of all this.

    Etymology of the e- in e-learning? Get out.

    By Matt Jenner, on 12 January 2015

    Based on a Christmas conversation about the etymology of emotion (e- = out, motion = move) my mum blurted out, “ah yes, like e-learning?” I wish! The idea of an externalised expression of one’s own learning, a variant on ‘visible learning’ as a colleague would put it, sounds like a no-brainer. I fear, however, that I must have either never clearly explained what e-learning means to my own mother and perhaps I’ve never really thought about it that much myself.

    Electronic-learning

    I presume e-learning meant the same as email, but evidence suggests it might not be. Electronic-learning, mail, commerce or cigarettes are not necessarily using the same e-concatenation. Wikipedia didn’t have the origin or etymology of e-learning, so in true journalistic style, I added the following:

    “The origin or etymology of e-learning is contested, with the e- part not necessarily meaning electronic as per e-mail or e-commerce. Coined between 1997 and 1999, e-learning became first attached to either a distance learning service or it was used for the first time at the CBT systems seminar. Since then the term has been used extensively to describe the use of online, personalised, interactive or virtual education.”

    Others in the educational technology space have suggested more expressive terms for the mysterious e-. These include “exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, educational” by Bernard Luskin or “everything, everyone, engaging, easy” by Eric Parks. If there’s no correct answer, we should enjoy that for as long as it lasts. There’s roots into historical computing and educational theory, but the term e-learning doesn’t even seem that old, which is surprising.

    Externalising learning

    In my experience; too much ‘e-learning’ is still long, scrolling pages of PDFs ad infinitum, raw materials made available via online tools and networks. If it’s supporting traditional face to face, I can live with it. But it’s not learning, not without well-constructed, meaningful learning outcomes and activities. Learning outcomes are critical, they link these resources into genuine learning activities that ‘make visible’ or indeed, put an ‘out’ type of e- into e-learning.

    In an online learning environment how do you, or a learner, know anyone has learnt, or done, anything? Externalised learning is surely the key. The idea of ‘making visible’ is critically important, learners should probably not work in isolation for too long. Personal study can still be highly interactive, and have ample opportunities to externalise thoughts, developments, questions, ideas etc. This is all done via the ‘out’, the externalised visible learning.

    Getting there – the importance of learning outcomes

    I’ve seen far too many course descriptions where the learning outcome is to ‘To be able to understand concept X’. Below is an example of how learning outcomes can vary, while all trying to achieve the same goal.

    Example

    By the end of this program, successful students will:

      Learning Outcome Analysis
    Option 1: Not an outcome Be given opportunities to learn effective communication skills Describes program content, not the attributes of successful students
    Option 2: Vague Have a deeper appreciation for good communication practices Does not start with an action verb or define the level of learning; subject of learning has no context and is not specific
    Option 3: Less vague Understand principles of effective communication Starts with an action verb, but does not define the level of learning; subject of learning is still too vague for assessment
    Option 4: Specific Communicate effectively in a professional environment through technical reports and presentations Starts with an action verb that defines the level of learning; provides context to ensure the outcome is specific and measurable

    Source – Examples of Learning Outcomes: Good and Bad

    I’m always so happy when I see one that even includes a challenging verb like analyse, classify, interpret, define, create or evaluate and more, more, more, more, etc.

    Writing good outcomes – the foundations of learning

    Writing good learning outcomes still seems like a continuous struggle, but it will be cracked. It will then result in improved online learning environments, structured learning, planned activities and more visible ‘out’ for the e- in e-learning. Or, well, that’s the plan.

    It’s in your Job Description

    Hopefully by next Christmas I’ll be able to explain to my mother what I do for a living, but she still thinks I work in IT. Which reminds me, I don’t think I finished updating her virus definitions either
    🙁

     

    Image credit:

    [1] – Out of my mind 2 – Creative Commons openclipart / Creator: mondspeer

    UCLeXtend update – November 2014

    By Matt Jenner, on 24 November 2014

    UCL’s new public-facing e-learning environment; UCLeXtend is ready and waiting for your ideas. Live since May 2013 it has attracted over 5000 learners and 23 courses. We revamped it in August 2014 and now it’s sitting pretty. But there’s a lot more to come, this is where you get involved. 

    Note: this post is largely written for an internal audience, apologies to external readers – do contact us (details below) if you have an enquiry.

    About UCLeXtend

    For those who don’t already know, it’s a Moodle-based online platform which can cater for a wide range of courses. Its core capability is to advertise courses, attract/process registrations and provide an online space for learning and teaching. Do take a look for yourself – http://extend.ucl.ac.uk 

    UCLeXtend homepage - November 2014

    UCLeXtend homepage in November 2014

    It can be used to support a range of ideas and activities and so far has been used for: 

    • CPD
    • Executive education
    • Conferences
    • Taster modules
    • Research dissemination
    • Mini-MOOCs
    • Self-paced study. 

    Some are free, others charge; some are open, others are closed/private. A few are fully online, and the majority support face to face activities. Around half are brand new – but others have been running for some time in other guises. Some are not even courses at all, and that’s OK too.  

    In brief; UCLeXtend is/offers:

    • Moodle based – get on the ground running;
    • Open registration – you do not need a UCL computer account to be a UCLeXtend learner / delegate / participant / etc. Anyone can register with their own email / password combination.
    • Payment processor – not everything in life is free, so UCLeXtend accepts most credit and debit cards (or the slower, pay-by-invoice option)
    • Free course provider – some things in life are free, you don’t have to charge for your course
    • Discounts and ‘bulk seats’ options – more information in the UCLeXtend 101 wiki

    Note: income derived from your UCLeXtend course goes directly to your department finance codes.

    Get involved & find out more

    Online guidance

    There’s a few more things to cover; but much of it is procedural or too bloaty for email. So instead; we’ve compiled online content that outlines a lot of the questions you may have, processes, a handful of forms and a few other things. Do take a look, it should cover a lot (but it’s still in development):

    https://wiki.ucl.ac.uk/display/UCLeXtend

    (UCL login required – top left of the wiki, sorry external folk)

    UCLeXtend drop-in session

    If you’re interested in exploring UCLeXtend  or have questions you want to ask please do get in touch. We’re also running a trial (one-off for now) session where you can come and ask questions, share your ideas and hear about what do next. We’ll do a demo of UCLeXtend and be on hand to talk with you. Feel free to come for the whole hour, or drop-in whenever you like. 

    Details

    2nd December 2014, 13:00 to 14:00 in Foster Court 233 

    If you can’t attend this we will look to put on more dates in the future (January onwards) or would rather do it via an online meeting or for us to come along to a departmental / faculty / teaching group session then just ask. 

    Getting started? Why not try a ‘CPD Wrapper’

    With so many options opening up; we felt it important to highlight one which is slightly easier to grasp and works well with existing provision. The concept is CPD Wrappers which we covered at the last Forum event in November. Here’s a presentation we made in E-Learning Environments which broadly outlines the ideas:

    Full URL: https://www.haikudeck.com/cpd-wrappers-uncategorized-presentation-AmK4CAMI4E

    If you’re interested in developing a ‘CPD wrapper’ (or anything else for UCLeXtend) get in touch with us, email is best – extend@ucl.ac.uk

    Contact us

    I don’t mind you contacting me directly, but you may find a faster (and more organised) response from the email above which goes to a shared inbox. Or come along to the session next Tuesday and we’ll go from there. 

    Hope to hear of your ideas soon!

    Rationale for UCLeXtend; opening up UCL Moodle

    By Matt Jenner, on 1 October 2014

    For around 18 months UCL has been piloting something new called UCLeXtend. This is a platform for courses that are available to the public. The rationale was simple; getting a computer account for UCL was too heavy-going and cost-prohibitive BUT there were many circumstances where just access to Moodle was the only requirement. We sought to address that with UCLeXtend.

    UCLeXtend homepage - https://extend.ucl.ac.uk

    UCLeXtend homepage  – https://extend.ucl.ac.uk

    I am sure many of you out there would appreciate the challenge; you have an online university environment that’s slowly filling with loads of great things and you want to prise it open, just a bit, so other people can come in too. We were inundated with reasons to do this but generally speaking it was so short course participants can have access to something that resembles a course hub.

    Alternatives

    Sure there are many ways to achieve this. Any creative type person can build a webpage somewhere and host a load of content. But that’s not a course hub; it’s a webpage full of content. How can users interact? Social media might provide one way forward, but not completely; there are gaps. While many tools exist out there there remained the need for something more ‘UCL’. Luckily putting branding aside, there are be other reasons to run an externally-facing course hub on internally-facing environments.

    Moodle

    moodle We’ve been using Moodle for about 8 years at UCL and it’s firmly embedded. For UCLeXtend we checked (with some help) a selection of 160 e-learning environments available on the market; and we still settled for another Moodle. Some platforms came close, but with hindsight, they were not appropriate for all use-cases.

    The original goal was to open Moodle to external audiences, and we have now done this. Additionally; UCLeXtend offers the opportunity to run a variety of courses, and what might seem like a small step-change in technical capability it has changed the landscape in which we can play in.

    Public/private

    A public course means anyone can sign-up and become a part. It might be limited in terms of ‘seats’ (places available) but it generally means you attract a wide audience and have a variety of people in the cohort. We built a course catalogue so you can promote a course and direct anyone to UCLeXtend for registration. Private courses are the opposite; they are not listed, they are advertised to a selective group and they hold up barriers to stop just anyone getting in. There’s really valid reasons for both.

    Free/premium

    Free courses come with the glamour and appeal of Moocs but do not always have to be on such a scale. A free course may be just trying to reduce the payment barrier to entry, and have no interest in attracting thousands of people. For serious, niche subjects, this is an asset worth bearing in mind. Premium courses are probably on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s OK to make money and offer a good quality course. They cost money to make and are worth spending money to take. UCLeXtend takes credit cards and payment by invoices.

    Open/closedlocked

    Open may be in terms of beer (see above) or as in speech. If an academic wants a completely open course, they can make this in UCLeXtend. Open comes in many flavours, and as long as it’s legal, we can try to support any wild idea that may exist in this space. On a lighter note; it means working with members of the public in an academic space can be supported by a UCLeXtend course. We think this is important. Closed courses are similar to private, they are not designed for everyone; professional CPD is one example, as would a project involving a vulnerable or specialist group. We don’t always want to open the doors to everyone when it’s not appropriate to do so.

    Not courses!?

    Not everyone is building a course, we have resources, workshops and ‘spaces’ already. I am sure we’ll see more variety in the future. Sometimes we have to refer to each use-case as something (course is default) but we welcome the challenge of supporting the ideas of the UCL community, so watch this space.

    Lessons learned

    We’ve got a modest growth happening in this public-facing e-learning environment aka UCLeXtend. It’s being used for a range of things from CPD and Executive Education to public-engagement and open Moocs. We’re looking at using it for disseminating research output (and building this into grant proposals from the outset) and supporting events and groups, UCL and beyond. We are also increasingly aware of the benefits of working in this space; they are proportional to the indirect benefits of being active in this area. We have identified 36 benefits of Moocs from observing and researching the scene and trying to get our heads around it all. We see UCLeXtend as an integral component to UCL’s Life Learning offering, where courses can be offered to people in a range of physical and virtual environments.

    So, where next?

    1. More ‘courses’, users and ideas coming to life
    2. Enhance the platform
    3. Sustainable course development
    4. Share pedagogical experiments (and results)
    5. Evaluate and speculate

    Take a look

    UCLeXtend is available and you’re very welcome to look around, register for courses and see what it’s all about.

    UCLeXtend

    Internal members of staff may want to look at the UCLeXtend 101 space, which will uncover a lot about what’s needed to get started:

    UCLeXtend 101

    Get in touch

    Best contact is extend@ucl.ac.uk for all types of enquiries.

    Humans need not apply — video

    By Matt Jenner, on 18 August 2014

    Humans need not apply is a video on robots, automation and how they will inevitably take over the workforce. If it’s happening, I hope we get to enjoy the show? Or maybe humans and robots can work together as a team. It’s a tricky subject but this video, while slightly contrversial in some of its exclamations is a succinct review of where we’ve come from, where we’re heading and lazy horses. Brilliant.

    We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different. And it’s here. Robots are in the same place where computers were in the 80s and they will get smarter and cheap.

    “Horses aren’t unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There’s little work a horse can do that do that pays for its housing and hay.”

    This video isn’t about how automation is bad — rather that automation is inevitable. It’s a tool to produce abundance for little effort.