The Edtech Glossary

Like any language, the lexicon of learning expands constantly. Simon Fry updates us on Big Data, blended leaning, social media…

Adaptive Comparative Judgment

An innovative grading system – Adaptive Comparative Judgment (ACJ) – is being offered by Digital Assees, as chief business development officer Matt Wingfield explains. “ACJ is a method of grading, developed by Digital Assess with consultation from experts at Cambridge University and Goldsmiths, University of London. Based on the Law of Comparative Judgment, which proves people are better at making comparative, paired judgments than absolute ones, examiners compare pieces of work side-by-side and declare which is better. A unique algorithim, continuously responding to these judgments, creates a highly accurate candidate ranking against which grade boundaries can be applied.” 

ACJ also allows students to digitally assess peers, as trialled (and later applied) by the University of Edinburgh in 2014. Students could leave constructive, anonymous feedback on peers’ work via the web-based interface, with lecturers noting a positive effect on final attainment and deeper understanding of subject matter and assessment criteria.  

Manchester University’s School of Pharmacy is currently using ACJ to support peer reviewing.

Big Data

Handling big data is crucial for universities to function and flourish financially. Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) is using software from SAS® to improve its 17,000 students’ learning experience and using real-time student admissions data to boost operational, financial and academic planning for its 2.000 staff.

Previously, manual data collection and analysis caused a huge drain on senior staff resources and without accurate student admissions data, CCCU could not identify critical issues impacting financial and academic performance, such as student dropouts, early enough to take action.

Simon Houlding, assistance director of finance said, “Student admissions affect every area of operations. For example, we plan to invest around £150 million in campus redevelopment. Managing student admissions effectively is critical to align capital expenditure with student numbers, the courses we run, staff and the facilities needed.” 

Blended Learning

UNICAF was founded in 2012 to make international standard higher education accessible to African professionals; 8,000 students have been recruited to date with 60,000 expected to be reached by the end of 2020.

CEO Dr Nicos Nicolaou said, “We achieve this firstly through partnering with UK and Western universities to offer degrees initially online, but increasingly blended with on-ground tuition to African students. UNICAF has its own university in Malawi and is in talks with several other African governments to offer our own locally-accredited degrees to African students through online and blended study. We find this suits our students’ needs in a way purely on-campus study simply could not. In the majority of cases our students are professionals wishing to continue working whilst studying to fund their education and care for their families. Moreover, by removing the need to build $50 million campuses, UNICAF can offer degrees at approximately 20% of the price paid in the West.”


FutureLearn was founded in December 2012 by the Open University following the rapid growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the global higher education sector. The first course launched in October 2013 and since then, FutureLearn has accumulated 5.2 million learners worldwide, with 75% of the user base located outside of the UK.

FutureLearn’s partnership portfolio currently comprises 64 UK and international universities, and 45 specialist education providers and centres of excellence.

Overall, there have been 1700 scheduled course runs since the initial launch.

In December 2016, FutureLearn announced the upcoming launch of a suite of fully online postgraduate degrees in partnership with Deakin University, an indicator of the widening participation of online learning, predicted to grow further still through 2017. Recent research from Parthenon-EY, The OU and FutureLearn, shows online courses are shifting towards the mainstream consumer, with 15% of adults having signed-up to, or intending to sign up to, an online course.

Open University

New findings in the Open University’s Innovating Pedagogy report, lead author Mike Sharples, Professor of Educational Technology at the Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, outline future trends which will impact on education and teaching in the next 10 years. 

Productive failure is being piloted in 26 Singapore schools. This teaching method gives students complex problems to attempt to solve before receiving direct instruction. By struggling and sometimes failing to find a solution, they gain a deeper understanding of the problem 

Formative analytics
The OU has built on its expertise in learning analytics to create formative analytics, tracking learners’ progress through the first few weeks of a course, at which point it is possible to predict if they will succeed or fail. The software uses demographic data and student activity in the virtual learning environment, plus previous students’ behaviour patterns to make its predictions. Up to February 2016, 70,000 Open University students had been supported by this programme and the next stage is to build a ‘recommender’ giving tutors ideas on remedial action

Design thinking
places learners in contexts making them think like designers, creating innovative solutions addressing people’s needs. Learners need to solve technical problems but they also need to understand how users will feel when employing the solutions.  Design thinking is a social as well as mental process; it involves thinking across different perspectives – for instance, students designing a computer game need to think from the perspective of a good teacher as well as that of a game player.

Social Media

Matt Horne, Newcastle University’s digital marketing and social media office surveys the social media landscape ahead. “Our popular channels in 2017 will be the usual suspects, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Snapchat. For 2017 Snapchat is becoming a mature channel, an app we have used since early 2015. We’ll also be keeping our eye on upcoming channels like Hype and the rise of messaging apps as well as growing our presence on country-specific networks. In 2016 we learned jumping on new technologies early is great for experimenting but the stats might take time to catch up. Our early 360º content when Facebook first supported the medium had below-average engagement. Now the technology is more widespread and understood, similar content is getting much higher engagement.”

Keeping in touch with past students is also important. “I think the changes to University pages on LinkedIn will help bring the power of that network to more people’s attention. It’s a great channel for alumni engagement but also sharing research success through sharing links and posts on the native blogging platform.”

At Henley Business School, Dr Chris Voisey is using social media in classes. “In my field, business strategy, we have two teaching strategy archetypes, the lecture and the case method, but our context has changed. Millennials, easily bored and wishing to multi-task, having been raised in the ‘twitch-speed’ world, present new teaching and learning challenges. To harness this energy I created a closed business strategy course Facebook group, divided students into teams and designed six Facebook-enabled tasks. Teams post their work and multiple rounds of comments follow as teams comment on and reply to each other. The Facebook page seems in permanent motion, displayed on giant screens. Posting to Facebook was instantaneous and my evaluation leapt. Facebook was inclusive and gave ‘voice’ to the silent, class time was not monopolised by one speaker and all students seemed engaged behaviourally, emotionally and cognitively.”    


Canvas, an intuitive, scalable, and flexible Virtual Learning Environment for academic institutions worldwide has customers including Florida’s Broward County School District in Florida, the UK’s Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Hertfordshire, Spain’s UNIR and Universidad Internacional de La Rioja, Berghs School of Communication in Sweden and the Oslo National Academy of the Arts in Norway. There are more than 18 million Canvas users worldwide.

Jared Stein, VP Higher Ed Strategy at Canvas in Salt Lake City said, “Our researchers have predicted four key trends will force academic institutions to re-evaluate the services they offer in 2017.”

Harnessing the Power of Data The education market will adopt analytics-based modeling, using data to make more accurate predictions about learning outcomes. Success will depend on how institutions harness data for good and turn tests and measures into actionable insights. Being able to alter teaching quickly to address student needs can increase student engagement and motivation, and ultimately, improve results.

Open Technologies This coming year will also see other tech providers following Canvas’s lead as they embrace open technology and move away from a proprietary model. A move to open source and more adaptable software tools and solutions will lead to bold innovation which will empower and revolutionise how institutions shape their teaching and learning.

Lifelong learning

Global research by Canvas showed just 10% of students believe their education adequately prepares them for the workplace. Pressure from students, combined with an increasing need for institutions to demonstrate the return on investment from education will put renewed focus on employability in 2017.

24/7 Student Experience

With students calling for always-on access to course materials, institutions will demand improved availability from their technology partners. Cloud computing or managed services will again prove appealing as institutions realise the value of consumption versus ownership.

Elsewhere in the VLE field, Simply Do Ideas is a new edtech disruptor founded in 2015. The online platform is used by universities to help turn students’ entrepreneurial ideas into a viable business plan.

“Simply Do Ideas facilitates the process between a raw idea and developing a market-ready business plan,” says founder Lee Sharma. “It’s nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship and instilling practical business skills throughout the learning process – helping create entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of the future.”

The first platform of its kind, Simply Do Ideas is already being used at universities across the UK, including Cardiff Metropolitan University, Birkbeck University of London and The Open University.

“The digital platform is fantastic,” said graduate Alison Mahoney. “It really gives you the opportunity to experiment with your ideas in a safe environment before you set foot into the marketplace.”


 “Video on Demand is a fundamental ingredient to a university’s digital media offering, creating more flexible learning and teaching opportunities, enhancing the tech-savvy student experience”, said Exterity CEO Colin Farquhar.   

City of Glasgow College installed recently a flexible and scalable IP video system providing a range of high quality live TV and on-demand video content across its growing campuses. Lecture material, training sessions, seminar notes laboratory data and other key educational assets can be made available to lecturers and students to access when they choose, regardless of location and device.

The college’s information systems development manager, Jonny Murray said, “We are already looking at the future, and how IP video technology can be used to enhance the student experience and help us engage with new audiences.”    

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