Thursday, May 31, 2012

Elsevier and Dutch Royal Library testing private access to articles

Two days ago, May 29, the Dutch Royal Library published a press release (in Dutch only) in which it announces an experiment with Elsevier to give private persons and independent researchers ‘cheap’ access to about 2.5 million articles in about 400 Elsevier journals, mainly medical ones. Cheap means a price of 6.50 euro per article. The experiment is scheduled to run until the end of the year. Should the test turn out to be successful, Elsevier and the Royal Library may decide to continue and expand the service.

An interesting experiment. Obviously, Elsevier is confident that it can segregate this market from the profitable university library market, and, more importantly in this case, the corporate library market, at least in the Netherlands, for now. Strange though that the Elsevier website doesn’t mention this news anywhere, at least yet.

Unfortunately, the press release does not mention how success of the test will be measured. A simple test would be profitability and it should not be too hard to score on that one. The cost of setting up the search engine for the Elsevier journals that are already hosted on the Royal Library’s servers should be marginal, so with a couple of thousand articles sold, the service would already be a success. Nevertheless, marketing of such a new service takes time and 7 months for this experiment seems to be short.

But there might also so be a more strategic goal behind the experiment. It looks to me that Elsevier is sort of creating an alternative road for cheap access to specific user groups, much like their program for developing countries. This can then be used as an argument in the ongoing open access debate, much like: Look, we poor publishers are only saying that publishing costs a lot of money, and see, we are doing our very best to create affordable access options for poorer customer groups.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New Ithaka report: Barriers to the adoption of online learning

Just today,  Ithaka released a new report under the title “Barriers to the adoption of online learning in U.S. higher education".

From the blurb on the Ithaka site:

“This Ithaka S+R report is a landscape review of important developments in online learning today.  It is the first in a series that will provide leaders in higher education with lessons learned from existing online learning efforts to help accelerate productive use of these systems in the future.  The goal of this research was to understand what benefits colleges and universities expect from online learning technologies, what barriers they face in implementing them, and how these technologies might be best shaped to serve different types of institutions.”
I just finished reading the report and must say that I am totally unimpressed. And surprised, the quality of Ithaka reports is usually quite high.

There are three main issues I have with the report.

There is nothing much new to be learned from their analysis of the current state of e-learning in higher education. The obstacles to the implementation of online learning that are discussed in the report have been known for a long time now, and, by consequence, the strategies mentioned for overcoming these barriers should be well known by HE administrators.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the report is about e-learning systems that are not yet here. The authors coin the phrase Interactive Learning Online (ILO) to differentiate such a system from our current, poorly used and poorly performing, learning management systems. An ILO system, or platform, is different in that it would use largely machine-guided learning, data-driven, adaptive and customized to individual students, that would also assist instructors in delivering targeted guidance. One of the report’s recommendations is for a national, system-wide initiative to develop such a platform. Instead of a new initiative, I think it would be much wiser to support the open source communities around Moodle and Sakai in order to capitalize on their vast experience with systems that have been actually deployed for some time now.

Also, the authors call for educational content that can easily be customized and adapted by faculty. We used to call that the not-invented-here syndrome, ten years ago, and of course the argument is still valid and the obstacle is a very real one. As with the software development issue, I would at least have expected the authors to mention Open Educational Resources as a possible solution to this problem.