Welcome to The CITE -- a blog on Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education, created by Mark Nelson and now part of the Publications Department of the National Association of College Stores. CITE is a pun with multiple meanings - referring to cite as in citation, something people reference; site as in location, website, or place people go to; and sight as in foresight or looking ahead to what is coming. Comments, discussion, feedback and ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Devices Distract, But Students Don't Care

New research has found that students waste about one-fifth of their class time on their digital devices. The average student uses a device for nonclass purposes 11.43 times each class, up from 10.93 times in 2013, despite the fact they understand such behavior could harm their grades.

The report Digital Distractions in the Classroom PhaseII: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes also asked students why they look at their devices during class. Nearly 63% said they were doing it to stay connected, but about the same amount said they were checking their phones because they were bored, according to a report from Inside Higher Education.

Students overwhelmingly said they didn’t want their devices banned because they didn’t believe the gadgets were a significant distraction. They also said they should be able to use their gadgets whenever they want. Fewer than 12% admitted that they just couldn’t stop themselves.

“This speaks qualitatively to their feeling that they should be the ones to decide when and how to use their digital devices,” said Bernard R. McCoy, associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and author of the report. “It’s a part of what’s now factored into the classroom, and it’s a reality we all have to think about.”

McCoy surveyed 675 students at four-year institutions in 26 states. Nearly 90% of them said they understood that not paying attention was a disadvantage of using digital devices in the classroom, while 80% knew that the distraction could lead them to miss an instruction.

However, the students also assumed also they could handle their devices, with 58% saying it was just a “little” distraction. Only 39% admitted checking their device distracted others and 42% added that it was only a “little distraction” if it did bother other students.

“To me it’s fascinating, interesting, and a little scary all at once,” McCoy said. “If you take a look at the habits of society in general, technology is more available to us than ever before. Then you think about millennials. They are true digital natives. They’ve only known the Internet and the technologies associated with it.”

Monday, February 8, 2016

Google Has Shipped Millions of VR Devices

Virtual reality (VR) has become a really, really big thing, and Google has the numbers to prove it.

The company recently reported it shipped five million units of its Cardboard virtual-reality platform in two years. That includes devices that were sold by third-party retailers along with ones given away by Google.

The Google numbers also show that Cardboard has been installed through the Google Play Store more than 25 million times and users have watched more than 350,000 hours of YouTube videos through the app. On the education front, more than 500,000 students have taken VR field trips using the device, according to a report in VentureBeat.

While Google has competition for the VR space, Oculus Rift is still several weeks away from shipping and the HTC Vive is still not available for preorder. And Apple has only just begun to explore the potential of VR, which puts it way behind in the market.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Apple Climbs Aboard VR Bandwagon

Apple hasn’t yet been a player in the expanding world of virtual reality, but that could be about to change with the addition of Doug Bowman to its staff.

Bowman’s last job was as a computer science professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, and director of its Center for Human-Computer Interaction. He’s also the main author of 3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice, considered one of the most important textbooks on 3-D interface technology. He recently received a $100,000 research grant from Microsoft to analyze the uses of the Microsoft Hololens VR headset.

With virtual reality about to become a $5 billion industry, according to Newsweek, it’s hard to ignore. Besides, investors are nervous about Apple and the slowing pace of iPhone sales.

“But with Bowman coming on board recently, according to the Financial Times, Apple may just be saying it’s ready to make virtual reality an actual reality in its product lines,” said tech writer Rex Crum in an article for SiliconBeat.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Use MOOCs to Support Student Success

Many students head off to college still needing preparation for entry-level college courses, particularly at the community college level. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are often seen as a way to offer a flexible and affordable way to improve those skills without paying for remedial classes.

However, MOOCs are also self-directed and self-paced, which can be a problem. Research has shown that community college students in particular struggle with online learning environments, according to Matt Lawson, principal architect at NetApp, who suggested that the solution lies in the support the institution provides its students.

“Of particular significance with MOOCs on community college campuses is identification and support of students at academic risk,” Lawson wrote in a column for eCampus News. “Big data and analytics are a formidable tool that can help identify these at-risk students and thereby enable much-needed proactive intervention to help those students succeed in college.”

While serving as director of enterprise services for community colleges in Virginia, Lawson found that student engagement could be recorded through the number of times they clicked into the online courseware. Using that information allowed the system to determine which students were engaged with the material and which were struggling.

“This sort of targeted intervention can prove critical at the community college level, and could prove to be a boost to student retention and attrition—two top goals of any institution of higher education,” he wrote.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Production Trumps Consumption

One conundrum in the digital education world is consumption vs. production, according to Inside Higher Ed’s tech blogger Joshua Kim. Consuming content is more convenient on mobile devices, while producing that content is easier on a laptop or desktop computer.

“What this means for education, I think, is that we need to design our content primarily for mobile,” Kim wrote. “Anything that has to do with consumption will occur on a small touchscreen. Our text, presentations, and videos all need to be designed mobile first.”

However, don’t toss the laptop just yet. The keyboard makes the device much more important in the digital world because keyboards on mobile devices are simply too small to be useful. And, to Kim, writing remains at the heart of education.

“After having spent a few weeks with the new $169 iPad Pro Smart Keyboard (the combined case and keyboard), I can tell you that it is not something that you will want to use for any serious writing,” he wrote. “We should be suspicious of any education program that is mobile-only. Mobile-first, sure, but not mobile-only. Any good postsecondary program should stress production over consumption.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Seven Issues for Campus Stores

Since college stores have been in the business of providing textbooks to students for many decades, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that affordable course materials heads the list of the seven top issues facing the college store industry right now.

NACS member-volunteers spent months identifying all the issues impacting stores and then condensing and winnowing the list to the seven most critical challenges. Stores’ efforts to help ensure all students have affordable access to course materials on the first day of class emerged as No. 1.

Stores have built relationships with publishers and distributors to help faculty understand the available options for materials, including customized versions and open-source materials. As more course materials are offered in digital formats (sometimes solely in digital), it’s often stores that end up assisting students in figuring out how to access their electronic assignments. Because students still strongly prefer to study from paper—digital products don’t yet offer the same ease of use—campus stores have stepped up to furnish hard-copy options for digital or online materials and to seek out more sources of lower-cost used books to stock.

While some students believe they can achieve good grades without textbooks, research shows that those who regularly read their assignments are more likely to attain better grades and persist to graduation. That starts with making sure students aren’t deterred by the price of materials.

However, the issue of affordable course materials has another side for campus stores: conflicting goals. While most higher education institutions are trying to hold down costs for students, including textbooks, they also expect their campus stores to generate more revenue from sales.

The six other issues on the top-seven list are:
2. The student experience: providing goods and services to enhance students’ campus experience and boost their connection to the institution.
3. The retail experience: furnishing strong customer service and extending the school’s brand.
4. Campus collaboration and communication: working closely with other campus entities to support the institution’s mission.
5. Retail technologies: making good use of technology to improve operations, service, and communications.
6. Talent development: strengthening the store’s performance by investing in its employees.
7. Business stewardship and strategy: being aware of trends and issues and readying a strategy for response.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Middle Schoolers Earning College Credit

Many school districts around the nation provide ways for high school students to earn college credit. Hayward, CA, may be the only one making that same offer to middle school students.

Instructors from Chabot College are teaching everything from early childhood development to engineering to five middle schools in the Hayward area. Each of the schools can offer one class per semester and credits the students earn are transferable after high school graduation.

The goal of the program is to provide college exposure for the youngsters, many of whom come from low-income families, according to a report from EdSource.

“As long as they can handle it, it’s good to challenge them,” said David Farbman, senior researcher for the National Center on Time and Learning. “You don’t want to push kids too hard, but given the right support, they can achieve at high levels.”

Chabot College chooses courses middle schools students should be able to handle and Hayward district staffers select students they think are ready to take the classes. The district also has an after-school staff to help students complete their work. State and federal after-school program grants fund the offering.

Over the first three semesters of the program, 175 students enrolled in classes, with some taking more than one. Students completed 72% of the classes with a grade of C or better, according to data from Chabot College.

“No one can tell them they’re not college material,” said Chien Wu-Fernandez, assistant superintendent of student and family services for the Hayward Unified School District. “They have just proved that they are.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

Really Low-Cost Computers Are Here

The notion that improvements in technology normally lead to lower costs for consumers is taken to an extreme with some of the new devices hitting the market, such as the CHIP computer.

The CHIP website calls the device the world’s first $9 computer. It’s about the size of a credit card and has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities built in, a 1GHz processor, four gigabytes of storage, and 512 MB of RAM. Keyboard, screen, and mouse are not part of the package, but CHIP can connect to any Bluetooth device and has a USB port to plug into older accessories.

Next Thing Co. created CHIP through a Kickstarter campaign that got the backing of nearly 40,000 people and raised $2 million, according to a report by National Public Radio. A teacher from the Nelson County Area Technology Center, Bardstown, KY, contributed $150 to the campaign and was selected to test the device in the classroom. Students at the school have used CHIP to rewire Star Wars toys with LED lights.

“This is one way to do it, by intriguing their interest and seeing what’s on the cutting edge of technology,’” said Jeremy Booher, principal of the school. “If we were still using typewriters and using Microsoft DOS, then obviously people come in and fall asleep.”

The CHIP is just one of a number of low-cost basic computers now on the market or coming soon. They have been made possible because the price of microprocessors and computer components has fallen so dramatically.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Microsoft Aquires MinecraftEdu

Microsoft participated in a Minecraft coding effort last year as part of the annual Hour of Code campaign from Code.org. Now, the Seattle-based software company has acquired MinecraftEdu, a firm that makes a version of the popular video game modified for the classroom, and is planning the launch of Minecraft Education Edition for the summer.

The MinecraftEdu version includes additions that make the original game more appropriate for a K-12 setting. It features a multiplayer mode for up to 40 students and offers a cloud-based system to host Minecraft classroom servers with a library of lessons and activities.

In addition, the Learning Tools add-on provides teachers special text-formatting options that make reading, writing, and note-taking easier. Other features include reading with audiotext playback and natural-language processing, according to a report in InformationWeek.

Microsoft plans to keep the user price at $5 per year, but will make a free trial version of the software available this summer, according to VentureBeat.

“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” said Vu Bui, chief operating officer of Mojang, a game-based development firm that created Minecraft and was acquired by Microsoft in 2014, in a report for eSchool News. “We’ve seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles of education systems around the world. It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Hands-On Approach to Textbook Affordability

If you attend the 2016 Textbook Affordability Conference (April 27-29 at the University of California, Davis), you’ll have a hand in developing potential solutions to ensure all college students have access to the course materials they need, regardless of format.

Conferees will spend part of the time collaborating in teams to further discuss the ideas and challenges presented by speakers. Teams will explore creation of a course content model that meets the needs of students as well as higher education campuses and their partners.

In the opening keynote, Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor, student affairs and campus diversity, UC Davis, will examine the importance of supporting student success.

At the conclusion of the conference, Lisa Petrides, president, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, and Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer, Civitas Learning, will talk about next steps and strategies in a “fireside-chat” session. Milliron was also a Thought Leader presenter at NACS’ 2014 Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) conference and trade show, identifying several rising trends for college course materials.

Registration will open soon. Sign up to receive notification when it does. Discounts are available to institutions who register three or more professionals. Five hotels within walking distance of the Davis campus are offering special rates to conference attendees for a limited time.

With coordination by NACS, planning partners for the 2016 conference include the Association of American Publishers-Higher Education, California Association of College Stores, The California State University’s Affordable Learning Solutions, NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and OpenStax.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Apple Working on LiFi Technology

Improvements in technology seem to travel at light speed. Soon, that could be literally true.

A report in Computerworld suggests Apple is considering supporting LiFI transmission, a superfast wireless transmission technology that uses light to send data. The technology is not seen as a replacement for the popular wireless networking technology known as WiFi, but as a companion technology designed for home networks.

LiFi is similar to optical cable transmission, except scientists haven’t figured out how to create accurate light transmissions without using cable, at least not yet. Researchers predict that LiFI speeds could eventually reach 110 gigabytes per second faster than WiFi.

“A LiFi network can be programmed to achieve specific tasks, such as guiding a Yamaha home robot to its bed before turning off the light. The network can also track and localize moving objects/persons indoors, outdoors, and from indoors to outdoors,” according to the LiFi Centre.

AppleInsider already reported that the company began mentioning LiFi capability with the iOS 9.1 operating system’s library cache file. LiFi technology is beginning to reach markets, but the Computerworld report predicted that any deployment by Apple is still 24-48 months away.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bitcoin's Days May Be Numbered

Bitcoin has “failed,” according to one of its core developers. Mike Hearn said in a blog post that he was ending his involvement with the organization and is selling his holdings.

“Despite knowing that bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly,” Hearn said in a report from Reuters.

The issue for Hearn is the battle over whether the size of bitcoin transactions should be enlarged. Currently, each bitcoin block has a capacity of one megabyte and allows a maximum of three payments to be processed per second.

Hearn helped to develop software that would increase each transaction block to eight megabytes and allow 24 transactions to be processed every second. The new software has not been adopted, leading him to claim that the bitcoin network will soon run out of capacity as the number of transactions grows, making the network unreliable and vulnerable to fraud.

Bitcoin trading slipped from $430 to $390 after Hearn published his post.

“The current price of bitcoin is supported almost entirely by people speculating on its future, in the assumption that this could be the money of tomorrow,” he said. “So if the network starts to collapse, then a lot of people are going to look at it and say, ‘Well, maybe we’ve miscalculated (its) future value.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Put Some Fashion into Wearable Tech

Many college stores have climbed aboard the wearable technology bandwagon, offering tech-savvy students any number of fitness-band options. Next, collegiate retailers may want to start thinking about shelves full of smart clothes.

“No one in the industry wants to admit it,  but the wrist is probably not the best place to stick a bunch of sensors, and activity tracking many not even be the best use for all those sensors,” Malarie Gokey wrote in an article for Digital Trends. “If we want wearables to become truly wearable, companies need to start looking at the clothes we wear every day of our lives. And if we want those wearables to be truly useful, we need to think beyond step counting and create tech that gives actionable suggestions to improve our well-being.”

Companies are making inroads into the wearable clothing field, but the focus has been fitness metrics. That trend is starting to change as manufacturers discover that garments provide opportunities for customization while stilling looking like normal clothing.

“The possibilities are endless,” Gokey wrote.  “Smart clothing has the potential to break wearables out of their fitness funk and make them go mainstream. If wearables are ever going to take off, they have to be fashionable, look like normal clothes and accessories, and do more than tell you your step count.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Microchip Using Light Is Being Developed

The high demand for speed and volume limits traditional microprocessor chips that use electrical circuits to communicate and transfer information. That could be about to change as researchers work on a chip that uses light instead.

The light-based technology, known as photonics, reduces the energy used in a microchip because light can travel over longer distances using the same amount of power, according to a report in The Economic Times. The new chips have the potential to create faster and more powerful computing systems.

The new microchip has a bandwidth density of 300 gigabits per second per square millimeter, which is at least 10 times greater than current electric microchips. It also incorporates the optical input/output components of current state-of-the-art electronic circuitry, creating an integrated, single-chip design.

“Light-based integrated circuits could lead to radical changes in computing and network chip architecture in applications ranging from smartphones to supercomputers to large data centers, something computer architects have already begun work on in anticipation of the arrival of this technology,” said Milos Popovic, assistant professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder.