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.

Friday, October 9, 2015

More Shoppers Consult Amazon First

When it comes to searching for products on the web, many consumers treat Amazon like a regular Internet search engine.

In a new Survata study of American consumers, a sizable 44% indicated they head straight for Amazon’s website when they want to shop for a particular product. That means other retailers—especially smaller, independent ones—don’t even get a chance to compete for those shoppers online, unless somehow Amazon doesn’t carry the item.

Amazon’s personalization technology received high marks from respondents, with 75% saying other online sellers don’t come close and 87% indicating they’d rather do business with a site capable of ascertaining their needs and guiding them to suggested products.

Retailers have a little more opportunity to snag a sale with 34% of the survey respondents who said they look for products first on the major search engines, notably Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Just 21% of survey-takers habitually begin their search for products at a specific retail merchant.

Of consumers who use their smartphone to shop, the biggest reason (given by 47%) was to obtain information on products and prices.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is the Amazon Six-Pack Headed to School?

Amazon is offering a six-pack of $50 Amazon Fire tablet computers for the price of five. The question is, why?

According to Adam Levy of The Motley Fool, this latest foray into tablet sales could be Amazon taking aim at the K-12 educational market. Levy points out that the number of people with families big enough to actually want six tablets might be limited. He also said that since schools are making more use of tablets, the low-cost Amazon device could be a lot more attractive than an iPad for schools facing budget issues.

“I’m not so sure Adam is really on the money here,” wrote Chris Meadows in a post for TeleRead. “iPads have a really good reputation as educational devices after all, and have built up a considerable library of quality software to aid in that purpose. Does Amazon’s software library have the educational chops necessary to compete?”

Amazon is certainly trying to develop customers for life. A company representative told the audience in an education session at CAMEX 2015 in Atlanta that’s why it is interested in on-campus locations. And what better way to do create lifetime customers than to have children using its operating system while in K-12?

However, Meadows said he believes the schools aren’t going to be thrilled that Amazon installed special advertising software into the Fire tablets that promotes its products. He also said that at less than $43, the Amazon Fire could be so inexpensive that many shoppers will see it as disposable, and may want to the six-pack just to have replacements handy.

“The point is, I don’t think it’s necessary to assume that families won’t buy into those six-packs, therefore they must be aimed at an education market,” Meadows wrote. “More than likely, some schools will be interested, but I suspect that more than enough families and even individuals will want to buy the bundles for that not to be an issue.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Study Finds Students Need to Read

Students may not like this, but some digital textbooks can tell instructors just how much of the course reading they are actually doing. The digital text can even determine if a student fell asleep with the book open.

Not surprisingly, a new study found students who spent more time actually reading their textbooks—not just speed-skimming—got better grades. The survey of 269 undergraduates at Texas A&M University-San Antonio using digital content reported that the number of minutes spent reading was an important factor in getting better grades, but that students averaged less than three hours of reading per class.

“It’s not that students were overworked or required to read a crazy amount,” Reynol Junco, the Iowa State University professor who conducted the research, said in a report for Bloomberg Business. “The reading was pretty fair for college students.”

The good news, according to Junco, is that checking study habits can also help faculty identify students who are in trouble before they get a bad grade.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Competing with the Tennessee Promise

The Tennessee Promise allows high school students to earn an associate degree at the state’s 13 community colleges, providing they are full-time students, maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, meet regularly with a mentor in their field of study, and complete at least eight hours of community service.

The Promise helped community college enrollment jump 14% this fall, the first year the program was offered statewide. Tennessee’s four-year institutions had to compete with the free-tuition program, but enrollment figures still appear healthy.

“We beefed up our efforts,” Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University, Nashville, said in a report for Nashville Public Radio. “All of us have done extra work, but it looks like we overdid it because TSU enrollment is up this year.”

Enrollment figures across the six Tennessee Board of Regents schools were flat, which was actually an improvement over the trend of the last five years. Enrollment for the University of Tennessee system slipped at UT Martin and Chattanooga, but UT Knoxville reported one of its largest freshman classes ever.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Students See Benefits from MOOCs

While the Year of the MOOC didn’t pan out quite like The New York Times envisioned in 2012, there is still good news on the massive open online course front. A new study of 52,000 students who took at least one MOOC offered by Coursera found that 87% said they saw at least some career benefit from the class.

In addition, 33% of that group, which the study identified as “career builders,” said they turned the MOOC into a “tangible career benefit.”

“The tangible career benefit is a higher bar in some sense,” Gayle Christensen, assistant vice provost at the University of Washington, Seattle, and an author of the report, said in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A third of people saying that they were able to make these clear next steps is actually something one should be optimistic about.”

The report, which looked at motivations for taking a MOOC and the educational and career results participants achieved, also found that 62% of the respondents in the career-builder category improved their work performance. The survey also identified “education-seekers” as a category and found that 88% gained general educational benefits and 18% said they received tangible educational benefits.

“Going into this, I wasn’t sure what we’d find,” Christensen said. “That those students are actually reporting career and educational benefits in higher numbers is pretty exciting.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Texting May Keep Students on Track

Texting may be a new way to keep students engaged with their education, especially as they move from high school to college. It’s cheap, available nearly everywhere, and can be used to boost achievement and study habits, according to Benjamin Castleman.

Castleman, University of Virginia education professor and author of The 160-Character Solution: How Text Messaging and OtherBehavioral Strategies Can Improve Education, studied enrollment rates of students who were accepted into college but did not enroll for fall classes. He and his colleague, Lindsay Page of the University of Pittsburgh, reported that the number of students who decided not to attend college reached 40% in some school districts, particularly among lower-income and first-generation college students.

Castleman and Page used software that could send weekly text messages to high school graduates with deadline reminders, links to documents, and connection information for advisors. They found that 70% of students who received the personalized messages ended up enrolling for the fall semester, compared to 63% of students who didn’t receive the messages.

Other studies have revealed that texting student performance information to parents of middle and high school students in Los Angeles helped increase homework completion rates by 25%. Text messaging was also found to help lower dropout rates for adult learners in England by a third.

White House research uncovered similar results. A 2015 report discovered that low-cost text messages and emails got more kids to enroll and helped college borrowers to manage their student loans better.

“These types of strategies work well with some students and educational settings and not well for others,” Castleman said in an article that appeared in The Hechinger Report. “It’s not texting itself that makes these nudges successful; it’s attending to details like frequency, timing, and framing of messages.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Too Much Tech Doesn't Help Learning

A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that moderate use of technology by students tends to produce better learning outcomes. The research also noted that students who use computers frequently often have much worse learning outcomes.

The report, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making The Connection, evaluated students from 31 countries in areas such as digital skills and comparing reading comprehension between print and digital formats.

Students from Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Canada were the top performers in the digital skills assessments. Students from the United States and Canada performed better in digital reading, while those from Poland and Shanghai were stronger in reading print formats.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st-century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said in an article in eSchool news.  “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invent more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Newegg Joins Textbook Market

The newest player in the college textbook market is familiar to many college students. Electronics online retailer Newegg Inc. said it is “partnering with more than 1,000 colleges” and has already opened a student-only online store that offers special discounts and pricing options.

Newegg’s student-only section does require a login, but the company is offering students $20 off its annual Newegg Premier membership, which provides free shipping, members-only deals, and a dedicated customer-service line. The effort is part of Newegg’s effort to expand its business by tapping into the education market.

“Textbooks are pretty fundamental to the college student, and we wanted to offer a different solution that makes buying them more convenient and more economical,” James Wu, chief operating officer for Newegg North America, said in an article for Internet Retailer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MOOCs Need More Than Videos

Most massive open online courses (MOOCs) use video lectures to teach students. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that’s just not enough.

In the report Learning Is Not a Spectator Sport: Doing Is Better than Watching for Learning From a MOOC, researchers looked at results of two groups of students taking an introductory psychology MOOC given by a pair of professors from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. One group took the course as a traditional MOOC, spending most of their time watching lecture videos. The other group combined videos with interactive materials from the CMU Open Learning Initiative.

After 11 weekly quizzes and the final exam, the MOOC-only students scored an average of 57% on the final exam, while those in the combined course scored an average of 66%. The researchers found students may think they understand a concept after hearing a lecture or reading a text, but often have no way to confirm if they comprehend it correctly.

“When one is watching a lecture or reading material, there’s an illusion of learning,” Ken Koedinger, author of the report, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Lessons communicated in a lecture don’t stick.”

According to Koedinger, MOOC platform providers should be doing more than quick follow-up questions at the end of a lecture. He said MOOCs need to focus more on interactive exercises that address misconceptions students may have about the material rather than more videos.

“Some of these students are coming into these courses thinking they’re going to learn from this fabulous lecture, but it really isn’t sticking,” he said.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rider Provides Freshman Textbooks

Freshmen at Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ, are getting a break on their first year of textbooks through the school’s Textbook Reserve Program. The pilot provides students with access to most freshman-level courses via the school’s library.

The libraries on the school’s Lawrence and Princeton campus now have more than 100 books available for freshmen to use. Students present their ID to a librarian at the circulation desk to sign out the textbook for up to two hours, but they can’t take reserved books out of the library.

“If this can help offset hidden costs that students might not have anticipated, we’ll be able to retain more students,” said President Gregory Dell’Omo in an article for NJ.com. Dell’Omo brought the idea from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA, where he served as president until taking over Rider at the beginning of August.

Robert Morris had more than 1,800 textbook signouts in the first semester the program was offered with a total of 10,000 during the first two years.

An added benefit for Dell’Omo is that the program drives students into the library. The goal of the Textbook Reserve Program is to expand it to upper-level courses.

“It’s not replacing people buying new books, it’s not going to cover every single book over time,” Dell'Omo said, “but it helps ease some of the financial burdens that students incur.”

Friday, September 25, 2015

New Tech Tool for Teachers

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an online tool that let instructors show their students ways to solve problems, highlight important text and explain the concept, and provide personal feedback? The tool would have to be easy to use and allow students access anywhere and on any device.

That tool may soon be just a download away. Snip is a Microsoft Garage project still in the preview stage, but early results have shown it to be user-friendly for most teachers and their students.

“The simplicity of the tool is one of its major attractions,” Peter West, director of eLearning, Saint Stephen’s College, Queensland, Australia, wrote for eSchool News. “The functions provided make it easy for even a technology-wary teacher to understand and use effectively, and its capabilities are enough for a large percentage of teaching scenarios.”

Once downloaded, Snip allows teachers to explain selected items on a web page, document, worksheet, or any format displayed on a computer screen. The tool provides pens of various colors for teachers to use to explain concepts on the screen, which can then be saved as a video file or screenshot. There is an erase feature in case the teacher makes a mistake, and the entire procedure can be finished in less than 60 seconds, according to West.

“It also provides another valuable tool for teachers to transition to blended and flipped learning,” he wrote. “It is a wonderful example of a simple technology dramatically enhancing learning.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Frequent Web Users Also Like E-Textbooks

A study of college students required to use digital textbooks for an online course revealed something that should have been obvious: Students who typically spent a lot of time online—whether for studying or socializing—preferred the e-texts over hardcopy books, while students who went online less often would rather use print textbooks.

The study, which appeared in Education magazine and was conducted at the University of Texas at El Paso, also determined that the students who favored print were at no disadvantage in the class due to the digital requirement. Students preferring p-texts earned about the same average grades as the other students, suggesting they managed to get over any discomfort with the digital format.

Some students in the class had previously taken at least one other online course with e-textbooks, while for other students it was their first experience with a totally online class. As with the format preferences, though, there was no difference in student performance. The researchers also found that age, class year, courseload, and English-language skills had no impact on student success in the online course.

The heavy online users were able to understand instructions for accessing course content and e-texts more quickly than students who didn’t have as much experience online, although ultimately that didn’t affect their class performance either.

However, students did have a number of quibbles with digital textbooks, which led the research team to recommend some fixes for publishers and instructors.

“E-texts should be absolutely free of technical glitches,” stated the study report. “It also should provide tools that students can use for studying, such as highlighting, page marking, making notes in a text file, and a launch path (or a progress bar) to access another section quickly.” Both publishers and professors should provide supplementary print booklets and resources to aid students with e-texts.

For students, the study advised “it is wise to order an e-text with the optional free loose-leaf and hole-punched print version. This would enable students who find it difficult to read for long periods of time on the computer screen, or experience difficulties when their Internet is not working, to have access to material which is comfortable to use while learning.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One App to Teach Them All

Mobile 3.0 is a free app created to provide students at the University of Maryland, College Park, with ways to produce and post multimedia content in journalism classes taught by Ronald Yaros. The app includes built-in tools for photos, audio, and video, along with a way for the instructor to send push text notifications to students without their phone number.

Yaros, associate professor in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, designed the app for his students as a way to prepare them for a future where technological skills are paramount.

“While we know that any device can distract from learning, we don’t know how to change the way a device can be used for sustained engagement and more effective learning,” Yaros said in an interview for Campus Technology. “That’s why we need a mindset shift to adapt a tool’s use to class meetings, assignments, and activities that require technology.”

Laptops were a distraction to Yaros, so he banned them in favor of tablets and smartphones that use his interactive app. The app provides students with instant polls, open-ended questions for discussion, live web sites and Twitter feeds, and quizzes that send scores back to Yaros. All course-related content is viewed on the students’ devices.

“From week one, they are repeatedly reading, researching, interpreting, writing, posting, and discussing the content produced by me and by their peers,” Yaros said. “I scaffold these skills so that students constantly build on and improve their previously learned techniques for effectively communicating digital content on the web and on mobile devices.”

Students have to apply all those skills to produce and post multimedia reports related to their major for their final project. Yaros has found his classes have improved attendance and participation, along with better evaluations by students.

“The bottom line is not the technology itself but how the technology is used—and there are countless ways to use it,” Yaros said. “My hope is that students leave my course with the professional skills they can apply in their field of work and not think Twitter or Blogger is useful only in social circles.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

TSUS to Offer Free Freshman Year

While politicians debate ways to reduce the cost of a college education, the Texas State University System (TSUS) is joining a growing list of institutions trying to do something about it. TSUS will begin participating in the Freshman Year for Free program in 2016 through its partnership with the not-for-profit Modern States Education Alliance.

TSUS is the first public institution in Texas to offer the program, joining Rice University in Dallas and institutions and higher-education organizations in Arizona, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Tennessee.

“Our goal in partnering with Modern States’ Freshman Year for Free program is to provide students with another option to earn their degree on a timeline and budget that works for them,” said TSUS Chancellor Brian McCall.

Students participating in the program will be able to select freshman-level courses from the Modern States catalog that will apply toward degrees at TSUS institutions. Once the courses are completed, students can take Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests for college credit.

The program will offer more than 30 online college courses being developed by the massive open online course provider edX with no cost for the course or online texts and materials. Modern States is creating a web portal for its course catalog that will also link students to resources such as low-cost or no-cost tutors and information on partner colleges and universities.