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, March 27, 2015

Can Games Teach? Big Players Say Yes

For some, “educational games” mean the simple types that teach counting to preschoolers or vocabulary words to fourth-graders. They have a hard time seeing how computerized gamification, currently a flame-hot academic trend, can lend itself to serious learning for older students.

A couple of heavy hitters in the education world are betting on gaming to help high-schoolers build math and science skills. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the MIT Education Arcade collaborated with Filament Games to create the Radix Endeavor, a multiplayer online game that sneaks in lessons about biology, geometry, algebra, probability, and statistics while students explore a mysterious island world and save its people from destruction.

The game has the look and feel of something students might play on their Xbox or PlayStation. Through their on-screen avatars, players must work together to gather and process information and come up with solutions to help the island’s inhabitants.

The Radix Endeavor is still in development, although it recently won a 2015 Cool Tool Award from EdTech Digest in the new product/service category. Currently, the developers are piloting a free version of the game to monitor how students interact with it, what they actually learn from the instruction, and whether gaming can be implemented in a classroom environment. Teachers can set up an account at no charge for their classes to try it out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Microsoft Offering edX Courses

One of stated the missions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Now, the company Bill Gates founded, Microsoft, has partnered with the online learning initiative edX to offer courses focused on coding, cloud computing, and assessment.

The massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by Microsoft experts on edX will help students understand front-end web development and programming language. Additional courses are being offered in cloud computing, data platforms, and Office 365.

The courses, offered for free at edx.org, will begin at the end of March. A verified certificate of completion is available for a fee.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Failing Grades For K-8 Math Content

A review of K-8 math instructional material gave most publishers failing grades. EdReports.org found that 17 of 20 math series evaluated failed to align with the Common Core State Standards.

“In general, the results are pretty bad for all publishers,” Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, told Education Week. “I think people will really pay attention to this.”

Publishers have, and they are not happy. They are particularly concerned that the use of thresholds content needed to pass to continue through the EdReports.org review process led to an incomplete review, according to Jay A. Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ P-12 learning.

The report used a three-tiered rating system that broke down each criterion into “meets,” “partially meets,” or “does not meet.” The group’s website provides a more detailed report for each textbook rated and documentation on how reviews came up with their scores.

“There can always be methodological quibbles,” Polikoff said. “It would be useful to look at all three gateways for all the books, but this seems to me a perfectly reasonable way to constrain the task.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Feds to Launch Online Skills Academy

The Second Open Government National Action Plan, released last fall, spells out ways the government plans to improve public services. Part of the plan calls for a commitment to expanding the use of open educational resources (OER), a pledge that was reaffirmed during Open Education Week 2015, according to a report in Campus Technology.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the use of open education resources improves the quality of teaching and learning, including accelerating student comprehension and by fostering more opportunities for affordable cross-border and cross-cultural educational experiences,” wrote the authors of the plan.

The plan includes an online skills academy that will offer open online courses to create high-quality but free or low-cost ways for students to earn degrees, certificates, or other employer-recognized credentials. The Departments of Labor (DOL) and Education (ED) will provide around $25 million in competitive grants to launch the academy this year.

Courses offered by the skills academy will be free and available on an open learning platform, while credits would be made available at low costs. The academy will also use OER for course materials, including content developed through a DOL community college grant program.

In addition, the State Department plans to conduct overseas pilots using OER to support learning. The results of those pilots will be made available to the public and to interested educators.

Monday, March 23, 2015

UC Irvine Offers Chemistry Curriculum

The University of California Irvine is making its university-level chemistry curriculum and educational resources available through a new partnership with the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges (CCC) systems. The partnership will make full-captioned lecture videos freely available to students and faculty around the world.

As part of the collaboration, UC Irvine’s Open Chemistry (OpenChem) curriculum will be offered to the CSU and CCC systems. OpenChem consists of 16 quarter-length undergraduate and select graduate lecture classes and is available at no cost.

UC Irvine is also collaborating with other providers of open educational resources, such as the UC Davis ChemWiki textbook.

“This partnership extends UC Irvine’s commitment to open education and its worldwide impact, with a focus on the needs of students in the California public education system,” said Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education, distance learning, and summer sessions at UC Irvine. “It advances our goal of a world where high-quality education is available to all for free.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Old-Fashioned Note-Taking Works

One solution for increasing student success has little to do with interactive content and electronic course materials. It’s as simple as taking better notes.

Carol E. Holstead, associate professor of journalism, University of Kansas, Lawrence, decided she had had enough of students mesmerized by their laptop computer screens instead of listening to her lectures, so she banned the devices from her classroom. She did continue using PowerPoint presentations to outline her lecture and provide examples, but also instructed her students they needed to be more selective in writing down important points.

“It turned out my theory was right and now is supported by research,” Holstead wrote in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A study published last year in Psychological Science showed that students who write out notes longhand remember conceptual information better than those who take notes on a computer.”

The problem for students who used laptops is they become so intent on capturing every word of a lecture they don’t always listen to what is being said. Students who used paper and pen to take notes were more selective because they couldn’t write fast enough, allowing them to retain more information and understand it better, according to the research.

Holstead ended her first semester without laptops by having students fill out a questionnaire. Nearly 52% of the 95 responding students said they paid more attention without a computer in front of them. More importantly, test scores went up in her classes.

“Their answers reinforced the note-taking study,” Holstead said. “The students who tried to transcribe my lectures, even without a laptop, hated taking notes longhand. The students who figured out how to take selective notes liked it.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A New Way to Provide Proactive Learning

A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that students learn better when they use active forms of learning.

The group found students with no access to active learning methods, such as peer discussions and group work, are 1.5 times more likely to fail. In addition, students taught with active learning outperformed those taught by lectures by six percentage points on exams.

To provide more avenues for active learning, a tech firm has launched a video classroom that allows students to create and control live video study rooms. The tool, created by Newrow, allows students to form their own online study groups and instructors to create on-the-spot, in-class group video discussions.

Students will be able to use the tools to start learning conversations on their own that can last throughout the semester. The videoconferencing will be similar to face-to-face study groups with text chat functions and real-time resource sharing.

The tool also allows instructors to generate breakout groups of up to 10 students during online lectures. The sessions can be recorded and stored in an online learning library for future reference or group project management.

“Our goal is to remove learning barriers for students by giving them a seamless way to facilitate the discussions they want and need to have with peers,” said Rony Zarom, founder and CEO in an article in eCampus News.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Retailers Pick Mobile Sites over Apps

The cost of developing a mobile app for shoppers is prompting many retailers to opt for a cheaper, albeit less personal, alternative: building a mobile-optimized e-commerce website.

A new study by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Forrester Research, as reported by CNBC, indicated that 58% of retail companies are placing a high priority on mobile commerce this year but they’re balking at the expense. For a national retail chain, that might top $2 million in development fees, not to mention the costs to market the app to consumers.

A campus bookstore could get a decent app for much less, maybe four figures, but that would still represent a fairly large piece of the budget for such a store.

Retail apps do boost online sales—possibly as much as 30% for some merchants—and help strengthen customer loyalty to the store, according to the NRF/Forrester study, although the bump may not compensate for the yearly maintenance and upgrade costs.

The majority of shoppers are using apps to determine if sellers have certain merchandise on hand. A mobile-friendly website, if designed correctly, can provide the same information to consumers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lynn U. Testing App to Track Attendance

Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL, is planning a beta test on a new iPad application that notifies students when they miss a class. The app, Class120, will send students a reminder when they are not in the classroom.

The app could also be used to notify the student’s academic coach and parents, although Lynn is not planning to reach out to Mom and Dad.

“We’re not interested where you are on Friday night,” Christian Boniforti, chief information officer at Lynn, said in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We’re just interested in whether you’re in the classroom when you’re supposed to be.”

Downloading the app is optional, although the university wants all of its students to use it. Lynn already has a strict attendance policy that includes weekly reporting from instructors.

The app is considered an intervention tool because weekly attendance figures show students who miss 25% or more of their classes have a 68% chance of getting a grade-point average below a C. A Harvard study also showed that class size falls throughout the term unless attendance is measured and graded.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Free Community College Works in Tulsa

The idea of tuition-free community college is not all that new. Tulsa Community College, Tulsa, OK, has been offering students the credits to earn a free associate degree since 2007.

The program, Tulsa Achieves, pays tuition for three years of college for high school grads from Tulsa County. The only stipulations are the students must enroll right out of high school, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and perform 40 hours of community service each year they’re in the program.

The college even covers book costs for several hundred of the students through a textbook trust created through private donations. The school enrolled 1,350 students the first year of the program and has had about 1,500 local students sign up each year since then.

There is a cost, of course. Tulsa CC paid nearly $3 million in additional aid in the program’s first year and $3.7 million last year. However, 44% of the first class transferred to a four-year institution and 22% of those first students have earned since a bachelor’s degree.

“We consider it a strong economic-development tool for Tulsa County,” Lauren Brookey, vice president for external affairs at Tulsa CC, said in a report for Inside Higher Education. “People in Tulsa love this program.”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Why Students Prefer Print

Surveys have shown that readers, particularly college students, still prefer print. A University of Washington study even found that a quarter of its students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that were available for free.

Researchers have found the location of information on a printed page plays a key role in comprehension. The problem for on-screen reading is that users tend to skim and comprehension suffers because of it, according to Naomi S. Baron, a linguist at American University and author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s quite astounding.”

Online distraction is another issue. Baron found that 90% of the students reported they were more likely to multitask while online. Students also seem to have a lazy streak. Many told her they preferred renting textbooks that have important passages already highlighted and have notes in the margins.

Students do prefer digital for science and math classes, especially course materials that include online portals to help them work through problems. They also prefer digital materials that help them locate information quickly and—no surprise here—content that is free, even though Baron found that many would take the printed book if price wasn’t a factor.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Purdue Expanding It's Use of OER

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, recently partnered with Amazon with the intent of saving its students money on everything from soup to textbooks. Now, the institution is working to take textbooks out of the equation altogether, or at least some of them.

The university is hoping to save geometry and calculus students up to $1 million by expanding its use of the Learning Online Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach (LON-CAPA), according to a report in The Lafayette Journal & Courier. Professors can use the open education resources (OER) that make up the LON-CAPA program instead of textbooks or the university’s WebAssign program, which offers online lessons and grades assignments based on content from major publishers and can cost more than $100 per course.

Purdue’s biology department has been using LON-CAPA since it was developed by Michigan State University in 1992; physics, chemistry, and political science are also using similar programs. With 4,500 students enrolled in geometry and calculus, Purdue will be among the first to launch the program on such a large scale.

“It used to be a student could get by maybe without buying a book or buying a used book or sharing a book,” said Frank Dolley, vice provost for teaching and learning. “Now, these courses have access codes. You have to have the code to get into the class because you have to have that system to submit your homework. The students are somewhat trapped.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Initiative to Provide More Tech Workers

TechHire was launched to provide more U.S. workers in the growing technology field. More than 300 employers and local governments from 21 regions across the country have committed to the initiative, announced by President Obama at the National League of Cities.

The Obama administration pledged $100 million in competitive grants to fund joint initiatives to target workers who may not have access to tech training. The money for the grants will come from fees companies already pay to hire skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program.

“We’ve got to keep positioning ourselves for a constantly changing global economy,” Obama said during the announcement of the initiative. “If we’re not producing enough tech workers, over time that’s going to threaten our leadership in global innovation, which is the bread and butter of the 21st-century economy.”

Business leaders are also committed to offer free online training to prepare workers for higher-paying technology positions, such as software development, network administration, and cybersecurity. The communities involved are working on ways to use data-driven assessments of employer workforce demands; recruit and expand accelerated tech-learning programs such as coding bootcamps and online training; and find ways to connect people with the jobs.

“The world’s technology needs are just moving a lot faster than traditional education solutions. That’s the fundamental problem here,” said Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, KY. “So that’s why these nonconventional methods are needed right now.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Students Turning to Paper for PARCC Exams

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is an effort to provide information on how prepared students are for higher education or work after high school. The exams are based on Common Core standards for reading and math, but technical glitches in the computer-given tests are driving some districts to turn to paper instead.

“Our concern was really that the results of this testing taken online wouldn’t necessarily give clear data on what students know and should be able to do,” a spokeswoman for one school district told The Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune reported that one in four students in Illinois will use paper to take the exams during the spring testing period, costing districts an additional $2.4 million. The percentage of students taking the test online vs. paper is about the same in other states giving the test, according to PARCC officials.

About 11% of the school districts in Illinois plan to use paper and pencil to give the exam and another 34% will use a combination of paper and computer exams. The cost to administer the test to grades 3-8 is about $24 per student, but it rises to $33 each for paper testing.

The Tribune also reported that some students are planning to not take the exams at all, but opting out could be an issue. State officials said that if more than 5% of students statewide opt out, Illinois could fail federal requirements and face sanctions and that the state could then penalize districts for not testing enough students.