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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day

The NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin and the PartnerShip staff in Westlake, along with our colleagues around the nation and Canada salute all veterans on this Memorial Day.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Virtual-Reality Tech Keeps Getting Better

Gaming and educational applications are expected to increase the use of virtual-reality (VR) devices by 85% over the next five years, according to a report from technology market intelligence firm ABI Research.  The market for those devices is changing, with technology such as headsets and 365-degree cameras becoming more affordable and effective.

“Education is on the cusp of a profound change in the way we use VR technology,” said Emory Craig, director of e-learning at the College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY. “People are starting to use it in higher ed even though the tech is very fluid at the moment.”

Headsets for high-quality equipment can cost close to $2,000 per setup, but technology firms are developing devices that work with lower-end desktop computers for the more affordable price of $299. Newer 365-degree cameras have more user-friendly features, making it easier to introduce video content into course materials. VR hand controllers are also improving to provide full-motion interactive experiences.

Content developers are experimenting with new ways to create virtual medical simulations, as well as creating applications that allow users to manipulate VR content. At the same time, Facebook is working on ways for users to connect and collaborate virtually.

“We can expect to see certain trends in VR to move forward, while others will disappear,” said Maya Georgieva, tech strategist and co-founder of the consulting group Digital Bodies. “As devices continue to shrink, we will see the development of augmented- and mixed-reality experiences that will power compelling visualizations, immersive storytelling, gamified simulations, and learning experiences.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Campus Libraries Fear Support is Eroding

Campus librarians believe they strive hard to support student success, according to a recent survey, but are struggling to show their institution exactly how their efforts boost academic achievement and scholarship.

About 80% of the library directors responding to the Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2016 said their libraries “contribute significantly to student learning in a variety of ways.” However, the survey report, released in April 2017, noted that only half of the faculty respondents on a separate survey recognized the impact of libraries on students’ education.

To reinforce their role in academics, library directors indicated they plan to spend a greater share of their budgets on developing services directly related to teaching, learning, and research. They still expect to continue expanding their collections of materials, but will focus more on acquiring or licensing digital versions instead of print.

Survey respondents reported a “decreasing sense of support from their institutions,” said the Ithaka report. “There is evidence across the survey that library directors feel increasingly less valued by, involved with, and aligned strategically with their supervisors and other senior academic leadership.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Lack of Ed-Tech Transparency Costs $3B

A new study by the Technology for Education Consortium (TEC) indicates school districts overspend on education technology by at least $3 billion every year, primarily because of a lack of transparency on the part of ed-tech vendors.

Prices on Chromebooks, iPads, and Accelerated Reader 360 licenses vary widely from district to district, with vendor discounts applied to the total cost of purchases muddying what’s actually paid per device or user. In its study of data from 130 school districts, TEC found that prices could differ 20%-40% for both hardware and software, without any correlation to district size.

In the case of Chromebooks, for example, some districts shelled out up to $90 more than others for the same device and service bundle. The TEC study estimates that a single uniform price for Chromebooks across districts could save a total of about $500 million per year.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Different Approach to Higher Ed

The traditional model of higher education just wasn’t working for students of Paul Quinn College, Dallas, TX. The school’s solution was to incorporate flexibility, experiential learning, and entrepreneurial thought.

Under the New Urban College Model, the first federally recognized urban work college, participating students are employed for 10-20 hours a week and earn an annual stipend of up to $2,000 each academic year. Since nearly half of Paul Quinn students live at or near the poverty level, the institution uses open-sourced course materials so students don’t have choose between helping their families financially or buying textbooks. Varsity football was also eliminated and the field turned into an organic farm, providing hands-on learning and helping to feed the surrounding community.

The effort has driven down the cost to attend Paul Quinn College from nearly $24,000 annually to just under $15,000 for residential students. In addition, four-year loan debt averages are now less than $10,000.

“It is irresponsible to tell students from poverty that the way out of poverty is massive amounts of student loan debt,” said Paul Quinn President Michael J. Sorrell, during his presentation at the ASU + GSV Education Technology summit. “That is not right. We refuse to buy into that culture.”

The model has worked for Paul Quinn, which has been called an emerging national leader by The New York Times. Sorrell also earned a 2017 Social Innovator award from the Lewis Institute at Babson College for his efforts.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

K-12 Students Eager for More In-School Tech

K-12 students, especially those in middle and high school, may be embracing educational technologies at a faster pace than their institutions. Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2016 report found that more schools are adopting and using digital learning tools, but even more students say they are utilizing these technologies outside of school.

For example, 48% of high-schoolers go online daily (79% at least weekly) as part of doing their homework, even though only 29% of teachers assign work that specifically requires accessing resources on the Internet.

Many schools are earmarking more funds to improve availability and use of digital technologies. Speak Up determined, for instance, that twice as many students now have access to Chromebooks at school compared to two years ago.

However, students complained on the Speak Up survey about limitations at school that they often don’t face at home or other places, such as the library. According to a report in eSchool News, 53% of students were unhappy with the slow speed of Internet service at their schools. A majority of students wish their schools offered more educational digital games and more instruction in coding.

Monday, May 15, 2017

VR Allows Risk-Free Hands-On Training

Rising adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality in higher education is expanding and improving students’ hands-on training in a wide range of fields, from agriculture to medicine.

As noted in EdTech magazine, Southwest Virginia Community College’s crime-scene technology program employs Microsoft’s HoloLens “mixed-reality” smartglasses to let students practice their investigative skills as detectives in a virtual game environment.

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic are collaborating on a new 485,000-sq.-ft. Health Education Campus, expected to open in summer 2019. The facility will incorporate HoloLens and other cutting-edge technology to transform anatomy lessons, the teaching of surgical procedures, and other aspects of medical education. Students will be able to practice and improve their skills risk-free on virtual patients.

EdTech points out that VR may also foster more empathetic caregivers by allowing students to experience old age “firsthand” through a VR headset and specialized software.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Iris Scans Could Be the Next Student ID

Identification cards have served college campuses well over the years, allowing students to do everything from gaining access to buildings to eating in the dining halls to charging purchases in the campus store. Soon, however, advances in technology may make the ID card obsolete.

With fingerprint readers and iris cameras already basic components in smartphones, some colleges and universities are working on ways to put those features to work. Campus stores are already experimenting with low-energy Bluetooth beacons to offer shoppers discounts as they enter. Advances in hand-geometry readers, which identify the shape of a user’s hand, are also on the horizon.

The University of Georgia, Athens, will allow students to enroll in a system that uses iris authentication to enter dining halls and the student center. Georgia Southern University in Statesboro has used iris cameras to control entry into dining halls since 2013 and has found data gained from the technology useful.

“If we have a freshman who’s living on campus and required to have a dining plan, and suddenly we see the student’s not coming in anymore—what’s going on?” said Richard Wynn, director of Eagle Card services at Georgia Southern. “We can actually alert housing staff and let them know we haven’t seen that student in a while and they can actually go check on them.”

Iris authentication could also be used for entry into residence halls, the library, and sports venues, providing the institution an idea of how individual students spend their day. That sort of information would be valuable in university marketing efforts, yet it also brings up privacy concerns.

“These aren’t scanners,” Bryan Varin, executive director of UGA dining services, said of hand-geometry readers and iris cameras. “Both of them are simply taking a picture and ending up with a mathematical equation that grants you entry.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Small Loans Cause Big Woes for Some Students

Much of the discussion about student loan debt has focused on the small percentage who borrowed the most money. However, two-thirds of students who default on federal loans owe less than $10,000.

Many of those students were enrolled in community colleges. A new report from the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) confirmed “previous findings that low-balance borrowers are at the highest risk of student loan default,” said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown.

The ACCT study looked at students who had taken out federal loans in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Iowa. Default rates in those states ranged from 18.5% (Iowa) to 26.2% (Kentucky). In all three states, the number of defaults rose among students who owed the least, even though the states offered income-based repayment plans.

ACCT recommended more study on the reasons behind the high default rates, but also suggested that the repayment process was too complicated and that borrowers should have better options for paying off loans. The report also said there should be more “transparency in the loan program” so that students understand what they’re getting into.

Another study, conducted by the Navient financial services company and the EverFi education technology company, showed that students tend to underestimate how they’re going to finance their education. Only 41% of high-schoolers bound for college expect to borrow for educational expenses, but once they’re in college, 61% of students plan to take out some type of loan.

Students whose parents had attended college were actually more likely to land in debt, the study found. First-generation students tended to exhaust other options first—such as working during school, commuting from home, or attending cheaper institutions—before applying for loans.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Harm and Help in Teens’ Device Use

A new study published in the May 3 edition of the journal Child Development indicates that use of digital technology can be simultaneously detrimental and beneficial for adolescents at risk for mental health issues.

For the study, more than 150 children ages 11-15 from poor U.S. neighborhoods were given smartphones, then asked to respond to brief surveys three times a day for a month about their digital activity and how they were feeling. Eighteen months later, they were assessed for symptoms of mental health problems.

The children averaged 2.3 hours per day on their phones or other digital devices, sending an average of 41 texts every day. They reported more behavioral problems and symptoms related to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder on days when they used digital technology more heavily. However, their levels of anxiety and depression dropped on days when they texted more often.

Study co-author Candice Odgers, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, noted the findings suggest that "for already at-risk teens, high usage may amplify existing problems." Yet, she added, that may be counterbalanced by the fact that the majority of kids are "connecting in often positive ways" and benefit from the support of their online peer networks.

With that mix of pros and cons, neither unlimited tech use nor outright device bands are likely to be appropriate for teens.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Traditional Computer Labs on the Way Out?

With more students bringing their own devices to campus, there’s a growing trend of moving away from the traditional computer lab in favor of comfortable areas that encourage students to connect to the Internet to study.

“The whole dynamic is changing inside computer labs,” said Casey Gordon, director of IT for College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, MN, and St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN. “By virtualizing IT resources, we can revolutionize the way students do their work, give them spaces that foster greater collaboration, and expand how they use their own devices.”

However, making the transition requires planning, a commitment to training and support, and a willingness to discuss the change with all stakeholders because eliminating a bunch of desktop computers doesn’t automatically mean the move will cost less. Available campus bandwidth has increased threefold over the last five years, requiring more investment into the technology necessary to support it.

“I shy away from discussing cost savings and focus instead on deciding what’s the best use of our dollars to meet the changing needs of students,” Gordon said.

Faculty must also be part of the conversation. The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, found that some faculty members saw the labs as a way to attract students into their department.

“So if you remove them, that’s a major concern,” said Heath Tuttle, assistant vice chancellor for IT services at UNL. “We discuss the benefits of collaborative learning spaces where students can sit down with their laptop or a device they check out, have a coffee, and do their work.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Females, Minorities Worry More About Cost

Not all first-year college students are equally concerned about covering the costs of their education. The latest freshman survey report by the Higher Education Research Institute based at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) reveals divisions along gender, ethnic, and economic lines.

The annual survey, based on responses from 137,456 full-time freshmen at 184 U.S. colleges and universities, showed 55.9% of respondents overall were feeling some level of concern about college costs.

However, 15.8% of female students said they were very worried about costs, compared to just 10.1% of male students. The gap widened among racial groups: 24.7% of Latino freshmen and 22% of black freshmen expressed major concerns about paying for school, but only 9.2% of white students did. Conversely, more than half of female, Latino, and black freshmen thought they had a “very good chance” of landing a job during school to help finance those costs, but less than half of white and Asian freshmen thought they’d be able to find work.

Some 15% of students said they had to give up their first choice of school because of cost, the largest percentage since the question was included on the survey in 2004. More of these students also indicated they hadn’t been offered financial aid by their top choice.

There was a hopeful note in the survey report, though: “Although concerns about the cost of attending college and strategies to finance college continue to be at the forefront of students’ and parents’ minds, first-time, full-time students entering college in the fall of 2016 placed less weight than previous cohorts on economic considerations when deciding whether to pursue higher education; instead, they drew their motivation for a college degree from a place of personal and intellectual development.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

New Models Challenge Traditional Higher Ed

Adam Braun, CEO and co-founder of MissionU, says he believes traditional higher education is “broken.” While employers may not stretch that far in their assessment, the fact is some high-profile companies see a college education as less necessary or relevant today. Some, such as Google, have removed a college diploma as a requirement for hiring.

Braun’s MissionU doesn’t require a high school diploma for admission and charges no upfront tuition for its nondegree program in business intelligence and data analytics. Instead, through a profit-sharing agreement, students only pay MissionU 15% of their salary for three years once they make $50,000 or more per year; if a student fails to reach that salary threshold within seven years they’re absolved of any debt to the company.

During the one-year program, MissionU students take online classes and work on project assignments for employer partners such as Uber, Lyft, Spotify, Chegg, and Bonobos. Six weeks of the program are devoted to training for the job-interview process and salary negotiation.
Available undergraduate majors are business, arts and humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and computational sciences. There is also a graduate track to earn a master of science degree in applied analyses and decision-making. MissionU began accepting applications for its first sessions in March.

Launched in 2014, Minerva Schools at KGI is a nonprofit, accredited four-year university founded as a partnership between the Minerva Project and Keck Graduate Institute, a member of the Claremont University Consortium. Courses are online, but students also move around the world as they study, undertaking assignments at companies and organizations in Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Argentina, and Britain, as well as in the U.S.

Some critics question whether science can be taught online-only, without labs, or whether employers will seriously consider job candidates coming from programs that don’t yet have an established brand or proven track record. However, if more companies drop the sheepskin from their hiring requirements, that may become less of an issue.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Robust Mobile Apps a Must on Campus

Students don’t always bother with email, but they do check their smartphones, making it more important for colleges and universities to have a mobile strategy. The University of Texas at San Antonio (USTA) investigated its approach and found three issues institutions must address to connect with their student bodies through a mobile app.

The initiative was part of a 2015 grant the university received to develop its PIVOT for Academic Success Program. PIVOT stands for prepare, inspire, validate, orient, and transition students, and is part of an effort to understand the needs of the increasing number of first-time Latino, low-socioeconomic, and first-generation students on the UTSA campus.

Researchers found that push notifications about grade announcements, assignments, and tuition deadlines helped keep students on track, particularly those struggling to balance their academics and family responsibilities. It also discovered low-income students don’t always have access to a personal computer at home, so it created a mobile app that allows them to add and drop classes, buy textbooks, and communicate with faculty within the app.

The university integrated its student information system into its app so personal financial-aid information can be accessed, such as balances, charges, and alerts when payments are due, right from a student’s mobile devices. Along with all of the campus life information found on most mobile apps, the USTA tool also is compatible with most of the languages found on the USTA campus, which makes communications with students easier.

“Effective communication is key to keeping today’s diverse, mobile-first students engaged,” wrote Chris Hopkinson in an article for eCampus News. “As higher-education institutions continue to focus on boosting graduation rates for all students, a robust mobile strategy is quickly becoming the mainstay to increasing engagement and promoting an inclusive student experience.”