This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Work the Social Brain Network to Get Ahead

To communicate more effectively and increase your opportunities for advancement, you need to exercise your social brain network—regions of the cortex that are activated when we need to interpret the behavior, intentions, and appearance of other people.

Studying interactions among both humans and primates has revealed that the structure of a person’s social brain network is strongly influenced by the shape of their social network.

In some social networks, all the members know one another independently, while in others, certain people act as hubs indirectly connecting individuals and groups who otherwise wouldn’t know each other. Research has found that their exposure to more diverse perspectives confers a host of benefits to those in the hub position, labeled “information brokers.” They’re not only better at problem-solving but also more likely to accrue faster promotion and higher pay.

In one 2017 study, teenagers’ brains were scanned as they made decisions about whether to recommend various products to friends in their Facebook network. The researchers found that those who were information brokers used their social brain network more in selecting what to recommend to their peers than did teens whose contacts all knew one another independently.

In both humans and monkeys, those who exercise their social brain network more to translate ideas and information between different groups increase the size and connectivity of that neural “muscle,” which further expands their capacity for effective networking. That suggests that providing greater access to broader and more diverse social networks in both educational settings and the workplace could change how people use their brains in day-to-day decision-making.

Since previous research has demonstrated that activity in one person’s social brain network can stimulate similar activity in others during communication, putting both speaker and listener in greater sync and making communication more successful, any effort to widen and diversify social networks could create an ever-expanding ripple effect throughout the community.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Netflix, Smartphones Eat Up Bandwidth

The Netflix video-streaming service and smartphones are the two biggest drains on campus bandwidth, according to a report on residential networks (ResNet).

Netflix was named the biggest content threat to bandwidth capacity by 88% of the IT, housing, and business officers who participated in the State of ResNet 2018 Report, while smartphones were listed as the largest consumers of bandwith by 73% of respondents.

The smartphone percentage was an 11% increase over the 2017 report, with desktop computers and laptops finishing second (65%) and smart TVs in third (59%). At the same time, online learning tools and interactive digital textbooks were considered a threat by 33% and 14% of respondents, respectively.

Almost every respondent said their institution viewed “high-performing” ResNet as essential to attracting and keeping students on campus. Ninety-six percent of housing administrators said quality ResNet was “very important,” while 92% of IT respondents and 90% of business officers said the same thing.

At the same time, 41% of the respondents admitted their schools were shaping and limiting bandwidth, up 10% from the year before. There was also a double-digit increase in blocking activities such as peer-to-peer sharing and music downloading, from 34% in 2017 to 44% in 2018.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Student Debt Fuels Concern and Confusion

There may be growing anxiety among many college students and their parents over whether attaining a bachelor’s degree is worth the expense, especially when student loans are involved.

Two surveys—both, ironically, commissioned by companies that provide student loans—conducted last spring with young adults reveal some of the concerns. In the survey from Ascent Student Loans, 51% of respondents said they “do not believe the value of a college education has kept up with the rising cost.” Almost half said they were responsible for paying at least 50% of their school tab.

In a survey from Discover Student Loans, 26% of current students and recent graduates were worried they’d need to take on a second job and give up leisure activities in order to pay off loan debt for their education, but that percentage rose to 59% among young adults who had been out of college for a few years.

However, a lack of financial literacy may be contributing to students’ apprehension. More than 40% of the Discover survey-takers indicated they didn’t fully understand how to budget for payments or even exactly how much they were required to pay back. In the Ascent survey, two-thirds didn’t know when loan interest begins accruing and many thought the average loan payment was less than $100 a month (Ascent said it’s more than $200).

A report on MarketWatch noted that the class of 2016 graduated with an average loan debt of $29,669, although the average was $32,596 for students whose parents had borrowed through the federal PLUS program.

Monday, July 9, 2018

QRNG Claims ‘Unbreakable’ Online Security

Creation of the world’s first practical quantum random-number generator (QRNG) could potentially render cyberattacks impossible, according to its developers at Lancaster University and Quantum Base Ltd., a company spun off from the university in 2013.

Random-number generation underpins the privacy and security of all electronic communications, as well as gaming, cryptocurrencies, smart appliances and vehicles, and much more in the digital world. Conventional “pseudo” RNGs don’t produce numbers that are as random as most consumers believe, leading to potential predictability, and existing quantum solutions are hindered by their size, speed, and pricetag.

Quantum Base, on the other hand, claims its product’s low power requirements and simple, highly scalable structure make it capable of revolutionizing online security. The nanoscale quantum device—only 1,000th the width of a human hair—can be embedded into any semiconductor chip—“with little or no incremental cost once volume production is achieved,” according to a release—and produces “pure random numbers.”

The company said that by overcoming weaknesses in current encryption solutions, its QRNG will "allow blockchain to be implemented with unbreakable quantum security, and will be vital in sensitive areas such as banking finance, defense, and social media."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Decisions Needed Before Going Online

Online degree programs have become a strategy for growth at some colleges and universities, and for survival at others. However, it involves much more than slapping a course or program online.

“You are not simply putting a course online; you are creating an online product,” said Furqan Nazeeri, a partner at the online education platform provider ExtensionEngine. “It’s an important distinction. Your product—the program, course, certificate, or degree—has to be unique and very specific to what your market to current and prospective students want.”

With institutions developing new online programs each year, colleges and universities should be striving to create something unique and not just a replica of the course provided in the classroom. All campuses are different and schools should be looking at their online programs the same way.

“It’s time to move away from mass-produced, cookie-cutter programs that take a one-size-fits-all approach,” Nazeeri continued. “Instead, differentiate your students’ online learning experience, and thus your institution, by creating authentic, adaptive, engaging, customized programs that embrace your institution’s distinctive approach to education.”

Anyone going this route must also understand there are risks and considerable costs to online programs.

“What are the key considerations in the push to go online?” Aleksandar Tomic, associate dean for strategy, innovation, and technology at the Woods College of Advanced Studies, Boston College, asked in a column for The EvoLLLution. “There are no obvious answers to any of these challenges, but each institution must consider the options in front of them and clearly define the answer best for their organization and success.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Enjoy the Fourth!

From all of the NACS Inc. staff, have a safe and happy Fourth of July.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Grads Not as Ready for Careers as They Think

Just 41% of U.S. college students said they feel “very” or “extremely” prepared for their post-college career, according to McGraw-Hill Education’s fifth-annual Workforce Survey. While far from ideal, that’s a significant bump up from the 29% who said they felt well prepared in the 2017 survey.

More men (50%) reported feeling “very” or “extremely” prepared for their career, while only 36% of women said the same. Overall, nontraditional students—here meaning those who didn’t enter college within a year of finishing high school—expressed feeling prepared more often (49%) than their traditional counterparts (34%). Students in technical and vocational programs were far more likely to see themselves as well prepared for their career than any other academic discipline.

Fewer than half of the 1,000 students surveyed were confident they’d gained the critical skills necessary to enter the workforce, such as complex problem-solving (43%), résumé writing (37%), and interviewing (34%). There is, however, something of a disconnect between stated desires and actions: Although 51% said they’d like access to more internships and other professional experiences during college, fewer than half reported taking advantage of the career services offered by their institution.

There’s a lot of daylight between students’ perceptions of their own preparedness and how employers see them. Although more than three-quarters of students were confident in their own professionalism and work ethic, the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2018 learned that just 43% of employers surveyed felt that recent college grads were up to standard in those areas. And while more than 60% of students felt their leadership skills were sufficient for the workplace, only a third of employers agreed with them.

Those findings dovetail with the results of Building Tomorrow’s Talent: Collaboration Can Close Emerging Skills Gap, a new study by Bloomberg Next and Workday Inc., a provider of cloud-based financial and human-resources management software. The study, which queried 100 U.S. academic institutions and an equal number of U.S. corporations, found that only 35% of corporations said new hires possessed both the hard and soft skills to perform at a high level in a professional setting.

There isn’t much encouragement on the horizon, as 84% of academic respondents said budget constraints were the biggest barrier to implementing plans to better prepare students for the workforce.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Integrating Access to Content

Seamless integration of academic content and tools with a school’s learning management systems (LMS) really shouldn’t be an issue. However, institutions regularly face challenges in integrating digital learning materials with all the different campus systems.

“When solutions integrate well, the students and professors shouldn’t notice any differences between our platforms and the external content,” said Steve Kessinger, director of information services and technology at Bluefield College, Bluefield, VA. “Integrations should enhance the educational experience, not be a barrier.”

Integration should make access to digital content possible from the institution’s LMS interface and not in a new window from a new interface. Students shouldn’t have to log into the LMS a second time to access the material. Seamless integration can also make it possible for students to immediately access content as soon as they register for a class through their LMS accounts.

A well-integrated system allows students’ quiz and homework grades to go directly to the LMS gradebook for review by the instructor. It should also be easy for instructors to edit and share content with students, while administrators should be able to see analytics and student performance measurements.

To make it all happen, colleges and universities, along with instructors, need to be working with LMS providers on universal standards.

“When vendors adhere to sets of standards as opposed to proprietary approaches, it becomes far easier for institutions to adopt their solutions,” Kessinger said. “Our application development resources are extremely limited. Developing custom integrations can be very time-consuming and costly.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Students Need a Hand with Basic Costs

Low-income, first-in-family college students sometimes need a little help getting to the finish line. Institutions typically respond with solutions such as tuition aid and academic counseling. That may not be enough, according to speakers at The New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum held recently.

“The new economics of college goes way beyond tuition; we spend so much time talking about whether tuition is going up, whether it’s frozen, whether that makes college affordable. But the vast majority of the cost of attending college faced by students in the United States are things like books and supplies, room and board, medical expenses, transportation, clothing,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, in a report about the conference on Education Dive.

Goldrick-Rab and other speakers pointed out that some students need assistance covering basic living expenses while they’re in school, yet that gap has been overlooked by colleges and universities. A study conducted by Temple University with the Wisconsin HOPE Lab indicated 36% of students are food insecure and 36% are housing insecure.

Similar findings emerged from the Monthly Student Panel survey conducted last spring by NACS OnCampus Research. When asked how concerned they were about having enough money to pay necessary bills such as rent, food, and monthly expenses, 23% of student respondents were “extremely” or “very” concerned. Another 23% were “somewhat” concerned.

In the same survey, students ranked “paying for home/rent expenses” as their No. 1 cost concern and 29% said they “often” or “sometimes” go without food when they’re hungry because they don’t have the money.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Most Teens Want to Cut Their Screen Time

Almost two-thirds of young people ages 13-18 claim they wish they were better able to self-limit how much time they spend on their smartphone, according to a survey of more than 1,000 teens by Screen Education, which consults and conducts research and workshops on "digital wellness" issues.

Even more (68%) said they’d attempted to reduce their screen time and 26% said they wished someone else would limit their screen time for them. More than half who attend a school that bans smartphones in class said they were glad of that policy.

“These kids know their phones are compromising so many aspects of their lives and they want help, Michael Mercier, president of Screen Education, said in a statement. He recommended imposing “reasonable limits” on screen time and cultivating teens’ ability to police their own screen time.

Among the survey’s other findings:

• 69% of respondents said they wish they could spend more time in face-to-face interactions rather than socializing online.
• 32% want to stop using their phone but find themselves unable to do so—every day.
• 41% said they feel overwhelmed every day by their notifications.
• 41% said phones present an obstacle to getting the best grades they can.
• 36% said they witness cyberbullying on a weekly basis.
• 31% have seen online bullying escalate to physical violence.
• 73% said they feel social media use is a factor in conditions that can lead to school shootings.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Campus Store Weights In on Rental Debate

In an opinion piece earlier this month in Inside Higher Ed, a University of North Dakota professor claimed that rental textbooks limited student access to course materials and stifled critical thinking and conversation. Jason Katzman, CCR, assistant director for academic resource support, CU Book Store, University of Colorado Boulder, says he understands the prof’s points but argues rentals are a symptom rather than a cause.

Twenty years ago, a student bought a book, sold it back at the end of the semester, and maybe received something close to half (although probably not) of what they had paid if the book was being used again the next semester,” Katzman wrote in his Inside Higher Ed rebuttal. “Of course, professors complained then that the buyback process devalued the educational experience by encouraging students to part with important materials they might need for another class or later in life as a reference. Then, along came the Internet and Amazon, and the model that traditional collegiate textbook retailers had been using for years was upended. For many stores, renting textbooks is a way to compete while remaining financially viable.”

Market forces determine where students decide to get their course materials. Selling a textbook for $400 has become unthinkable, so rental has become a way for bookstores to remain relevant and viable. The current trend of providing students low-cost digital course materials as part of tuition or course fees is another solution that helps publishers and bookstores stay in business while driving prices down for students.

“If the higher-education community wants to spend large amounts of energy working on the high cost of course materials, they should. It’s important,” Katzman wrote. “However, we’re being shortsighted. In addition to course materials delivery, another model that’s broken is higher education itself. What happens when Amazon or somebody else finds a way to offer a bachelor’s degree for 75% of its current cost?”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Online Students Prefer Quick and Easy

Convenience and speed appear to be very important to college students who are taking—or plan to take—all of their courses online.

A new study conducted by Learning House, which operates online courses for institutions, and Aslanian Market Research showed that 67% of online students are using mobile devices to finish some portion of their course requirements. Reading course materials and communicating with instructors are the most-common activities. That suggests students are using their smartphone or tablet to catch up on schoolwork in between other responsibilities, most likely when they’re away from home.

Online students gave lower ratings to scheduled class sessions conducted via webconferencing than they did to other class activities they could access in their own time, such as videos, slides, readings, interactive media, and discussion boards.

“When students were asked about the features they deemed most important in the online programs they chose or were considering, a double-digit share of their responses went to innovations that can expedite their education,” noted a summary of the study in Campus Technology. Those innovations include year-round courses, self-paced classes, accelerated courses, and online programs that can be completed in less time than face-to-face classes.

The survey also showed a growing number of online students have at least some interest in exploring other new types of postsecondary education, such as competency-based education, stackable credentials, and “textbook-free” programs.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Users Retain Info Better from Virtual Study

People recall information better after viewing it in an immersive virtual environment than they do when using a desktop display, according to recent research conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Volunteers first studied printouts of two 21-image sets of famous faces, such as Napoleon, Gandhi, Mickey Mouse, George Washington, and Marilyn Monroe. They were then shown one set of faces placed throughout one of two “memory palaces,” either an ornate palace or a medieval townscape.

After five minutes to navigate and study the memory palace and then a two-minute break, the subjects re-entered the memory palace, where the faces had been replaced by numbers, and were asked to recall which faces had been in which positions. Half of the participants viewed the scene first using a virtual-reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) and then a desktop computer display with mouse-based interaction; the other half used the desktop first and then the HMD.

“The users that used the HMD first and then moved to a traditional desktop had better performance than those who used the desktop first and then the HMD,” wrote the researchers. “This suggests a positive transfer effect from the HMD to a desktop.”

Overall, VR users showed 8.8% better recall, which means immersive VR-based education and virtual memory palaces may prove more effective than traditional methods in K-12, higher ed, and job training.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Digital Student IDs Are Here

It was just a matter of time before colleges and universities started offering students the choice of digital identification cards. Apple is taking a big step to move the process forward, rolling out a digital student ID initiative to begin in the fall at Duke University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma, and at Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University, and Temple University by the end of the calendar year.

The ID cards will use the same near-field communications chip used for Apple Pay and will be available on newer iPhones and the Apple Watch. Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger, views digital student IDs as a way for schools to better serve their students and for Apple to sell more watches.

“The bigger play here for Apple is about the watch, with the iPhone thrown in as a backwards compatibility and ensuring a usable program for students who have far more iPhones than watches,” Hill told EdSurge.

Some worry the initiative might be seen as discriminatory since students who don’t have an Apple device won’t be able to participate. Colleges and universities will also need to create guidelines for tracking the information the IDs will collect on students.

“This fits into [the] overall trend of ‘Trojan Horse’ technology that is designed for one purpose, but has data collection as part of its platform,” said Avi Chelsa, founder and CEO of empow cybersecurity. “Universities are becoming more and more data-driven, using data to track behaviors and derive insights in the same way that hotels, airports, and other institutions are.”