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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, August 20, 2018

Tool Helps New Students Adjust to Campus

With more than 6,000 first-year students expected to arrive soon for the fall term, Florida State University, Tallahassee, is deploying a new online tool to assist them in reducing stress and adjusting to the campus. Called the Student Resilience Project, it was developed by the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the school’s College of Social Work.

As part of the project, all incoming freshmen and transfer students receive mandatory training through animations, TED Talk-style audio presentations by faculty members and mental-health providers, and videos of current FSU students recounting their own first-year issues and how they dealt with them. The project website also offers audios for mindful meditation and music therapy, along with journaling tips and connections to university and community trauma resources.

Recognizing that the transition to higher ed and new surroundings can be very stressful for some students, the project’s aim is to guide new arrivals in building on their existing strengths and promote strategies for resilience and coping with that adjustment and the frustration, stress, and feelings of loss or grief that may accompany it.

“Unmanaged stress responses can interfere with student success in college and cause long-term negative consequences,” Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies, said in a release.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Free College in New York Is Complicated

Complications appear to be bogging down the “free college” movement, particularly in New York. An August report from the Center for an Urban Future found that just 3.2% of the undergraduates statewide received an Excelsior Scholarship.

The program requires students to earn at least 30 credits every year of enrollment, which proved to be the main reason students applying for the funds were rejected. According to the report, 43,513 of the 63,599 scholarship applications in 2018 were rejected, with more than 36,000 denied because of insufficient credits.

“Admittedly, it’s still early days for the program, so the numbers may drift upwards a bit,” Matt Reed, vice president for learning, Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, NJ, wrote in his Confessions of a Community College Dean column for Inside Higher Ed. “But with complicated paperwork requirements, an extraordinarily high credit requirement, and a postgraduation residency requirement in place, it’s not surprising that the impact has been minimal.”

To Reed, the more complicated the program, the fewer resources it will receive. Free colleges should be simple and transparent, not screening people out.

“Beat the program with a simple stick,” he continued. “Get rid of income caps, postgraduate residency requirements, and unrealistic credit requirements. Over time, make it as free, open, and easy to use as a public library. The future is worth it.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Research: Bigger Role for CC Libraries?

A new Ithaka S+R research project aims to determine whether campus libraries could do more to help community-college students complete their studies. The first phase of the project discovered that libraries and students aren’t always on the same page.

For libraries, “student success” often has been defined by measurable academic data, such as the number of students who attain degrees or certificates, according to EdSurge’s account of the project. On the other hand, researchers found students viewed success in school in terms of personal satisfaction with their work and their lives—a much more nebulous goal.

However, when students were asked about ongoing challenges, their answers provided some insights into how libraries could lend a hand to help them. Many students reported that applying for financial aid was confusing and they were having trouble paying for normal living expenses. Quite a few students were working parents who said they struggled to find affordable care for their kids so they could attend classes or study.

The second phase of the research project is looking more closely at how some campus libraries are already addressing these problems, either directly or indirectly. For example, one library provides private study spaces where students can do classwork while their children play, so they don’t have to pay a sitter. Another library tackles the problem from a different stance, requiring all first-year students to meet with a librarian to review library services to ensure they’re aware of available resources and won’t be intimidated to ask for help.

The final report is expected to be out in mid-2019.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Have the Social Giants Peaked?

Last week, when Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat reported their latest quarterly earnings, all three social platforms noted a slowdown or drop in users.

Facebook’s user numbers remained flat in North America and fell in Europe on a quarter-over-quarter basis, Twitter reported a slight downturn in monthly users, and Snap posted a decline in daily active users for the second quarter.

CNBC floated the possibility that social-media growth has peaked, with no room to add significant numbers of new users—at least in the West. Facebook still hopes to use “lite” versions of its apps to secure gains in huge, virtually untapped markets such as India and Indonesia. And, of course, China, with its billions of potential users, remains closed for now to Facebook and other popular platforms.

Facebook and Twitter both blamed the European Union’s new data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, as a factor in their declines. However, Facebook’s monthly page visits have been falling sharply for some time, according to a study by market research company SimilarWeb, from 8.5 billion to 4.7 billion over the past two years.

Thanks to that drop, YouTube, experiencing increased traffic and viewership, is poised to potentially pass Facebook within the next few months to become the second-biggest website in the U.S.

Friday, August 10, 2018

States Risk Missing Higher Ed Opportunities

A new study found that not one state in the United States has enough adult workers who have earned some sort of postsecondary degree to meet its workforce demands. Even those states that graduate a high number of workers with degrees are projected to fall well short of their expected needs by 2025.

The College Opportunity Risk Assessment, a state-by-state comparison of risks to higher educational opportunity from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), also noted that even states making the most per-student investments are struggling to produce enough graduates.

“The world has changed, but our public policies haven’t,” said Joni Finney, professor of practice at Penn GSE and director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education. “We’re still touting the successes of a system designed in the wake of World War II to allow 30% to 40% of the country, drawn mostly from white, affluent backgrounds, to earn a college degree, even though that system now leaves us woefully unprepared for the challenges of the 21st century.”

According to Finney, states should be prioritizing those students who are traditionally left out of higher education, such as low-income, first-generation, minority, and working-adult students. At the same time, policymakers have to understand that cutting education budgets is turning many students into dropouts with debt and no degree.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

First Impressions Count in STEM Retention

How can universities attract and retain more students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses to fill the growing need for employees in these fields? As it turns out, one of the ways is to ensure students have a positive first experience with STEM education, according to University Business.

After noticing that a lot of students who enrolled in an introductory STEM course never took any more, Michigan State University put more resources toward bolstering instruction in these 100-level classes. When the instruction improved, so did student success, and more students continued to sign up for STEM classes.

“Twenty years ago, especially at research universities, a lot of faculty would see their primary job as research, and teaching as something they had to do,” James Fairweather, professor emeritus of higher adult and lifelong education at MSU, told UB. “I’d say the attitude of faculty toward teaching today is more positive. I don’t think they see it as the dregs of their job.”

Other institutions—including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Howard University, and Purdue University—also found that providing more professional development to faculty to help them brush up their teaching skills resulted in better student outcomes in STEM courses. Some faculty needed ideas for strategies to help struggling students get up to speed, such as giving regular quizzes to see how they were progressing or providing questions they could consult while reading course assignments.

The University of Arizona also placed more emphasis on introductory STEM courses, creating more interactive classroom spaces to encourage hands-on learning and collaboration among students. A storage room for library journals was converted into a learning space with tables and chairs that could be moved around into groups. The configuration worked so well that UA will have a total of 30 similar spaces available for classes this fall.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Google Glass May Help Autistic Kids

While the first iteration of Google Glass was scuttled in the market by concerns about privacy, etiquette, and safety, the smart glasses may find fresh relevance in helping children with autism spectrum disorder to socialize with others.

A new report published in the journal npj Digital Medicine details a pilot study in which autistic children used Superpower Glass, a prototype machine learning-assisted app designed to run on Google Glass paired with an Android smartphone. The app, trained from hundreds of thousands of facial images, displays an onscreen emoticon to alert the wearer when someone with whom they’re interacting expresses one of several core emotions, such as anger, happiness, or surprise.

After using this tech at home for an average of about 10 weeks, the families in the study reported that their kids demonstrated increased eye contact and greater ability at reading facial expressions, results that were confirmed by testing. Anecdotally, those behavioral changes have persisted beyond the end of the pilot.

The researchers wrote that “our system’s ability to provide continuous behavioral therapy outside of clinical settings will enable faster gains in social acuity, and that within a limited and self-directed period of use, will permit the child to engage in increasingly more complex social scenarios of his/her own.”

Additional clinical trials are planned to validate Superpower Glass’s impact and suitability for home behavioral therapy.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Games Help Make Learning Fun

Playful design, the blending of serious educational games (SEGs) with immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, is becoming the next big thing in higher education. Playful design works because people like to play games and games make learning fun, according to David Chandross, professor of education, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada.

“Serious games work by practicing skills and tracking achievement, but also by giving learning an addictive quality,” he wrote in an article for The Conversation. “The ‘one more move’ thinking that keeps video gamers up all night is harnessed for learning.”

Chandross noted peer-reviewed studies show SEGs encourage students to use what they learn while playing, engage them better than most lectures, and reward learners for their achievements. It’s a form of active learning that helps students succeed.

“We learn a lot when we love what we are learning,” Chandross said. “It’s a basic trademark of achievement in higher education. Human beings love doing certain things, and learning to become a master of their own world, however fantastical it might be, is one of them.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We Write Good, Say College Students

College students hold a fairly high opinion of their writing skills, even when their grades don’t merit it.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a new survey by Primary Research Group found that 46% of students didn’t think they needed any more instruction in writing and just over half said they didn’t require assistance with spelling or grammar. About a third were willing to concede their writing and grammatical skills could use a little work, but believed they were able to brush up on their own without formal instruction.

Students who earned A grades were more likely, as you might expect, to say their writing skills were just fine, but students with lower scores were almost as confident. Only 17% of C students admitted to needing more instruction in writing.

Students in their first or second year of college overwhelmingly held a positive view of their writing capabilities, but seniors (who had presumably by then received more feedback from professors on their papers) were somewhat more apt to say they should get more instruction in this area.

The study also determined that about 30% of students have never been assigned to write a paper with more than 10 double-spaced pages, the type of paper typically calling for deeper research and/or analysis. Social-sciences majors were more likely to have written such papers.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Classroom Multitaskers Get Poorer Grades

Despite students’ claims to be adept at dividing their attention, their use of phones, laptops, and tablets during classroom lectures does have a negative impact, according to a just-published study by researchers at Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ.

Rather than testing college students against a control group of their peers, the researchers tested two sections of an upper-level psychology course—118 students in all—against themselves. The students were permitted to have their electronic devices out during half the lectures, but were prohibited from using them during the other half. Immediate retention of information was assessed with daily quizzes, and longer-term retention by three unit exams and a final exam.

Students’ scores proved to be “significantly worse” on device-approved days, even for those who opted not to use their electronics, demonstrating how devices’ capacity for distraction extends beyond just the actual user. In addition, the study posited that what was—and wasn’t—learned in the classroom influenced the quality of students’ out-of-class studying for exams.

“Dividing attention between an electronic device and the classroom lecture did not reduce comprehension of the lecture, as measured by within-class quiz questions,” the authors pointed out. “Instead, divided attention reduced long-term retention of the classroom lecture, which impaired subsequent unit-exam and final-exam performance.”

Professor Arnold Glass, the lead researcher, told Insider Higher Ed that he recommends other faculty follow his lead and call out students they see using their devices during lectures, “not because I’m tremendously offended by this, but because I know it negatively affects them.”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Pediatricians Should Ask about Social Media

When doctors examine kids, especially adolescents, they often use a HEADSSS (home life, education, activities, drugs, sexual activity, safety, and suicide and/or depression) assessment to identify any potential mental health or alcohol or drug issues.

Now, an editorial in the May 2018 journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that health-care providers add in queries about social media use, including sexting, cyberbullying, and the impact of social media on self-worth.

While noting that social media does provide some positive benefits in terms of social connection and support, the researchers behind the article noted that teens who devote the most time to it are at higher risk of negative effects.

“Aberrant and/or excessive social media usage may contribute to the development of mental health disturbance in at-risk teenagers, such as feelings of isolation, depressive symptoms, and anxiety,” the authors wrote.

A study of 500 college undergrads who were active social media users, presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in May, found that how they used social media—especially passive consumption vs. active engagement—was associated with depression, with depressed users more likely to:

• Score highly on a survey of social media addiction.
• Compare themselves to others they perceived as “better off than me.”
• Say they were bothered by being tagged in an unflattering photo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hidden Costs for Online Courses

Developing an online course usually isn’t cheap, but one particular expense is often underestimated: updating the course down the road. Face-to-face class content also needs to be refreshed from time to time, but online courses may call for hardware or software upgrades or time-consuming reviews to ensure web resources are still accessible.

Inside Higher Education took a look at how institutions are grappling with processes and costs to keep online courses up to date. Some schools didn’t take into account the maintenance cost for online courses, which over just a few years can add up to more than the original development cost.

Schools that offer quite a few online courses tend to require faculty to conduct a formal review of the course every few years, more often in the case of rapidly evolving subjects, such as computer science or biology. At Walden University, the review includes a report on whether the course is achieving learning outcomes. Western Governors University reviews each course annually, but it also has 200 faculty who work solely on course development.

If the faculty member who originally created the course leaves, it can take much longer for someone else to review and update the material. Installing cybersecurity measures to protect online courses from hackers is also a growing cost.

“I definitely would caution any institution from thinking of online courses as a quick moneymaker, at least if you want to do it right,” said Jessie Guy-Ryan, who heads the online learning team at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Voice Assistants Not Ready for Classrooms

Representatives of Amazon and Google made it clear at the recent International Society for Technology in Education conference that voice-assistant devices should not be used in K-12 classrooms because of compliance and privacy issues. While privacy issues is still a concern, the devices are finding their way into campus dorms and classrooms.

Amazon donated 1,600 Echo Dots to engineering students at Arizona State University, Tempe, and is providing grants to institutions that create class curriculum using Alexa-enabled devices and mentorship. Additionally, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, will give some students the option to connect an Echo Dot device to their university accounts this fall.

Jason Hong, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, has studied the home use of Alexa and said the device isn’t quite ready for educational use. He noted they could be handy in specific college situations, such as a lab where students need hands-free interaction but added there are risks, such as demands to view the dialogue history stored in the device.

“These things are not geared for schools and for lots of people at the same time,” Hong said, adding that could change as the technology improves. “I think it could be really exciting, but also rather thorny.”

Friday, July 20, 2018

College Students Worry About Time

Academics are not the only thing keeping college students up at night. A new survey of more than 1,500 undergrads currently enrolled in a two- or four-year institution found that 36% of respondents said time management and 35% identified anxiety as the key factors keeping them from a diploma.

Students also listed being overwhelmed with managing responsibilities (31%) and working too many hours (24%) to pay for school as other factors. The survey results may be the tip of the iceberg since so many nontraditional students are heading to college.

“We have a lot of students with very complicated lives and they have broader issues,” said Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning, which did the study. “Trying to design the right kind of advising support is going to mean a level of diversification and a level of personalization.”

Advising is becoming much more important to students. The study noted that 40% ranked information on career options after graduation and on staying on track to finish a degree as the highest types of advice they should receive. Time management and academic success strategies were listed by 33% of the respondents.