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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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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.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

STEM Jobs Losing Steam with Teens?

Fewer teenagers are interested in careers in science or the arts, but more are looking at health and public-service work. However, colleges and universities might want to hold off on adjusting their course offerings just yet.

For the second consecutive year, Junior Achievement and Ernst & Young surveyed 13- to 17-year-olds about their career ambitions and financial literacy. The percentage of teens who said they’re considering working in the arts dropped from 18% in 2017 to 13% this year, but the decrease for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers was even bigger.

Just 24% of teen boys, compared to 36% a year ago, have their eye on a STEM field after high school, even though the number of girls interested in STEM (11%) didn’t change year over year. The reasons behind such a large drop with the boys in just 12 months isn’t clear, though.

“It’s definitely disconcerting that we see declining interest in STEM,” Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of brand at Junior Achievement and manager of the survey project, told U.S. News. “Teens look for a career they’re good at, and they may not think they’re good at math and science.”

The survey indicated that Mom and Dad may be playing a more important role in shaping teens’ views on careers, as 28% of survey respondents said their parents were the major influence, compared to 19% in 2017. It could be those parents are steering their kids toward other fields. Nineteen percent of teenagers want careers in medical or dental fields, up from 15% last year, and 10% would like to enter the public-service sector, up from 7%.

About 43% of the teen respondents also said they expect their parents will pay for college (compared to 32% last year), and 45% (up from 33%) anticipate taking out a student loan.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Screen Time Linked to Insomnia, Depression


For adolescents, the more time spent on electronic screens the greater the likelihood of insomnia and shorter sleep duration, which in turn are linked to a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. Those were the findings of a new study by researchers at Stony Brook University, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Higher rates of depressive symptoms among teens may be partially explained through the ubiquitous use of screen-based activities, which can interfere with high-quality restorative sleep,” Stella Xian Li, a postdoctoral associate at Stony Brook.

Parents, health-care professionals, and educators should consider instructing adolescents about the effects of screen time and regulating device use.

“We’re very interested to see whether the adverse influences of social media and screen use on sleep and mental health persist during the transition to adulthood,” said Lauren Hale, a professor of family, population, and preventive medicine at Stony Brook who also collaborated on the study.

The researchers analyzed data from surveys of more than 2,800 teens, about evenly divided between males and females. Respondents reported how many hours they spent daily on gaming, social messaging, TV/movies, and web surfing. Gaming was found to have a stronger link to depressive symptoms than messaging activity.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Prof Vents about Textbook Rentals

Does renting textbooks save students money or cost them the real value of a college education? Sheila Liming, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, makes a case for the latter in an opinion column for Inside Higher Education.

“A degree used to mean learning from texts and racking up a cumulative store of skills and reference materials along the way,” she wrote. “But with the rise of textbook rentals, the rules of learning are getting rewritten, and not by education professionals, and not in accordance with the needs of student consumers, either.”

Her issue with rentals is they’re promoted as a cost-savings option but there are limits to how students can access and use the materials. Those are roadblocks that inhibit critical thinking and conversation, according to Liming.

“Rental companies insist that a given book can only be ‘useful’ to a student for the duration of a single semester, and so encourage students to see their own learning as fated for expiration and uselessness,” she said. “Even worse, rental companies and vendors—including campus bookstores—actively discourage students’ efforts to use the text they have rented, since wear and tear threatens the longevity of a book that a vendor wants to re-rent over and over again.”

To Liming, rental is just the latest “scheme” to make a buck, and is doing so at the expense of students’ education, depriving them of the ability to look back at previous classes or assignments to gauge their progress.

“Students are paying more and being coerced into renting because they are told they must, and  because they have not been made aware of their options,” she concluded. “It is therefore up to education professionals to show them—and to fight for the expansion of—worthy, cost-friendly alternatives, including both OER (open educational resources) and affordable print editions. Those alternatives do exist, and anyone who says differently is, as the saying goes, probably selling something.”

Liming may have a point when it comes to affordable alternatives for her English classes, but what about required texts for introductory biology or chemistry classes? Do students with other majors actually want to keep them to reflect back on and will they ever consider those textbooks affordable?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Few Changes Bump Grad Rate

Over the course of 14 years, Georgia State University managed to boost its six-year graduation rate from 32% to 54%. Some of the methods used by the university to raise that rate didn’t cost a lot and, in hindsight, seem rather obvious.

For instance, the school realized that how well (or not) students did in introductory courses in their major served as a fairly reliable predictor of their academic success (or lack of it) later on. However, students who needed help could only receive generalized tutoring in writing, math, and languages. So, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the university hired high-performing students to attend course sections and provide tutoring on that specific content each week to other students who needed it.

Many intro courses were moved to a “flipped” format, which required students to complete reading assignments beforehand so that they could use class time to apply the concepts in the course materials.

Students also used to change their major an average of 2.6 times, which forced them to stay in school longer to complete degree requirements. Georgia State now provides students with a lot more information about majors—including more opportunities to meet with faculty and alumni—to help them make better-informed decisions about their field of study, cutting the rate of major-hopping by 32%.

One tactic that did cost the school a little more up front was hiring a number of academic advisors to get in touch with students more promptly when analytics indicated they were in need of help. The extra expense paid off, however, as fewer students dropped out.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Most Millennials Faked Out by Fake News

At a time when “fake news” and online deception are topics of national debate, a majority of 1,000 college students and recent workforce entrants, aged 18-31, were unable to pass a basic, nine-question test of their digital literacy and critical-thinking ability.

The second-annual State of Critical Thinking survey commissioned by MindEdge Inc., a producer of online courses, and conducted by ResearchNow, found that only 19% of its millennial participants earned an “A” by answering eight or nine of the questions correctly, down from 24% in the inaugural 2017 survey. More than half couldn’t answer more than five questions correctly, earning a failing grade.

This year’s results were also worse in every segment, whether broken out by age, gender, or school type. For instance, in 2017 15% of students at two-year colleges got eight to nine answers correct, but that fell to just 9% in 2018. At four-year-plus colleges, 27% answered eight to nine questions correctly in 2017, but only 22% scored that well this year.

Contrary to their test results, these “digital native” respondents expressed an unwarranted confidence in their own capacity for critical thinking. Almost 60% said they were very confident in their soft skills and 40%—up five points from 2017—claimed to be very confident in their ability to see through bogus online content. At the same time, just 57% of participants said they believe their peers and colleagues are adept at critical thinking.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Too Early to Tell About Tennessee Promise

Education officials in Tennessee have released data on the Tennessee Promise, a program designed to make community college free for graduating high school seniors in the state. The results were encouraging, but it’s too soon to proclaim a smashing success.

Of the more than 13,000 students who participated in the Tennessee Promise class of 2015, 21.5% graduated with a degree or certificate, an increase over the 13.8% of students who accomplished the same thing the year before the program started. The data also indicated that only 8.3% of students who didn’t enroll in the Tennessee Promise in 2015 were able to earn a degree or certificate in five semesters.

“I have my degree and zero student debt,” one graduate of the program said in a National Public Radio report. “You do have to pay for your books and your parking passes, but that’s a heck of a deal. You can’t beat that.”

On the other hand, the dropout rate for the first Tennessee Promise class was just 2.3% lower than the rate of freshmen who dropped out in 2014. Some in higher ed also argue the data don’t actually show what caused the increase in degrees and certificates attained.

“We don’t have a benchmark for success on this because Tennessee’s the first state,” said Joni Finney, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “I’m just worried about pulling the carrot out of the ground too soon to see if it’s full grown. I think these programs have to evolve.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Debt Situation More Complex Than Money

Some 39% of college students who have taken out loans to finance their education don’t want to assume any more debt and would think about dropping out first, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney.

More than half of the students answering the survey owed at least $20,000. But when questioned more closely why they see leaving school as an option, it turns out the size of the loan debt isn’t the only—or even most critical—factor.

Of the student respondents with loans, 51% admitted to having a difficult time juggling their studies with a job and 20% were grappling to accommodate family-related responsibilities. More than a quarter were pondering whether to drop out after realizing their intended field paid relatively low and 10% didn’t even expect to work in the major they were studying.

Dissatisfaction with the college or university they were attending also played a role in considering whether to continue or drop out.

Not all of the respondents with student loans, though, were having trouble. More than a third viewed their loans as a worthwhile investment and estimated they’d earn at least $30,000 more annually once they attain their degree.

Friday, May 25, 2018

New Ed Models Require New Staffing Models

New K-12 educational approaches that encourage personalized and blended learning—the latter replacing a portion of traditional face-to-face instruction with web-based learning—are running afoul of the typical one-teacher-one-classroom structure. The new models pile additional tasks onto teachers already burdened by an overwhelming workload, in most cases handled solo.

Effectively implementing these new learning strategies will require adopting equally new staffing strategies, according to a new report, Innovative Staffing to Personalize Learning, compiled by the Clayton Christensen Institute and Public Impact.

The report’s authors examined how eight district, private, and charter schools and school networks used a variety of new arrangements to better support personalized and blended learning. They identified a number of elements key to the success of these endeavors:

• New roles for educators, including teacher-leaders heading small instructional teams, collaborative teams of teachers, support staff who tutored or mentored students to increase one-on-one or small-group interaction, and teachers in training who taught as part of their on-the-job learning.
• Intensive collaboration on small teaching teams to develop instructional skills faster and gain broader insights into the needs of individual students.
• Intensive coaching that involved weekly or even daily observation and feedback.
• Paid fellowships and residencies that allowed schools to establish their own pipeline of future instructors.

Increasing teachers’ pay was often needed to gain buy-in for their taking on added work and new responsibilities. Some schools stretched their student-to-teacher ratios to make teachers eligible for higher pay, while others brought lower-paid support staffers, trainee teachers, and volunteer tutors into the classroom to shoulder some of the duties.

“The organizational inertia of traditional staffing arrangements may take some time to change,” the report noted. “But as schools like these produce strong results and then refine and codify their practices, more schools across the country will have the will and the means to follow in their footsteps.”


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Poll Response Mixed on Higher Ed

Despite concerns over whether postsecondary schools can prepare graduates for jobs in the real world, the public still feels there is value in pursuing higher education. Sort of.

In a new poll from the research group New America, a majority of respondents agreed “a college degree leads to better job opportunities than a high-school diploma,” according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. A large percentage (78% of respondents who said they were Republicans and 84% of those who voted Democrat) also were “comfortable” with tax money being used to fund colleges and universities.

However, although the respondents had a more favorable view of community colleges in general as well as the institutions in their local vicinity, they weren’t so sure about other schools in the higher-ed universe. Just 25% of respondents were satisfied with the current state of higher education.

The biggest reason was cost. Thirty-eight percent of respondents viewed college attendance overall as too costly, yet 81% thought community colleges were “worth the cost.” The findings suggest that the public perceives community-college coursework as more directly tied to job requirements than four-year institutions.

Only 12% indicated a college education should be free for all students.

Monday, May 21, 2018

MIT Students Hack Disability Solutions

According to the World Health Association, more than a billion people worldwide need one or more assistive devices to address physical, communication, or other disabilities. However, about 90% of them lack access to such technologies.

To raise awareness of the situation, jump-start innovation, and encourage students to consider careers developing assistive devices, the Assistive Technology Hackathon (ATHack) brings together teams of MIT students every year to brainstorm, design, and create solutions for problems faced by specific disabled “clients” from the Boston/Cambridge community.

The event is interdisciplinary and open to anyone. ATHack coordinators asemble teams of students with complementary skills, interests, and academic backgrounds. Clients often act as co-designers and meet with their teams at a dinner a couple weeks ahead of the hackathon to lay out the particular problem they need solved.

On the day of the event, the teams have 11 hours to produce their solution, from start to finish. It’s understood by all involved that the result may not be an immediately usable prototype, but development can continue beyond the event with some help and resources from the organizers.

Of this year’s 15 projects, eight or nine were completed by the deadline. Among the winners selected were a portable seat to allow someone to use a shower while traveling and an armband that vibrates to alert a hearing-impaired wearer when someone rings their doorbell.

More than 300 participants have collaborated on 70-plus projects since ATHack was launched five years ago. Its organizers hope to post a compilation database of hackathon projects within the next few months.