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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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Digital Textbooks through BlackBoard

Well, we have long expected it (or suspected it), but I have confirmation - Blackboard is selling digital textbooks direct to students. I am co-teaching an executive/weekend MBA course next semester for the University at Albany. I had to register for my blackboard account this afternoon so that I could start setting up the course over the next few weekends. One of the line items to complete as you are completing the registration form is "set up your course e-pack." If you click the help or "what is this" option, it takes you to Blackboard's Digital Content FAQ page (permanent link not available).

I searched and was able to find one textbook option I was considering for sale directly through Blackboard/WebCT. The version includes the full text electronically, plus a number of interactive tools, quizzes and other content to go with the electronic text. The site does note that if I contact my publisher rep I can get pricing for the printed textbook and/or access code bundles that can be sold through the college bookstore. It would be interesting to know how this price compares to what students would pay for the text through the college store. Is the price reasonable to students?

On the site above it says that students can purchase access codes online from blackboard/webCT, in a bundled package with the textbook, or in the campus bookstore. By the latter, I assume they mean the "hang-tag" type purchase model for publisher content (like the MBS or Nebraska systems) since to my knowledge, Blackboard has not made any arrangements to sell access codes directly through stores, yes?

Interestingly, the system does allow students to get a temporary 15-day access to an e-Pack. It does not indicate what the limitations of that access might be (i.e., with 15 days, I could print out or screen scrape the whole book for "free").

Looking at the offering, I don't think this is anything really all that new, but it would be interesting to know how many faculty are choosing the e-pack option and how many students are opting to buy the digital through Blackboard rather than through the store. Keeping in mind that convenience is the #1 determinant of which technologies students say they will use for educational purposes. As the inventory of digital content textbooks grows, we may see more faculty and students willing to adopt the digital option, or the print+digital option.

College stores need to be thinking about how or what we would bring to the table to interest Blackboard in talking with us. There is also the question of what we want to get out of that conversation at the national level. Our agenda is already full for the Digital Content Taskforce meeting this Friday, but perhaps I can find a way to bring this up. Any thoughts?

Monday, November 26, 2007

End of music DRM?

There's an interesting story on Rafat Ali's blog recently about how UK retailers are demanding the end of DRM on music. Here's the clip, along with a link to the original blogpost which has links to some other interesting related stories:

UK Music Retailers To Labels: ‘Drop DRM By Christmas’
By Robert Andrews - Tue 20 Nov 2007 10:22 AM PST

The writing’s on the wall for music DRM - now even the folk who sell music (the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association) are calling on the industry to drop the protection.
Director-general Kim Bayley said labels have been “quick to complain” that the holy grail of digital offsetting physical sales has not yet been met. But clumsy protection ”might have added to the slow take-up of legal digital services”, she told FT.com, observing “just 150 million tracks” have been sold digitally in the UK in the last three years. “Sadly, that amounts to an average of less than one £0.79 ($1.61) per download per head of population per year. At the moment, [DRM] just puts consumers off.”

The numbers might be skewed (not every member of the population was an analog music customer). But Bayley isn’t dawdling - the ERA, which represents nearly 200 retailers like HMV (LSE: HMV) and WH Smith, wants the industry to drop DRM before Christmas, so customers can add free and open tracks to the iPods they get under the tree this year.


More on Kindle...

For some interesting stories and blog links on Kindle, check out the stories on Gizmodo. The link you want is:


Happy e-reading!


Amazon Kindle sells out in less than 5 days!

The long awaited Amazon e-reader went on sale last week on Nov 19th. 5 days later all inventory was completely sold out. I read many of the reviews of the device on the Amazon site, but many of those doing the reviewing clearly had not seen the device -- they were complaining about features not being there that were. Thus we learn one of the challenges with wiki-like social systems -- not everyone contributing content is qualified to do so. Back to the main line of discussion though -- the Amazon Kindle sold out in just 5 days and is not due to be back in stock until Dec 3 -- about 7 days from now. Guess that makes the Kindle the "must have" device of the season.

Among the plusses of the kindle -- many reviews have noted that it is very easy to use. This may mean that we are getting close to a viable e-reader. The EVDO network (wireless-like networking capability) is a big plus, as is the ability to easily expand memory with chips. It's also possible to subscribe to major newspapers -- Times, Washington Post, etc. -- which is a nice feature.

Negative views of the kindle were most often linked to price -- but $400 seems comparable to me, and includes the cost of the EVDO network. There have been complaints about the charges for "free content" dowloading -- used to defray the network transmission costs. However, my understanding is that these can be bypassed by connecting the device to a laptop (I know, I know, kind of defeats the purpose). People have also complained about the fees to access blogs ($2/mo) and newspapers ($15/mo). We will see how this plays out. Technology costs are always dropping, so the costs may go down in time. In a first offering of a product like this you would probably expect prices to be a bit high at first .

Even with the high price, the device sold out in five days -- clearly exceeding Amazon's expectations for sales of the device. Perhaps the day of the e-reader and e-reading has arrived? Or maybe it will take the next device to enter the market. Rumor has it Apple is going to release something in 2008. Who knows...


Back from Break

Hi folks,

Sorry for the long blog silence. The past month has been hectic. I did quite a bit of traveling around the continent giving talks, attending meetings, and visiting stores.

A quick nod to the Canadians and sorry I could not make it to CSC in person. My flight was cancelled almost 12 hours before I took off. There was great thinking on the feet though -- we managed to pull off the talk by pulling together the phone and the hotel PA system. That's the first time I have given a conference presentation remotely. I, back at home, was able to give the talk while still in my PJ's -- another new first for me. Next year I hope to make it to CSC in person.

The CACS meeting was also enjoyable. There was an engaged audience at the session, and the post-presentation buzz was good. I hope those who attended my session found it useful and thought-provoking.

As for me, I'm back home -- stuffed from turkey on the holiday, and with a stuffy nose from a bad cold. My apologies in advance for all of those I will be visiting in the next two weeks, as I am scheduled to be traveling 11 off the next 16 days.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Finally, a fun post...

Ok, today I am posting a host of new messages. Travel does that. I will be traveling for the next 12 days, so you might see me somewhere about. However, to wet your digital appetite -- and just have some fun -- check out the following blog:

It's called, "Being Five" and is quite humorous.

Check out the postings on digital natives vs immigrants, and the one on his dad's record collection.


DCSP Taskforce -- initial discussions...

Following our first couple conference calls, some topics are already emerging as key areas for further discussion. Here are some of the initial themes from those discussions, in no particular order. I would be happy to discuss any of these in more depth in later postings, or one-on-one. Feel free to post your comments, reactions and suggestions in this blog. Final caveat -- this list is not yet complete, just a reflection of some of the themes that arose in the taskforce's initial discussions.
  1. Importance of strategic partnerships for the future; creating messaging for those partners and getting into more direct discussion.
  2. Drill into, explore, and better define conditions required for stores to participate in appropriate business models
  3. Importance of building awareness and action; creating a greater sense of industry need reflective of reality
  4. Need for new skills and related education
  5. Need for scalable technology and addressing current technology shortcomings

Of course, each of these points had many sub-themes and recommendations. But what thoughts do you have to expand upon this list -- either on specific points or for new points?

Digital Content Strategic Planning Taskforce

NACS recently formed a strategic planning taskforce in the area of digital content.

The initial charges for this task force are centered on the question of how NACS can best assist stores in positioning themselves for an increasingly complex and competitive digital environment. These include:
1. Develop a position statement for NACS role in digital content services to members.
2. Develop a high priority list of areas or objectives (not specific tasks) that NACS should concentrate on over the next 6-18 months (related to digital content delivery)
3. Identify success metrics for 12-18 months out - Delineating between "stretch" targets and expected achievements.

The desired outcomes from this task force include the following objectives or deliverables:
1. Consensus around industry priorities for positioning NACS and its members relative to digital content sales and services;
2. A list of priority areas or objectives for the NACS board to consider and discuss. The task force may be asked to further identify the resource requirements necessary to pursue one or more of the recommended objectives.

We are interested in getting more input into this taskforce, which consists of a powerhouse of talent from among the stores and some external perspectives. Please leave comments with your thoughts or suggestions. In the months ahead, I will post additional items and questions out of the taskforce allowing this to be a forum for disussion beyond the taskforce members.

Response to a Post...

In a recent comment to this blog Anonymous said...

This is not related to your current post, but just a question for you....I recently read in Entertainment Weekly (yes!) that Madonna (and other prominent musicians) are moving away from the "big name" record labels and going with start-ups, direct to consumers (via the web), or otherwise giving their music away. The article suggested that these moves were to promote fan loyalty and generate more listeners. And since the real money for the artists is in licensing, merchandise, touring, etc.--there's no problem for them.My question is this: "How do you think this growing trend is likely to impact the already shifting concepts (perceptions?) of copyright, ownership, "right to", and "on the web is free" that our customers bring to the table?

A very interesting question, Anonymous. By coincidence this dicussion also came up in one of our recent digital content strategic planning taskforce conference calls. For a long time many industries in the US have been moving toward consolidation. However, here is an example of how technology facilitates the startup, the entrepreneur -- by providing outlets for stars, like Madonna and Radiohead, to move more easily to other outlets for their content distribution. The music industry is still progressing through a dramatic evolution. What will be interesting is how this plays out in the textbook and other print content markets. Will faculty also decide to end-run the traditional channel (publishers) to provide content to students at lower cost? Models like Connexions could facilitate that movement -- providing mechanisms of peer review, use count, and other social networking review elements that could make publishing in such outlets more valuable than what traditional publishers currently provide.

More directly to the point of your question -- what are the implications for copyright and IP? I am not sure. To my knowledge, the jury is still somewhat out on the repurposing of content (e.g., mash-ups). There are also initiatives to revise copyright and provide greater flexibility in academic markets -- but if the content is primarily produced for the academic market (i.e., textbooks) then the financial implications for content producers (a fair use criterion) could be significant. That would favor, in my opinion, restricting an overly radical reinterpretation of copyright law with textbook or course material content.

As with most other industries, the concept of value will likely continue to move away from the product and more toward services and value-added elements that make the product of greater value to the consumer. Revenue might not come as much from the content itself, as from the ancillary elements that sit around or are applied to the content. The product (here the content) might ultimately be given away for free, or perhaps nearly free. Consider, for example, institutional licensing models for content -- that ensure access and affordability for all, and at a lower cost per student. We are already seeing these on campus for music and video, so when will digital textbooks follow? Content producers could do this with the understanding that making use of the content opens a host of new opportunities for revenue for content producers beyond what the content alone could provide.

Does that answer the question, or just raise more?

Friday, October 19, 2007

At EDUCAUSE '07 next week...

I will be at EDUCAUSE '07 next week, and will try to post a few blog messages from there. In addition, NACS will be hosting Innovate! Online all next week. If you missed Innovate in the summer, this event is worth attending -- if for no other reason than to get to see the Ray Kurzweil video. He's fantastic and has a message that no college store manager should miss.


Videos to Watch

Ok it is Friday, so what better to do than watch some videos. Actually, these videos are very much worth watching if you are interested in some perspectives on technology and learning. They were produced by Micahel Wesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at KSU a few months back. There is still one more to come out in the series, which should be available later this fall. The third one - A Vision of Today's Students - is particularly interesting, but I think the whole set provide a powerful message about technology and learning and society.

Michael will be a speaker for us at CAMEX this year and the LSG will be recommending to their members that they all attend his session. Michael is a junior prof at Kansas State, is about 29 years old, and if you see him present you will get a taste of what some of the next generation of faculty will be like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g The Machine is Us/ing Us

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4CV05HyAbM Information R/evolution

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o A Vision of Students Today

Also, check out the following video too. It is a documentary produced by some of Michael's students and is very interesting as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ1jFaXgTnw&NR=1 Academia 2.0

Grab some popcorn, a colleague, and enjoy the shows!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

E-lectures as digital course materials

Has anyone noticed lately some of the buzz around e-lectures? In the past couple months I have heard about e-lecture initiatives at Case Western, Air Force Academy, Providence College, and the University of Albama. In each case the faculty members are converting their regular lectures to a digital format -- typically with audio and copies of slides, and sometimes with video too. These e-lectures are then provided to students in advance of class. Class time is then used for doing other things -- like having discussion about or beyond content in the lecture, working through problem sets, engaging in team and project work, or other forms of more tactile, experiential learning. This has been around for a while, you say? Why should I care, you say? Well, in some cases they are viewed by faculty to be a substitute to traditional course materials. In examples like the Air Force Academy, they are working with publishers like Pearson to deliver the traditional course materials in digital form too, and linked to the e-lecture elements.

But this trend is also interesting because of some of the growing empirical evidence that goes with it -- evidence that suggests:
  • E-lectures result in higher enrollment, student satisfaction, and student retention (a seemingly magically elusive high-target goal of many stakeholders)
  • E-lectures result in better student performance on learning outcomes within class and in the subsequent classes on which that class builds

If the evidence eventually shows that this format can reduce the cost of course materials to students as well, then who knows what will happen next. One thing for sure, the above two bullet points and the evidence that backs them is likely to gain increased attention by more institutions. It may be a catalyst or enabling factor that gets more faculty moving to digital formats. That will in turn enable more use of digital content in the learning environment and move us one step further away from traditional print textbooks as the preferred method for delivering course content.

The question for stores, is what is our value proposition in this emerging educational model? What new or revised products or services can stores provide to support faculty initiatives in this area?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Your questions...

I am not sure who (if anyone) has discovered this blog yet. Do you have questions I can answer? What types of news stories are you interested in? Are you using digital content currently in your store? If so, how? What other things would you like to try?

Friday, October 5, 2007

More News on the SONY Reader...

Well -- two posts in one day. It must be Friday. :)

I just came across an interesting article about a growing partnership between SONY and Borders for selling ebooks. One aspect of this partnership will be a co-branded ebooks download store -- which might (hopefully) resolve some of the usability issues with Connect. The two also plan to jointly lobby publishers to provide more content for the reader.

Several publishers have recently agreed to provide more ebooks for the device -- including Pearson Education. I am not yet convinced that the device is ready for textbooks, but it is a notable experiment. It should also be a signal to college stores that publishers are interested in new channels. If we can define what the digital channels might look like that include the college store, we increase our chance of avoiding disintermediation.

As a side note -- SONY yesterday posted a position opening for the Director, International Digital Sales and Marketing, out of the Global Digital Business Group. It was not clear from the position posting as to whether this is a new job position, or one that has recently been vacated. We will watch to see who takes the position, however, as we continue to monitor the environment and seek out new potential partnership opportunities for stores.

New Sony Reader

The new SONY reader is out. Not played with a SONY reader yet? You might consider it. I got one of the older models about a month ago using credit card points. At first I thought it would just a be a cool gadget to show when I talk to different groups about e-readers and their technology. However, once you get over some of the awkward characteristics of the reader, I find that it is actually quite nice. I may not go back to print books for reading again -- unless I can't find the book I want in an e-format.

The new SONY reader will be much like the last, with some improvements -- such as double the memory space. It also boasts the latest in e-ink technology -- displaying 8 shades of gray rather than 4. (It is rumored that Amazon's e-reader to be released next month is still using the 4-shade e-ink display.) The latest SONY reader also is reported to be somewhat brighter and able to display content at a faster rate.

As I noted, I have found the e-reader pretty handy and easy to use, once you get use to it's quirks. It would not be well-suited for textbooks or reference resources, but works great for leisure reading while on the plane, in the airport, or outback on the hammock on weekends. With nearly a half-dozen e-readers now or soon to be on the market in the US and Europe, e-readers may begin to turn the tide on slow e-book sales. The technology still has some ground to cover yet, however. My one real complaint about the SONY reader at this stage? It is SONY's online store -- Connect. The site was more difficult to navigate and less user friendly than the device itself -- an nearly unforgiveable error in today's world of web transactions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Requesting your Use Cases...

A number of the digital content projects NACS is involved with on behalf of college stores have reached a stage where we require greater input and involvement from stores. To streamline the process of gathering input, we will be adopting a format for developing "use cases" that can be employed with several different groups. In this instance, use cases are stories about how people successfully and/or unsuccessfully complete transactions for digital content (e-textbooks, digital course materials, print-on-demand, etc.) through college stores. We are looking for college store volunteers willing to help us develop a set of use cases (individually and/or collaboratively) that we can use in response to requests from projects like the CSU Digital Marketplace, OhioLink digital textbook prototype, IMS' e-Textbook taskforce, in addition to others. Contribution of use cases is a critical process to facilitate college store input into future digital initiatives.

Use cases are a common modeling technique in systems development in which we identify stories or scenarios that capture the sequence of events that occur when an individual (actor) attempts to complete a process (in this case, a digital transaction through a college store). A use case answers a question, for example, "How do I (as a student) purchase digital resources for my biology class through the college store?" There are a number of scenarios by which this could happen. The use case breaks this down into the multiple possible scenarios and eventually into individual actions or events, along with the interactions required to achieve the goal. For example, one use case might describe the process by which students purchase content via "hang tags" with access codes. Another use case might describe a similar scenario where access codes are generated at the point of sale, either at the in-store register or online. Yet another use case might describe how students could purchase content using in-store print-on-demand technology. Other possible use cases might describe scenarios by which college stores could broker transactions for content provided through campus course management systems (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT, Sakai, Desire2Learn, Angel, etc.)

This is an opportunity for college stores to participate in defining and designing how we would like to see the transactions take place within our stores for digital content. We need individuals with store-level expertise and ideas about how college stores might be involved with such transactions to assist with developing these use cases. Most use cases are only a couple pages in length and at this stage they do not need to be completely detailed. The outcomes from this process will be used to help communicate to other stakeholder groups how college stores see themselves being involved in future digital content transactions. If you are willing to help develop the use case scenarios, even just one, please send your ideas to Mark Nelson, NACS' Digital Content Strategist (mnelson@nacs.org). Questions about developing the scenarios, or ideas you have for a scenario (even if you do not have time for scenario development), are also very welcome.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Welcome to the CITE

Welcome to the CITE -- a new blog on Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. 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. The CITE will be about insight…into what is going on right now, what is coming down the road, and how to prepare for it. Comments, discussion, feedback and ideas are welcome and encourged so that the CITE becomes your site for reference on the topics covered.

This is my first blog, so constructive criticism and ideas on how to make the blog more useful are welcome too. To start, I will likely reference recent news stories and developments, or comment on notes from conferences and meetings. Over time I will probably build in more analysis and commentary, and respond to questions raised by you.

So, welcome to the CITE!