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, December 31, 2012

A New Year's Break for The CITE

The CITE will take another couple of days off to observe the incoming year. Look for new posts starting on Jan. 2.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Predictions Continue for 2013

With 2013 just a few days away, here are more predictions for the new year:

The Harvard Business Review blog says 2013 will be all about the “Content Economy.” Content—essentially data and intellectual and creative properties in all forms—will become the most valuable asset any organization possesses. It’s not much of a stretch to claim mobile will be big next year, but HBR adds that web, social media, and mobile will all become “co-dependent,” meaning that people will expect anything they can access on the web or through a social network to be optimized for mobile devices, or what HBR calls “smobile.”

Mobile, integrated commerce (a blend of online and offline), and the growing importance of social media will also be the three top trends for retailers, in the view of Forbes blogger Lydia Dishman.

In “TenBold Predictions for Ebooks and Digital Publishing in 2013,” Digital Book World anticipates continuing consolidation among publishers. Those that remain in business will sell more directly to consumers, bypassing booksellers, both physical and online. Dedicated e-readers will plunge in price, maybe all the way to zero, yet publishers will boost promotions of e-books and add more extras to digital titles.

Like DBW, the TeleRead blog expects to see a variety of enhancements for e-books, reading apps, and mobile-device interfaces. But, as a result, consumers will pay higher prices for e-books, most likely price points similar to softcover print books.

The CITE’s own forecast: Some of these predictions will be right on the money; others will miss by a mile. And something that nobody expected will emerge as a game-changer.

What do you think will happen in 2013? Add your predictions to the conversation.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Look Ahead into 2013

Mobile devices, cloud computing, and social media were among the booming trends of 2012. What does 2013 hold in store for technology, digital content, e-commerce, communications, and education? The pundits are already gazing into their crystal balls. Here are a few predictions:

In the view of C/Net, 2013’s biggest technology trends to watch are already in motion. Microsoft will make a big comeback based on Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, while at the same time Apple’s star will fade as Android devices lock in more consumers. Although some think Facebook is doomed, C/Net sees the social network hanging in there as a formidable player.

From the perspective of IT professionals, CIO identified seven tech trends that have the potential to affect business in the coming year, starting with “bring-your-own-device.” A growing number of employees want to use a single mobile computing device of their choice to handle both work and nonwork responsibilities and communications. It means organizations may pay less for hardware but much more for support. CIO’s list also includes online classrooms, 3-D printing, and apps for TV.

Is e-mail nearing death? Not in the opinion of marketer ClickZ. E-mail will remain a potent marketing tool in 2013, but only for those who recognize more consumers will be accessing messages on smartphones, not laptops or desktops. Marketers will need to come up to speed with responsive design, a concept that means online content is optimized for any and all devices.

Watch for more predictions tomorrow in The CITE.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Facing Accessibility Issues Head On

Keeping up with the rapid pace of technological change can be daunting, but on campus it too often comes at the expense of disabled students. Things don’t have to be that way, according to accessibility experts who discussed proactive IT solutions with Campus Technology.

“There is a lot of pressure on IT because of budget cuts and being asked to do more with less, so it is easy to ask what the payoff is for [making technology accessible],” said Greg Kraus, IT accessibility coordinator, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. “But what is the cost of not doing it? It’s like people who don’t buy insurance until something bad happens, and then say, ‘Oh, I guess I should have bought insurance.’”

First, few schools have accessibility requirements built into their IT procurement process. NC State is an exception, requiring every IT product to be evaluated for accessibility. Kraus complies with the requirement by adding his own research to the information provided on the voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT) form that most vendors supply on each product.

“They can be a starting point, but they are self-disclosing and not independently verified,” he said. “I always get my hands on the product and do my own testing.”

Second, faculty must be able to develop content that every student can access. Penn State University is working to help instructors understand the issues of students with visual and audio impairments and make developers available to help faculty develop online courses.

“I go to meetings and help developers design for accessibility,” said Anita Colyer Graham, manager of access for the Penn State online campus. “Often, it’s not that they are reluctant—they are unaware of accessibility design issues.”

Finally, a systemwide approach should be put in place to promote the sharing of problems and solutions. The California State University system created its Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI) to help set goals and deadlines for improvements, such as its Roadmap for Accessibility in Postsecondary Institutions, which was created to develop a plan to institutionalize accessibility and measure the progress across the system’s campuses.

Because of the ATI program, most CSU campuses have purchased web-evaluation tools that have resulted in cost savings. Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo even worked with the evaluation tool to develop accessibility checkpoints that check web pages and applications used by the system. In addition, CSU is working on systemwide services to provide captioning for course videos.

“We are also piloting RoboBraille, which allows users to submit text materials and receive them back in a variety of accessible formats,” said Cheryl Pruitt, director of the ATI program.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Brief Vacation for The CITE

The CITE's contributors are taking a short break.

We'll be back on Wednesday with a fresh batch of posts. Coming up: What are the predictions for 2013?

Friday, December 21, 2012

NYT Explores New E-Book Projects

Like other newspapers and magazines, The New YorkTimes has struggled to find fresh revenue sources to replace dwindling advertising sales and print subscriptions. In a new two-pronged effort, the paper hopes to leverage its formidable reporting depth to sell short e-books on a variety of topics ranging from business and health to sports and entertainment. If it works out, other publications will no doubt follow suit.

The Times has previously attempted a number of online publishing business models, with limited success. This time it’s partnering with digital startup Byliner to co-publish as many as 12 e-books per year, each about 10,000 to 20,000 words.

The content will be original, although in some instances the topic may build off reporting in the print edition or on its web site. The first e-book is about a group of skiers hit by an avalanche; the e-book debuted Dec. 17, the same day a much shorter article about the incident appeared in The Times.

In a corollary program that also launched Dec. 17, The Times is using the Vook platform to assemble articles from its extensive archive into themed e-books. Twenty-five titles have been produced so far, with “many more expected to come in 2013,” according to a press release.

Both Byliner and Vook products will be sold through Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and the NYTStore.com, with retail prices starting at $1.99. Byliner will also sell the titles it co-produces.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Young Adults, Smartphones = Life

While still in bed each morning, most young adults check their smartphones for text messages. They peruse their Facebook feeds while brushing their teeth. They update their status online over coffee.

Connectivity is part of daily life for college students and young professionals aged 18 to 30, according to Cisco’s 2012 ConnectedWorld Technology Report.

The new study could be somewhat skewed—most of the nonstudent survey respondents work in information technology fields—but the results still confirm this age group is firmly welded to their smartphones. Some 90% said they look at their mobile devices first thing every morning for messages and 60%, especially females, repeatedly recheck throughout the day. Roughly half admit they text and do social media during meals with family and friends at the table.

Cisco claims this compelling need to connect is “meaningful” for employers because “it demonstrates that the workforce of the future is more agile, more informed, and more responsive than any previous generation.” Employers may be more concerned about whether young workers are distracted by their smartphones.

There was one surprising outcome of the study: Despite all the time they spend with smartphones, this age cohort doesn’t download a lot of apps. About 70% said they have fewer than 10 apps on their phones. Half mainly use apps for games and entertainment, and another 27% have work-related apps.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

E-Reader May Find Niche Beside Tablet

If you own a full-size oven, why buy a toaster? Any oven can toast bread. But a toaster produces tastier toast, and is cheaper, faster, and more energy-efficient to boot.

A similar scenario may be developing with tablet and e-reader ownership.

Earlier in December, after HIS iSuppli released a special report showing that sales of e-book readers were plummeting while tablet sales rocketed upward, dozens of blogs and news sites trumpeted headlines such as “Tablets Make Ebook Readers an Endangered Species” on EFYtimes.com. The CITE took note, too.

The assumption, of course, was that since tablets can do everything e-book readers can, consumers don’t need or want e-readers any more. For some consumers, that’s true.

Others, though, may not want to schlep a $350 tablet to the beach or entrust it to a child but don’t mind doing so with a cheaper e-reader. Those who like to read in bed before turning out the lights may prefer to keep an e-reader, not a tablet, on their nightstand. Multi-user households may supplement their communal tablet and laptop or desktop with one or two e-readers, in the same way families have a variety of TVs.

One indication that e-book readers aren’t yet the slate equivalent of an eight-track player comes from a report in The New York Times about how independent bookstores are managing to stay afloat despite the behemoth competitors and e-books on tablets. The article mentions indie stores are selling a significant number of Kobo e-readers, to their pleasant surprise.

The Kobo allows independents to earn small commissions on e-book sales referrals through store web sites. That’s appealing for customers who really want to support their local bookstore but also crave the convenience of e-books. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sail Fail May Flag SOS for Mobile POS

A mere seven months after its launch, VeriFone has decided to sink Sail, the company's mobile payment-processing solution for small merchants. That could signal the start of a mass exodus from the mobile point-of-sale market, especially those solutions designed for small businesses, according to Mobile Commerce Daily.

The cadre of mobile solutions providers grew rapidly in the last year or so, in the belief there was a reservoir of untapped potential in the many thousands of small merchants out there who can't afford the more elaborate and expensive solutions.

The scaled-down solutions were welcomed by such merchants. Sail, like its better-known competitor Square, was easy to use: The merchant simply attached a small device to a cellphone in order to take credit and debit cards away from a cash register. The service enabled a mom-and-pop cafe, for example, to quickly process payments at outdoor tables or a college bookstore to sell sweatshirts from a tent at football games.

However, as it turns out, a lot of smaller businesses don't do all that many mobile sales transactions, at least not yet. The reasons vary, although one problem is that mobile POS isn't always compatible with merchants' primary systems. In order to manage inventory and run reports, merchants must manually enter mobile transaction data into the main system, something most smaller sellers don't have time to do.

That means there's not enough profit for all solution providers, and some will probably choose to follow VeriFone's example and get out, or else sell out. The consolidation will leave fewer choices for small businesses and maybe higher costs.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Insuring Devices Becomes a Big Business

Many schools are using precious funding to put the newest technology in the hands of their students. However, with those costs comes concern about protecting the investment, which has led school districts, colleges, and universities to make insuring those devices a big business.

“A lot of districts don’t want to deal with the claims process,” said Quang Ha, sales director of Worth Ave., a company with more than 1,000 clients in the education field, talking to eSchool News. “Can you trust an eight- or nine-year-old to take care of technology? Things are bound to happen. We manage the whole repair process.”

The Farmington, MN, district plans to spend about $3 million over the next four years to put iPads into the hands of students in grades 4-12. The system has developed an 11-page loan agreement that provides insurance at a cost of $28 per year, along with a plan for how the gadget can be used in and outside of school by students to help prevent damage.

Parents can opt out of the contract if they agree to pay for the device if it's damaged, but the district is hoping parents will want to participate and that the detailed plan will provide incentive for students to handle the devices with a bit more care.

“Part of it is the replacement factor and the budget consideration,” said Carl Colmark, finance director of the Farmington school district. “And part of it is I think it will bring a greater level of responsibility for both parents and kids.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Animation Used in MOOC Preview

Robert Ghrist, the professor of mathematics and electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a 13-week massive open online course in single variable calculus that Coursera will offer beginning Jan. 7. Ghrist has created nearly 60 animated lecture videos for the course, along with this introductory preview.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

E-Reader Sales Crumble, Tablet Sales Explode

It appears the e-reader market has bottomed out.

A new study from HIS iSuppli Consumer Electronics reports that shipments of the devices will fall 36% by year’s end, down to 14.9 million units from 23.2 million units in 2011. The study predicts shipments will drop another 10.9 million units in 2013 and total just 7.1 million units by 2016.

“The versatility of the media tablet—able to serve as a reader of e-mails as well as books, while capable of surfing the web and playing movies—has even overcome the cost advantages of the e-book reader,” the report said.

Dedicated e-readers will have to sell at cost or less to maintain their market, according to the report, which points to the Txtr Beagle device, which has a 5-in. screen and a potential selling price of $13, as an example. However, iSuppli predicts that even such a low price won’t be enough to help e-readers regain their popularity.

The clear winner is tablet computers, with shipments expected to reach 122 million this year and 172 million in 2013. Growth is being fueled by strong sales of Android tablets, along with the addition of the iPad mini to the Apple product line.

“Tablets continue to captivate consumers, and as the market shifts toward smaller, more mobile screen sizes and lower prices points, we expect demand to accelerate in the fourth quarter and beyond,” said Tom Mainelli, IDC research director in a statement to Campus Technology. “Android tablets are gaining traction in the market thanks to solid products from Google, Amazon, Samsung, and others. And Apple’s November iPad mini launch, along with its surprise refresh of the full-sized iPad, positions the company well for a strong holiday season.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SNHU Taking Different Approach to Textbook Costs

An internal study showing 49% of its students were either buying textbooks at places other than the campus store or not buying them at all, prompted administrators at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to look for a solution. It was decided to negotiate savings for students in the new campus store contract.

Instead of trying to hash out a deal with publishers, SNHU is working with the potential vendors of its campus store. The university was willing to waive the commission it would normally receive, reported by Inside Higher Education to be $500,000 for the 2011-12 school year, if a vendor would pass those savings on to students in the form of lower textbook prices.

The university is hoping reduced markups on textbooks will translate into more students buying their textbooks and doing so in the store, which will mean greater volume for the vendor. SNHU estimates the three bids it has received could save students up to $1.8 million on textbooks in the 2012-13 school year, based on the proposals and expected enrollment.

SNHU was able to consider such a move because of the success of its online learning program, which has brought in $12 to $14 million each of the last few years. But SNHU President Paul LeBlanc also saw dealing directly with publishers as a potential threat to the freedom of instructors to pick the textbooks they want.

“What goes out the window is choice,” he said.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Amherst Launching 'Wildly Idealistic' Academic Press

Amherst College, Amherst, MA, plans to get into academic publishing next year, but not in the usual way. The school intends to offer up to 15 digital-only titles per year that will be subject to traditional peer reviewing and editing, and also free to use. The college library is a driving force behind the project, which was called “wildly idealistic” in the school’s announcement.

“We’re going to lose money, and that’s fine,” said Amherst Librarian Bryn Geffert, in an article for Inside Higher Education.

School and library officials say they believe an academic press is consistent with the mission of the college. Geffert hopes that by employing the same sorts of quality controls used in traditional academic publishing, the Amherst effort will prove to critics that digital material can be of equal value to its print counterpart.

Geffert also said he hopes that Amherst will create a model for other libraries to produce digital academic content at lower costs.

“My grand dream—quixotic though may be—is that if enough libraries begin doing what we’re doing, at some point there’s going to be a critical mass of freely available scholarly literature,” he said. “Literature that libraries don’t have to purchase. And if they use those savings to publish more material, you reach a tipping point.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Teaching the Student Teachers First

When K-12 school districts rush to buy tablets for classes, often as a cost-saving strategy, one of the criticisms is that the technology will be underutilized. Many teachers aren’t yet prepared to integrate the devices into their day-to-day curriculum.

The Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma is trying to make sure its next crop of teachers is indeed prepared. A pilot program for the spring 2013 term will train 575 students enrolled in the university’s undergraduate teacher education courses how to use iPads for classroom work and developing lesson plans.

Each student will receive a shiny new fourth-generation tablet this month before the holiday break begins. Students pay nothing for the devices—it’s all covered by the pilot—and they can keep the devices when the program is over. The idea is they will continue to use the iPads when they start their teaching careers.

The teacher education faculty got their own iPads last fall and have been preparing coursework with the devices.

“The goal is to have the faculty use the technology as a tool to incorporate the activities that they are already doing, such as lesson planning, and to extend to such activities as reviewing apps that would further enhance what they are teaching,” said associate professor Teresa Cullen in OU’s press release about the pilot.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gaze-Based Technology Is Coming

Gaze-based technology has been around for years, but it could on the shelves sooner than you might imagine. A Danish firm, The Eye Tribe, has for about a year been trying to develop mobile devices that people can control with their eyes.

“You have infrared light that is projected toward your face,” Sune Alstrup Johansen, usability expert of the Gaze Group at the IT University of Copenhagen, explained in a National Public Radio report. “And the infrared light is then reflected in your pupil. And by seeing those reflections we can pretty easily—well, not easily—with our algorithms, we can easily calculate where you’re looking.”

The Eye Tribe has even created a variation on the gaming app Fruit Ninja, in which the user slices flying fruit with his eyes instead of a swipe of the touchscreen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

iPad Is Not Killing the Printed Book

A Simba Information study reported that while one in five U.S. adults own an Apple iPad, only about half use the device as an e-reader. Simba, which has been following e-book publishing and reading devices since 2009, also found that tablets have been gaining on dedicated e-readers for the last 18 months.

However, the findings do not support the idea that tablets will replace the printed book, according to Michael Norris, senior analyst at Simba.

“There are certain things about print that are incredibly valuable to consumers,” Norris told TeleRead. “I have a book on my shelf at home that is nine decades old. It was published by Popular Mechanics in 1919, I think. It will work when I open it up. Print books are something you can pass on and give as gifts. That is something where the physical book has had a big strength.”

Norris also advocated finding ways for print and digital to work together. He suggested placing a tracking code on the spine of a book that, when scanned, could provide sales information for the audio or e-book versions of the book and lead the reader back to the bricks-and-mortar retailer that originally made the book sale.

“Say you’re standing across the train platform from someone who’s reading a book your interested in,” Norris said. “You could just scan the spine. Not only does the publisher continue to bring in revenue, but so does the physical retailer associated with that book.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Survey Shows Online Student Numbers Growing

The report Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States found that current college students are no longer primarily going to school full-time or living on campus. The study reported that more than 1.6 million students in the United States took at least one online class in 2010. That has some colleges and university focused on providing online degrees.

Ohio’s Clark State Community College, Springfield, experienced a 72% rise in the number of students taking online classes over the last five years. The summer online enrollment at Miami University, Oxford, grew 26% in 2012 while its overall summer enrollment declined, and the eLearning OHIO program at Ohio University, Athens, saw an 800-student increase in the fall.

“It’s getting harder and harder to support a program that is just on campus. There’s a lot more expense to it. And we see online as a way of helping diversify our revenue,” Andy Runyan, associate vice president of extended learning and dean of graduate studies, Cedarville University, Cedarville, OH, told eCampus News. Cedarville is working on a new online master’s in business administration degree and already offers online classes for undergraduate, graduate, and high school students.

In addition, Jonathan Robe, research fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, reported that many colleges have yet to find a way to lower tuition for their online courses, other than the money students save by not living or commuting to campus.

“I’m hopeful that we can figure out a way to bring more online programs up and running, but I do think it will take some time,” he said. “We still have some work to do.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Khan Academy Launches iPhone App

The Khan Academy, which started as a way for Sal Khan to help his cousin do math homework, has blossomed into nearly 3,600 teaching videos that have been viewed more than 210 million time worldwide. Now, Khan is expanding his reach with the creation of an iPhone app for viewing the tutorials.

The new app will not allow users to download videos for offline viewing on their phones, as is the case with the iPad app already in use. However, the iPhone app will make it possible for busy students to watch the lesson while on a bus or in a car.

“This might make the app seem undercooked—and in a way it is—but it could actually be a smart move given the limited form factor,” wrote Rip Empson in his TechCrunch blog. “Stuffing the entire Khan Academy experience onto the iPhone’s screen would likely diminish the experience of its visualization tools, interactive transcriptions, and some of its better gamification and progress-tracking features.”

With an Android app to surely follow, the strategy should also expose a lot more potential learners to the Khan videos.

Monday, December 3, 2012

E-Text Pilot Results Point Out Areas to Improve

Brian Jacobs, founder and president of the virtual bookstore and marketplace Akademos, was anxious to review the results from an e-textbook pilot done last spring at five universities, but not surprised when they proved to be less than positive. The results simply highlighted improvements to digital course materials that are necessary going forward.

According to Jacobs, the primary development must come in interactivity. It’s not enough to digitally highlight content; the material needs to offer more than its print counterpart and faculty must be willing to take the lead in producing the annotations.

“A successful digital initiative will be one in which the faculty is strongly committed to actively participating in working with course materials—when  the course materials act not as passive appendages to classroom teaching but rather as direct extensions of that teaching itself; when they are less interchangeable commodities and more directly reflective of the learning environment itself (the institution or the classroom),” Jacobs wrote in this blog post.

Jacobs said he also believes limiting access through digital rights management must change and that lower pricing of digital content is not enough in itself. Lower cost is important, but the device used must also provide a satisfactory experience for users.

“What this e-textbook study and others like it tell us is that the technology of the textbook—with its physical interactivity, rich graphics, and tactile experience—raises the digital transition threshold for study materials well beyond what it is for general reading books,” Jacobs continued. “And that’s probably a good thing, for when the transition comes (and it will), it should be one that fundamentally changes not only course materials but the very relations of teacher, student, and text.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Datawind Builds a $20 Tablet Computer

Datawind, a British manufacturer producing wireless web-access products, has developed a new Android tablet computer that has reviewers buzzing. The Aakash 2 uses an LCD touchscreen display that can browse the web and hold up to video gaming.

By attaching a keyboard, it becomes a serviceable replacement for the traditional personal keyboard, at and a $20 per unit, it comes at a fraction of the cost.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Apollo Global Acquires McGraw-Hill Education

Apollo Global Management is making a $2.5 billion investment in education technology with its purchase of McGraw-Hill Education. The private-equity firm, which specializes in leveraged buyouts, sees the acquisition as its entry into a growth industry.

“We look forward to leveraging the company’s leading portfolio of trusted brands and innovative digital learning solutions to drive growth through the ongoing convergence of education and technology on a global basis,” said Larry Berg, senior partner at Apollo, in announcing the deal, which is expected to be finalized early next year.

Education technology has proved attractive to investors over the last few years because of the rise in education costs, innovations in electronic devices, and an increasing demand for digital content for those devices. In fact, investment in education technology companies reached $930 million in 2011, according to a report in the Financial Post.

“I think the future trend is beginning to build a relationship with the individual student,” Eric Bassett, vice president at Eduventures, told eCampus News. “Students are not linear; therefore, institutions cannot have accountability unless you can begin to define impact on individual students. Everything that I’ve seen suggests that Apollo understands these trends.”

However, at least one New York banker said the deal could be a risky one for Apollo.

“Think about textbooks and government budgets getting crushed,” the banker told the New York Post. The unnamed banker added that the John Paulson and Guggenheim Partners’ 2010 investment in Houghton Mifflin ended badly when the publisher went bankrupt. In addition, McGraw-Hill Education reported its third-quarter revenues dropped 11% and its operating profits fell 20%.

The rest of McGraw-Hill, which announced its intention to split into two companies in 2011, will be renamed McGraw-Hill Financial with a focus on finance and global markets. The new company plans to use the estimated $1.9 million in profits from the deal to make acquisitions, pay back previous debt, and fund its stock buyback program.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Studies Show Devices Disrupt Focus

While there has been no long-term study of the role of electronic devices in society in general, and education in particular, recent research suggests the constant use of technology can have an effect on the attention span of students. Research done by both the Pew Research Center and Common Sense Media found that teachers think constant use of digital devices makes it more difficult for students to pay attention and focus on classroom tasks. This has changed the way many instructors conduct their classes.

“I’m tap-dancing all over the place,” said Dave Mendell, a fourth-grade teacher in Wallingford, PA, in a New York Times article. “The more I stand in front of class, the easier it is to lose them.”

Larry Rosen, professor of psychology, California State University, Dominguez Hills, weighed in on the subject in a column that appeared in eSchool News. Rosen studied student test scores after they were told to answer text messages they might receive during a video lecture. All the students got lower grades because waiting for the text to arrive was a distraction. His research also found that students who responded to the text immediately got even lower grades than those who waited to respond.

“After the study, when asked why they did not respond immediately, they told us that they were waiting for a time when the videotape material seemed less important and not likely to be on the test,” Rosen wrote. “Those students were using their metacognitive skills to decide when was a good time to be distracted and when it was important to focus.”

Rosen went on to suggest teachers use “technology breaks” as a possible way to get students to focus.  A technology break allows students to check messages between extended periods of time focused on classroom work.

“The trick is to gradually lengthen the time between tech breaks to teach students how to focus for longer periods of time without being distracted,” Rosen wrote. “I have teachers using this in classrooms, parents using it at the dinner table or a restaurant, and bosses using tech breaks during meetings with great success.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Canvas Network Opens Up Online Education

Educational software firm Instructure is set to launch a new network that will make it possible for colleges and universities of any size to get into the open online course game that has been limited to elite universities to this point. Canvas Network will debut in January, with schools ranging from Brown University, Providence, RI, to Scottsdale Community College, Scottsdale, AZ, already accepting students for the program.

Instructors, given free rein on how the course is set up, can use the same platform institutions provide for students of tuition-based courses. Registration is open to anyone with Internet access.

“Canvas Network enables us and other participating institutions to decide the way we want to structure our courses,” said Joel Hartman, vice provost and chief information officer at the University of Central Florida, in an article for eCampus News.

More than 20 free courses are being offered in topics ranging from art appreciation to Gender Through Comic Books, offered by Ball State University and facilitated by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee.

“Hundreds of institutions already use Canvas to teach tens of thousands of courses,” said Instructure CEO Josh Coates. “Today, we’re enabling the institutions to make these courses open to the public through the Canvas Network.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Here Come the 2013 Predictions

This time of year, predictions are usually plentiful. Some are easy to agree with, while others are simply so outlandish that a furrowed brow and a shake of the head are the only response. Yet it doesn’t stop them from coming. This article in E-Commerce Times offers 10 predictions for the tech world in 2013. Although most are safe in their prophecy, some may be a bit of a stretch.

There are the go-to predictor terms: shift, growth, rise, emergence, and— a personal favorite— advance. First, there is the shift to mobile devices. No reach there. Just stop somewhere, anywhere, on the street and look around. You will see at least one person texting or browsing the Internet using some form of mobile device.

Next up is the shift to HTML5, the fifth revision of HTML. This article predicts HTML5, although it’s still in development, will greatly influence mobile browsing over the next few years.
The personal cloud has gained much popularity and it will likely continue to grow as more people move to tablets and other mobile devices and away from PCs. It’s just an easier and more reliable place to store information.  

One of the more interesting predictions is the rise of the “Internet of things.” According to this article, there will be much more crossover between the Internet and other tools used throughout the day, such as vehicles and prescription drug containers, which will use image recognition and other technologies tied to the Internet.
That brings back thoughts of watching the the movie Back To The Future Part II for the first time and seeing Marty McFly get fired via videophone. Just five years ago that would still have been a stretch, while today you can Skype face-to-face conversations with friends and family around the world. Things once thought to be a reach are becoming a part of everyday life.  

Where this prediction may go a little off base, however, is forecasting that mobile devices will surpass PCs in web browsing next year. That’s simply not going to happen that quickly. Too many people use PCs all day long at work and then at home. That migration will be years down the road. Not many years, but definitely years.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SparkTruck Challenges Kids to Learn

SparkTruck hit the road over the summer with the goal of giving kids the chance to play with new high-tech tools, such as robots. Eugene Korsunskiy, a teaching assistant at Stanford University, helped create the project as a way to present children with open-ended problems and let them figure out the solution on their own.

At one stop, a teacher warned Korsunskiy that the approach of giving the students space to come up with the answers instead of providing the right response wouldn't work. SparkTruck staff did see students get stuck on design problems they presented, and even become frustrated by the process. But they also watched as the students ultimately figured out the problems.

“After an interaction like that, you see a gear shift in [a kid’s] head,” Korsunskiy said in an article in Wired. “Once you make it clear that you’re not there to provide the answer, they completely rise to the challenge.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Publishers Find Ways to Make iBooks Work

Apple made a splash when it partnered with the three largest K-12 publishers to provide textbooks for its iPad devices through the iBookstore. McGraw-Hill Education has released six titles for the iPad since that January announcement, with Pearson Learning contributing six math and science texts, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) adding two social studies textbooks to the total.

So far, it’s been a good experience for students, who seem to enjoy the enhanced learning experience, and for publishers, who have found new ways to incorporate graphics, audio, and video into their textbooks.

“Really, what an iBook is, at the end of the day, is freed from the constraint of the traditional page as we know it,” said Bethlam Forsa, executive vice president for product development and publishing operations at HMH, in an interview with T.H.E. Journal. “And it’s allowed us to make significant user enhancements around it.”

The publishers have been able to better understand the concerns schools have about the new technology, including costs associated with providing the tablets and the existing infrastructure with which schools must work. Schools will adopt the technology at different rates and the publishers have to keep an eye on making that transition as smooth as possible.

“In terms of purchasing the electronic versions of the content, it follows our same types of sales and licensing and use model,” said Vineet Madan, senior vice president of new ventures at McGraw-Hill. "What usually happens is the school districts will purchase them for a few school buildings or individual school buildings, and then manage provisioning of the associated devices that have access to that content.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

MOOCs Could Soon Earn Credit

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were not initially designed to allow participants to earn credit toward a college degree. That is about to change dramatically with news that 10 major universities are set to run a pilot program next fall offering online courses for credit.

The technology platform for the Semester Online initiative was created by the higher ed tech firm 2U, formerly know as 2tor.  The consortium of schools considers its work different than MOOCs because of its rigorous curriculum and the fact that credit will be offered.

“This is a significant step forward in higher education,” said Provost Ed Macias, Washington University in St. Louis, in a CNN article.

That news followed on the footsteps of Coursera announcing that the American Council on Education (ACE) would be evaluating up to five of its classes for possible credit recommendation. Individual institutions will still make the call on whether to grant credit to students for completing MOOCs, but ACE approval would help.

“MOOCs are an intriguing, innovative new approach that holds much promise for engaging students across the country and around the world, as well as helping colleges and universities broaden their reach,” said Molly Corbett Broad, ACE president, in an article in USA Today.  “But as with any new approach, there are many questions about long-term potential, and ACE is eager to help answer them.”

ACE will have teams of faculty examine the content and then make recommendations on accreditation. The council will also focus on the impact of MOOCs on education, with top administrators set to discuss their potential.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Macmillan Adds Sapling to Portfolio

A recent spending spree saw John Wiley & Sons purchase Deltak.edu LLC, which develops online degree and certificate programs, and Blackboard increase its investment in its own online course-development and management services continued with the acquisition of Sapling Learning by Macmillan New Ventures.

Sapling Learning provides interactive homework and learning software in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. At the time of the purchase in early November, the Sapling system had been adopted in more than 800 schools and universities after peer reviews showed that students who use its solution improve their letter grade by at least one half.

“Macmillan New Ventures’ mission is to find and accelerate proven technology solutions in education that are making a real difference in the core mission of the education endeavor: helping students learn more and learn faster,” said Troy Williams, president of Macmillan New Ventures, in a press release. “Sapling has a product that demonstrably increases student achievement in contrast to a lot of what we see in edtech: companies with attractive features and software but no clear data that student outcomes are improving.”

New Ventures bought EBIMAP-works, a student success and retention platform, earlier this year and also owns i>clicker, a student response system, and PrepU, an adaptive learning platform.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Credit Cards Try to Elbow Out PayPal

If you click on a link to a story on the All Things D blog about Visa’s new digital wallet, you may first see an ad for PayPal. That just underscores how crowded the digital payments space is getting these days.

Visa’s wallet, dubbed V.me, has been in beta for about a year while the company signed up a couple dozen big-name e-commerce merchants, along with some 50 banks and credit unions. The latter are important because Visa is counting on the bank issuers to market the service to their customers and possibly incorporate the registration service into their own e-banking sites.

V.me reportedly works a lot like PayPal, allowing consumers the option of preloading it with cash or tying it to a credit card, even a competitor such as MasterCard, American Express, or Discover.

That’s just one e-wallet, though. Back in May 2012, MasterCard launched its PayPass Wallet Services. American Express came out with its Serve online payment service in March 2011.

These services have the potential to become a big hit with the parents of college students. Parents are understandably nervous about handing off a credit or debit card to a young adult who’s just starting to learn how to manage money. E-wallets enable parents to easily underwrite college purchases while maintaining some control and avoiding worry that their progeny’s card may get lost or stolen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Data Mining of E-Textbooks Set to Begin

An advantage to digital course materials that is just beginning to be understood is their ability to track a student’s progress and study habits through learning management systems. Course materials can be integrated through the management system, which records the amount of time a student spends reading, how many pages are viewed, and how many notes or highlights they make.

Now, CourseSmart has launched a new service that helps faculty members measure that engagement. Rasmussen College, Texas A&M University at San Antonio, and Villanova University are already part of a beta program for CourseSmart Analytics, which is expected to be available for all schools next year.

“The higher education community is hungry for actionable data that links student engagement to their learning content,” said Ellen Wagner, executive director for WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technology, in a statement at Educause 2012 in Denver. “With the CourseSmart dashboard, professors will be better able to fine-tune lesson plans, critique student performances, and even tailor suggestions for specific students on how to study more effectively to help them stay on track and stay in school.”

The CourseSmart product will track student behavior with the course materials as well as provide information to assess whether an electronic textbook is being used effectively. The analytics can also help identify at-risk students and is accessible through a number of learning management systems.

“There is a screaming demand in the marketplace for knowledge around what impact course materials have on learning,” said Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart, in an interview at the conference.

At the same time, some groups have questioned the effect on a reader’s right to privacy. The American Library Association has already stated its concern over lending e-books on Kindles, which can be monitored by Amazon. Students will be able to opt out of the CourseSmart program if they don’t want their information shared, according to Devine.

“We do understand the Big Brother aspects of it,” he said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Faculty, Admins Take Mixed View of OERs

Chief academic officers (CAOs) at U.S. colleges and universities agree that open educational resources (OERs) offer the potential to reduce the cost of course development, especially for online courses, but concede it has been left to individual faculty members to decide whether to adopt OERs for their classes.

That’s among the findings in a new report, Growing theCurriculum: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education, produced by the Babson Survey Research Group, Hewlett Foundation, and Pearson. The report is based on a series of surveys in 2009-11 with higher education faculty and academic technology administrators.

About half of the CAOs admitted none of the courses at their institutions used any OERs, at least to their knowledge. These CAOs were, overall, less aware of the range of open sources available to instructors; for instance, some defined “open source” as just the materials accessible in their school’s learning management system. Many expressed concerns about the amount of time and effort faculty had to expend in finding appropriate open resources.

Faculty respondents, on the other hand, view OERs in a much more optimistic light. Approximately 83% reported using some sort of openly available digital content for at least one of their class lectures, though most said this wasn’t a regular practice.

But professors do have their own concerns about OERs, including how faculty are compensated or acknowledged for their contributions to open-source content. Like CAOs, they are also wary of the amount of time it takes to find and vet content for courses.

Although faculty have been criticized in the past for choosing reading materials without regard for their students’ budgets or needs, in the Babson surveys faculty said their main criteria for selecting an online resource were ease of use and minimal or no cost.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pearson, McGraw-Hill Launch Learning Initiatives

Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education recently unveiled new approaches designed to help college students learn more efficiently.

Pearson launched its Project Blue Sky search engine, which is intended to make it easier for instructors to find electronic course materials. Pearson hopes its search engine will fill a need demanded by faculty, while making sure its own content catalog is in front of educators searching for open educational resources (OER).

“We clearly believe our content is superior to OER content, but we recognize there is a place for OER in the current environment,” said Don Kilburn, vice chairman of Pearson’s higher education division, in an Inside Higher Education article. “If we can’t compete effectively there, we have a bigger problem.”

Then, McGraw-Hill Education unveiled its Digital Learning Partnership Program, which will be available for implementation by fall 2013. The program is an extension of the pilot program being used this fall at 25 colleges and universities across the country. Instructors can choose materials from McGraw-Hill’s e-textbook partners and institutions are able to select e-book vendor, price structure, and length of subscription.

“Finding new ways to make course materials more affordable to students is a core focus of this program, but the ultimate goal is helping universities and students transition to digital in ways that encourage deeper learning, better pass rates, and higher rates of retention,” said Tom Malek, vice president of learning solutions and services, in a press release. “Over the last few years, we’ve collaborated on several pilot programs that have enabled us to learn a lot about digital readiness, preferences, and needs of institutions and students.”

Friday, November 9, 2012

Flat World to Charge for Course Materials

The decision by Flat World Knowledge to stop providing free versions of its textbooks brings to mind the old adage, “Nothing in life is free.” Flat World plans to continue providing course materials at a price well below the cost of most textbooks, but the move will help make “our business healthier,” according to Flat World co-founder Jeff Shelstad in an interview with Inside Higher Education.

Flat World educational content was produced by paid authors to ensure high quality and marketed to professors to assign in their classrooms. The plan called for the company to make money by charging students for printed versions of the free and open educational content it created, and for enhanced study aids and other add-ons.

While those premium services did not sell as well as hoped, moving away from completely free content was also a matter of fairness, according to Shelstad. Some institutional partners paid licensing fees for every student using the materials and others paid less. Establishing a minimum price of $19.95 is fairer to all while still making it affordable to students, he says.

Flat World continues to be an affordable textbook solution, just not free, according to Cable Green, director of global learning at Creative Commons. It may also open the door for other free textbook providers, such as Boundless Learning, which markets its textbook alternatives directly to students.

“This reinforces the notion that sustainable business models are hard to find, and I don’t think that’s a surprise,” said Ariel Diaz, co-founder and CEO of Boundless. “We still see an opportunity to make the case that we’re better because we’re free and open, in that we can leverage the eyeballs and error-finding that we got from our community to lead to a better product as a result.”

That’s possible, but Flat World isn’t going away either. Shelstad reports that most of the company’s partners and faculty users have been supportive of the change, understanding that it allows Flat World to continue to produce course materials that have been popular with students.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gaming Finds Its Way into the Classroom

It’s hard to imagine parents being completely happy with their kids playing video games at school, yet it has been found that educational gaming works in the K-12 setting. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even made the case for educational gaming in its 2009 report Moving Learning Games Forward, noting that games are useful for teaching, simulation, and promoting critical thinking.

“The popularity of video games is not the enemy of education, but rather a model for best teaching strategies,” neurologist Judy Willis wrote in an Edutopia blog post (www.edutopia.org/blog/video-games-learning-student-engagement-judy-willis). “Games insert players at their achievable challenge level and reward player effort and practice with acknowledgement of incremental goal progress, not just final product.”

Even so, educational gaming has not made many inroads on college campuses.

“By far, the best serious games and the biggest use of serious games are at the master’s level,” Clark Aldrich, an educational simulation and interface designer, told David LaMartina for an edcetera.rafter blog post. For instance, MBA programs use market simulations and medical students can examine body parts digitally before treating real patients.

However, that may be changing as the NMC 2012 HorizonReport predicts widespread adoption of educational gaming on campuses by 2015.

“Open-ended, challenge-based, truly collaborative games are an emerging category of games that seems especially appropriate for higher education,” the report says. “When embedded in the curriculum, they offer a path into the material that allows the student to learn how to learn along with mastering the subject matter. These games lend themselves to curricular content, requiring students to discover and construct knowledge in order to solve problems.”

Some campuses have already started the process. At University of North Carolina-Charlotte, computer-science professors used the Game2Learn program to retain students, while Purdue University uses the Serious Games Initiative in its math, science, and humanities departments.

Boise State University is using an online environment, styled after the World of Warcraft game, where students go on educational “quests” and receive “experience points” which are used to determine their final grades. Even the Wharton School of Business is using the marketplace simulation games Fare Game and Future View to teach students about airfare competition and how to conduct market research.