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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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mobile Device Management Costs on the Rise

A new study found that while business usage of mobile devices continues to rise, so do the annual IT labor costs of keeping them running. The study by Osterman Research was not aimed at higher education, but focused on mobile device management (MDM) at 117 companies with 7,000 employees using 5,000 or more smartphones. It found that IT labor costs per user rose from $229 in 2011 to $294 this year, and are projected to hit $339 next year.

Forty percent of respondents are using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) as its MDM platform, but could be looking for alternatives after Research in Motion, the firm that created the BlackBerry device and BES, was ordered to pay millions for violating an MDM patent. Switching to a new MDM means new costs for platform, hardware, and training of IT personnel, along with the possibility of new people to manage and monitor it, according to Scott Gode, vice president of product management and marketing at Azaleos, the communications provider that sponsored the study.

MDM costs are also expected to rise because of the increased functionality of new mobile systems and the IT policies that need to be developed to manage the device. Other challenges that add cost to MDM, according to the survey, are setup and deployment of the devices, training users, troubleshooting, and security.

Finally, the survey found that firms prefer cloud-based MDM solutions because they are easy to administer and maintain (69%) and costs are more predictable or even reduced (39%).

“The new MDM vendors have created their products in such a way that there is no feature dropoff if you choose cloud versus on-premise,” Gode said.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Publishers' Maneuvers Signal Need for Change

It’s no secret many colleges and universities are struggling to meet their budgets due to funding cuts and stagnant endowments. Many students, too, are having trouble covering tuition. But academic publishers are feeling the pinch as well, even as schools gear up for the fall term—the course-materials equivalent of the holiday shopping season.

Recent financial moves by two of the biggest college textbook publishers reveal signs of stress, which could redefine relationships with campus bookstores.

Last September, McGraw-Hill said it would spin off its educational publishing from its more profitable financial data publishing, creating two companies. However, the Wall Street Journal reported July 13 that a private equity firm is sniffing around the educational unit and may put in a bid to buy it.

In a separate report by Bloomberg News, Cengage Learning, grappling with debt from its own acquisition five years ago, may be considering an initial public offering to bring in cash.

“The academic publishers are under threat, and campus stores should not assume that they are immune or unaffected by that or similar factors. We should not look at challenging times among the publishers as a good thing,” says Mark Nelson, NACS chief information officer and vice president of NACS Media Solutions.

For independent and institutional campus stores, the situation doesn’t bode well. These stores are already a difficult (read: costly) channel for textbook publishers because each store must be dealt with on an individual basis. Systems vary from store to store, and some stores, astonishingly in this era, still don’t have full inventory management or e-commerce capabilities. Some tussle mightily with publishers who are trying to move into digital course materials.

“The more stores fight against publishers, the more publishers will be pushed to look at alternative channels they can potentially trust, such as direct-to-student,” Nelson says. “If they are working around campus stores as a channel, did anyone ever give thought to the possibility that it is because stores aren’t adding value to them as a channel as they once did?”

Yet the key to survival for both academic publishers and campus stores may lie in stronger partnerships. “The publishers need campus stores, and we need them if we are going to make it through the digital transition ahead,” Nelson says.

“Within NACS, we are developing or considering several mechanisms to improve publisher relations and industry relevance,” Nelson says. “We’re looking at communications that help publishers understand what we’re doing, both as an association and an industry. We’re looking to create a publisher advisory board to provide us with input into how to develop better programs and services, and create a stronger communication channel between stores and publishers.

“Logistically, this may be executed later this year through The Hub, the new online collaboration and knowledge management environment NACS is preparing to unveil at CAMEX 2013,” he adds. “NACS alone cannot solve these problems, however, if stores and publishers are unwilling to change their perspectives. If we fail to do so, we may all fail to transition.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is Amazon Working on Same-Day Delivery?

Bricks-and-mortar retailers have battled long and hard over the sales-tax advantage that online vendors have, particularly Amazon. Customers are supposed to pay sales tax on all purchased items, but few actually do, providing a significant price advantage for online services.

Merchants say if Amazon had to pay local sales taxes like they do, consumers would see online prices more on par with their own physical-store prices. Amazon appears to now agree as it is dropping its tooth-and-nail fight against every sales tax initiative in favor of negotiating agreements to build warehouses in large metropolitan areas.

It’s a change in strategy that could help Amazon accomplish what some believe is its new goal: providing same-day delivery for many of the products it sells. That may be a necessary change considering a Citigroup survey found 52% of Amazon shoppers would be less likely to buy goods on the site if they had to pay sales tax.

Whatever the reason, Amazon is putting a lot of money behind the project. The company will reportedly spend more that $1.2 billion on distribution facilities in California, Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, with $500 million for as many as 10 locations in California alone. That should be enough centers to provide next-day service for nearly all of the continental United States.

Along with new facilities, Amazon has been working on ways to improve shipping times at the facilities it already has. It acquired Kiva Systems, which developed a robotic warehouse system, and set up automated lockers in drugstores and convenience stores in Seattle, New York, and the United Kingdom. It also works with local couriers capable of same-day delivery when the product is available that quickly.

“Amazon is investing billions to make next-day delivery standard, and same-day delivery an option for a lot of customers,” technology writer Farhad Manjoo said in this Slate article. “If it can pull that off, the company will permanently alter who we shop. To put it more bluntly: Physical retailers will be hosed.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mixed Signals from Faculty on Online Ed

New research shows a majority of faculty members continue to fear the growth of online education, but that could change as more instructors begin to use technology. Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012, reports that while nearly 70% of instructors who only taught in classrooms were afraid of the online push, 59% of instructors who taught an online course were more excited about the trend.

The study conducted by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group, surveyed 4,546 faculty members and 591 academic technology administrators. Respondents were questioned about their perceptions of online quality, institutional support and training, and compensation.

The report found diverging viewpoints on online education between faculty and administrators. Nearly 60% of all faculty respondents either agreed with or were neutral to questions about whether their institutions were “pushing too much online.” At the same time, 79% of administrators disagreed with the notion.

Faculty gave failing grades to online learning outcomes, with 66% saying they were lower than tradition classroom work. While 39% of teachers who had taught online agreed with the substandard learning outcomes, nearly half said online and traditional courses produced similar results and 66% of online instructors felt online teaching was capable of matching classroom instruction.

“Learning how to teach online probably would be one of the best steps a professor could take to assure viability in the 21st century,” wrote John Thelin in a follow-up essay on the report that appeared in Inside Higher Ed. “The most dysfunctional response by a professor today would be to dismiss or ignore both the technology and the social consequence online learning has.”

Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky who describes himself as “not so much low-tech as slow-tech,” wrote about his efforts to take one of his graduate classes online. While the course preparation phase was thoughtful and innovative, getting official approval included delay and “unreasonable obstacles.” At the same time, he concluded that online courses do not necessarily mean new revenue for the school or savings for students.

“All the variables of effectiveness, efficiency, cost, and price are subject to the same complexities, adjustments, and vacillations of any higher education program offering,” Thelin wrote.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Downside to E-Textbooks

There’s been plenty of research showing students are just not into electronic textbooks hype. In fact, the OnCampus Research report Student Watch 2012: Student Attitudes and Perceptions found that just 17% of student respondents even owned an e-reader and 62% of these bought the gadget just for leisure reading.

So why aren’t college students clamoring for e-textbooks? After all, they should be cheaper to purchase, plus there’s all those nifty tools, such as highlighting and interactive footnotes, geared to attract a tech-savvy generation.

The top reason for student reluctance is they’re not often finding the required book in their preferred digital format, according to the Online University staff’s look at reasons why college students aren’t buying e-textbooks. Even if students find the correct digital text, they soon discover it probably only saved them about a dollar after factoring in the cost of the e-reader, “publisher pricing decisions,” and the fact they can’t sell the title back.

Digital formats also complicate the process for students because they vary from one device to another. Add in the fact that some e-text will eat up large portions of storage space in each device, as well as that some e-text can look pretty primitive next to online learning sources, and it’s not hard to see why students might expect more from their e-textbooks than what they currently get.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reducing the Clicks from User to Content

As the back-to-class season draws closer, a number of course materials systems are hooking up.

At its own BbWorld annual conference in New Orleans, Blackboard announced plans to develop one-click access to Ingram’s Vital Source e-textbook platform directly within the Blackboard Learn learning management system. The integration, intended for both computers and mobile devices, will allow faculty and students already logged into Learn to click into digital course content without messing around with software or additional logins. Vital Source has 80,000 titles.

Blackboard is also getting a little cozier with CourseSmart. Since last November, the two have been working with 20 campuses to pilot integration of CourseSmart’s Building Block digital catalog with Blackboard Learn. Like the Vital Source arrangement, the integration enables users to access the course materials with a single sign-on. The pilot was apparently successful as Blackboard will now make Building Block available at no charge to all schools using Learn 9.1.

For its part, CourseSmart has also been dancing with Desire2Learn. In an enhanced integration announced recently, CourseSmart’s 30,000-title e-textbook catalog will be available through Desire2Learn’s learning management system. Once again, students and instructors will be able to get there via just one click.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Technology Giving Classrooms a New Look

A new study shows that technology is leading to new ways for teachers to teach and students to learn. In fact, 75% of college students and 72% of faculty are using notebooks or netbooks as learning tools in the classroom, and 69% of students and 73% of faculty are making use of digital content, according to an article in Campus Technology.

The report Learn Now, Lecture Later, funded by CDW-G, a company providing technology to government, education, and healthcare industries, suggests students prefer a mix of teaching methods, such as hands-on projects (17% of participating students), independent study (14%), and group projects (12%), and that 69% of students would like to see more technology used. The study also showed that 64% of high school teachers are using class time for group projects and 45% of their students have used smartphones in class as learning tools.

“Students told us they want more interaction with teachers during class, as well as the opportunity to incorporate more technology into their classes,” said Andy Lausch, vice president of higher education at CDW-G. “In fact, students who are very satisfied with how their teachers use class time also use more technology in class with all types of learning models.”

The greatest obstacle facing to using more technology in the classroom for secondary and postsecondary education is securing funds to provide it. Lack of time and lack of technical support were also cited by IT staffers participating in the survey.

The complete report is available for free at the CDW-G web site.

Friday, July 20, 2012

MHE Offering LearnSmart Directly to Students

McGraw-Hill Education announced plans to make its LearnSmart adaptive learning program available directly to students in time for fall 2012 classes. The plan, an effort to open new revenue streams for the company, is the first time MHE has marketed and sold technology directly to students.

“Making these study tools available directly to students—and their parents who want to help them succeed—signals a new era for our business as we work to ensure that more students are getting the most out of their college education,” Brian Kibby, president, McGraw-Hill Education, said in a press release.

Use of LearnSmart has grown to more than 40 introductory courses since it was introduced in 2007, with MHE reporting more than 800,000 students use it to answer questions each day. But many college store professionals view publishers bypassing them in favor of selling directly to students as a threat instead of just “good business” on the part of the publisher, according to Mark Nelson, chief information officer of NACS and vice president of NACS Media Solutions.

“On one level, it is a threat, but if stores were providing sufficient value to publishers, particularly on the digital side, the publishers would have no need to go around the stores,” he said. “Stores have good mechanisms when it comes to print, but their mechanisms for handling new business models and technologies are inadequate.”

Another issue is that MHE plans to continue to sell the product in campus stores as part of the McGraw-Hill Connect online course-management platform, which combines digital learning with class materials. But rather than a call to arms, Nelson sees the news as an opportunity for stores to work with publishers to define better solutions.

“Publishers themselves would be stronger working with us,” he said. “If stores want it to stop, then they must more effectively demonstrate value. Complaining or continuing to do things the way they have always done them or resisting change does not do a whole lot to get the publishers to alter their practices.” 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

MOOC Provider Multiplies Partner Schools

Coursera, an organization that provides a platform for free college and university courses online, created a stir when, seemingly in one fell swoop, it added a dozen more schools to its roster.

Signing on to offer selected topics through the platform were Georgia Tech, Duke University, University of Washington, Caltech, Rice University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health), University of California San Francisco, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Virginia. Already on board are University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, University of Michigan, Stanford University, and an institution in France.

Some in academia, including this commentary in Inside Higher Education, viewed the announcement as validation that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are no longer a novelty but a genuine game-changer for postsecondary institutions. But it’s not clear exactly how they will change the educational playbook.

The Atlantic provided an inside peek at how an instructor approaches a MOOC, noting that many of those who take the courses already hold degrees, maybe even advanced degrees. These students aren’t necessarily seeking another diploma, though possibly they do want some sort of formal acknowledgment they successfully completed the course, which is something Coursera can provide. A certificate would come in handy for resumes or performance reviews.

Some course-takers are instructors themselves, maybe checking out the “competition” or looking to crib a few ideas for their own classes. Coursera’s course list, at least for now, is heavy on science-related disciplines. No doubt that’s where the demand is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is the Time Right for BYOT?

Making use of the technology many students bring to class each day is a touchy subject. Many educators view it as a distraction and even more see it as unfair to those students who cannot afford electronic gadgets, such as an iPhone or Kindle. But that could be changing.

Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey and education writer for The Huffington Post, makes a case for the idea of “Bring Your Own Technology” in a SmartBlog post,  claiming a BYOT program is a way to “leverage a variety of devices that many students already have.” His school piloted a BYOT initiative for seniors, and then expanded it because he felt the program provided real value for both students and teachers.

Sheninger found that students need to view their devices as mobile learning tools and that the school had to adopt language to promote that notion. It’s also important to have professional development and resources available to teachers so they can create lessons specifically connected to the device.

The New Milford BYOT program increased access to technology and encouraged students to use their devices for educational purposes outside the classroom. Acceptable-use policies were required, but it was found those policies could be aligned with policies already in place a school’s discipline code.

In addition, Sheninger knows equity is a large issue facing BYOT and agrees schools should provide for all. But he also considers it an excuse for not moving forward.

“Instead of bashing BYOT and saying how and why it won’t work or is unfair, we would be best served to brainstorm ways in which it can become an educational component of our schools,” he wrote. “The excuses to write off BYOT only serve to undermine the students that we are tasked with educating.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Textbook Guru Reviews E-Book Platforms

Jeff Cohen, CEO of CampusBook.com and author of The Textbook Guru blog, decided if he was going to review e-book platforms, he might as well actually buy an e-book and give it a spin. Then, he wrote a series of blogs about the college textbook platforms he tried, with a final post that links to each review.

Cohen went online, bought a textbook, and downloaded it, just as a student would. He also made sure to check out features from each provider in an effort to give readers a true snapshot of how well those features worked for him. He found that each platform he tried had both good and bad features, but that the entire higher education e-book industry has work to do because current models still suffer from “small-scale book-mimicry.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Onlyindie.com Turning Heads

Onlyindie.com, an online e-bookseller, has been in operation just a few months, yet its business model is turning heads in the publishing industry. The privately owned company calls itself the world’s first dynamically priced e-book store.   

Onlyindie actually gives away the first 15 downloads of the title. Each e-book downloaded after that increases in penny increments until it reaches a maximum price of $7.98, where it remains until 24 hours pass without a download. At that point, the company uses an algorithm that over a period of time lowers the price back to zero again.

Writers receive 50% of the sale price on books priced up to $1.99. That increases to 75% for books priced $2 to $7.98. Although authors are permitted to set their price limit lower than $7.98, they cannot increase it. Authors are paid via Paypal with no minimums and no waiting for the check.

The web site got a big boost when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban agreed to have his book, How to Win, sold using Onlyindie’s model, even besting the price-busting Amazon for some time. The bookhowever, is no longer on the web site.

As of July 13, 2012, Onlyindie.com had 20 free e-books available and 31 at varying prices below $7.98. The e-book categories were typical for the trends this year, including some vampire tales, adult fiction, advice and how-to, science fiction and fantasy, and short stories.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Uses for Smartphones Than Just Calls

News that people are using smartphones for much more than simply calling is not particularly earthshattering. But two new reports have surfaced that put numbers behind the trend.

The London Telegraph produced a chart showing smartphone users spend 24 minutes, 49 seconds every day surfing the Internet on their devices, compared to just 12 minutes, six seconds taking calls. In fact, using the phone as a phone was fifth on the list behind using it for social media (17 minutes, 29 seconds), playing music (15 minutes, 38 seconds), and playing games (14 minutes, 26 seconds).

The Online Colleges infographic below, which focuses on smartphone usage by college students, shows that 52% check their phone before getting out of bed in the morning and nearly half take a look before falling asleep at night. Of the students surveyed, 45% use their phones to help with school assignments and 46% say their phones are often more helpful for work-related tasks. Alarmingly, 35% of the students surveyed say they use their phones while stopped at a red light and 20% admit using them while driving.

The Mobile Lives of College Students
Courtesy of: Online Colleges

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bankrolling Free Textbooks Via Donations

Some see a simple path to affordable college textbooks: Have each professor write their own course materials and distribute them gratis to enrollees (maybe charge a tad for hard copies). A tiny, but slowly growing, number of faculty are willing to do that.

The downside for students is that raw manuscripts aren’t necessarily as readable and user-friendly as traditionally published textbooks buffed by a team of peer reviewers, editors, proofers, graphic designers, technology magicians, and the like. The price might be free, but sometimes you get what you pay for. A prof could hire services to polish a book, but would either have to eat the cost or charge students much more for the end product.

A Canadian professor tapped into crowdsourcing as a way to have his free book and edit it, too. In a post about faculty putting their own books online, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog noted how Brendan Myers, a professor of philosophy and humanities at Heritage College in Quebec, solicited pledges through Kickstarter to cover professional editing, publishing, and peer-review fees for the philosophy textbook he’s writing. He plans to make the finished book available free to anyone through a Creative Commons license.

Kickstarter provides an online fundraising platform for creative projects, such as novels and films. Myers aimed to raise $5,000, but when his pledge drive ended July 7, he had $16,872 from 707 supporters. The extra will pay for a French translation, English and French audio versions, study guides, and a professional cast to record a dramatic reading of classic philosophy works.

Who knows why 707 people chose to donate to a philosophy text? Maybe some are professors who hope to use the book for their own classes, or budget-minded students planning to take Myers’ course next year, or current students sucking up for a better grade. Certainly, it seems unlikely there are enough donors out there to support an open-access textbook for every higher-education class, but contributions might float a few titles.

Compare Myers’ success at textbook fundraising with that of marketing/branding guru Seth Godin, who’s published a passel of books the old-fashioned way and is now also using Kickstarter to fund a retail campaign for his upcoming title. As of July 12, Godin had raised $267,675 from 3,925 contributors, with four days to go before the deadline. More than 1,000 of the donors gave $100 or more.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chegg Testing More Services on New Site

When Dan Rosenweig took over as Chegg’s CEO, he became certain the next big challenge facing the online textbook rental company was going to come from digital course materials.

Rosenweig invested $50 million on acquisitions he hopes will turn Chegg into a digital destination that can fill every need a college student may have, from course materials to homework help to dorm decorations. The firm began testing an enhanced Chegg.com site on June 1 that brings together all the services Chegg has purchased or created.

The new site allows students to use their Facebook credentials to login, providing Chegg with information about its users, social networks used, and where each individual goes to school. New services allow students to answer questions posed by others for free or a small fee, help high school seniors narrow their college search, or receive daily-deal offers from a subscription-based service.

The new Chegg web site is what Facebook might have become had it remained limited to universities, according to Michelle Hummel, CEO of the digital marketing agency Web Media Expert, in this article for Bloomburg Business, adding that students and educators are “looking for something other than Facebook that’s more targeted to their needs.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

E-Books Are Getting into Your Head

Companies selling electronic readers and e-books are tracking the reading and spending habits of users with an eye to helping authors and publishers better understand what readers want, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Books for the Kindle and Nook, as well as tablets such as the iPad, can record the number of times a reader opens a book app and how much time they spend using the app, and then provide that information to retailers and publishers.

“The bigger trend we’re trying to unearth is where are those drop-offs in certain kinds of books, and what can we do with publishers to prevent that,” said Jim Hilt, vice president of e-books at Barnes & Noble, in the WSJ article. “If we can help authors create even better books than they create today, it’s a win for everybody.”

The article details how e-book social networking site Copia, which has 50,000 subscribers, collects information including age, gender, and school affiliation, as well as how many times a book was downloaded, opened, and read, and shares that data with publishers that request it. Kobo, with a stock of 2.5 million books and more than eight million users of its devices and services, tracks the hours users spend reading a title, while Scholastic uses online feedback from message boards and interactive games to shape its 39 Clues series.

Sourcebooks is also incorporating reader feedback into print versions of some of its online serial titles.

“You very rarely get a glimpse into the reader’s mind,” said David Levithan, publisher and editorial director at Scholastic. “With a printed book, there’s no such thing as an analytic. You can’t tell which pages are dog-eared.”

But there are those who disagree with such data gathering. Privacy groups would like to see e-book users protected from having their reading habits recorded. California passed a “reader privacy act” making it more difficult for law-enforcement groups to access consumers’ digital reading records, legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF), Google, and other organizations are also promoting.

“There’s a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else’s business,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the EEF. “Right now, there’s no way for you to tell Amazon, ‘I want to buy your books, but I don’t want you to track what I’m reading.’”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Has 'Innovation' Become a Mindless Buzzword?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article in May suggesting that the term “innovation” has been overused to the point of being cliché. The report showed the word was used 33,528 times in Security and Exchange Commission filings, an increase of 64% over the last five years, and that Amazon.com had 250 books released between February and May 2012 with the work “innovation” in the title.

It’s a subject Jason Tomassini of Education Week has been thinking about for a while. Tomassini followed up a blog on the influx of “innovation officers” in education by gathering responses he received from people who write about and study educational practices on his first post and the WSJ article.

“It’s not that our education system doesn’t desperately need to be shaken up. But as the WSJ article makes clear, we are applying these adjectives without any analysis, without any reference to history,” wrote Audrey Watters, an education technology writer and blogger for Hack Education. “It’s just marketing schtick and sloppy thinking—and I think that’s both disappointing and dangerous when we want to see substantive change in education and are stuck instead with seeing the mediocre and the mundane touted as transformative.”

Friday, July 6, 2012

Collaborative Efforts on OER Show Promise

Open educational resources are attractive for both students and faculty because, in large part, they are free or very inexpensive.  However, finding and sorting through all the available OER for high-quality materials is a daunting proposition for most faculty members, making recent collaborative efforts between institutions a solution with considerable potential.

“Helping faculty find appropriate resources is a major issue,” said Geoff Cain, director of distance education for the College of the Redwoods, Eureka, CA, in a recent article in Campus Technology. Cain is a member of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, a joint effort to help faculty identify and evaluate appropriate resources.

Another effort, Project Kaleidoscope, brought together faculty teams from eight institutions across the U.S. to design 10 general education courses that use OER materials and share common learning assessments.

The Kaleidoscope courses were used for the first time in the fall of 2011 with promising results. According to a report in Campus Technology, there was a 3.5% improvement in student success (completion with a C or better) in the courses, while students participating in the Kaleidoscope classes saw a 97% reduction in textbook costs.

“It’s so frustrating to community college teachers when their students show up the first week without textbooks because they are waiting for a paycheck or for financial aid,” said M.L. Bettino, former dean of academic affairs at Cerritos College and primary investigator for the Kaleidoscope program. “Now they can get their hands on these materials early and really be prepared on day one.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Retail Site Harnesses Consumers' Likes

Building off the rocketing popularity of Pinterest, a new online recommendation site called Wisemarkit allows users to get a cut of the action when someone buys a product they endorsed. The site’s founders hope to drive sales through shopper-to-shopper buzz.

Wisemarkit, which launched July 2, has an interface reminiscent of Pinterest and even requires new users to request an invitation to set up an account, just as Pinterest does. Once an account is open, the user can recommend up to 10 items by pinning pictures and descriptions on a profile page. If somebody clicks through to purchase one of the items, Wisemarkit not only shares the revenue with the recommender but also awards points that can be redeemed to upgrade the profile page with additional features.

At present, Wisemarkit only sources merchandise through Amazon Affiliates and Shopsense programs, but intends to start signing up retail establishments soon, according to a Fast Company report. Retailers could also create accounts applauding their top sellers or hot, new arrivals. A ranking function will also show how many recommendations a product has garnered.

Why restrict accounts to just 10 recommendations at any given time and not an unlimited number? Wisemarkit thinks account-holders will only vouch for those products they really like, which in turn will generate more click-through sales.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Technology and the Older Generation

It’s the Fourth of July, so what better way to kick off this most American of celebrations than with a short YouTube clip from Germany? You may not understand a word of it, but it should provide a chuckle.

Enjoy, and have a safe and happy Fourth.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

School Officials Playing Catchup with Technology

The Project Tomorrow report, Speak Up 2011Personalizing the Classroom Experience suggests educators and librarians have taken noticed that students accept the do-it-yourself approach to education that has been made possible through new technologies.

The report, a survey of representing students, parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators from more than 5,800 public and private K-12 schools, shows that educators utilizing social networking sites for professional use has risen from 22% in 2008 to 45% in 2011, Additionally, more than a third of teachers responding are now using online professional learning communities (PLC), compared to one in five just four years ago.

The study suggests a shift in thinking about students bringing devices into the classroom is possible as more educators become familiar with using the technology. The study found that those educators see the gadgets as a way to “increase student engagement (83%), access online textbooks (73%), and extend learning beyond the end of the school day (63%).” The report also found that 27% of administrators surveyed feel that allowing students to bring their own mobile devices into the classroom could be a technology solution to budget issues.

At the same time, the report also states that harnessing the potential of technology in the classroom continues to be a challenge because of all the new tools and services that are available. All the choices make it difficult to choose the best product or app, or to even evaluate which tools work best.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Report Shows Retailers Struggle with Digital Shopping Experience

Traditional retail channels are having a hard time mixing digital into the shopping experience, according to a new report, Omni-Channel 2012: Cross Channel Comes of Age from Retail Systems Research LLC. The firm has been doing the study for six years and this year found that retailers now feel cross-channel marketing will play a role in their business but that merging digital with the bricks-and-mortar selling is the biggest challenge.

The report surveyed 66 retailers on their cross-channel practices and technology adoption plans and found that just 32% of the responding retailers believe they have reached the goal of consolidating the customer shopping experience across all channels.

The report is available as a free download, but registration is required.