This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Concern Over Online Course-Taking Sites

It didn’t take long for reports to surface that people were cheating in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Coursera even took a proactive approach by adding honor-code reminders to its courses.

Now, web sites are popping up offering to take the online course for students and promising them at least a “B” in the class. There’s a price for this service, ranging from $95 for an essay to $900 to complete an entire course, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

“It’s what they say about cockroaches: when you see one there are hundreds that you don’t see,” said A.J. Kelton, director of emerging and instructional technology at Montclair State University.

A graphic description perhaps, but Inside Higher Ed could find little about the sites. Some even appeared to be operated by the same person or group. In addition, administrators like Kelton are concerned it could be the beginning of an online higher ed black market.

“The difference with something like wetakeyourclass.com is that if you’re going to pay someone to go to your 300-person Psych 101 class, that person can only go to one exam at a time,” Kelton said. “That same expert, however, could take six, eight, 10, 12 online courses simultaneously.”

One result from the article was the wetakeyourclass.com site has been taken offline, according to an update on the Inside Higher Ed web site. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Higher Ed Needs to Get Mobile Platforms Right

Mobile platforms are important new tools in engaging college students, so it stands to reason that higher education should have a vested interest in the subject. However, many schools have it wrong, according to Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of education technology company Rafter.

The problem is a piecemeal approach to the issue. Too often, a school creates separate apps for various departments and organizations around campus that are developed on different operating systems. The end result is a disjointed experience that students simply won’t use. In his GigaOM article, Maghsoodnia suggests schools need to an all-inclusive approach that is easy to use and captivating for students. He also understands that will not be easy.

“Professors are a notoriously stubborn group and getting them to adopt mobile platforms isn’t simple,” he wrote. “Plenty of training, education, and practice are necessary. It’s also not cheap. And then there’s the daunting challenge of trying to keep 18- to 21-year-olds engaged for more than a few minutes.”

However, mobile apps also create opportunities to engage with students, who are often already on campus and looking online for easy ways to access information. They’re also more than willing to move on when they don’t or can’t find it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

MOOCs Will Grow Up, Must Become Sustainable

Burck Smith, CEO and founder of online education firm StraighterLine, may be showing his age in his recent blog post. After all, he references Marky-Mark, the leader of a 1990s hip-hop group who ultimately grew up into award-winning actor Mark Wahlberg.

Smith’s point is that massive open online courses (MOOCs) will almost certainly grow up, just as Wahlberg did, once the excitement of the moment dissipates. When that happens, firms such as Coursera and Udacity are going to have to produce revenue, which will likely mean they will no longer be massive, open, or free.

“As providers of open content and open courseware have recognized over the past 15 years, simply making content free doesn’t change the dynamics of the higher education market at all,” Smith wrote. “Further, free content isn’t very good business, just ask the newspaper industry—and their content changes every day.”

Students earning credit for online courses taken will be the key to sustainability.

“Only those who have created a low-cost, low-risk pathway to credit will have results to show,” Smith continued. “It is the hard work necessary to create this pathway that transforms flash-in-the-pan Marky-Mark organizational models to mature and sustainable Mark Wahlberg ones.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

K-12 Schools Trying Out Tablets

A growing number of K-12 school districts, anxious to save money while preparing students for 21st-century work, are purchasing iPads in lieu of print textbooks and sometimes instead of desktop computers. Districts view the tablets as more budget-friendly than computers and more versatile than books for class use.

Across the U.S., there are tales such as this one in Seattle where the district decided all 181 middle-school youngsters should bring their own iPads to class this year. Students who couldn’t afford to buy one could borrow from a pool of 100 tablets bought with funds originally designated to replace several computers.

According to an investors’ report cited by C/Net, PC sales to the K-12 market are dwindling at about the same rate as K-12 iPad sales are rising, indicating schools are switching to tablets. They’re not just buying iPads, either.

Kuno, a tablet created specifically for K-12 use by the CurriculumLoft company, is among the Android gadgets competing head-to-head with the iPad for school sales. Business2Community says Kuno is attractive to district decision-makers because its base model costs 25% less than an iPad and it comes with built-in filters to protect kids from accidentally (or intentionally) accessing web content they shouldn’t.

Samsung is also working with Memphis, TN, schools on a new tablet system geared to K-12 grades. Each tablet comes with a stylus that lets students hand-write notes, which can be converted to type and saved.

Why are tablets getting all the attention from school districts and not e-readers such as the Kindle or the Nook, given their lower price point? In the view of Good E-Reader blogger Michael Kozlowski, it’s mainly because most e-readers lack text-to-speech software for vision-impaired pupils and can be more cumbersome to use.

Monday, September 24, 2012

MOOCs on a Smaller Scale

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have become big news in higher education. Tens of thousands of students are taking advantage of the free, not-for-credit courses offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the nation.

Now, throw LOOCs and anti-MOOCs into the mix.

LOOCs, or little open online courses, are being tested at the University of Maine, Presque Isle. The pilot program, called OpenU, offers four online courses open to between two and seven online students for free, in addition to the regular paying students taking the class. The online students get no formal credit for completing the course, but, unlike MOOCs, can receive personalized responses from instructors on assignments and tests.

“Students are not paying, but they are getting the full experience,” said Presque Isle Provost Michael Sonntag in an article about the program in Inside Higher Education. “If they want to write every paper and take every test, our faculty members have agreed to give them feedback.”

There are even ways for students to receive some credit for the course. OpenU students can earn up to six credit hours through the UMPI prior-learning program if they enroll in the school, according to the university web site.

The UnderAcademy College appears at first to be a joke, with courses such as Grammar Porn and Underwater Procrastination and Advance Desublimation Techniques. However, it is also “offering serious content taught by professors at some well-known institutions,” according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

UnderAcademy offers classes limited to 15 students. The goal is to deliver quality liberal arts and humanity classes by providing “students with the opportunity to focus on the process of learning and control the courses themselves rather than worry about the end product,” Talan Memmott, founder of UnderAcademy and lecturer of digital culture and communications at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle.

“Based on some spirit of humor that seemed to underlie everything, I assumed it was largely a joke,” said Mark C. Marino, associate professor of writing at the University of Southern California, who taught his “Grammar Porn” class last spring. “But Talan would say that this project is research into alternative pedagogical practices that are collaborative, less hierarchical, and take place online. That piqued my interest.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Course Builder Brings Google into Online Education

Google is taking a step into online education with the release of open-source software called Course Builder. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the search giant has talked to edX, the partnership between Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkeley that is already offering free massive open online courses. Peter Norvig, the director of research at Google, told The Chronicle it has also reached out to Stanford University.

“We’re close with Stanford—Coursera and Udacity both came out of Stanford,” Norvig said. “They’re working on their own open-source project, and they’re also interested in working with us. I think schools are experimenting and they don’t know quite yet what they want to do.”

Google attracted 155,000 registered students during the summer with its Power Searching software.  Course Builder is designed to package the software and technology used in Power Searching to create online courses that can include lessons, student activities, and assessments.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Print-On-Demand Opportunity to Pilot

NACS Media Solutions (NMS) is seeking up to 25 college stores to participate in the next stage of its regional print-on-demand network service. NMS is trying to evaluate and fine-tune its R-POD network, which has been created to fulfill orders within two days and afford lower shipping costs through a regional print model.

To participate in the pilot program, college stores must have rights-negotiated content to print through the R-POD network and be willing to provide feedback. NMS does not provide any content licensing services.

Content will be submitted to NMS for inclusion in the POD catalog. The content can remain private and accessible only to the store submitting it, or can be public, depending on the option specified by each store in the pilot.

For formatting requirements and addition Regional POD information, go to www.nacsmediasolutions.com. To participate, contact Veronica Gancov, digital media project manager, at vgancov@nacs.org or (800) 622-7498, ext. 2343.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dial 'S' for Smartphone Surge

At this point in the academic term, no doubt hundreds of professors are sick and tired of seeing students pull out their smartphones during class lectures. Profs may be fighting a losing battle.

NPD DisplaySearch, a market research firm, predicts some 567 million smartphones will be shipped this year, and that number will nearly double by 2016. Of this year’s shipments, close to 177 million will be to first-time smartphone owners, many of them teens and college students. As the baby boomlet (kids born to the famed Baby Boom generation) begins to peter out in the college enrollment ranks over the next few years, NPD sees the number of new smartphone buyers dwindling somewhat.

On the other hand, the number of people replacing existing smartphones with new, jazzy models will skyrocket. Because many people tend to buy new phones whenever their current two-year mobile contract is up, it’s expected phone manufacturers will work with carriers to offer shorter contract periods to encourage more frequent upgrades.

Faculty might as well get used to the fact that students will bring—and use—these devices in the classroom. But they’re not the only ones who need to get up to speed.

The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Europe blog reports that a study by London-based investment banking firm GP Bullhound shows many companies, particularly retailers, haven’t built mobile apps and optimization into their e-commerce offerings yet. As a consequence, they may be missing out on sales. Purchases from mobile devices, according to the report, accounted for 11% of all 2011’s holiday season sales, almost twice as much as the year before.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Unlikely Trio Partnering on In-Store POD

An intriguing triad was announced recently. Kodak, the iconic film company still grappling with bankruptcy, is partnering with On Demand Books, maker of the Espresso print-on-demand book machine, and ReaderLink, distributor of books to nonbookstores, that is, discount stores, drugstores, and the like.

The threesome will be working together to merge Espresso’s book-printing functions with the image- and color-printing capabilities of Kodak’s photo kiosks. ReaderLink will help get the machines into the distribution channels where it already sells hard-copy books. Much of the focus, at least initially, will be on marketing the services to consumers or small groups who want to create photo books, such as family albums or local histories. Later, the emphasis may shift to providing access to backlist titles.

Publishers Weekly’s coverage of the announcement drew some skeptical remarks from commenters, who doubted the venture would get off the ground, given the availability of other services for creating custom books and for buying e-book versions of the backlist.

Kodak’s involvement was something of a surprise, as some have written off the company as near-dead. But back in May, the company’s POD group unveiled new workflow solutions for color printing. One drawback for the Espresso has been its inability to print color on inside pages. Kodak’s solution resolves that problem.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Who's Going to Pay for Online Education?

It’s been 20 years since the Michigan State University began its Computer-Assisted Personal Approach (CAPA) project.

Within five years, the award-winning program multi-media project that offers mostly science and math courses reached more than 6,000 students on the MSU campus and was available at 40 institutions nationwide. By 1999, it became a LON-CAPA (Learning Online Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach) program offered at more than 70 institutions that had received funding from the Sloan and Mellon Foundations.

The problem for online education, massive open online courses, and open-source software is not necessarily the funding. Firms are investing millions of dollars in these start-up firms, but the question remains if it’s a sustainable business model.

Gerd Kortemeyer, associate professor of physics, education, has seen how the project works as director of the LON-CAPA project at MSU and identifies the biggest question facing online learning is who’s going to pay for it? He talked about his concerns in a recent post on the Educause listserv:

A lot of bandwidth gets spent these days arguing that open education and free stuff is good … and that traditional colleges and textbooks are quickly approaching obsolescence. I am oscillating between enthusiasm and cynicism.
Our open-source content-sharing project, LON-CAPA, just celebrated its 20th anniversary: www.lon-capa.org/anniversary.html , and we are starting a successor project, www.courseweaver.org/.
Looking back over those 20 years, it's been an almost constant uphill battle for funding. Some money came from grants, but that model is inherently unsustainable: you can get money for new initiatives, but you cannot get grant funding to sustain something that works. Some research funding was even harmful to our project, as it made us do experimental stuff that did not benefit the majority of our users. The remainder of the funding has come from traditional colleges and universities.
Looking at MOOCs, open content, open-source software, etc., I still do not understand the business model, and I don't see it seriously discussed, except occasionally like in the Chronicle article about Coursera: http://chronicle.com/article/How-an-Upstart-Company-Might/133065/ —notice the "might" in the title.
Somebody in the end has to pay for salaries, retirement, health insurance, connectivity, hardware … at the moment, it seems like the business model is parasitic on traditional higher education. How is it going to move out of that mode?
My cynical self is reminded of the infamous dot-com business model: "We make a loss with every customer, so let's get more." Are we heading toward a dot-edu bubble? Please convince me of the opposite.

A good question, indeed.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Free Webinar on Professors and Technology

The new study Digital Faculty: Professors, Teaching and Technology, 2012, found that professors are excited about technology trends in education, including the growth of e-textbooks. This is the type of information that should be important to collegiate retailers as the industry moves forward.

Inside Higher Education is now offering a free hour-long webinar Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. Eastern to discuss the findings. The panel will be made up of Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik; Joshua Kim, a blogger for the publication and director of learning and technology, Dartmouth College; technology reporter Steve Kolowich; and Jeff Seaman, co-director, Babson Survey Research Group.

Registration information will be shared with sponsor companies CourseSmart, Deltak, Pearson, and Sonic Foundry.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Results Should be Interesting from Expanded E-Text Pilot

The results from the first round of the e-textbook pilot program from Internet2 and Educause showed students liked the savings and portability of digital content, but weren’t as thrilled with the reading experience or the fact that instructors often failed to use collaborative features built into the platform.

This fall, the program has been expanded from the original five schools to 26 nationwide, with each paying between $20,000 and $35,000 to collect feedback from the fall 2012 semester. While the 2012 pilots use McGraw-Hill Education e-titles on the Courseload software platform to replace paper books, Internet2 and Educause are planning a new test next year using multiple platforms and publishers.

“It’s important for higher education and, most importantly, for students to have options going forward,” said Shel Waggener, senior vice president for Internet2, in a Center for Digital Education article. “Now, we have the option to rethink the integration of content with the pedagogy with collaboration between students in very new ways.”

The pilots provide a way for the industry to work out issues such as accessibility, according to Waggener, who encourages other universities to jump on the e-textbook bandwagon.

“Universities should not sit on the sidelines and wait for this to become resolved because resolution is not going to be absolute; it’s going to be a continuum, and we all need to have a stake in the game to influence the outcomes,” he said.

Weggener acknowledged the college store in his “do and don’t” list in a blog post at Educause Review Online. Even though the reference is a “don’t,” his suggestions providesome thoughts stores might want to focus on. Since stores are not often invited to participate and more than half of the institutions in the fall 2012 pilot have independent campus stores, collegiate retailers need to find ways to be part of the discussion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Investments Being Made in Online Education

Investing in online education has become big business. Since the beginning of September, news reports have surfaced of $5.7 million in venture capital going to a Chicago-based education startup called eSpark Learning. At the same time, the Canadian firm Desire2Learn reversed its strategy of not using external funding and raised $80 million.

eSpark, described by its founder and CEO as the Pandora radio for education, targets students in grades K-8. Students are given a custom playlist of apps and then asked to rate how much they like the app or how much they are learning, similar to the way Pandora listeners rate songs played, according to an article in TechCrunch.

Desire2Learn, which develops cloud-based learning systems, changed its funding strategy, in part, to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the online learning market. Blended learning programs, personalized learning, and open online courses have all contributed to that growth. Desire2Learn has responded by hiring 200 new employees in the past year, according to a report in Reuters.

Finally, the online educational startup Straighterline recently announced it will begin allowing college professors to attract online students to their for-credit courses through Straighterline and even set their own price for the course.

The company landed $10 million in investment capital last April and plans to use the funds to expand its marketing to institutions across the country. It already offers online learning in nearly 40 courses for a fee of $99 a month and a $39-per-course registration fee. Its long-term goal is to create a platform where students can pick and choose courses created by professors for credit.

“The idea is the student has those choices,” Burck Smith, founder of Straighterline, told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s really an experiment in creating a market for professors and students to meet up.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Pros of Mobile Learning

The web site Edudemic has been making its case for mobile learning for the last couple of months. The site started by pointing to a survey which found that 45% of students use their smartphones for learning, and then provided 10 real-world examples of schools putting the bring-your-own-technology idea to work in their classrooms.

The Edudemic argument for mobile learning continued with its four big reasons why instructors should give it a try.

First on the list is the accessibility of mobile learning content. Not only is it easy for students,  it’s also simple for teachers to update and review the content they upload. The article even provides a link to an app that allows teachers to make m-learning quizzes.

Edudemic says m-learning allows teachers to customize content to fit the needs of their students while providing an easy and time-saving way for instructors to follow a student’s progress online.

Finally, Edudemic views mobile learning as a way to give students variety when it comes to content. Online presentations, videos, discussions, and online exams are just a few of the options that are available, which should keep things interesting and fun for both students and teachers.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Group Nears Online Education Compact

One issue facing online learning has been finding ways for institutions to offer online programs that meet the Department of Education’s state authorization rules. Those regulations force colleges and universities that offered online programs to register in every state.

While the authorization requirement was struck down by the federal courts earlier this year, most experts believe it will be back when Congress gets around to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act next year. So, state regulators, staff from regional higher-education compacts, key stakeholders, and other experts have been meeting to draft an agreement that would make it easier to get state approval for online classes that are available to students throughout the nation.

The goal of the agreement would be to “eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies for states and higher-education institutions by establishing ‘reciprocity’ among states that sign on to the effort,” according to a report in eCampus News. The project, a joint effort by the Council of State Governments and The Presidents’ Forum, would reform the regulatory review and approval process that governs postsecondary institutions offering degrees across state lines and require each state to approve the terms of any agreement.

“I’ve looked at the authorization issue from all sides and reciprocity is still the best answer to meet everyone’s needs, especially the student,” said Russell Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Judge Agrees to E-Price Fixing Settlement

Despite plenty of objections, federal district court judge Denise Cote has approved the settlement reached by the Justice Department and three of the five publishing houses in the e-book price-fixing case.

The settlement mandates that Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster discontinue current e-book sales agreements for the next two years and pay $69 million in damages to customers who purchased e-books between April 1, 2010, and May 21, 2012. Apple has said it will appeal the judge’s decision. The ruling means retailers can set their own prices, regardless of publisher pricing.

Amazon has indicated it is ready to resume “aggressive” e-book pricing.

The judge dismissed all objections, finding those concerns to be unreasonable. However, she also sided with the NACS position that e-textbooks should not be part of the settlement.

“While disappointed that the settlement agreement was upheld, we are pleased that the judge agreed in her ruling with our opinion that e-textbooks are not covered by the final judgment,” said Charles Schmidt, director of public relations for NACS. “By making this distinction, we hope that competition and innovation in the higher education textbook market continues.”

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What's Next with E-Book Pricing?

While Penguin, Macmillan, and Apple continue the e-book pricing fight with the Department of Justice, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster have decided it’s better to pay $69 million now than risk further damage to their reputation and possibly even higher fines that could result from losing a court case.

The three agreed to give refunds in the form of account credits or checks, ranging from 25 cents for each non-bestseller sold to $1.32 for books that appeared on The New York Times bestseller list from April 1, 2010-May 21, 2012. Just don’t expect your refund any time soon.

“Consumers aren’t going to see any payouts right now,” Laura Hazard Owen, a reporter covering e-book publishing for paidContent, said to The Boston Globe. “There’s still a lot of waiting ahead.”

The Globe article goes on to predict consumers could see e-book prices drop as much as 30%. Amazon said it would lower prices when the initial settlement with the Department of Justice was announced in April and other e-tailers will likely follow suit to keep pace.

“When retailers or manufacturers conspire to set prices, consumers lose,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of consumer resource guide ConsumerWorld.org. “So this is a good result.”

The three settling publishers also agreed to change the pricing of their e-books, but that’s where things could get a little murky, according to Billy Pidgeon, analyst at M2 Research.

“The devil is in the details,” he told the eCommerce Times. “There’s a lot of issues with the price of digital media. There are expectations that digital should be priced more cheaply as there are no manufacturers. But this really hasn’t been the case.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

iTunes U Course Manager Just Might Be Big

Apple’s iTunes U Course Manager is a web-based tool that allows instructors to create “courses” that can be downloaded and synced to the iTunes U iPad app. That could be a very big deal for higher education if the platform can jump a couple of pretty big hurdles, according to Joshua Kim in a Technology and Learning blog post.

Courses created in the platform can include documents, audio, and video files, which can be read on whatever iPad app a student chooses. The information can be viewed both online and offline, provides additional features that allow students to create and share study notes, and enables course materials to be delivered to students without going through a third-party publishing platform.

The biggest obstacle to making this work on any scale is also the most obvious: Students have to be hooked into an iOS device, preferably an iPad. The student experience on an iPad is great, according to Kim, but those students without Apple devices are out of luck.

Another concern for Kim is students will have to go outside the Apple setting at some point because the platform separates content for iOS devices from the creation of blogs and discussion boards that appear on learning management systems.

“Despite these challenges, I see the evolving Course Manager and iTunes U Courses as a compelling development,” Kim writes. “We have struggled to find a robust way to deliver a combination of text and multimedia curricular content that is organized around a course narrative to mobile devices. Apple seems to be offering us, or at least those of us in the Apple universe, a solution.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coursera Turns to Student Honor Codes

Media reports have described how students are cheating in at least three Coursera classes. The charges came to light when students complained on course discussion boards about plagiarism, leading the massive online open course site to institute additional honor-code reminders students must read and sign off on before submitting assignments to be graded.

That development probably shouldn’t come as a surprise since student cheating is nothing new. In fact, a 2011 Pew survey found that 55% of college presidents responding to the poll said they'd seen a rise in plagiarism over the last 10 years and 89% of those presidents blamed it on Internet and online classes.

The real question is why bother to cheat at all since the class is free and the student doesn’t receive credit?

Torrie Bosch, editor of Future Tense, which covers emerging technologies for Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University, says she believes it has to do with the “gamification.” Some individuals are so driven to do better in everything, whether a game or an assignment, that they’ll turn to cheating when it becomes frustrating.

“Technically, using cheat codes while playing a game at home for fun or copy-pasting a couple of sentences from Wikipedia on a Coursera assignment doesn’t hurt anybody,” Bosch wrote. “But it does diminish the experience for those who are playing by the rules, as evidenced by the many Coursera students who took to their class discussion boards to complain when they uncovered instances of plagiarism.”