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, 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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Changes Ahead After Giant Publishing Merger

The merger of Random House and Penguin may be more about leverage than money, according to a report in The New York Times. The deal creates the largest consumer book publisher in the world, but more importantly, could provide Penguin Random House with the clout to compete with Google, Apple, and Amazon.

It also likely signals the beginning of more consolidation in the industry as publishing houses join forces to create companies that have the size to negotiate better terms.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if all the major trade publishers were having conversations like this,” said Ned May, an analyst at the research firm Outsell. “I would expect to see similar realignment.”

Rumors were spreading about a possible Penguin merger with HarperCollins before the deal with Random House was announced, which means parent company News Corp. will likely continue to look for a new suitor for HarperCollins, according to Jeremy Greenfield in his Forbes blog.

Greenfield says he believes the merger could mean Penguin Random House using the negotiating clout it would have with Internet giants in its dealings with retailing partners and authors. At the same time, cost-saving efficiencies in areas such as warehousing, distribution, and printing will be coming.

It just won’t happen quickly, says New York literary agent Richard Curtis in digitalbookworld.com. He sees plenty of infighting ahead as executives stake out their turf, but added that editors, imprints, lists, and even authors will eventually feel the pinch.

“Aside from the human toll, injury to literature itself will be inflicted as the Darwinian struggle rewards the most commercial authors and makes it even harder for newcomers to gain a toehold,” Curtis writes. “And that, in turn, will fuel the self-publication and alternate-publishing trend that is already under way. The e-book and print-on-demand businesses, already prospering from that trend, will continue to thrive.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Young Americans Are Using Technology to Read

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that Americans under the age of 30 are probably doing more of their reading on their smartphone or personal computer than on an e-book reader. The findings, part of the center’s Internet & American Life Project, showed that 41% of Americans under the age of 30 read e-books on a cellphone and 55% read on their computer, compared to 23% using e-readers such as a Kindle or Nook or 16% reading off a tablet.

The report found that 47% of young Americans read e-content from books, magazines, or newspapers. It also reported that 52% of survey respondents have not borrowed e-books at a library because they didn't know they could.

At the same time, the study showed young Americans still use the library for reading. Sixty percent of respondents aged 16-29 use their local library, with 75% reading a print book, 19% using an e-book, and 11% taking out an audiobook.

“Although their library usage patterns may often be influenced by the requirements of school assignments, their interest in the possibilities of mobile technology may also point the way toward opportunities of further engagement with libraries later in life,” the report concluded.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mixed Signals from Online Education Studies

The Colorado Department of Higher Education released a study that found little statistical evidence that Colorado Community College System students taking online science courses earned grades significantly different from those of students taking traditional, in-class courses. The research also suggested students taking online science courses at the community college level performed as well in science classes at four-year institutions as students who took traditional science classes.

Students in the study were enrolled in first-year biology, chemistry, and physics courses, with 2,395 taking the course online and 2,190 taking it in a traditional classroom setting. The research looked at cumulative GPA, credit hours, and science-only GPA.

Researchers found that grades earned in traditional biology and chemistry classes were higher than for students taking the course online, but physics grades were similar for students in both classroom and online settings. Online students also had GPAs similar to or higher overall than their classroom counterparts.

While the Colorado study may show students are being adequately prepared by taking online courses, people still are not flocking to take them. In fact, an article in U.S. News & World Report suggests just the opposite, reporting a majority of prospective students in an Eduventures report preferred in-class instruction over online-only or majority-online courses. The study went on to note that 38% of the 1,500 adults 18-70 prefer online classes, which is only up 1% since 2006, but that online course enrollment is up to 10% over the same six-year period.

“The good news is that there is still a significant gap between preference and participation,” wrote the authors of the Eduventures report. “The bad news is that the gap is shrinking, and cautions that unless online delivery develops a broader value proposition, long-term growth may prove elusive.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Next E-Text Pilot to Try CourseSmart License

For the spring 2013 phase of their ongoing pilot programs with digital course materials, Internet2 and Educause have partnered with CourseSmart to provide e-textbooks and online support through a flat-fee bulk license to participating colleges and universities. As with their other pilots, Internet2 and Educause didn’t carve out any role for campus bookstores in the newest program.

This new phase is designed to “explore innovative business models,” according to the pilot prospectus, while continuing the research into effective usage of online materials in higher education. CourseSmart is an online marketplace where some 40 textbook publishers are able to sell 30,000 digital titles directly to students.

Internet2 is in the process of finalizing pilot agreements with an estimated 20 institutions. The schools will buy CourseSmart’s new Subscription Pack, which allows students to place up to 12 e-textbooks on their digital bookshelf at any given time during the semester through their campus learning management system.

CourseSmart is charging a flat $27,500 for 100 students, $44,000 for 200, and $200 for every additional student. Internet2 is quick to point out in its FAQs that this pricing—and the fact that students will pay nothing—is only for the pilot and isn’t supposed to establish any particular price-point or model for the future.

The fall 2012 e-content pilot is currently in progress with about 25 schools, building off the spring 2012 pilot with just five institutions. As The CITE previously noted, the report from the spring 2012 pilot showed students still preferred to study from print textbooks but would switch to digital materials if the cost was low enough and they could avoid lugging heavy print books.

While the spring 2012 pilot didn’t formally embrace college stores, three of the participating schools (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, and University of Minnesota) chose to involve their stores in key roles, such as channeling information to faculty and students, gathering data, and assisting students with online materials. Although the University of Virginia noted in its report that digital textbooks “have long been offered as an alternative to print textbooks (when available) by the University’s Bookstore,” it opted not to include the store in the spring pilot. The fifth school, Indiana University, contracts its store to a management company.

Cornell, Wisconsin, and Virginia are all taking part in the current fall pilot. The final report on that pilot is not expected until early 2013.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Flipped Classroom Passes First Test at San Jose State

Using a flipped classroom for one of the most hated classes at San Jose State University has produced some interesting results. Midterm exam results from the course, Engineering Electronics and Circuits, were higher for students in the class, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The university decided to give the flipped format a try because the class, required for electrical engineering majors, has never had a very high passing rate. In fact, 40% of the students taking it received a C or lower last semester.

Instructors turned to the massive online open course produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered by edX, asking students in one of the three sections of the class to watch lecture videos on their own and then use classroom time for discussion, rather than spending most the the class time on live lectures. The median midterm exam scores for students in the flipped class were 10 to 11 points higher despite more difficult questions on the test, according to Khosrow Ghadiri, an adjunct professor teaching the flipped version of the course.

The final test for the flipped class will come during finals week when professors plan to give all three sections of the course the same exam. Along with final test results, the university will survey students for their views on the flipped format.

“I think, in a way, that’s more important,” said Ping Hsu, interim dean of engineering. “If students feel this is a better way to learn, then that says a lot, perhaps more than exam scores.”

While midterm test scores were higher, students have complained about the pace of the flipped course. They’ve also asked Ghadiri for more frequent quizzes.

“The flipped classroom receives a lot of resistance upfront,” said David W. Parent, undergraduate coordinator in the electrical-engineering department. “What the students didn’t say, but were effectively saying, was that they had to learn at the rate which the classroom was going rather than letting it slide and cramming at the last moment.”