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

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Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Year's Break for The CITE

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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Predictions Continue for 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Look Ahead into 2013

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

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

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

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

Watch for more predictions tomorrow in The CITE.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Facing Accessibility Issues Head On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Brief Vacation for The CITE

The CITE's contributors are taking a short break.

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

NYT Explores New E-Book Projects

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Young Adults, Smartphones = Life

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

E-Reader May Find Niche Beside Tablet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sail Fail May Flag SOS for Mobile POS

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Insuring Devices Becomes a Big Business

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Animation Used in MOOC Preview

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

E-Reader Sales Crumble, Tablet Sales Explode

It appears the e-reader market has bottomed out.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SNHU Taking Different Approach to Textbook Costs

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Amherst Launching 'Wildly Idealistic' Academic Press

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Teaching the Student Teachers First

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gaze-Based Technology Is Coming

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

iPad Is Not Killing the Printed Book

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Survey Shows Online Student Numbers Growing

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Khan Academy Launches iPhone App

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

E-Text Pilot Results Point Out Areas to Improve

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

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

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

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

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