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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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Report: Students Moving to Digital

While some studies suggest students are still happy with printed textbooks, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has found the movement to digital content is gaining steam.

In its latest installment of the ongoing study Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, BISG reports a 12% drop in student preference for print over digital text, from 72% preferring print in November 2011 to 60% late last year. At the same time, student satisfaction with digital textbooks slipped from 30% in the 2011 survey to 26% in the newest report.

“Simply transferring a print textbook to a digital format doesn’t work with this crowd,” said Angela Bole, deputy executive director of BISG, in a release. “This is a market that’s tremendously dynamic and changing rapidly. It’s essential to watch it closely.”

The study also found that only half of the students in the survey were willing to buy the latest version of their assigned textbook, while rental as the preferred option has increased from 8% of respondents in 2011 to 13% in 2012. In addition, the use of tablet computers to read digital textbooks grew to 37% of responding students in 2012, while the use of laptop computers fell to 72%.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Digital Reading Up, But Kids Still Like Print

A new study shows that even though children are jumping on the digital bandwagon, many still prefer print content to digital. Forty-six percent of the 1,074 children, ages 6-17, responding to the biennial Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic Inc., said they had read an e-book, nearly double the percentages from in the 2010 survey.

In addition, half of the respondents said they would read more with better e-book access. The young people and their parents like the fact that e-books have dictionaries, highlighting features, and skill-building activities built in.

At the same time, respondents said that 80% of the books they read for fun were still the print versions and 58% of those surveyed always prefer print, even when an e-book is available. Respondents said they liked to hold a print book more than an electronic device, while their parents preferred print because books don't require batteries. 

The same appears to be true when it comes to college students.

“Our students don’t really want to have e-books,” Julie K. Bartley, chair of the geology department at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “What I hear from them a lot of times is that they feel some sort of comfort in being able to hold the thing in their hands.”

Publishers are responding by offering “print-plus” alternatives, where options for textbooks are often print and digital, along with extras and enhancements. For instance, Norton does not offer an electronic version of its Anthology series, but does offer access codes to online quizzes, photo galleries, and audio recordings, for which students pay a fee.

“Increasingly, the issue is not either/or,” said Tim Stookesberry, vice president and editorial director for global education at publisher John Wiley & Sons. “It’s a both-and-all conversation.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bill of Rights Created for Online Students

Sebastian Thrun, founder of the massive open online course (MOOC) provider Udacity, recently organized a discussion on the future of higher education and how technology fits in. The conference produced a document, called “A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age” that provides a framework to protect the interests of online students.

The document lists the “rights” online students should demand of institutions and companies offering online courses and technology tools. The list includes the right to learn, to privacy, to create public knowledge, and to own personal data and intellectual property. The document also sets out a list of principles that online learning should try to achieve, including value, flexibility, innovation, experimentation, and play.

“The idea is to have a larger conversation about this so that MOOCs don’t become the Facebook or Instagram of higher education—where you sign up for some free service and it turns out that you’re the product being sold,” said Cathy Davidson, an English professor at Duke University who helped write the text.

The authors hope it will become the framework to guide schools on using online tools and platforms, but it’s not without critics. One issue is that no online students took part in the discussion.

“If the result is a big conversation that gets people engaged and involved, including self-learners, then it’s a success,” said Philipp Schmidt, co-founder of the open-education site Peer 2 Peer University and one of the authors of the Bill of Rights, to Inside Higher Education. “This is not intended to be anything remotely like a final version.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finding Solutions to Online Retention Rates

Getting students to sign up for online courses hasn’t been a problem, but getting them to finish the course has. The University System of Georgia (USG) has come up with a solution that is proving successful, according to a study from Education Sector.

The system determined that nontraditional students often take online classes with the misconception the course will be an easier version of what is being offered in the classroom. Those students tend to fall behind or drop out as they struggle with the difficulty of the online material.

To address the problem, USG developed a software program called eCore coupled with student success teams of full-time university employees to help the at-risk students. The eCore program provides instructors with alerts when students are having trouble with assignments or fail to attend online discussion boards. Team members then reach out to those online students during the first half of the semester, according to Education Sector blogger Mandy Zatynski.

“This semester, team members made 1,071 phone calls and sent 1,126 e-mails to students who hadn’t logged in by day three,” Zatynski told eCampus News. “The primary reason students hadn’t shown up? They couldn’t find or didn’t know their password.”

The program’s online retention rate for all USG campuses was up to 83% in 2012, an 11% increase over 2011. Zatynski pointed particularly to the University of West Georgia, where the retention rates are at 92%, up from 68% in 2007, when the team concept was launched.

“The lack of face-to-face accountability—and disapproving professor looks—requires online students to demonstrate more initiative and strong time-management skills,” Zatynski said. “And because half of eCore’s students are 25 years or older, chances are schoolwork is one chore on a long list of things to do and, thus, easy to push to the bottom if work or family demands more time.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Use of Personal Printers on the Decline

There was a time not long ago when a new computer purchase came with an offer to receive a free printer. Those days may be gone for good, according to Education News.

The online publication produced a graphic that shows industry revenue for printers falling by an average of 5.5% each year since 2008 and demand for paper steadily declining since 2006. In addition, the graphic shows the cost of printer ink and claims that cutting paper consumption by 10% in the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 million tons, or the same amount as taking nearly 300,000 cars off the roads.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Testing Ways to Make MOOCs Work

The state of California is taking a look at how massive open online courses (MOOCs) can provide credit for students and revenue for its institutions. A deal between San Jose State University and Udacity to test courses for credit and a fee comes at a the same time the community college system is exploring how MOOCs can help the hundreds of thousands of students who have been unable to enroll because of cuts in government funding.

At San Jose State, a pilot program has been created for three entry-level courses—math, elementary statistics, and college algebra—that allows students to take the Udacity online course and earn academic credit. The cost is $150 per student with the pilot limiting enrollment to 100 students per course. It’s hoped the program can help students succeed in remedial courses that often have long waiting lists and high failure rates.

The courses are designed by SJSU professors and use the Udacity online platform. The MOOCs will include videos that let students work at their own pace, while mentors will be available for student sessions, according to a report in eCampus News.

“This could be not the solution, but the key part of the solution,” said Gov. Jerry Brown at a press conference. “We know that, because of the billions we’re spending on schools, we have the right to better results.”

The community college effort includes “challenge exams” that allow students to prove they can pass for credit. The MOOCs would prepare students for the exams and providers could modify the course to the exam.

While some community college faculty members have voiced concerns about the initiative, the Academic Senate, which represents community college instructors, is so far satisfied with the system’s approach.

“We have a good dialogue with the chancellor’s office,” said Michelle Pilati, president of the Academic Senate and professor of psychology at Rio Hondo College. “As far as we know, there is nothing moving forward that we would take issue with.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Saving Publishers, One Strategy at a Time

In view of the impact of online bookselling and self-publishing, technology commentator Guy Kawasaki thinks traditional trade publishers are in danger of going the way of the dodo. That’s the flightless bird eaten out of existence because it couldn’t adapt fast enough.

But, he says in a guest column for Publishing Perspectives, publishers who are able to “add value will profit and survive, and companies who don’t [will] wither and die.” He offers 10 strategies publishers can undertake to bring value to the process of developing, discovering, and distributing quality content.

Among those strategies are ditching the fight for digital rights management, a losing battle in Kawasaki’s view, and making it possible for print-book purchasers to receive a free copy of the electronic version every time they buy. The electronic version, of course, should be readable on any platform.

Kawasaki also thinks publishers need to support authors more, specifically by offering grants to help authors pay bills while they write, setting up a web marketplace for author services, and providing more assistance with marketing, especially in the social media realm. These strategies, he says, will not only boost the quality of books but also give publishers a better chance at unearthing standout authors.

The 10 strategies apply mostly to trade titles, not textbooks. However, given the recent hue and cry over open educational resources, the manner in which instructional materials are sourced and published is likely to shift. Cost concerns may force educational content to be published in smaller chunks that are not only cheaper and adaptable, but also produced by more freelance authors outside of academia.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

McGraw-Hill Launches SmartBook at CES

An update to the college textbook was among the new innovations introduced at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. McGraw-Hill Education launched SmartBooks, an adaptive approach to textbooks that acts as a virtual tutor to focus on the individual student’s area of study needs.

“This is about breaking a model that isn’t really working,” Brian Kibby, president of McGraw Hill Higher Education, told The Wall Street Journal.

Available for PCs, Macs, and iOS and Android mobile devices, SmartBook give students an overview of the content in a preview of each chapter. Students then answer a series of questions presented by the software and the textbook recommends material to study, tracks the student’s progress, and continues to update material to view.

SmartBook is part of the LearnSmart Advantage software suite from McGraw-Hill and will be available in the spring for more than 90 courses. Prices for SmartBook were not announced, but the LearnSmart suite starts at $19.99 and can be purchased or rented semester.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gaming No Game to Educators

Education experts today see gaming as an potential tool to increase student engagement. I look no further than my 10-year-old daughter as proof.

Having just spent the last 30 minutes of a drive home reading her assigned book, she closed it and went directly for her iPod to play some subway surfing thing. I asked why she would stop reading when we had another 15 minutes to go before reaching home. She shot back that her eyes were tired and she was falling asleep, unable to concentrate on the book. Yet she had no trouble obtaining her high score in the subway game.

The evolution of education is quickly following the evolution of publishing. In order to capture and hold the focus of students today, there must be more interaction than mere words on pages. Students need video, analytics, and interaction.

It should be no surprise that electronic educational materials have quickly gone from simple PDFs of printed pages to entire suites of adaptive learning products, which can include video games that use specific learning objectives in which students perform actions.

And they are not all games specifically designed for education. Some teachers are encouragingstudents to play Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and even Angry Birds as part of the learning environment.

Friday, January 18, 2013

StudyBlue Tools Attracting Students, Capital

A focus on mobile technology has made it possible for StudyBlue to sign up millions of students. The Wisconsin-based startup firm developed a “digital backpack” of web and mobile tools students use to organize their course materials into flashcards, quizzes, and study guides available anytime on their smartphone or tablet computer.

Students can use the tool to share content, which StudyBlue has collected a into a huge library of study materials created by its users. The free platform also provides premium subscriptions for services such as advanced search filters and an offline study mode that students pay a monthly fee to use, giving the company a way to produce revenue.

The service has 2.5 million users, adding 1.5 million new users in the last year alone, while increasing its user base from 100% college students in 2009 to more than 30% of the total now being high school students and their teachers. StudyBlue recently made it possible for teachers to identify themselves so their students can find the material they are sharing. The company plans to expand tool functions for teachers.

The growth has also allowed StudyBlue to attract venture capital, including $9 million from Great Oaks Venture Capital on Jan. 4.

“We are experiencing rapid growth and this financing allows us to further expand our community and platform to help students master their course material faster and connect students to a comprehensive crowdsourced library of content on nearly any subject, and to each other, in a highly relevant way,” StudyBlue CEO Becky Splitt told TechCrunch

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Flexible Screen Technology on Display at CES

Plastic Logic and flexible-screen devices re-emerged last week during the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, although the technology still doesn’t appear to be ready for prime time. Plastic Logic and Intel partnered with the Queen’s University Human Media Lab to introduce PaperTab, a 10.7-in. tablet device that users control by moving or bending, according to a report in Campus Technology.

PaperTab can offer a viewing angle of nearly 180 degrees and can bend to act as if the user is turning a page. It also allows for more than one unit to transfer documents by touch or proximity and work together as windows of a single application. However, the device was only built as a model.

“PaperTab is a concept design created by Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab using Plastic Logic’s flexible displays,” a spokesperson for Plastic Logic told Campus Technology. “As such, it is not a finished device intended for release, but much more a vision of how computing will develop over the next three to five years.”

Samsung, a company that has been working on flexible-screen technology for more than a decade, also showed its Youm line of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display devices with wraparound screens that can be used as a smartphone and opened to form a tablet with twice the screen size. It also requires further research before coming to market because OLEDs can disintegrate when exposed to air and moisture.

“The difficulty isn’t making the screen work, it’s making it work well,” Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group, said in an article for TechNew World. “These screens break after being folded a few times but consumer products need to be able to last through thousands of times of being folded.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Study Shows Online Learning Still Growing

A new Babson study found that enrollment in traditional for-credit online college classes remainded steady and adoption of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is still lukewarm by most institutions. Nearly one-third of all students were enrolled in at least one postsecondary online course for credit in the fall of 2011, an increase of 9.3%, according to Changing Course:Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.

The increase was actually the smallest in the 10 years Babson had done the research, but coincided with the first overall enrollment decline of students on campus in 15 years. The report found that while the rate of growth slowed, online enrollment continues to make up a large part of all enrollments in higher education courses.

Three of five responding chief academic officers (CAO) agreed that MOOCs could help their institutions understand online pedagogy, but nearly half were neutral on whether they can be sustainable, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

The survey also found that 77% of responding CAOs say learning outcomes in online classes are the sameas  or superior to traditional courses, up from 57.2% when the question was asked in 2003. Conversely, just 30% of the CAOs believe their instructors on campus accept the value of online education, with less than 3% planning to offer MOOCs on their campus, and just 9.4% planning to do so.

“It’s clearly not ready for prime time,” Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, said about MOOCs in a Bloomberg article. “People are saying this could make a real difference, but they’re not convinced there’s a sustainable business model.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Transition to BYOD Doesn't Have to be Hard

While there are still many educators and parents who view electronic devices in the classroom as a problem, allowing students to bring their own devices is gaining traction. Jonathan P. Costa Sr., director of school and program services at the Education Connection, used a post on EdTech K-12 to discuss how the transition can be made easier.

First, a district must share its plans before launching such a program because parents need to understand what procedures will be in place to protect their children while online. The district must also assure parents it will provide devices to students unable to bring their own.

Technology has to be up the challenge, but Costa said he is convinced that concerns such as distribution, technical assistance, or searching for the “right device” are unnecessary. He also believes students will take care of the devices and that loss or damage is not that big an issue.

Finally, district leaders need to start the process.

“Let the learners drive the change,” Costa wrote. “Teach them to make good choices and then watch as they focus this energy on new ways to engage and learn your content. This is their world to create. The sooner we get out of their way, the sooner our investment in digital learning for all will pay its performance dividends.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Free Is Key for UW Online Courses

Like dozens of other universities across the country, the University of Washington, Seattle, has offered free massive open online courses through companies such as Coursera and edX. The school is now experimenting with a way to produce revenue by charging for more rigorous versions of the free courses for credit.

University officials figure classes could pay for themselves if just 30 to 40 students would be willing to pay for each for-credit offering, which includes extra work and allows students to either attend the class in person or participate through live video/audio. However, what seemed like a good idea in theory has yet to work well in practice.

For instance, the university offered a computational finance course through Coursera last quarter that had an enrollment of more than 30,000 people, but just two chose the for-credit option. A scientific computing class attracted nearly 15,000 people, but none of them were willing to pay.

David Szatmary, vice provost of UW Educational Outreach, told The Seattle Times that late sign-up and poor advertising for the course may have caused the low paid participation rate.

“We’ll give it a year and then decide how many other courses we want to put on,” he said. “Right now, we’re serving a lot of people who would not otherwise be touched by the University of Washington.”

Friday, January 11, 2013

Emerging Education Tech Trends

While massive open online courses (MOOCs) received a lot of attention last year, they weren’t the only thing to impact technology in education during 2012. In this five-minute video, Jeff Young, technology editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education, talks with Educause Review Online about some of the trends that emerged last year and what he thinks will be the big ed-tech stories in 2013.

Among the points Young makes is that IT staffs on higher education campuses are being stretched to the limit by more demands for technology in coursework and for support of an ever-proliferating array of personal devices.

ERO Video Conversation: Looking Back and Looking Forward from EDUCAUSE on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

MOOC Provider Starts Career Services

Coursera reaches more than two million students and is partnering with 33 universities around the world through its offerings of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Now, it’s getting into the job-placement service, matching students with employers through its Coursera Career Services.

The program is a database where employers can find potential job candidates from top Coursera students. Students must opt into the service and employers must agree to keep the information confidential, but Coursera has already placed some students in at least one software firm to work on a pilot program.

The new service has potential to create revenue for the online educational platform. The Coursera contract with the University of Virginia even lists “employee recruiting” as a possible moneymaking  plan, with a percentage of the revenue going to the university.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

UW Competency-Based Degree Program Ready to Go

Working adults are the focus of the Flexible Option degrees, a new competency-based online degree program which the University of Wisconsin System will begin in the fall through UW-Milwaukee and the two-year UW Colleges. The program will begin with degrees in health care, information technologies, and business and management, targeting the estimated 700,000 to one million Wisconsin residents who have earned some college credit but have not completed a degree.

“It gives nontraditional learners another way to finish their degrees,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in an article in eCampus News. “With the strongly underlined emphasis on competency, it’s not about becoming a degree factory. I think there’s a way to maintain that high standard and still be adaptable and flexible.”

The UW system currently offers 4,600 online courses and 120 online degrees, but this is the first time it has offered degree programs that allow students to work at their own pace while paying a flat fee for as many courses as they can finish.

Students only have to take courses needed to attain the degree they are working toward. Students can move through the coursework quicker if they can pass the competency exams for the class.

UW faculty will oversee the academic quality of the coursework and will design and assess the specific competencies students must master to move on to the next course. Working adults will be able to start the Flexible Option at any time during the calendar year and advisors will be made available at the estimated ratio of one to every 85 students.

“It’s visionary and evolutionary,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “This is acknowledging the growing diversity of who college students are and finding an effective way to give them the first-rate opportunities traditional students on campuses have had for decades.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Caesar Aims for Faster Feedback to MIT Students

An issue facing online education is students getting feedback on assignments and tests from instructors in a timely manner. The crowdsourcing system Caesar is providing a solution for some students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“The students in our programming courses write a lot of code and it takes a long time for a small staff of human graders to read and grade,” said MIT professor Rob Miller, who developed Caesar through the MIT computer science and artificial intelligence lab, in an article for eCampusNews. “The old way, it might take a few weeks to get feedback about what they’d written, and in that time they’ve written more programs—often repeating the same mistakes over and over.”

Caesar prioritizes submitted assignments and sends them to teaching assistants, course alumni, and computer-science students for review. Multiple reviewers are sent the assignments and all are able to offer comments and advice on the work, generally within three days and well before students have finished their next assignment.

The system is being expanded to other MIT programming courses and could be adopted by edX, the massive open online course platform founded by MIT and Harvard University. Miller also believes Caesar will work for more than just computer programming classes.

“The essential idea of crowdsourced review—dividing student work into smaller pieces and distributing those pieces to a mixed crowd of reviewers who comment on and discuss them—is likely to be applicable to many kinds of courses, including liberal arts, business, and social sciences, not just technical [courses],” he said. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Geofencing Taking Aim at Showrooming

Geofencing may go mainstream this year, says the Things to Watch in Retail 2013 report from JWT. The global marketing company formerly known as J. Walter Thompson predicts the practice will become an effective weapon in retailers’ fight against showrooming.

Geofencing refers to an opt-in text-messaging system triggered whenever the recipient walks into a store or its nearby environs. Stores are able to text special offers aimed at clinching an immediate sale on the premises.

Although geofencing has been available for several years, it’s been used mostly by specialty retailers on a limited basis. Now, though, JWT sees signs that it’s expanding into mall chain stores such as Best Buy as a means to persuade shoppers to purchase in person rather than just browsing in the store and going online to buy from another merchant.

For retailers catering to young adults, or really anyone trying to get the attention of the college student-aged cohort, text messages could be the most effective means of reaching this age group, better than e-mail, snail mail, or possibly even social media. A new survey of 1,500 smartphone owners conducted by Experian Marketing indicated 85% of 18- to 24-year-olds use their phones weekly for texting, compared to just 59% of owners across all ages.

On average, according to the survey, the under-24 set sends and receives more than 120 text messages a day. Many keep their phones bedside every night just in case they get a message and consider texts to be on the same personal level as phone calls.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Professors Can Set Their Own Price for Online Courses

A new educational platform allows professors to set the price charged for their course. Professor Direct establishes a base price of $49, with all additional revenue going to the instructor.

While Professor Direct prepares the core set of materials for the class, the instructor can decide on any extra services students are offered. Dan Gryboski, who has taken a year off from teaching at the University of Colorado to stay at home with his kids, is promising quick e-mail responses to all student questions, two hours of online office hours each week, and additional tutorial videos to supplement the materials for his two math courses.

“Students pay a premium to have professor contact,” Gryboski told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Professor Direct is part of the service from StraighterLine, which provides paid, online, self-paced introductory courses that some colleges will accept for transfer credit. Udemy also allows instructors to teach courses for profit, but none of the company’s classes are approved for credit and most people teaching on the site are connected to a college or university.

David Janzen, associate professor of computer science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, is one of the traditional instructors to use the Udemy service, charging $89 per student for his courses. His class is based on free videos available on his own web site, but he created additional instructional videos to help Udemy students work through the online labs.

“I’m charging them for the videos I’ve created,” he said, adding that he also gives free passes to the course to anyone he thinks can’t afford the tuition.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Technology and Education in 2013

The spectacular growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs) turned higher education on its head in 2012, according to Chris Proulx, president and CEO of eCornell. MOOCs allowed students to learn from top universities and at their own pace, and got discussions started about for-credit curriculum.

That was 2012, so Proulx looked ahead to 2013 in a predictive blog post for Forbes.

He projected the growth of MOOCs to continue in 2013, particularly at top-tier schools, while the availability of online courses at selective schools will increase. He also anticipated that universities will find even more ways to use the “flipped classroom” model, where students use class time to enhance prerecorded lectures.

While MOOCs are growing, there are still questions to be answered about the programs, such as the cost to sustain the courses and finding ways to make credit for the courses available to students. Proulx predicted a hybrid model that has both online and in-person components will be embraced this year, as will peer-to-peer and peer-to-faculty instruction. He even forecast that the cost of education will decrease—just not in 2013.

“As institutions experiment with the pedagogical formula of what content is delivered online, how peer-to-faculty interact in both the online and ‘flipped-classroom’ environments, and faculty explore new models of assessment, some institutions could potentially find educational models that begin to bend the cost curve,” Proulx wrote. “The first step is to continue to nurture faculty across the country to embrace online teaching, and from there we just may see a shift in the business of education.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pearson Makes Investment in B&N, Nook

Pearson announced it would invest $89.5 million in Nook Media just three days after Christmas, joining Microsoft as a partner with the Barnes & Noble subsidiary. It was a move aimed at delivering the publisher’s digital content to college students.

“With this investment, we have entered into a commercial agreement with Nook Media that will allow our two companies to work closely together in order to create a more seamless and effective experience for students,” Pearson North America CEO Will Ethridge said in the release announcing the deal. “It’s another example of our strategy of making our content and services broadly available to students and faculty through a wide range of distribution partners.”

Pearson is banking that pairing with the Nook Media expertise in online distribution and customer service will make it easier for customers to find and access its digital learning material. However, the purchase also comes on the heels of news that holiday sales at B&N were weak and that the Nook segment would continue to be lower than expected.