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, February 28, 2013

Higher Ed's Digital Use is Underestimated

“If you still think digital course materials are three to five years away, then you’re already five to six years behind.”

That was Mark Nelson’s message to the college bookstore audience at his Digital Update educational session Feb. 22 at the 2013 Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) in Kansas City, MO. Nelson, chief information officer at NACS and vice president of NACS Media Solutions, disputed the notion that digital has been slow to take root in higher education.

Although many campus stores sell very few digital textbooks and report there is scant interest in electronic course materials at their institutions, Nelson contended that’s hardly the whole picture.

Digital is much more prevalent in higher education than many people realize, he said, in part because they tend to think of “digital” as merely a PDF equivalent of a print textbook and don’t count things such as online tutoring tools, adaptive learning programs, and course management systems.

“About a third of the revenues for the two largest textbook publishers are now from digital products and services,” Nelson said. MyMathLab, Pearson’s interactive web-based course supplement to its math and statistics books, “outsells the best print textbook three to one,” he added.

“Most digital business is native digital products or digital-born products that were never print,” he said. Traditional textbook publishers are developing many of these products and services, along with a rapidly growing roster of companies moving into digital content distribution for the first time. “A lot of new players, a lot,” Nelson emphasized.

He also took issue with reports that students would choose print textbooks over digital, saying that’s no longer a major factor. “A preference for print is not driving purchases any more,” he said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Columbia Basin to Mine Social Media Data

Colleges and universities have many ways to gather information on their students, from course selection to analyzing social media usage. Columbia Basin College (CBC), Pasco, WA, is working on a plan to put such information to use.

The college is proposing to track its students by classes and grades, archived records, and information generated by students on social networks, particularly Facebook since students use it to list preferences on a whole range of issues, according to a report in eCampus News. It’s hoped the information will give the school a clearer understanding about best teaching methods, subjects students are interested in, and the services they need.

CBC’s timing is practically flawless. The University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently released a survey of 456 four-year colleges and universities in the 2010-11 academic year that showed Twitter use has expanded 84% since 2008-09 and 98% of responding schools reported using Facebook.

The problem for CBC is its computer system is outdated and the data it wants to use are scattered across servers, networks, and storage locations that aren’t connected. The college is meeting with a data-management firm about its plans but understands the project will likely take more than a year to complete.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making MOOCs Earn Their Keep

EdX may be a nonprofit organization, but it still has to pay its bills. It’s too early to tell exactly how the massive open online course (MOOC) provider which started with a $30 million investment from Harvard and MIT, will actually make money, but The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the platform's plans to create revenue moving forward.

The first approach, called the university self-service model, will allow schools to use the edX platform for free as long as edX is paid a portion of the revenue any course generates for the institution. EdX would collect an upfront fee and then would receive a 50% cut of any revenue above the threshold.

In the second plan, called the edX-supported model, the company serves as a consultant and design partner for any course developed. EdX gets more upfront cash in this model, but allows the university to earn 70% of revenue the course generates after that. Schools can also choose a payment method on a course-by-course basis, according to the agreement.

The edX agreement also provides the company with all net profits from any third-party contract, such as book sales and proctoring services. EdX already has a deal with Pearson Vue to proctor MOOC examinations. It is also considering charging students for certification from those proctored exams, charging publishers for referring students to related textbooks, and for referring students to employment services.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NACS' indiCo to Help Independent Stores

The news coming out of Kansas City during CAMEX 2013 Friday was about the new NACS subsidiary, indiCo, created to help independent college stores. It was also announced that NACS Inc. had signed a letter of intent to purchase the assets of Connect2One from Nebraska Book Co.

IndiCo, expected to officially launch on April 1, joins together NACS Media Solutions (NMS), OnCampus Research, and NACS Business Development with the goal of encouraging solutions and partnerships in support of independent college stores. In addition, the company will conduct more extensive research, data mining, and benchmarking for the industry.

Initially, indiCo will strive to gain deeper insights into the demands and preferences of student consumers. Many of the initiatives already under way, such as Grow Custom and Regional Print-on-Demand from NMS and studies conducted by OnCampus Research, will continue.

Connect2One would be integrated into indiCo to provide new ways for NACS to fulfill its mission to help independent college stores evolve.

"The alignment of Connect2One and indiCo demonstrates an exciting and renewed commitment by NACS and Nebraska Book Co. to the independent college store," said Brian Cartier, CEO of NACS. "We know that the expertise and reputation of Connect2One and its 25-year history of success will have a positive impact on college stores."

More details on indiCo will be available after its launch.

Friday, February 22, 2013

See 3-D Printing in Action

There’s been plenty of buzz about 3-D printers lately. The devices create three-dimensional objects from digital scans and are considered an educational trend to watch in the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition because the cost of the machines has been falling to the point where they have become an affordable option for schools and colleges to purchase.

National Public Radio teamed with Nicolas Burrus, co-founder of the 3-D scanning firm manctl, to scan an NPR correspondent in Germany and then have the imagery printed on a 3-D printer in Menlo Park, CA, with the resulting object shown in the video below.

“We are going to see more and more applications built that are going to allow you—people who don’t necessarily know how to do digital design—to be empowered to make the things that they want, just the way they want them,” Bre Pettis, founder of the company that produced the 3-D printer used, said in a report on NPR.

The big concern connected to 3-D printing technology that has yet to be adequately addressed is copyright infringement. Firms have already created web sites that allow people to share 3-D scans, some that appear to be very similar to copyrighted images, such as Yoda from the Star Wars films.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pearson, Top Hat Monocle Partner

While clickers have become part of college students’ everyday lives, it was only a matter of time before something better came along. The new distribution agreement between Top Hat Monocle and Pearson may offer just that.

The agreement allows students who buy participating Pearson textbooks to purchase an additional subscription for the Top Hat Monocle interactive learning application tool. For $20 per semester or $38 for a five-year subscription, students gain access to a tool that replaces the classroom clicker with their mobile device, allowing them to answer questions or polls in class, run interactive demonstrations, download course notes, and submit homework.

Pearson is also working to integrate its higher education content into the Top Hat Monocle platform and will make its high-demand titles available on it at the start of the fall 2013 semester. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Software Turns PDFs into E-Textbooks

Advance is a new platform that allows publishers to create interactive electronic textbooks at no cost from PDFs and other flat document files. Education software company Kno introduced the new interactive learning platform, which is designed to convert documents into interactive textbooks and then enhance those textbooks with additional functionality, according to an article in Campus Technology.

The first part of Advance, Kno Ingest, makes it possible to convert flat files at a high volume. Kno Book Enhancer provides the tools to enhance functionality and update materials, including 3-D objects and video, while the third part is Kno Assessment, which lets publishers create quizzes and review material.

Kno Advance is available for both K-12 and higher education textbook publishers and is accessible through the web or applications that support Android, iOS, and Windows.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All-Rental Campus Tries Out E-Textbooks

Like many higher education campuses across the U.S. this academic year, the University of Wisconsin-Stout is testing the use of electronic textbooks for undergraduate courses. What’s different about this pilot is that UW-Stout is one of maybe 15-20 schools that’s had an extensive textbook rental program in place for decades.

In other e-text trials, a significant number of students said they would rather study from paper books but would be willing to trade them in for digital ones if it meant considerable savings. The students in Stout, though, already enjoy such savings with print rentals. Currently, the school charges a $170 annual book rental fee—the same amount students on other campuses might pay to buy just one textbook.

For UW-Stout students, that means price wouldn’t motivate them to opt for digital course materials. However, all Stout undergrads have their own laptop computers, and that may have played an influential role in boosting student satisfaction with e-textbooks. In other pilots, students who had to use immovable desktop machines to access digital course materials were far less happy with the experience.

recent report from UW-Stout showed students had mixed feelings about the pilot going in. More than half were interested in trying e-textbooks but almost two-thirds would have preferred to stick with paper, given a choice. The pilot is now in its second semester and has expanded from 200 students in five courses last fall to 1,500 in 40 spring-term classes.

The report says students appreciate the interactive qualities of the digital texts and not having to haul as many books around. They also like not having to pick up and drop off rental books each term.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Study Puts E-Ink to the Test

One of the selling points of a dedicated electronic reader is the belief that E Ink is better for a reader’s eyes than the LCD screens used in tablet computers. Now, researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, have released a study suggesting it might actually be easier to read on the LCD screen, and that retention of reading material is the same no matter how the reading is done.

A group of 57 Generation-Xers and senior citizens were tested using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to measure brain activity while the reading. The tests showed that while Gen-X readers used slightly less energy to read on a tablet than an e-reader or paper book, the senior citizens clearly spent less energy and time reading on the tablet.

Both test groups also showed a slightly higher error rate in answering questions after using either an e-reader or tablet device, although the researchers considered the rate small enough to be insignificant.

“Here we have a study that suggests digital textbooks are not better for students,” wrote Note Hoffelder in his blog post on The Digital Reader. “It’s a pity that this probably won’t slow down the mad dash towards the next hot trend.”

Friday, February 15, 2013

Students Aren't Flocking to E-Textbooks

Students are getting digital course materials from somewhere, it’s just not clear where. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) found in its third installment of the Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education Report that the number of students using course materials is declining, rentals may be peaking, and students still prefer print over digital as long as their parents are paying.

“Migration to digital is a mystery,” said Len Vlahos, executive director of BISG, during a Making Information Pay conference. “College students are beginning to migrate, but we don’t know where to.”

Vlahos will report on the study on Saturday, Feb. 23, as part the education sessions at CAMEX 2013 in Kansas City, MO.

The BISG report found the percentage of students participating in the survey for the fall 2012 academic semester using digital content as their main source of course materials remained the same from 2011. It also noted that fewer than 60% of the responding students used physical textbooks for their coursework in 2012, down from just under 70% in 2011.

About 14% of the students are using integrated learning systems (ILS) and say the online platforms that include course materials, study groups, and interactive and social media features are helping them improve their grades more than textbooks or e-texts. In addition, a third of the students are now using tablet computers, double the percentage from a year ago, but only 5% are using the tablets as their primary tool for studying.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tablets Are Popular, But Issues remain

Last July, Apple reported it sold one million iPads to schools and universities, roughly doubling the number it sold the previous year and solidifying the tablet computer as the technology of choice for many in the education market.

“Education, traditionally slow to adopt new technology, is bucking tradition snapping up iPads faster than many people have expected,” wrote Beth Bacon in a blog post at Digital Book World. “K-12 schools all over the United States are integrating tablets into their classrooms and opting for iPads instead of laptops or desktops.”

Students like using the lightweight devices and can make use of all sorts of interactive features that facilitate learning. Tablets are portable, powerful, easy to use, and available at lower prices than most desktop computers.

Cost is still the top concern facing technology in education. Bacon reports on a recent survey of K-12 educators that found 57% identified lack of funds as the biggest challenge to incorporating tablets into their classrooms. Other top issues in the use of tablets according to the survey, include problems some students have with using the touchscreen keyboard and teachers’ difficulty monitoring what their students are doing on the tablets.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will E-Books Join Internet in Making Us Stupid?

In author Nancy McCormack’s recently published article published a journal article titled Are E-Books Making Us Stupid? Why Electronic Collections Mean Trouble for Libraries and Their Patrons, she questions whether this migration to digital is causing both librarians and their patrons to lose a few brain cells. 

We’ve all likely done something in the last day or weeks that made us shake our heads, such as walking upstairs to get something and having no idea what it was once the top step was cleared. Some, such as McCormack, claim this lack of focus has followed technological advances.

Google’s search capabilities has for years been assessed blame. The younger generation, accustomed to immediate answers and reactions, has little patience waiting for answers that take more than a few keystrokes. Thus, they lose interest after just a few moments of searching.  

Now, e-books are beginning to be targeted, just as Google has. As more people turn to e-books, public and academic libraries are migrating to provide those digital items. In the process, vanishing are the original print-and-paper books that once filled shelves. In an effort to deliver e-books to patrons, McCormack wonders, are libraries actually taking the next step in killing our ability to concentrated?

Printed books have for years helped people focus and think deeply, which has led to all these great advancements in technology. Could those accomplishments now be the undoing of our ability to concentrate?

To access a free copy of McCormack’s article, go to www.igi-global.com/newsroom/archive/digital-technology-new-wave-stupid/1464/.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Student's Social Media Habits at High Risk

Having students use their own electronic devices for schoolwork is one of the newest trends in education as administrators work to bridge the technology gap in their classrooms. However, a study from Cisco found those students are also at high risk for security issues, according to an article at ITPortal.com.

The networking firm reported in its 2013 Annual Security Report that online shopping sites are 21 times more likely and search engines are 27 times more likely to release malware on personal computers or mobile devices than pornography or gambling sites. The riskiest sites for malware are online advertisements, which are 182 times more likely to spread a virus.

In addition, the Cisco Connected World Technology Report suggested that Generation Y respondents don’t really care. It found that 91% of Generation Y employees said the age of privacy is over and a third claim not to be worried about data about them available online.

“Unfortunately, what the security studies show is the next-generation workforce’s lifestyles are also introducing security challenges that companies have never had to address to this scale,” Cisco said in a release.

The report found that more than 33% of all infections from global malware occur in the United States, while cases of Android malware rose 2,577% in 2012. The good news is the threat to mobile malware was just 0.5% of the total.

“Today, we live a blended work-personal life,” said John Stewart, senior vice president of Cisco global government and corporate security. “The hackers know this, and the security threats that we encounter online, such as embedded web malware while visiting popular destinations like search engines, retailers, social media sites, and smartphone/tablet apps, no longer threaten only the individual; they threaten our organizations by default.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Libraries Take Names, Keep E-Book Score

In an effort to help member libraries negotiate acquisitions of e-books to lend, the American Library Association (ALA) issued the E-Book Business ModelScorecard to use in sizing up publishers’ e-book programs.

Released Jan. 25 just as ALA’s Midwinter Meeting was getting underway in Seattle, WA, the scorecard is a follow-up to the association’s August 2012 report E-Book Business Models for Public Libraries. Both are part of ALA’s increasingly intensive campaign to pressure publishers into making more e-books available to libraries, especially frontlist titles, and at more lenient terms.

In particular, ALA wants libraries to be able to own e-books outright, not license them, a scenario that scares the pants off publishers fearful that easy and unlimited e-book borrowing means patrons will never again buy a book.

The scorecard lists 15 factors to consider, each with a five-point rating scale. For example, no. 8 deals with the number of loans a publisher allows for each “purchased” e-book: one point for none, three for a fixed number, four if the limit is retired after a certain amount of time or the title goes out of print, and five if the library can actually own the e-books and/or resell ones that no one borrows.

About the same time the scorecard came out, ALA learned Macmillan is finally getting its library e-book pilot off the ground. While libraries are pleased another big publisher is testing e-book loans, the pilot comes with plenty of restrictions from the library perspective. Only backlist titles from the Minotaur mystery/crime imprint will be available, about 1,200 in all. For $25 per title, libraries buy the right to lend it out 52 times (one borrower at a time) or for a two-year period, whichever comes first. After that, they’ll have to pay another $25 to loan it again.

Penguin, which has been conducting a pilot program in New York libraries, is expanding it to other libraries. The program gives libraries access to e-books about six months after their release to the consumer market. As in the Macmillan pilot, libraries don’t own the title but license loaning rights for one year.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Report Predicts Higher-Ed Tech Trends

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and tablet computers are already having an impact on the ways students learn and teachers teach, according to the NMC Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition, released by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Educause Learning Initiative. The study sees gaming, 3-D printers, and wearable technologies as trends to watch in the next five years.

“Campus leaders and practitioners across the world use the report as a springboard for discussion around significant trends and challenges,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of NMC, in a Campus Technology report. “The biggest trend identified by the advisory this year reflects the increasing adoption of openness on and beyond campuses, be it in the form of open content or easy access to data. This transition is promising, but there is now a major need for content curation.”

The free downloadable report breaks down technology into categories representing near-term items that are already making an impact, midterm technologies that should be making an impact within two years, and long-term technologies that are still three to five years away from wide implementation.

MOOCs and tablet computers made the near-term list because of how quickly both have been adopted into higher education.

The use of learning analytics is in the midterm category for a second straight year because of the continued development of applications that help students retain information through interaction with other students. Use of gaming is also on the rise in classrooms as an instructional tool.

In the long term, the report suggests 3-D printing will become more important as the price of the printers continues to fall and because they provide students with authentic reproductions of shapes and objects being studied. Wearable technology may sound a bit farfetched but items such as jewelry that can alert chemistry students to dangerous fumes or eyewear that connects to the Internet through voice commands (see video below) are already being developed.

“The NMC Horizon Report goes beyond simply naming technologies; it offers examples of how they are being used, which serves to demonstrate their potential,” said Malcolm Brown, director of the Educause Learning Initiative. “The report also identifies the trends and challenges that will be key for learning across all three adoption horizons. This makes the Horizon Report essential for anyone planning the future of learning at their institution.”

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Women Needed to Teach MOOCs

While massive open online courses (MOOCs) are leading a revolution in higher education, they are at the same time missing a valuable opportunity, according to Lisa Martin and Barbara F. Walter, political science professors at te University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California San Diego, respectively, in an op-ed piece they co-wrote for the Los Angeles Times and appears in eCampus News.

The professors suggest MOOCs have a chance to export gender equality and that classes taught by women could influence how people around the world think about the roles women play in society if only more of the courses were taught by women. They point out that of the 205 courses offered by Coursera, just 34 are taught by women and another 14 are taught by both men and women.

On a university level, 33% of the Princeton permanent faculty is female and yet no women are teaching any of the MOOCs the school offers through Coursera. The figures are a bit better at the University of Pennsylvania where 12.5% of the MOOCs offered are being taught by women, who make up 33% of the faculty.

Martin and Walter say it’s unclear why so few women are MOOC instructors, but believe female academics have a chance to lead the way in broadening equality and education if they take the lead in teaching MOOCs.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Survey Charts New Ed-Tech Trends

Smartphones, social media, game-based learning, and open textbooks will all be part of the education technology landscape for 2013, according to a survey conducted by the ed-tech web site Edudemic.

The Edudemic survey results are presented in a graphic that predicts more focus on text messaging as a way to connect with students on everything from class assignment deadlines to upcoming campus events. Already, 93% of responding students say they send text messages and 89% of the institutions use text messaging for emergency communications.

While it may not be surprising that the use of social media on campus will continue to grow, it is eye-opening that every responding school reported having a Facebook page and 80% have a Twitter account. Eighty-three percent of the schools report using social media to connect with alumni and 38% use it to reach the local community.

The survey forecasts more institutions will make use of online educational resources, such as massive open online courses and open digital course materials. Affordable 3-D printers will become more accessible and may someday be a fixture in every classroom, while the use of game-based learning and e-books will become more accepted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Earning a Graduate Degree on an iPad

As textbooks and lectures are being replaced by technology, St. Mary’s University, Minneapolis, MN, has developed a program to eliminate the need for classrooms, at least on the graduate level.

The school has designed accelerated courses for working professionals using Apple iPads for graduate degrees in project management, human resources, and organizational leadership. The course materials take advantage of the device’s easy accessibility to information and convenience provided though apps in the Apple Store.

“Adult learners are adaptive learners,” Bob Andersen, director of instruction technology for the university, told eCampus News. “We want to bridge the gap between work and academia.”

The program lets students and faculty conduct class discussions through social media, video chat, e-mail, and texting to enhance the learning process, according to Marcel Dumestre, vice president of graduate and professional programs. Students still have to write standard term papers, but professors consolidate assigned reading or instructor-created videos into a form that is manageable for a full-time professional to work on over a lunch hour.

The university has 200 students worldwide taking iPad graduate courses through the program which is currently being taught by 15 instructors. St. Mary’s plans to add a dozen more degree programs over the next five years.

“Our students find value not only in instruction; they find value in networking and interacting with other students,” Dumestre said. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Free Guide Looks at Custom Publishing

Custom-published course materials have been available for a long time, but represented only a tiny fraction of all college and university class materials, largely due to cost, technical limitations, poor business practices, and lack of awareness of the benefits to students, among other barriers.

Those hurdles are crumbling, though. In the wake of calls for more affordable course materials and more support for learning outcomes, custom publishing is becoming a more attractive and viable option, one that more faculty are choosing once they understand how it works.

When done correctly, “smart” custom materials encompass precisely the content a professor needs students to learn—and no more. Students get the content at a much-reduced cost and are therefore more likely to acquire and use it. Publishers and campus bookstores typically see higher sell-through with custom materials, with fewer student complaints about prices and classes not using all the required content.

To help faculty, bookstores, and other campus stakeholders understand the advantages of “smart” custom publishing and how to determine when it’s right for a particular course, NACS Media Solutions (NMS) compiled the Guide to Custom as a resource and starting point.

The free digital guide explains the ins and outs of custom publishing and can be shared with others interested in learning more. Also, printed booklet versions of the guide can be ordered from NMS through The NACS Store (enter “Guide to Custom” in the Product Search box).

Friday, February 1, 2013

Teachers Learn Technology from Students

Dr. Roland Rios, director of instructional technology, Fort Sam Houston Independent School District, San Antonio, TX, faced the challenge of training faculty on new technology tools on a limited budget. His solution, captured in a video by TechSmith Corp., was to create a team of student interns to instruct teachers on how to put the technology to best use.