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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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chromebook Making Inroads in Education

The business in educational tablet computers has been booming for the last 12 months, particularly at Apple, which recently saw 35,000 iPads purchased by the Los Angeles School District. Even Windows 8 machines are being scooped up by schools, with 23,000 Android devices headed for schools in North Carolina.

The surprise entry in the field appears to be the Google Chromebook. Industry experts suggest the device, introduced in 2011, has its limitations, but with Chromebooks available for as low as $99, cost isn’t one of them.

Schools in Michigan, South Dakota, and Wisconsin that have purchased both iPads and Chromebooks have found that the iPad may be best suited for younger students. On the other hand, the Chromebook is a go-to device for high school students, particularly for subjects such as English.

“I think Chromebooks will represent an interesting position for some schools, given the different price points that you can reach,” Carolina Mianesi of Gartner, the technology research firm, told Mashable. “I would say that for schools to go Chromebook, though, might mean a wider commitment to Google from an app perspective or, at a minimum, a deeper commitment to developing apps. iPad might be a more off-the-shelf solution for some.”

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Google Jumps into Textbook Business

Just in time for the upcoming fall semester, Google is jumping into the textbook business, offering students a “comprehensive selection of titles” from five major publishers, through the Google Play for Education app store.

The company is adding a new channel for digital textbooks, which will allow students to access the material on Android and iOS devices. Notes and bookmarks will be synced across all devices, whether a student is using the material online or on a mobile device.

Google did not provide information on pricing, but said it expects to rent and sell the titles at an 80% discount compared to “regular” retail prices, apparently meaning list prices, which are not true indicators of actual pricing. It also did not make clear how much interactivity there will be, according to an article in TechCrunch.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Microsoft Cuts Surface Tablet Prices

While Microsoft isn’t talking about how the Surface RT is selling, it is cutting its price on the tablet. The device was offered to schools and higher education institutions at a special discounted price at the TechEd conference in May and now that discount is open to everyone.

Microsoft is offering its least-expensive 32 GB Surface RT model without a keyboard cover for $349 on its web site, trimming $150 off the original price. The same machine with the keyboard cover has gone from $599 to $449 and a unit with double the memory and a keyboard cover is now $549 instead of $699.

Microsoft could be trying to move units ahead of updates to both Surface RT and Surface Pro. Rumors have also surfaced that Microsoft is planning a switch to a new processor that would allow it to increase the Internet connectivity of the devices.

However, industry-watchers also estimate Microsoft has sold just 1.5 million units since the Surface launched in October, leaving it far behind in a field dominated by the Apple iPad and the Amazon Fire.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Surprise! Students Think Textbooks Are Too Expensive

Students and faculty say traditional textbooks are too costly and they want an alternative, but also question whether the e-textbooks will ever offer significant savings, according to a new report from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research.

Understanding What Higher Education Needs from E-Textbooks: An Educause/Internet2 Pilot is the result of an e-text study conducted in the fall of 2012 at 23 colleges and universities. McGraw-Hill Education and e-textbook provider Courseload delivered e-texts to 5,000 students and faculty in nearly 400 undergraduate and graduate courses.

The study found that faculty and students want a choice of platforms for reading e-texts, the ability to access content offline, the freedom to opt out of e-textbooks, and still be able to choose paper textbooks. Respondents also said they need technical support to make use of new formats and that consumer experiences with electronic content drive their expectations of e-textbooks.

“This study demonstrates that institutions and the marketplace must first remove barriers that exist even in today’s paper textbook market, most notably cost,” said Susan Grajek, vice president for data, research, and analytics for Educause. “Challenges innate to electronic content must also be addressed, including availability of materials where and when students need them, compatibility with the devices students own and prefer to use, and the kind of functionality that comes from good interface design. The solutions will come from many sources, but through this study students and faculty have clarified their needs.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More Studies on Digital Natives

It seems as if another study on college students and their use of digital devices is released every other day.

For instance, a new report from Wakefield Research found that 99% of current students own at least one digital device and 68% use it at least three times a day. In fact, 47% of responding students said they check their electronic device every 10 minutes, a 9% increase over 2011 survey results.

At 93%, laptops topped the list of devices owned by students, but smartphone and tablet ownership saw significant increases. Smartphone ownership rose from 47% in 2011 to 78% in the current survey, while tablets went from 7% to 35%.

The study also showed 90% of students sometimes fail to complete reading assignments, but 53% said they would be more likely to complete the reading if it were available on mobile devices. Also, 59% of responding students prefer bringing their laptop to class instead of a textbook; 88% have used a mobile device for last-minute studying; and 79% of respondents said they’ve used an e-textbook, compared to 63% in 2011.

Then there’s a study done at the City University of New York (CUNY) that found students still say they prefer reading academic texts in print. Student Reading Practices inPrint and Electronic Media tracked the reading habits of 17 students over the course of two weeks and reported that most used electronic devices for pleasure reading, but switched back to paper for academic content. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Startup Offering Alternative to Textbooks

Since 2011, students and instructors at Purdue University have been using Jetpack, a hybrid technology developed on campus that allows instructors to create course materials students can access on their computers or smartphones. Now, Jetpack is going public.

The university licensed the technology and a commercial version, called Skyepack was recently launched as a “freemium” alternative to textbooks and e-readers.

“E-books today remind me of how early automobiles were called ‘horseless carriages’ and looked as if they worked best if you harnessed a couple of horses to the front,” said Gerry McCartney, chief information office at Purdue. “This publishing platform is a next step because it allows you to incorporate any type of media and view it on almost any device.”

The technology allows users to combine educational content into packs that are specific to a class lecture at no cost. Instructors can assemble multiple packs and students can access them on most smartphones and tablet devices or online on their desktop computer.

“These mobile apps and software tools are built because they improve student success at Purdue,” McCartney said. “We want to share our success, but we’re not in the business of selling educational technologies. Bu licensing our technologies to companies such as Skyepack, we can make these technologies available to companies and institutions that have a need for them.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BISG Study Finds More Textbook Pirating

A new study from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) found that downloading course materials from unauthorized web sites is on the rise. Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education showed the percentage of students pirating course materials jumped from 20% in 2010 to 34% in the most recent survey.

The practice of students copying chapters of a required text owned by a peer is also on the upswing, rising from 21% to 31%. In addition, the survey found that 75% of faculty feel the overall coast of a college degree is too high (despite just 33% of the respondents saying the costs were too high at their own institution), and that they said both print and digital course materials were priced higher than their value to the class.

The information came as no surprise to blogger Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader.

“Students are pirating more textbooks because they can’t afford to buy them,” he wrote. “Do you think they would go through the hassle of photocopying a textbook if they had another choice?”

Hoffelder went on to claim that the rate of students pirating textbooks has been growing at least since the end of 2011. He provided statistics from March 2013 that showed the use of unauthorized text web sites had increased 40%, scanning course material was up 37%, illicit sharing between students was up 28%, and piracy was up 26%.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Study: Campuses Lack BYOD Policies

A new study found that while university chief information officers understand that the ability to bring your own device (BYOD) is becoming more important, most schools have no BYOD policies in place.

Education Dive, a survey of 50 CIOs from around the United States, reported that 76% of their institutions had no BYOD policies even though 74% admitted it’s becoming a bigger issue for campus administrators. The findings were similar to results from the Association of Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education, which found that 60% of respondents are worried about their ability to meet the demand of more mobile devices on campus, but just 40% were planning to address the issue.

The Education Dive report also asked about the types of mobile devices coming to campus and found that 72% of the students were using Apple iPads in school, with 60% bringing iPhones and 38% carrying an Android phone.

However, another survey found that 84% of its student respondents use a computer to study and just one in five regularly study on a mobile device. The Future of Education also reported that just half of the students queried felt they needed to attend a traditional classroom to get an education, while  39% said education will become more virtual and 19% anticipate they will be able to use social media in the classroom.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Students Engaged on New Platform

BlikBook is a social engagement platform for higher education that is being used in courses at a third of the universities in England and Ireland. That helped the developer raise more than $1.5 million in funding and has the British firm looking at bringing it to the United States.

Students and instructors are able to connect online by posting a specific question on BlikBook and anyone logged into the course can provide the answer. The responses can be shared through social media and students receive a notification each time a new answer is posted.

The platform also allows instructors to monitor students and the progress they are making in the class outside of traditional means, such as homework or a quiz.

“With BlikBook, a professor can see which students are engaging and which are not,” Cheyne Tan, managing director of BlikBook, told eCampus News. “He can see which students are influential, which are not. Where there are issues and where there are not. It’s building a picture of what’s happening inside the classroom but also outside.” 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blackboard Getting Into MOOC Business

After 16 years of developing classroom software, Blackboard is getting into the massive open online course (MOOC) business. The company plans to provide free hosting for MOOCs that are offered by existing customers and expects to generate revenue by providing additional services to the institutions.

Blackboard said it wanted to take its time to understand the phenomenon of MOOCs. Its results showed colleges use MOOCs to offer educational material to the widest possible audience, to experiment with new forms of online teaching, and to attract students by featuring their top instructors.

“Institutions need more flexible options for experimenting with MOOCs and running online courses that meet their individual needs,” said Katie Blot, president of education services. “As schools better define how they want to experiment with MOOCs, it’s becoming clear that the best platform is usually the one they already have.”

The Blackboard plan allows institutions to connect their learning management systems and MOOC platforms in areas such as content and social learning. A mobile application through the Blackboard Learn platform also provides students and instructors access to MOOC content through iOS and Android devices.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Classes Still Clicking But Move to Phones

Most faculty fervently wish students would put their cellphones away while they’re in class. New student-response system apps for phones might change professors’ minds.

Clicker devices have become common in many college and university classrooms for fast, easy polling and quizzing. Instructors use them to take attendance, engage students in the lecture, and size up whether they grasp concepts. But students usually are required to buy the exact brand of clicker—or it won’t work in class—and must remember to bring it along. Some devices malfunction.

The mobile apps released for fall 2013 by i>clicker get around those hassles by enabling students to use their own Android or iOS cellphones as clickers, as long as the phones are able to access the web. The i>clicker GO software, which replaces its not-so-reliable web>clicker app, can also be used with tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

Instructors can view voting results in real time and also save them into Excel spreadsheets. For students who don’t have an appropriate phone, GO can be used in conjunction with regular clicker devices.

The one down side for students is net cost. They can license GO for four years at about the same price as a brand-new clicker device, but they lose the market for used clickers.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Carnegie Mellon Launches Acrobatiq

Carnegie Mellon University has been providing free open and online education since 2001 when it began the Open Learning Initiative (OLI). The institution has now created Acrobatiq, a subsidiary company focused on improving course quality and learning outcomes.

The new venture will offer customizable online courseware, consulting services, and learning analytics for educators. The company will continue to offer OLI courses and work to create new ones.

“Through Acrobatiq, we will be able to scale up capacity to serve more learners and institutions, accelerate innovation, and ensure financial sustainability from revenue versus a reliance on grant funding,” Eric Frank, the company’s CEO, said in a blog post.

Acrobatiq will begin offering its services in the fall and will not interrupt any agreements with OLI, according to Frank. It will maintain a catalog of free courses and continue the OLI approach of making its tools available to educational researchers at no cost.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Big Ten Turns Attention to MOOCs

There’s more to the Big Ten than athletics. The universities that make up the oldest Division I athletic conference also operate the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) with the University of Chicago, a consortium of research universities that produce 16% of the massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by Coursera.

Now, the CIC members are proposing a collaborative online network that would expand the CourseShare program. The collaboration would also put the schools in a position to develop of tools, courses, and applications instead of counting on technology and MOOC companies to create the innovations.

“To meet our objective of using online platforms to improve instruction quality, we need to harness campus creativity and expertise to rethink the underlying methods and aims of instruction,” provosts from the CIC member schools said in a joint statement

Friday, July 12, 2013

More Gadgets on Their Way Out

Remember when every college student carried an MP3 player and had a CD player back in their dorm room? Or when flip camcorders were all the rage on campus? In this video, CNET editor Donald Bell lists five more items that new technology will soon render obsolete.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

First a Plan, Then the Tablets

Los Angeles public schools created a stir of sorts by announcing a contract to purchase $30 million worth of iPads for one-to-one student distribution. Many school districts have bought iPads or other tablets, but L.A. is by far the largest. But will the district get its money’s worth?

That may depend on how much preparation the district undertakes before handing the tablets over to the kids. “Simply purchasing slick devices like iPads for the classroom is hardly a recipe for educational success,” says Lee Badman, a network architect/administrator and adjunct faculty member at Syracuse University in New York, in a commentary for InformationWeek.

Badman poses a number of questions that schools need to think about before deploying tablets as a classroom tool, starting with determining a concrete purpose and plan for using the devices. If the intent is to simply give students hands-on experience with the new technology, that’s not much of a goal, in Badman’s view.

“Students are often more adept in using devices than faculty are,” he says.

Quality instruction should still form the foundation for student education, he adds. Underperforming teachers won’t be transformed by the presence of tablets, while effective teachers may find their instructional time sucked away by technical problems.

And the technical problems could be plenty, Badman says, if the district doesn’t set up a fully functioning wireless network with enough access points and sufficient ISP connectivity. Printing capabilities and streaming video should also be considered. Badman says this calls for a skilled network administrator, not a teacher or administrator trying to squeeze those extra tasks into a busy day.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Amazon Lands Patent for Enhanced E-Books

Amazon.com was recently granted a patent for enhancing electronic reading with personalized content. Amazon wants to be able to augment its Kindle e-books with supplemental material from publishers and other “trusted contributors,” including friends.

The process could be particularly interesting to teachers at all levels because it would allow them to add content to assignments, according to a report in Wired.

Readers of an enhanced Kindle e-book would have access to extra material, such as additional storylines, maps, or illustrations, based on their interests. The supplemental content could come from an Amazon author, from a relationship on social media, or even when the reader has expressed an interest in similar content.

That content would be managed through a multilevel framework to be created by Amazon. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pearson Making OER Easier

Pearson Higher Education is trying to make it easier for educators to locate open educational resources (OER) with the launch of OpenClass Exchange, a collection of nearly 700,000 digital resources with simple search processes and built-in social tools.

“It’s iTunes-easy,” Scott Chadwick, vice president and general manager of OpenClass, told eCampus News.

The Exchange provides an updated search function that allows teachers and students to quickly access material by topic from sources such as TED Ed, Kahn Academy, YouTube EDU, and the collection of OER college courses from Open Course Library. Instructors can preview material that matches their search and click on a button to add it to their course.

“Educators are saying, ‘We can’t dedicate our lives to content searches,’” Chadwick said. “We wanted to address that, so we brought together as many really great learning resources as we could. A lot of them are video-based, which is intentional, but there’s also great simulations, courses, and e-book content.”

The social feature to the Exchange includes a “follow” function that allows students and teachers to create a network of peers outside the classroom. There is also a notification feature that provides users with automatic updates of OpenClass activities.

“From here, it’s about finding even more of the best resources,” Chadwick said. “We’re continuing to partner with organizations and institutions and anybody who feels like they have the best educational content and want to make it more easily available.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

SIIA Reports on BYOD in Schools

When the Software & Information Association (SIIA) asked about “bring your own device” policies for the first time in its 2013 Results Vision K-20 Survey, it found that more K-12 and postsecondary educators encourage their students to bring electronic gadgets to class.

The report found that 46% of K-12 districts allow the practice. However, 80% of the K-12 classrooms that allow mobile devices in the classroom also restrict their use.

On higher ed campuses, 83% of two-year institutions and 95% of four-year schools encourage students to bring their own device, but institutions that allow BYOD with restrictions drop to 50% at two-year and 40% at four-year schools. Responses at the postsecondary level also suggested that restrictions will remain part of the policy for the foreseeable future.

“The survey indicates that educators in both K-12 and postsecondary have a desire to integrate technology at a much higher level that the present, but need support and assistance to make that happen,” wrote the authors of the report. “As technology evolves and technology solutions expand, there may be new opportunities to reach ideal goals with more cost-effective and less hardware-dependent solutions.”

Friday, July 5, 2013

Apple Fights for Its Way of Doing Business

Apple has had its day in court in the e-book price-fixing case. So, why didn’t the computer company just settle like the five publishers also named in the lawsuit?

Apple executives have been saying throughout the process that they went to court because they did nothing wrong. Even when Macmillan finally decided to settle last February, the publisher’s CEO, John Sargent, argued it only settled “because the potential penalties became too high to risk even the possibilities of an unfavorable outcome.”

In Apple’s case, the company was also defending the way it does business. Letting its partners set the price of their product is the same approach used in both its iTunes and App Stores, so Apple needs to be able to negotiate favorable terms to compete with rivals, according to technology reporter Jessica E. Lessin in The Wall Street Journal.

“A win would help Apple maintain negotiating clout with media companies, which are searching for new ways to make money in markets shifting online,” Lessin wrote. “A loss could hamper its ability to compete with rivals like Amazon.com Inc. to land increasingly important media deals on favorable terms.”

Losing the case could also mean Apple would have to submit to regular monitoring by the government, which is also pushing to prohibit Apple from using “most-favored-nation” clauses in its contracts. Such clauses allowed Apple to match any lower price a publisher offered to other e-book distributors and is something Apple uses in its iTunes deals.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told attendees at the All Things Digital conference: “We’re not going to sign something that says we did something we didn’t do and so we are going to fight it.” But as Lessin points out, an Apple lawyer added during the trial that a ruling against the company would have a chilling effect on how companies negotiate.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July

Here are two videos that should start your day with a smile. Have a safe and happy Fourth.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More Students Are Taking Online Classes

The percentage of college students taking at least one online course has nearly doubled, from 23% to 45% in the last five years, according to a new report from the market research firm re:fuel. The study, 2013 College Explorer, also found students are enrolled in an average of two online courses per semester, but that many struggle without a regular schedule or assignments and meetings.

“Students who need additional assistance to grasp course materials also struggle to find help when professors and fellow students are available only in the digital world,” said Tammy Nelson, vice president of marketing and research for re:fuel, in a prepared statement.

The number of electronic devices students bring to campus has risen since the company’s 2012 survey to 6.9 per student, with laptops (85%) and smartphones (69%) topping the list. The survey also found that 79% of the responding students most often used pen and paper for taking notes and 59% purchased printed textbooks instead of the digital version, but 47% also use their laptops for taking notes in class, 33% use their tablet, and 13% use their smartphone for note-taking.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Price Alone Doesn't Propel E-Textbook Use

When it comes to textbooks, research has shown higher education students feel print is easier to use, but they’ll buy digital materials if those are cheaper. That prompted three economics faculty members at the University of Idaho, Moscow, to dig deeper into what compels an undergraduate to choose electronic textbooks over traditional paper ones.

Their findings, published in the spring issue of The American Economist journal, revealed that students who purchase e-textbooks share a number of characteristics.

For one, they are more likely to be paying for their education through scholarships and loans, which indicates they may need to watch their budget. Students who had attended larger high schools, typically in more urban areas, also were more apt to buy e-textbooks in college, evidently because they had more exposure to this medium than students who went to smaller and presumably more resource-strapped schools.

Almost 93% of the student respondents in the Idaho survey owned a laptop computer, and not quite 40% of them owned a desktop computer, either in addition to the laptop or in place of it. However, a much higher percentage of the desktop owners had bought a digital textbook than the laptop-only owners, although it’s not clear exactly why. The reasons may have to do with screen size and Internet connectivity.

Not surprisingly, students indicated their professors’ attitude toward e-textbooks was a big factor. If the professor recommended or encouraged students to use the digital version of a book, they were more likely to do so.

In the College of Business and Economics, some 80% of the students had used an e-textbook—partly because, the research team discovered, more business/economics courses were adopting course materials available only in an electronic format. E-textbook purchases were also higher among students in science, engineering, and agriculture studies than other majors.

To a lesser extent, age and gender played roles as well, with younger and female students more likely to buy electronic textbooks.

However, there is one undermining facet to the Idaho study: It was conducted in November 2009, prior to the launch of the iPad and the ensuing flood of tablets on the market. The researchers acknowledge that tablets could have a major impact on digital textbooks. Also, since 2009, textbook publishers have greatly expanded their catalogs of digital course materials and ancillary services.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Microsoft Pushing Surface RT to Schools

Microsoft has been trying to ramp up sales of its Surface RT tablet by offering free covers and keyboards. Now, it’s offering the device for $199 to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

The price jumps to $249 with cover and $289 with type cover and is only available to institutions.

“It’s important Microsoft does its part to help get devices into the hands of educators that help prepare today’s students with skills modern business demand,” a Microsoft spokesperson wrote to PC World in advance of the program’s official announcement at the International Society for Technology in Education conference.

While that sounds very good, cutting the price for schools helps the company gets more Windows devices in the classroom, borrowing a page from the Apple playbook in trying to create a new generation of Windows users. It also helps Microsoft move a device that simply has not been selling well at its retail list price of $399.