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

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Ditching Textbooks, One Mini at a Time

Like many higher education institutions this year, Lynn University is helping its incoming freshman class to dabble in technology while they study. The school is issuing an iPad mini to each fresher and transfer student.

Unlike other institutions, though, Lynn has been more transparent about its endgame with the iPads.

“Essentially, our goal is to get rid of all textbooks in our core curriculum. Without getting myself in too much trouble, I’d like for that to happen next year,” Chris Boniforti, Lynn’s chief information officer, told Inside Higher Ed.

The minis have been preloaded with digital materials for a required freshman course and access to the LiveText online portfolio system. Students will be able to use the devices to access other apps and materials for their classes. The university also encourages students to download free-time content to their iPads, such as music, games, and photos.

In two years, students will be expected to trade their minis in for the newest version, which they can keep after graduation.

Students aren’t the only ones being prodded toward high-tech scholarship. Lynn’s faculty have also been developing course content on the iOS platform. This year the university is rolling out nine introductory courses through iTunes U.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CourseSmart Launches Subscription Plan

CourseSmart has launched a way for students to choose e-textbooks for one flat fee. CourseSmart Subscription Packs allow students to purchase course materials for a fixed access period instead of the traditional a la carte model.

Students use the subscription plan to buy six bookshelf slots for $200 and choose from the CourseSmart catalog of more than 40,000 e-textbook titles. The access period for the slots is 150 days, during which students have unlimited access, both online and offline, on iOS and Android devices, as well as through mobile web apps.

The subscription also allows students to search e-textbooks by keyword or through the CourseSmart bookshelf. It also lets them highlight and take notes within the e-text, which can be compiled into a study guide that links back to original textbook pages.

“I added all of the books I needed to my bookshelf and it was extremely easy and a huge savings for me,” said Krista Burris, a student at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Boston Teams with edX on BostonX

Development of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is taking a new direction with the creation of BostonX, a partnership between the City of Boston and edX to offer free online courses available at community colleges and libraries throughout the city.

The partnership would make MOOCs more available to residents of and visitors to Boston, providing courses for those who don’t have high-speed Internet connections or computers at home by creating mini campuses throughout the city. Mayor Thomas Menino is also hopeful BostonX will increase the city’s standing in the nation and world as a leader in education innovation.

“Higher education is at a point of transformation, and our city should be at the center of that,” Menino told Boston Magazine. “Colleges and universities are tackling the big questions of cost, of quality, and of how to make use of a wave of new technology. In Boston, we have always led in higher ed, and we should lead to its reimagination.”

Boston could be considered a logical starting point for the initiative because of the many colleges and universities already in and around the city, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both founding members of edX.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

UC System Making Research Open to All

The University of California system recently announced a new policy that will make all of its research articles free online and available to the public through its open-access repository, eScholarship. The policy covers faculty on all 10 UC campuses and allows research from faculty to be reused or modified for future publications.

The research will still be subject to peer review and appear in prestigious journals. The question is whether it’s a policy that will provide too much information for busy professionals, according to Kent Anderson, CEO/publisher of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery Inc.

“Why read information that is pushed to you when you can Google something that’s right in front of you?” Anderson asked in an article for SmartPlanet. “There is a workflow dimension to this, certainly, but also a corrosive problem of dependence. It’s good for Google, but not great for science, which often takes reflection, immersion, and inspiration to work. It’s not just a journeyman’s game, with Google as an occasional toolbox.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Facebook Testing Mobile Payments

Facebook is testing a mobile payment platform that will let users pay for online purchases by logging in with their Facebook credentials. The platform is being developed as an in-house project for the social media giant.

The biggest obstacle facing the project is users’ distrust, Denee Carrington, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, told Information Week. Her research found that just 4% of U.S. consumers trust Facebook with a mobile digital wallet.

After it addresses privacy and security concerns, Facebook will need to focus on user experience, according to Jordan McKee of the research firm Yankee Group.

“Since Facebook profits from user data, the concept of offering payment credentials in addition to personal information may not sit well with many,” he said. “Facebook must also put tremendous emphasis on the user experience. If they don’t find Facebook’s offering to be intuitive, easy, and seamless, it will gain little traction and potentially dilute its brand.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wearable Mobile Ready to Become a Hit?

Wearable mobile devices could be the next big thing, particularly on campus where tech-savvy students are always looking for that next big thing.

A study from Forrester Research found 28% of consumers said they would be willing to wear sensors such as smartwatches and Google Glass. That news comes on the heels of a report that Samsung will introduce its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which will allow wearers to make calls and browse the web.

The market for wearable devices is still small and the devices are limited in functionality. Most allow users to answer phone calls and receive notifications for text messages and e-mails. Sony has released a second-generation SmartWatch, but it must be linked to a companion smartphone to work.

Samsung has yet to reveal features for the Gear, such as screen size, battery life, and connectivity. But the new technology does given marketers a way to connect with individual consumers, according to Forrester.

“Marrying up the intelligence with the data, with sensors, with the mobile interface that the consumer chooses is the winning proposition,” said Bert DuMars, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, in an interview with Mobile Marketer

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Textbooks to Tablets, Students Seek Used

A funny thing happened when an instructor at Calhoun Community College in Alabama allowed his summer-term students to choose between buying traditional textbooks or buying e-books for a tablet, which they’d also have to acquire on their own. All of the students, according to the Decatur Daily, went the digital route.

That belies the conventional wisdom that says college students prefer printed textbooks because paper pages are easier for flipping around and making notations. It should be noted, all things were not equal with the students’ options in this situation. The e-books, complete with supplemental materials, cost $100 for the term while the traditional texts would have run $300-$400, depending on new or used, if purchased from the campus bookstore.

However, the need to buy or borrow a tablet should have tipped at least a few students toward choosing print. The expense of computer hardware, so say the experts, is a hardship on some students—even more so at community colleges—and therefore poses a significant barrier to more widespread student use of digital course materials.

Instead, instructor Scott Throneberry told the paper, his students shopped for used devices online. Five students snapped up previously owned tablets for around $50 each on eBay.

For decades, college students have sought out used print textbooks to save money. Now it appears they may switch to scooping up used devices for the same purpose.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

College Prep Fuels K-12 Tablet Frenzy

As The CITE has noted before, the hot trend in K-12 education is the tablet computer. Individual schools and entire school districts across the U.S. are purchasing tablets for their classrooms, often buying enough for each pupil to have their own.
Some schools are jumping on the tablet bandwagon because they think colleges and universities will take it for granted that incoming students are skilled in using the devices for coursework.
As a preparatory-school principal in Minnesota told the St. Joseph Newsleader as the school rolled out iPads for all grade 6-12 students, “Colleges are expecting students to be able to collaborate, to think critically, to map concepts, to interact with emerging technology that’s constantly turning over, and to perform traditional operations such as notetaking, planning, writing, reading, and discussion in a dynamic way. As we see more and more top-tier colleges and universities using iPads or encouraging their use, it’s a natural fit for us and for our mission to create an experience in high school that will set our students up for success in college.”
Students are also buying into the idea that tablet proficiency is a must for college and they won’t be able to succeed without it.
At a public high school in Ohio, which was launching a $1 million iPad program of its own this fall, a 15-year-old sophomore told the Columbus Dispatch, “It’s exciting because when we go to college, technology is becoming a big part of our life. If you’re the kid who never learned how to use an iPad and no one has textbooks anymore, what professor is going to hold up the lesson to explain to one person how to use it?”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Chegg Going Public, Issues IPO

Chegg used to be a Craigslist-type of business for selling and renting textbooks. Now, it bills itself as a “student hub” offering textbook solutions in both print and digital formats, scholarships, study tools, and a place to resell course materials.

Having grown over the years, Chegg is filing an initial public offering that it hopes will raise $150 million. The company is valued at $800 million, generated a net revenue of more than $213 million last year, and has raised nearly $200 million from investors, according to an eCampus News report.

While the company value is impressive, it’s also been piling up impressive losses such as $26 million in red ink in 2010. But the bleeding is beginning to slow with a net loss of $21 million in the first half of 2013, compared to a first-half loss of $32 million in 2012.

“What Chegg must prove to investors is that its growing revenue can be converted to profits,” wrote Alex Wilhelm in a TechCrunch post. “However, given the scale of its raise compared to its current cash position, it doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to reach the black.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Amazon Restricts Rental Book Travel

Warehouse Deals, an Amazon.com subsidiary, was launched as a place where consumers could find deals on returned, warehouse-damaged, used, or refurbished products. It has offered print textbook rentals since last summer, but has added a new policy that prohibits students from taking rental titles from one state to another.

The policy on renting a textbook from Warehouse Deals is spelled out on the terms and conditions page at Amazon.com. It states, “You may not move the textbook out of the state to which it was originally shipped. If you wish to wish to move the textbook out of that state, you must first purchase the textbook.”

These conditions only apply to books rented from Warehouse Deals, and Amazon did not respond to requests for comments from Inside Higher Education. Two competitors in the online textbook rental and retail field—Chegg and Rafter—have no policies that prevent students from taking rentals across state lines.

The policy may not appear to make sense, unless it’s viewed in the light of Amazon’s efforts to avoid charging state and local taxes, according to Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project.

“Presumably the concern is that if Amazon owns rented textbooks that cross state lines, state authorities could argue that Amazon has an official business presence in the state—a business presence that would require Amazon to collect and pay state sales taxes,” Green wrote.

Friday, August 16, 2013

E-Book Sales Pattern Hard to Decipher

Sales of e-books may be leveling off as more consumers switch to tablets, which allow users to access a variety of content, not just e-books. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rough Type blogger Nicholas Carr, who has recently been taking some heat for his analysis.

Based on sales figures supplied by the Association of American Publishers, Carr thought he spotted a trend: slowing growth in e-book sales, signifying that e-books are reaching a plateau with the public. The decelerating sales appeared to coincide with the acceleration of tablet sales. Carr speculated tablet users were pulled away from e-books by all the other things they could do with their devices.

David Ulin, in the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy blog, thinks Carr makes some good points about tablets and how people use them. Ulin himself admits to being distracted by other options when he’s reading on a tablet.

But the AAP took issue with Carr’s interpretation of its numbers, pointing out that last year’s e-book sales were inflated by The Hunger Games series. This year there hasn’t been a similar phenomenon in the book world. Minus The Hunger Games, the year-over-year e-book growth is much higher and doesn’t seem to correlate to tablet sales.

Blogger/author Nathan Bransford agrees. “Everyone needs to stop fixating on YOY percentage growth. Even at a steady rate of overall growth, percentage growth inevitably goes down because it’s starting from a bigger base. It’s simple math,” he says, adding that the AAP sales figures don’t count self-published e-books sold directly.

It’s also possible that tablet buyers are still acquiring and reading as many—or even more—e-books as ever, but just not purchasing them outright. AAP tracks only sales, but e-book rentals are on the upswing, too, mostly for digital textbooks. Public and campus libraries are stocking more e-books for borrowing and report rising interest in e-book loans.

And then there are thousands of e-book titles available for free downloading. Some are classics in the public domain; others are distributed by authors, speakers, entrepreneurs, and organizations.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Students Would Like Mobile Reading Options

A report from CourseSmart found that just 10% of responding students actually read the assigned work for a class. However, the 500 American college students in the survey also said their response would have been much more positive if only the material was available to them on their mobile devices.

Fifty-three percent of the students said they would more likely complete required reading if it was available on their mobile devices, while 83% said they have used a mobile device for last-minute study for a test. The number of students willing to admit to mobile cramming for tests rose by 10% over 2012 report, according to a report in eCampus News.

While almost every responding student said they owned at least one digital device, 70% admitted they use three or more devices each day, and 47% said they check their devices every 10 minutes. In addition, the use of e-textbooks is on the rise, as 79% of students said they have used one for a class.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Higher Ed Should Beware of Hackers

Colleges and universities across the country may be making it much easier for hackers to steal sensitive information from students and their parents, according to research done by Halock Security Labs.

A survey of 162 institutions found that more than half of colleges and universities transmit sensitive information over unencrypted channels, including financial statements. In addition, one fourth of the schools said they ask that personal information be sent by e-mail.

“When universities utilize unencrypted e-mails as a method for submitting W2s and other sensitive documents, the information and attachments are transmitted as clear text over the Internet,” Terry Kurzynski, partner at Halock Security Labs, told eCampus News. “This format is susceptible to hackers and criminals who can use this private information for identity theft.”

The report said the open culture of higher education and budget issues facing colleges leave IT departments without the funds to protect student information. It said campus administrations may not completely understand the dangers of sending the information over unencrypted channels, but should since the issue could draw the attention of federal and state government agencies.

“These are foreseeable risks that are extremely treatable,” Kurzynski said. “Breaches resulting from this type of transmission will capture the attention of states’ attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Microsoft Plotting Next-Gen Surface Tablet

Analysts have been questioning the success of the Surface tablet computer for a while, but the buzz got louder at the end of May when Microsoft trimmed $150 off the price of the unit. At the end of July, a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission showed Microsoft lost more money on the Surface than expected and apparently took in just $853 million in revenue related to the device, nearly $50 million less than the $900 million write-down required to accommodate the price reduction.

Despite the bleak outlook, recent information suggests that both Nvidia and Qualcomm are working with Microsoft on a second-generation device. The new tablet will allow Microsoft to offer Outlook, which was not available on the first-generation Surface.

“It’s a killer app for Windows,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia, to c/net. "Now, we’re going to bring it with the second-generation Surface. We’re working really hard on it and we hope that it’s going to be a big success.”

Bloomberg reported that Microsoft could be planning at least two more Windows RT devices with a smaller 7- or 8-in. screen using the Qualcomm chip and the 10-in. screen currently in production staying with the Nvidia processor. While Microsoft isn’t commenting, it did present a slide show in July that included updated Surface tablets and accessories in a variety of colors. CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly told employees that new devices are being tested.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Are Students Turning Away from Facebook?

Could social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube be on the way out, particularly for college-bound students? Probably not, but a new report has found that high school juniors and seniors are not using the sites as much as in the past.

The 2013 Expectation Report was conducted during March and April to see how high-schoolers used social media and mobile devices to help make their college choices. Of the nearly 2,000 students who responded, 67% said they still used Facebook, a 12% drop from the year before.

“Please do not run out of the room screaming that you need to shut down your Facebook presence. That is not my message today,” said Stephanie Geyer, associate vice president of the research firm Noel-Levitz, during a webinar to announce the results. “My message is that the sands are shifting and we need to keep watching and seeing what’s going on.”

The percentage of college-bound students using YouTube was at 62%, which represents a 32% drop from 2012. Three out of 10 students use Twitter, a 1% rise, while the study listed Instagram for the first time and found that 15% of the students frequented the site. Just 5% of the respondents said they used Google+.

“It really fell off, but I wouldn’t abandon Google+ just yet,” Geyer said. “The SEO [search engine optimization] benefits are important and I think, long-term, Google Plus will stay the course and come back.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tablet Makers Catching Up with Apple?

A new report from the Independent Data Corp. (IDC) found that the market share for the Apple iPad was off significantly in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. Apple shipped 14.6 million fewer units during the quarter and its market share dipped nearly 30%, to 32.4%.

While Apple continued as the No. 1 manufacturer of tablets worldwide, the IDC report found the competition catching up. Samsung doubled its market share with a 277% increase in shipments in the second quarter of 2013, while Asus had a 120% increase in unit shipments, and Lenovo saw a 314% increase.

The IDC report also said the lack of a new iPad model was to blame for the Apple sales figures, adding that the market for all tablets slipped 9.7% in the second quarter of 2013.

“A new iPad launch always piques consumer interest in the tablet category and traditionally that has helped both Apple and its competitors,” said Tom Mainelli, research director for tablets at IDC. “With no new iPads, the market slowed for many vendors, and that’s likely to continue into the third quarter. However, by the fourth quarter, we expect new products from Apple, Amazon, and others to drive impressive growth in the market.”

But Eric Zeman points out in his Information Week column that Apple really never had anywhere to go but down as more competition ramped up tablet production. And despite the impressive figures, only Samsung has a double-digit share of the market at 18%, while Asus owns a 4.5% share and Lenovo comes in at just 3.3%.

“The quarterly sales numbers will always fluctuate on annual cycles, as well as traditional shopping seasons,” Zeman wrote. “Apple might have written off its second- (and maybe even third-) quarter stats by changing its iPad upgrade cycle, but Apple is primed to have a huge year-end between September and December.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Students Still Taking PCs to School

While sales of tablet computers continue to grow worldwide, many college students still prefer to go the PC route. In its annual back-to-school survey, Deloitte found that while 82% of college students own a personal computer and 80% have a smartphone, just 18% bring a tablet to campus.

“Unless you’re shooting for a degree in Angry Birds, tablets are a horrible back-to-school purchase,” said Louis Ramirez, a features writer for DealNews.com, in a MarketWatch article. “You can’t write a 10-page research paper with an iPad.”

Most of functions that make a tablet computer so popular for home use—playing games, surfing the Internet, checking social media sites, and e-mail—can be done just as easily on a student’s laptop. Students also find taking classroom notes using their laptop or desktop keyboard much more convenient, while a bigger screen and better audio makes watching a movie or listening to music a better experience on a laptop.

Another PC selling point for students is price, particularly during the back-to-school sales push when manufacturers offer special incentives on desktop and laptop models, making desktop PCs available for as low as $200.

“The desktop PC is simply a wiser, more realistic investment for any student this fall,” Ramirez said.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Big Movers Rumble Reading's Future

Recent events involving two titans of the business world—Apple and Amazon—could have a huge ripple effect on anyone who sells or consumes reading materials. It’s just not clear what sort of effect that will be.

First, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division handed down its recommendedpunishment for Apple’s part in setting e-book prices with five publishers. As expected, the DOJ wants to prevent Apple from negotiating any new publisher agreements that would constrain price competition. However, the DOJ goes beyond that, insisting Apple should for five years dodge any pricing agreements with other suppliers of content, including movies and TV shows, music, e-books, or other digital products.

In addition, for a two-year period, the DOJ wants Apple to permit its competitors, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to sell e-books through their iOS apps without taking a 30% cut of the action. B&N and Amazon both disabled their in-app selling to avoid paying the commission, forcing users to click a few more times to buy e-books through a web browser.

Consumers think the recommendations are dandy, especially those with iOS devices, because they think e-book prices will drop across the board. Yet, that’s not a given. Since the court decision, Amazon has both raised and lowered book prices.

More recently, Amazon indirectly made waves when its founder, Jeff Bezos, bought The Washington Post and related newspaper properties. Bezos made the purchase out of his own wallet, not Amazon’s, but most pundits (including The Post’s own bloggers) assume he’ll haul The Post more firmly into the digital realm and set a new standard for the news industry, just as he did with bookselling.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

MOOC Defectors Just Busy People, After All

People throughout the education world have been scratching their heads over the high dropout rate in many massive open online courses (MOOCs). Why on earth would so many enrollees abandon their courses?

It seems the reason is pretty simple: Students had other things to do.

The Canvas Network, a cloud-based MOOC platform for institutions using the Canvas learning management system, surveyed 1,834 MOOC registrants in May and June 2013 to find out what prompted them to sign up and why dropouts left, according to an Information Week report.

Of those who didn’t finish, 20% said they “lost interest” in the course topic, while 68% admitted they just “got too busy” to complete the course.

The survey did find that course-takers who took part in the online discussions were more likely to stick with the course until the end. However, only 60% of MOOC enrollees said they expected to participate in discussions when they registered; the rest apparently had no intention of joining in.

The explanation may be that many of the students were merely curious about MOOCs. Some 44% said they took the course, at least in part, just to see what it was like and 72% of respondents said they work in the education field.

Most, however, decided to sign up for that particular course because they were interested in the subject matter and it didn’t cost anything. Course credit, or lack thereof, wasn’t really an issue for this group, as 67% already had at least a bachelor’s degree.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Publishing Orgs Push for EPUB3 Buy-In

While the manufacturers of e-readers and tablets are duking it out for market supremacy, book publishers are gearing up a major offensive to ensure their content can be read on any device—without having to create a different e-book version for each platform.

On July 24, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced it was officially endorsing EPUB3 as the one true format for all e-books. EPUB3, based in HTML5, offers all sorts of interactivity features, which will come in handy for textbooks, other types of nonfiction, and new forms of fiction storytelling.

But the real attraction of EPUB3, as Digital Book World explained, is that it enables publishers to create a single book file that works everywhere on any device.

To show it was serious about EPUB3, AAP also unveiled a six-month campaign to get publishers, booksellers, and others on board with the standard.

To that end, AAP is setting up a working group to identify baseline accessibility features for EPUB3 and to plan a Sept. 10 workshop in New York City to bring stakeholders together to figure out the next steps. AAP hopes to culminate the initiative with the widespread release of EPUB3 e-books in the first quarter of 2014, just in time for anyone who got a new mobile device for the holidays.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), which oversees standards for digital publishing, is also hosting a workshop (Oct. 29-30 in Boston) specifically to support EPUB3 for electronic textbooks and other digital materials used for K-12 and higher education. Pearson Education, the world’s largest textbook publisher, is the lead sponsor.

The IDPF workshop, dubbed Edupub, is intended to share information about EPUB3 success stories and, more significantly, discover any problems or barriers to its adoption so they can be resolved in short order. A Pearson executive is one of two co-chairs of the event.

Friday, August 2, 2013

MOOCs Go Primetime on The Colbert Report

As president of edX, Anant Agarwal is something of an evangelist for massive open online courses (MOOCs). He recently took the message to Comedy Central with an appearance on The Colbert Report. Once onstage, host Stephen Colbert told him that if he owned a shoe store and Agarwal was an employee who wanted to give away product for free, “I would fire you and throw shoes at your head.”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Georgia Tech Causing a Higher Ed Disruption

Disruption has become a buzzword in higher education with more than eight million references available through a simple Google search. Now, Georgia Institute of Technology is about to take disruption up a notch.

Georgia Tech, in partnership with massive open online course (MOOC) provider Udacity, is set to offer a master’s degree in computer science through a series of MOOCs for $6,600, nearly $40,000 less than the same degree would cost traditional on-campus students.

“This is uncharted territory,” Zvi Galil, head of the school of computing at Georgia Tech, told Slate magazine. “There is a revolution. I want to lead it, not follow it.”

Georgia Tech turns away nearly 1,200 students each year for its traditional master’s in computer science, so the institution will be able to reach many more applicants with this low-cost alternative. Offering the master’s as a MOOC also opens it up to a worldwide audience that may help ease demand in the job market, according to Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun.

Plans call for the online master’s program to be beefed up with more human oversight, interaction, and student advising to make sure homework is done on time, just as in a traditional course. There’s also a $2 million gift from AT&T to help defray start-up costs.

Both Georgia Tech and Udacity also expect to make money on the program, estimating that by the third year it will have more than 2,000 students. If that number is realized, the program is projected to cost $14.3 million with revenues of $19.1 million.

“It is an experiment that no other institution of our caliber has embarked on (yet!), but everyone is talking about moving in this direction, so if we want to do it, we should do it right away,” a working group of faculty members wrote in a report about the program. “There is an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower if we act quickly and thoughtfully.”