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

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Students Still Skeptical of Online Courses

A new report, titled “Not Yet Sold, found that students may not be as satisfied with their online educational experience as previously reported. In fact, 38% of the community college students responding to a survey from Public Agenda said web-based courses were harder to pass than the traditional classroom model.

Six of 10 students also said online courses required more discipline than attending class in person, and 40% said they learned less than in classrooms or lecture halls. In addition, three-quarters of employers surveyed for the study agreed that online courses require the same or more discipline from students than traditional classes.

“Just as online education itself is rapidly changing, we expect student and employer attitudes to shift as well,” the authors of the study wrote. “Still, we need to consider the skepticism of those on the ground, especially if we hope to avoid any unintended consequences.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

iOS 7 Pushing Desktop Computers Out?

Robert X. Cringely, the pen name for tech journalist Mark Stephens, recently blogged about a future of computing where smartphones replace desktop computers. That future began with the launch of iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s, a device as powerful as some laptops that also enables Bluetooth connectivity.

In fact, he wrote, a move away from desktop to mobile technology is part of Apple’s strategy.

“Here’s what I expect we’ll see,” Cringely said. “Go to your desk at work and, using Bluetooth and AirPlay, the iPhone 5s or 6 in your pocket will automatically link to your keyboard, mouse, and display. Processing and storage will be in your pocket and, to some extent, in the cloud. Your desktop will require only a generic display, keyboard, mouse, and some sort of AirPlay device, possibly an Apple TV that looks a lot like a Google ChromeCast.”

If Cringely is correct, it could also mean more big changes in education, according to Joshua Kim in his technology blog for Inside Higher Education. Replacing desktop computers with mobile devices would allow learning platforms to be merged into mobile apps that could be updated regularly.

“A desktop-replacement mobile device would enable us to bundle e-learning content with the e-learning platform,” Kim wrote. “All curricular materials could be delivered to the mobile device, synced to the cloud, and designed to work seamlessly with the mobile learning tools.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tablets Eat Up Campus Bandwidth

A report from MarketingCharts found that each college student now brings an average of seven mobile devices with them to school, up from 6.4 just a year ago. That increase is making it tough for campuses to keep up with the IT demands.

Just how tough was spelled out in the 2013 State of ResNet Report from the Association of Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education and the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The survey found that 84% of respondents felt tablet computers would consume the most bandwidth in the coming years, with laptop and desktop computers coming in second at 75%, followed by video systems, such as Blue-ray players (64%), smartphones (63%), and video games (61%).

“There is an expectation right now among students of, ‘Any device, any time, as much as we want,’” Joe Harrington, director of network services at Boston College, told eCampus News. “This has [IT officials] back on their heels a little bit, looking for ways to deal with this proactively rather than reactively.”

Nearly 80% of the 251 responding campuses allow students to connect an unlimited number of devices, up from 68% in 2012, with just 14% capping the number of connections at five devices or fewer. In addition, 42% of the campuses allow residents to extend the network with the use of hubs, servers, or routers.

The report also found that while most schools are concerned with their long-term ability to provide bandwidth, few have plans to address it anytime soon. In fact, 44% of respondents said they have no plans for bandwidth growth.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Solving the MOOC Catch-22

Catch-22, a term made famous in the Joseph Heller novel of the same name, has entered the lexicon as a “no-win” situation. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may have reached that point.

Students take MOOCs because they are free or at a very low cost, but want to receive credit for the work. Accreditation would raise the cost, which would, at the very least, make taking the course less attractive for many students. However, Coursera may have found of solution with its Signature Track program.

The educational technology firm recently reached $1 million in revenue from Signature Track courses, which offer verification certificates for a fee. Universities have struggled to find inexpensive ways to offer credit, but the Coursera example shows students are willing to pay fees for courses that are billed as free educational content if college credit is available as well.

“If a university were to offer a MOOC course, certificate, or degree at a modest rate, I believe that students would sign up,” Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, told eCampus News. “Charging 10% or less of normal tuition for a MOOC-delivered program is likely to be very popular. Charging full tuition for a MOOC is far less likely to garner much support.”

The other challenge currently facing MOOCs is building awareness. There are still plenty of educators who are not sold on the courses, and questions remain about how employers will view MOOC certificates compared to a traditional college degree.

“A lot of people right now are complaining about accreditation and so on for being such a barrier, which it is, but the history of disruption shows that when barriers collapse, it happens by going around them in different ways, not always going through,” said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. “I wonder if we’re seeing the beginnings of that here.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Edugames Growing, Although Not in Hi-Ed

Since college students aged 18-24 have spent most of their young lives interacting with vivid video games and special screen effects, some educators are concerned they’ll be unwilling or unable to read through numerous pages of text for class assignments.

That raises the question of whether more course materials should be transformed into video games to hold students’ attention and allow them to engage more fully with the subject matter.

Educational gaming is already on the rise. The New Media Consortium Horizon Project 2013,Higher Education Edition, predicts game-based learning will be widely adopted within two to three years.

In a presentation at the Serious Play 2013 conference in August, data analysis firm Ambient Insight forecast a 10.1% jump in game-based learning for North America by 2017, with 15.3% growth in mobile edugames alone. But most of those games aren’t destined for college courses.

According to Ambient, only 8% of mobile learning apps are designed for higher education, compared to 40% for preschoolers to second grade. One of the biggest barriers to creating games appropriate for higher ed is the complexity of the material. Games helping preschoolers to count or recognize shapes are much easier to develop than games on quantum physics or 16th-century Asian history.

Rather than full-scale edugames, the answer may lie in gamification—adding elements of gaming to course materials to illustrate specific concepts, test skills and comprehension, or provide incentives to students.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Report Finds Online Students Satisfied

A new study from higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz found that 75% of online students say they are satisfied with their learning experience. In comparison, just 55% of traditional campus-based students expressed satisfaction with their experience.

“Creating connections with students is the great challenge of online education,” Julie Bryant, associate vice president at Noel-Levitz and author of the report, told eCampus News. “How do you keep student interest and involvement when their ‘classroom’ is a computer screen? That’s precisely why so many online programs survey their students about their satisfaction levels.”

While satisfaction with online learning is high, there is still concern among respondents about the quality of instruction in web-based courses. The study also found that the primary factor in satisfaction was the cost of the education, a fact that may have boosted satisfaction with online students.

“With the rising cost of college, students and their families are certainly becoming more critical about the advantages of college education and whether it’s worth it,” Bryant said.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interest Building in Educational Badges

Digital badges are beginning to be recognized as the next "disruptive technology" in education, particularly at the K-12 level. Students earn digital credentials for showing academic content knowledge in areas that may not be measured by traditional assessment methods.

“Digital badges are essentially credentials that may be earned by meeting established performance criteria,” Angela Elkrody, a fellow at the Eastern Michigan University for Leadership at Counseling, told eSchool News. “The vision of a digital badging ‘ecosystem,’ that is, a loosely connected framework of badges designed by various authorizers for different purposes, is moving forward to realization.”

In such an ecosystem, a school could issue badges to students for the completion of a series of projects designed by the school or by a local business that shows competency in a related Advanced Placement subject. Assessments would be predetermined and a badge presented when the student can demonstrate the specific competency in the course.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Ways to Search Online Content

While there are plenty of open-source course materials available to students and faculty, finding them remains a challenge. It’s also troublesome for content creators to be noticed.

However, solutions are beginning to pop up, such as Education Marketplace, launched recently by the education platform StudySoup. Education Marketplace is a one-stop location where instructors can find, create, and sell digital content.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Why is all this content decentralized?” Sieva Kozinsky, who founded StudySoup with Jeff Silverman, told eCampus News. “You have notes in your notebook, readings in your textbooks, content on an LMS. There are great resources out there, but there’s no systemized way of finding, using, and learning from all this material.”

In July, Pearson launched a searchable catalog of nearly 700,000 open educational resources that included video and content from Open Course Library though the expansion of its OpenClass Exchange. Education Marketplace is different because it allows content to be created and sold through the StudySoup online tools, which are already being used at more than 40 campuses across the United States.

“Really it allows anybody to create interactive content,” Kozinsky said. “You don’t even have to be tied to a university. Anyone can come into the platform and create material which can then be compiled into what we call a ‘course,’ and delivered to potential students.”

StudySoup has different pricing plans available and intends to keep 15% of the royalties from any course purchased. The company is also working on a peer-review and user rating system to ensure course quality.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Study Debunks Showrooming Myth

A 2012 study found that more than half of its respondents expected bricks-and-mortar retailers to be showrooms for online merchants by 2020. Now, a new report from the Columbia Business School and loyalty management firm Aimia paints a more optimistic picture for traditional retailers.

The report found that while 70% of the 3,000 consumers polled had showroomed at least once in the last year, just 6% went into the store with a plan to buy online after seeing the product in person. It also found that more than 50% were more likely to purchase in-store when they used a mobile device to find online reviews or other information.

“Our findings contradict many of the common assumptions about the threat of showrooming,” David Rogers, professor at the Columbia Business School and an author of the report, told GigaOM.com. “Many [customers with smartphones] are not showrooming but looking for the right information to be confident in their purchase.”

The study reported that most mobile shoppers use their device to check prices, but that convenience, urgency, and immediacy are reasons why they will make a purchase in-store instead of online. In addition, 48% said loyalty programs made them more likely to purchase in-store, even if they found equal or cheaper prices online, while services such as price-matching, free home delivery, and extended warranties also kept them in stores.

“Retailers don’t have to resort to automatic price-matching,” said Rick Ferguson, co-author of the report and vice president of knowledge development at Aimia. “M-shoppers show a strong willingness to join loyalty programs in exchange for rewards, and this gives retailers the chance to build long-term relationships with them.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vandy, Maryland Team on MOOC

Massive open online courses can reach a vast number of students, but have been limited to one school offering the course from a single platform. Now, Vanderbilt University and the University of Maryland are working together to develop a cross-institutional MOOC on mobile app development.

The MOOC will begin Jan. 6 with two segments 10 weeks in length hosted on the Coursera platform.

“Creating such an opportunity for Vanderbilt and University of Maryland students alone would be incredibly complex in a traditional environment,” Douglas Schmidt, professor of computer science and computer engineering at Vanderbilt, told eCampus News. “With the MOOC platform, not only is it possible, it will now be available to learners globally.”

The Maryland portion of the MOOC will teach students user-facing portions of mobile apps, while the Vanderbilt portion will focus on the server portion of mobile apps, according to a press release from Vanderbilt.

“Faculty-driven collaborations have historically been common in the research sphere, but the MOOC environment now allows that visceral excitement that comes from the sharing of different perspectives to be applied to the teaching domain as well,” said Cynthia Cyrus, associate provost of undergraduate education at Vanderbilt.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Knewton Expanding Around the Globe

Learning technology provider Knewton followed up news of its expanding relationship with Pearson Higher Education by announcing a partnership on the English language learning system from Cambridge University Press (CUP). It will also soon open an office in London to support its efforts in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Knewton creates a software platform that helps students learn by providing real-time recommendations based on their work, instructor guidelines, and information gathered from all students using the technology. Working with CUP allows the New York-based firm to reach 250,000 more students in 50 countries worldwide, according to a report in eCampus News.

The collaboration with Pearson is an extension of the work Knewton has been doing with the publisher since 2011, adding accounting, anatomy, biology and physiology, chemistry, physics, and finance to the list of courses offered in Pearson’s MyLab and Mastering line of learning tools. The two companies launched tools in economics, math, reading, and writing in the fall of 2012.

“We think of these as gateway courses,” Pearson President Paul Corey told Information Week. “Getting through these courses is a tough challenge for many of these students. The success rate, once students get through these gateway courses, is pretty high.”

Knewton is also talking with publishers in Australia and Asia, and should be powering learning solutions in Brazil by the end of the year, according to David Liu, chief operating officer.

“There’s a lot of talk that adaptive learning is really only useful for math and some of the developmental subjects,” Lui told Information Week. “As long as there is a rubric for what is right or wrong, we can make it adaptive.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

Software Lowers MOOC Video Costs

While massive open online courses (MOOCs) can make use of video to provide lectures for students, the cost of producing video can be prohibitive. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania recently reported the cost to develop 16 MOOCs $800,000, with video eating up a lion’s share of the funds.

A major reason for the high cost is the investment in specialized recording equipment, professional audio-visual and post-production services, and time and training for the MOOC instructor. However, lecture-capture software may provide a low-cost alternative.

The technology allows an instructor to record all audio and video sources used in a classroom and make them accessible to students anywhere and at any time on any device.  The technology also allows for digital notes and bookmarks, quizzes and polls, live broadcasting, and flexible recording.

“Over the past five years, modern lecture-capture systems have become an established part of university education, and analysts predict that by 2016, lecture capture will become as ubiquitous as e-mail on college campuses,” Ari Bixhorn, vice president of marketing for the software firm Panopto, wrote in an article for eCampus News. “So as MOOCs continue to evolve in the years ahead, and as institutions look for ways to participate in this new medium, the price of video no longer needs to be an inhibiting factor.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Google, edX Partner on MOOC.org

Google is jumping onto the massive open online course (MOOC) bandwagon in a partnership with edX to create an open-source learning platform to be called mooc.org. The companies will work together to develop the Open edX learning platform for professors to use to conduct courses online and will make it available to students, teachers, institutions, businesses, and governments worldwide.

The partnership allows Google to expand on its Course Builder open-source platform for creating online courses that it launched last year. The site is expected to go live early next year.

Google also announced a partnership with Udacity to form the Open Education Alliance, a project focused on teaching skills needed to find jobs in the tech industry.

These partnerships could signal a Google move into the education market.

“We support the development of a diverse education ecosystem as learning expands in the online world,” Google Director of Research Dan Clancy wrote in a blog post. “Part of that means that educational institutions should easily be able to bring their content online and manage their relationships with their students. Our industry is in the early stages of MOOCs, and lots of experimentation is still needed to find the best way to meet the educational needs of the world. An open ecosystem with multiple players encourages rapid experimentation and innovation, and we applaud the work going on in this space today.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

With TV Ties, It's Do or Die for MOOC

Zombies have lurched their way into all facets of pop culture and now it’s apparently time for them to take a bite out of higher education. The University of California, Irvine, is collaborating with the AMC television network and the Instructure technology company to offer a massive open online course (MOOC) based on AMC’s rabidly popular show The Walking Dead.

The eight-week multidisciplinary class—which just happens to start the day after the show’s fourth-season debut on Oct. 13—will be taught by four UC Irvine faculty members specializing in public health, social sciences, physics, and mathematics.

At first glance, the course may seem like the MOOC equivalent of underwater basket-weaving, but the brains behind it are dead serious about the goals of the course. In the average MOOC, registrants drop faster than zombie plague victims. By weaving a TV show into the class content, UC Irvine thinks participants are more likely to survive to the end of the course.

“As an educator, I’m always looking for ways to make scholarly ideas come alive for my students,” said Zuzana Bic, one of the instructors.

Working through Instructure’s Canvas online learning platform, Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead will mix video lectures, expert interviews, academic resources and articles, and group discussions with clips from the TV show and exclusive interviews with cast members. There will be occasional quizzes but no final exam.

The course will explore public health issues and the spread of infectious diseases; analyze social roles and human behavior, particularly within the context of a disaster; examine the mathematics of population dynamics and energy consumption; and, according to the course description, resolve the nagging question, “Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SJSU Online Pilot Posts Better Results

The online course partnership between San Jose State University and Udacity hit a bump when pass rates of 23.8% to 50/5% from classes offered in the spring were posted for the first three courses. The program, called SJSU Plus, was put on hiatus through the fall so the university could evaluate the project.

The next set of results for courses offered in the summer session were much better with more than two-thirds of the 1,380 students who completed the online courses received passing grades of C or higher. In addition, students in three of the offered courses posted higher pass rates than their on-campus counterparts when compared to an average of the last six semesters.

The pass rate for college algebra rose from 25.4% in the spring of 2013 to 72.6% in the summer, while elementary statistics went from 50.5% to 72.6%. Entry-level math saw an increase in pass rates but still lagged far behind the other courses, going from a 23.8% pass rate in the spring to 29.8% in the summer.

“To all those people who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works,” wrote Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun in a blog post. “Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation. We are seeing significant improvement outcomes and student engagement. And we know from our data that there is much more to be done.”

The number of at-risk students taking SUSJ Plus courses in the spring is one factor school officials point to as a possible reason for the low pass rates. Officials also suggest that a more diverse student enrollment in the summer, when 71% of the students were from outside the state of California, may be part of the reason for a higher pass rate.

SJSU and Udacity also made improvements to the pilots between sessions and added more tools to gauge student performance. However, the SJSU Plus will remain on hold through the fall.

“There is no disruption,” SJSU Provost Ellen Junn wrote in a statement. “The main reason is we wanted to take time to review all the data, to debrief with the faculty, to make sure that we’re following all the procedures on campus and just taking due diligence.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Exam Ensures Grads Make the Grade

Since most new university graduates have little job experience, some employers rely on applicants’ grade point averages to gauge their performance aptitude. Now, those employers are complaining too many new grads boast high GPAs but are unprepared for work. They blame grade inflation.

In response, the nonprofit Council for Aid to Education (CAE) developed the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), intended to serve as a voluntary exit exam for college seniors. According to The Wall Street Journal, the CLA+ is supposed to size up impending graduates’ abilities in written communications, critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving—qualities needed for any position requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.

Here’s how it works: Test-takers are given a scenario with up to a dozen supporting documents such as articles, data sets, and reports. The student has one hour to write out a recommendation or evaluation for handling the scenario, based on analysis of the information in the documents. A practice set offers an example of the type of scenario and documents in the exam.

Responses are scored on a 1,600-point scale, and there’s no way for students to guess the correct answers or lobby the instructor for a better score. CAE is hoping the exam becomes an effective tool for helping employers and high-performing students to find each other. Some 200 colleges and universities apparently agree; they’ve already signed up to offer the CLA+ to graduating seniors next spring.

If the CLA+ takes off as a hiring tool, it may provide the impetus for college students to devote more time and energy to their course materials, since the exam is based on reading comprehension and analysis.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Faculty Still Skeptical of MOOC Results

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be generating lots of public interest, but faculty members are not quite there yet, according to a new survey from Inside Higher Education.

Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, a study of 2,251 professors, found that just one in five agree that MOOCs achieve the same learning outcomes as traditional classroom instruction. At the same time, the percentage of instructors who had taught at least one online course rose from 25% in 2012 to 30% this year. Nearly 50% of those respondents said they believe the learning outcomes online were the same as in-person classes.

The study also found that six of 10 instructors said institutions offering a class online as well as in-person was a “very important” indicator of quality, but just 45% said online courses for credit are very important. On the other hand, 63% of the 248 academic technology administrators surveyed for the study said credit was a “very important” indicator of the quality of online education.

“The skepticism [of MOOCs] comes from a suspicion that these efforts are about cost savings, and are being driven by economic discussions and not learning discussions,” said Anne Balsamo, dean of the School Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

iPad Pilot Begins at CSUN

California State University at Northridge (CSUN) invited 1,800 of its students to join its MyCSUNtablet Initiative, a pilot program designed to cut textbook costs on campus.

Student volunteers are able to access e-texts, apps, and other learning materials after buying an iPad through a CSUN partnership with Apple or using a device they already happen to own. The program is offering classes in seven CSUN majors and will be assessed on how well the devices and digital course materials help students learn.

“What we want to do is get out of the grasp of the publishers of this stuff,” CSUN Provost Harry Hellenbrand told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I figure our bookstore will disappear in 10 years, with the money deferred to portable devices and service contracts.”

CSUN officials say students will only need to take three classes to break even on the cost of the iPad assuming professors design and furnish free digital course materials. They also suggest e-books are available for purchase for $12-$15, although that is not always the case.

“No, no, no. We’ll never get rid of the bookstore,” countered Paul Schwantz, director or web and tech services at the school. “We will always need CSUN sweaters. I think some of the books will be around for a long time as well, because some people always want books.”

Not to mention the program directs students to the Matador Bookstore to purchase their iPads.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ashland U. Cuts Tuition Costs by $10K

While others talk about the affordability of a college education, Ashland University, Ashland, OH, is doing something about it.

Annual full-time tuition at the school, which has an enrollment of 2,200 students, will drop $10,000 to $18,908. Grant and scholarship aid will also be reduced, but the new lower tuition will still be around $6,000 less than a student at The Ohio State University will pay.

“Over the past decade, everyone in higher education has danced around the subject of the rising cost of college,” said AU President Fred Finks in a press release. “Yet few have been willing to tackle the issue and the complications involved.”

When Concordia University, St. Paul, MN, reduced its undergraduate tuition by $10,000 it saw a 30% increase in applications, while its enrollment went from 183 freshmen and 91 transfer students in the fall of 2012 to 257 freshmen and 167 transfers this fall.

“Really what is going on here is we are cutting back on the discount rate and creating a transparency in our pricing,” said Concordia spokesman Jason DeBoer-Moran.

At the same time Ashland is making news for cutting fees, the Star-Ledger reports that New Jersey students should brace for a $200,000 bachelor’s degree as the undergraduate fees at some state colleges will top $40,000 this year.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chegg Launches Mobile App

Chegg has been making headlines of late, first announcing it was filing an initial public offering in hopes of raising $150 million. Now, the company is launching a mobile app that allows students to use their iOS or Android devices to access Chegg tools and content.

Students can use the app to read e-textbooks and access guided solutions, including two free ones the company plans to provide each week. Other iOS features of the app include textbook search functions by title, author, ISBN, or bar code scanner; the ability to rent or buy physical textbooks; and free e-textbook previews of all titles in the Chegg library.

The iOS version is available in the Apple App store, while the Android app is at Google Play, according to the press release.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Teachers Share Ideas at Teaching Channel

Teaching Channel is a collaborative educational platform that encourages K-12 teachers to share ideas through videos. Part of the effort is called Teams, a library of videos that can be augmented and customized, giving teachers the opportunity to see view new strategies and then apply them in their classrooms.