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, November 29, 2013

E-Reading Devices Top Holiday Lists

Just in time for Black Friday, an October study by PlayCollective and Digital Book World found that nearly 46% of parents plan to buy an e-reading device for their children this holiday season. In addition, nearly 75% plan to buy e-books for the kids.

The Kindle Fire tops the wish-list for most parents at 29%, with 19% considering a new iPad. Devices with the Android operating system saw the largest leap in interest, from 11% in 2012 to 20% in 2013. Researchers felt that was due to low prices and the plethora of companies producing Android gadgets.

While the number of parents planning to buy e-books for their children during the holidays is up seven percentage points over last year, they also intend to spend less. Parents said they plan to spend just over $25 this year, $3 less than the average spent in 2012 on e-titles.

This is the third report from PlayCollective, which surveyed 603 adults with kids ages 2-13 who read e-books.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holiday Greetings

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the National Association of College Stores.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MOOCs Reaching Educated Learners

One mission of massive open online course (MOOC) providers was to provide access to higher education to people who may not be able to afford traditional college, particularly in developing countries. New research from the University of Pennsylvania showed that’s just not happening.

The Penn study found that more than 80% of respondents to its survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 MOOCs offered by university professors on the Coursera platform already had two- or four-year college degrees, while 44% had taken at least some graduate-level courses. The study also showed that 80% of MOOC students from developing countries already held degrees.

The research noted that 40% of the MOOC students were under the age of 30 and 57% were male. More than 60% were employed full-time or self-employed, with nearly half stating the main reason for taking the course was “just for fun” and another 44% wanting to gain skills to enhance their job performance.

“The MOOC phenomenon is very recent,” the authors wrote in the conclusion of the report. “The main users, especially in BRICS (students from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and developing countries tend to be young, well-educated males who are trying to advance in their jobs. While there is tremendous hope for this educational platform, the individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most—those without access to higher education in developing countries—are conspicuously underrepresented among the early adopters.”

A lack of access to technology is the main reason poorer individuals are not studying online, according to Brandon Alcorn, project manager for global initiatives at Penn. Plus, many people don’t have the time or basic level of education necessary to take college-level courses.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Flipped Classrooms Gaining Momentum

A new report from the Center for Digital Education and Sonic Foundry found that half of the faculty members participating in an the online survey said they are using the flipped-classroom model or plan to in the next 12 months. Of the respondents already using the technique, 57% said the experience was successful.

A flipped classroom allows students to learn new content at home online, with what used to be homework assignments being done in class with the instructor offering more personalized guidance and interaction.

According to the study, 81% of respondents reported an “improved mastery of information” from students, while 80% said there was “improved retention of information.” Instructors also cited better learning experiences for students, greater availability of technology, and positive results from trials as the top reasons for using flipped classrooms.

“Based upon my experience, the benefits of the flipped-classroom model far outweigh the challenges, and I’ve seen the difficulties with implementing the model decrease over time as efficiencies are realized,” Clemson University lecturer Ralph Welsh wrote in the report. “It has also allowed me to tailor my classroom time more toward answering specific student questions and discussing the material at a more applied, higher level of thinking.”

Preparing for a flipped classroom takes more time, according to 75% of the responding faculty members, but 83% agreed or strongly agreed that the model had a positive impact on their classrooms. Another 86% said student attitudes improved as well.

A quarter of the respondents said they plan to use flipped classrooms across all disciplines and 51% record their own video content.  A webcast of the findings is available at sonicfoundry.com.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't Look to MOOCs for Revenue Yet

Massive open online courses will not create revenue, or even save money, according to a study from the American Council on Education (ACE) and InsideTrack. The study was based on interviews with campus administrators and instructors with firsthand experience using MOOCs.

Nearly every instructor participating in the survey said teaching a MOOC was a good experience and 92% are planning to teach more. The respondents just don’t see the courses as a way for their schools to make money, according to a report in eCampus News.

“Don’t view MOOCs as either revenue-generating or cost-saving vehicles,” one administrator wrote. “They are neither.”

That doesn’t mean some professors aren’t trying. Students at the University of Texas at Austin can pay a $550 registration fee to take a psychology MOOC for three credit hours. At the beginning of October, 1,500 students had signed up for what the professors decided to call a synchronous massive online course (SMOC), which could generate $825,000 if all the participants complete the course.

In addition, almost half of administrators and instructors in the ACE/InsideTrack study felt MOOCs were important to help an institution expand its reach and increase access to higher education. More than half of the respondents also said creating a MOOC is important to develop an instructor’s online pedagogy.

“We didn’t jump in to make money,” one respondent wrote. “The business model is intriguing, but we didn’t go in with those expectations and that remains the same. We reached people we wouldn’t have otherwise, and for every student who enrolled there were 10 times as many who looked at us. It’s become a great platform to promote the brand of our institution and aligns with our mission to share knowledge.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Push for Legalizing Book Piracy

A Pakistani bookseller was recently sentenced to seven years in prison and a hefty fine for printing and selling unauthorized copies of textbooks copyrighted by Oxford University Press (OUP). That sort of piracy is rampant in many parts of Asia, and publishers are trying to crack down on it.

In India, OUP has filed a lawsuit, together with Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis, against a copyshop affiliated with Delhi University for unlawfully reproducing and selling their books. This suit, however, has spurred a movement to legalize copying of materials for academic purposes.

The Indian government is considering petitioning the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to revise its copyright rules to allow academic and research institutions to make copies of course materials without getting permission from or paying the copyright-holders, usually the publishers.

The government’s position is that students and educators should have free and open access to materials used for teaching and learning. Other countries, such as Chile, have made the same argument.

If WIPO agrees, the change could cost publishers a ton of revenue and raises the question: Who then ought to pay for development of course materials?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Facebook Partners with Computer Students

Facebook has been participating in a computer engineering program for more than a year. Now, it’s expanding the program, partnering with 22 universities around the world to pair computer science students with open-source projects that need help.

The program will provide academic credit at no additional cost, with class sizes limited to four to 10 students per school, according to a report in VentureBeat.

In the Facebook Open Academy, Facebook engineers and computer science professors match students with good open-source projects. In the spring of 2013, the academy started with students and mentors spending a weekend together “learning and hacking.” The students then returned to campus to work in virtual teams.

Mentors continued to help students find tasks and review code, while course instructors met with the teams to review progress. Students worked on a variety of sites, reducing bugs and improving efficiencies of the open-source projects.

The expanded effort will start in February with a three-day kickoff event for participating faculty, students, and open-source mentors at Facebook’s headquarters.

“We believe that contributing to open-source projects is one of the best ways a student can prepare for a job in the industry,” Facebook said in a post on its Facebook Engineering page.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Schools Can Crowdfund a 3-D Printer

The maker of a 3-D printer wants to put its product in schools across the country and is asking everybody to pitch in. MakerBot Industries is offering a starter kit along with information on a crowdfunding site to help those interested pay the $2,550 cost of the kit.

The kit includes the MakerBot Republicator 2 printer, raw materials needed to get started, and a service plan from the company. Teachers must describe what they would do with the printer on the crowdfunding site, DonorsChoose.org, to raise all but $98, which must be raised offline.

Autodesk, the maker of 3-D design software, has already signed on to fund 500 projects, and Bre Pettis, one of the founders of MakerBot Industries, has made one of the largest individual donations DonorsChoose has ever received, according to a report in  Bloomberg Businessweek.

While skeptics might contend it’s a project clearly aimed at raising sales for MakerBot, Pettis said he’s doing it because subjects such as shop have been eliminated at many schools, which means students rarely make anything with their hands. Besides, he doesn’t really need the money since MakerBot Industries was purchased by Stratasys for $403 million in June.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Beware of CryptoLocker

CryptoLocker is a form of ransomware that targets computers by disguising itself as a legitimate attachment that, when opened, locks up all the files of an infected computer, including backup files. Only the hackers have the decryption key, demanding $300, or two Bitcoins, to release it.

Now, to add insult to injury, the gang behind the malware has created a customer service site for victims who need help in making the payment, according to a report from The Today Show. People can use CryptoLocker Decryption Service to check the status of their payment and complete the transaction, at an additional cost.

“They were leaving money on the table,” said Lawrence Abrams, who has tracked the spread of this malware on BleepingComputer.com. “They created this site to capture all of the money they were losing because people couldn’t figure out how to make the ransom payment or missed the deadline.”

There is a 72-hour deadline to pay for the decryption key, which jumps from two Bitcoins to 10, or nearly $4,000 on today’s market, if missed. A Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer digital currency which the U.S Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission consider a legitimate financial instrument.

According to Abrams, CryptoLocker uses Zip files to worm its way into computers and is password protected, which allows it to get past security software. He added that the password has been “PaSdlaoQ” for everyone so far.

The advice to protect users from the malware is not new: Don’t open attachments from unknown senders, have up-to-date security software, and back up files often.

“This is scary stuff,” said Brian Krebs on the KrebsOnSecurity blog. “People need to rethink how they protect their important files.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

MOOCs Need Better Assessment

Primary Research Group released a report that showed just 7.8% of the U.S. higher education institutions offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) for college credit, but that nearly half of the schools in the survey felt they would be offering at least one MOOC within three years.

The survey also found some colleges would consider accepting MOOC credit if there was a mechanism to assess knowledge gained. Accurate assessment, according to John Ebersole, president of the online college Excelsior College, is a concern that must be addressed.

“Even where credit has been recommended, questions remain as to the extent that participants actually learned anything,” Ebersole wrote in a blog post for WCET. “While few question the capabilities of the sponsoring institutions or their faculty, the degree to which these reputational factors translate into learning is not clear. To date, very little attention has been given to the measurement of learning outcomes by MOOC providers.”

At the same time, Ebersole is convinced the issue should be easy to overcome.

“While most MOOCs have so far featured topics for which there isn’t an appropriate exam, the process to create one is not substantially longer or more complex than what is required to create and offer a course in MOOC format,” he wrote. “In return for paying more attention to the learning outcomes, and how they are measured, MOOC providers can only help enhance the credibility of this pioneering effort, but also gain credibility in the eyes of the critics.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Intel Makes Move into Education Market

The education marketplace is beginning to get pretty crowded with tech companies. Amazon, Apple, and Google have all staked claims, and now semiconductor chip-maker Intel is making its move with the acquisition of e-textbook provider Kno.

John Galvin, vice president of sales and marketing at Intel, confirmed the purchase on the Intel blog.  According to Galvin, the purchase “provides administrators and teachers with the tools they need to easily assign, manage, and monitor their digital learning content and assessments.”

Or it could suggest that Kno has failed. The company was unable to make its tablet work and Om Malik reported in GigaOm that Kno also has tried to work with CourseSmart to keep its content platform viable.

“Industry sources tell us that Kno cut deals with publishers that limited its take to about 15% of gross revenues,” Malik wrote. “At the same time, it wasn’t able to get the volumes necessary to grow its business—it was in competition for dollars from older ways of doing things: buying textbooks, both new and old and, of course, the newer trend of renting books from the likes of Chegg.”

The purchase makes sense for Intel because it provides content to go along with the package of tools developed by Intel Education. The bundle of hardware, software, and content that is already available for iOS, Android, and Windows operating systems, puts Intel in a position to compete in the education market, according to an article in Sci-Tech Today.

Besides, Kno has worked with Intel on textbook initiatives in China and listed Intel Capital as one of its investors.

“It became more attractive to me to have them be part of the portfolio rather than just a partner,” Galvin told TechCrunch.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Council to Look at Online Standards

The Simon Initiative was launched by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to study technology-aided learning. Working in unison with the initiative, CMU has established the Global Learning Council, a group of educators, researchers, and technology company executives, to develop standards for online learning and identify best practices.

“In the last few years, there has been a lot of discussion thanks to the development of technology about the delivery of education in a scalable way to large numbers of students across national borders,” CMU President Subra Suresh told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The missing piece is how much are students learning amid all this technology? The other piece is what are the metrics, best practices, and eventually standards, if you will, that are collectively developed and acceptable for those who engage?”

Carnegie Mellon has studied student interaction with learning software for decades and will provide access to that data, along with seed funding to support the work.

“Online education is now taking on an extremely prominent role internationally,” said Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities and a member of the council. “Yet even as online education expands rapidly and on an enormous scale, there is very little good research on the best forms of online learning, and, I might add, there are no good studies on what constitutes bad online pedagogy, of which there is a fair amount.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MOOC Focused on Entrepreneurship

The sage on the stage—a professor lecturing to an auditorium full of students—is what massive open online courses (MOOCs) were trying to get away from. Unfortunately, it’s also proven to be an effective way for MOOCs to deliver information on a large scale.

NovoEd, a new MOOC provider launched last April, is trying to change that with courses focused on student participation and collaboration, according to a report in Campus Technology.

“The problem right now with most MOOCs out there is that they are focusing on the most boring part of education: the talking head and multiple-choice questions,” said Amin Saberi, an associate professor of engineering at Stanford and founder of NovoEd. “Education is not the content; it’s what you take with you when you forget the content.”

The company has developed a platform that uses social media to encourage student interaction and foster collaboration. It also created algorithms to organize students into groups.

NovoEd offers almost 30 courses ranging from everyday mathematics to anatomy, but is mainly focused on entrepreneurship through a partnership with Babson Global. Saberi told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in August that nearly 350,000 students had studied entrepreneurship using the platform, with completion rates as high as 47%. Additionally, those student teams launched more than 7,000 new businesses.

“MOOCs will destroy geographical boundaries,” said Anne Trumbore, senior course designer for NovoEd. “People who are passionately interested in a topic but spread out across the world will finally be able to collaborate in a real way and form communities around their interests.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

E-Ink Technology Enhanced and Refocused

E-ink spurred the e-reader revolution as technology that provided devices featuring easy-to-read displays and long battery life. Then, the high-resolution color screens and multitasking capabilities of tablet computers came along and shoved e-readers to the side, according to analyst firm iSuppli, which reported e-reader sales fell from 23 million units in 2011 to 15 million in 2012.

“Tablets are good and getting better,” Alva Taylor, faculty director for the Center of Digital Strategies at Dartmouth University, told Technology Review. “I think there are multiple technologies that beat the experiences that e-ink provides. To me, e-ink is like duct tape as a product. They are never going to be as good as nuts and bolts and screws. But for certain kinds of small applications, they are perfect.”

Those small applications are exactly what the firm E Ink is focused on.

While E Ink continues to work on color for its displays, it’s also finding uses for the technology in flexible devices that require a tiny battery, making the firms in the emerging smartwatch market potential customers. The technology could also turn up in three-color store signs, while improvements are being made to provide enhanced readability, smoother page turns, and even lower power consumption on e-readers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

BOGO Works for University Press

BOGO (buy one, get one) offers are very popular with consumers, so the University Press of Kentucky decided to give the promotion a try. Book owners who submit a photo of themselves holding their hard copy of a book from the press will receive the e-book version for free.

“It’s a great way to increase brand loyalty and to increase awareness of us as a publisher,” Mack McCormick, director of publicity, told Inside Higher Education.

The University Press of Kentucky has 476 titles with e-book versions. The press went with the loyalty program because it felt readers would appreciate the free electronic version of a title they already owned. There is a cost to sending the e-books, but McCormick said it was minimal.

The University of Chicago Press has been offering one free e-title each month since November 2009. Those titles are often the first one in multivolume collections or a feature work of an author with a recently released title. Between 2,000-4,000 readers download the title each month, but since the University of Chicago Press owns the digital asset management unit, there is no cost to providing the electronic version.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Study Finds Students Satisfied with MOOCs

While there are issues with massive open online courses’ (MOOCs) with retention rates, students who complete them appear to be satisfied, according to a study from the University of London International Programmes.

Ninety-one percent of the students responding to the survey on university MOOCs hosted on the Coursera platform rated the experience as good, very good, or excellent. Around 42% of the 210,000 students participating in the four MOOCs offered were considered active students, those who downloaded a video lecture, took an online quiz, or posted to the class forum.

“Considering that the courses are free and allow students to do as much or as little work as they like, the number of students engaging in the course is considerable,” Mike Kerrison, director of academic development for the University of London International Programmes, said in an article for eCampus News, which also reported that just 4% of the students actually completed the MOOCs.

Research from Stanford University found that super-involved students, known as SuperPosters, sometimes account for up to a quarter of the total comments submitted to forums for online classes. The study also showed that SuperPosters not only participated in the forums, but also achieved high grades.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Botlike Book Can Fetch Answers

Artificial intelligence, the technology that enables robots to respond to their environment like humans, may also help improve how college students interact with textbooks. A small project conducted in 2012 showed students who studied with an AI-enhanced digital textbook earned higher marks. A larger pilot is now in development.

As described in the fall 2013 edition of the Association for the Advancement ofArtificial Intelligence’s AI Magazine, the Inquire Project created an intelligent app for selected chapters of the popular Campbell Biology text used by many introductory biology courses.

The app allowed students to key in free-form questions about the content while they were studying on an iPad. They could also tap the screen to access detailed concept summary pages, pop-up definitions, and follow-up questions as well as highlight text to create “note cards” with related questions. The app was developed at the Artificial Intelligence Center at SRI International, with funding from Vulcan Inc., a company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

In an evaluation conducted with 72 community college students, one third of the group used the traditional print version of Campbell Biology while another third studied from the AI-enhanced digital version of the book. The remaining third was assigned to the regular digital version, which permitted basic highlighting and annotations but didn’t have the AI extras. All of the students were asked to read certain chapters for an hour, spend 90 minutes on homework, and then take a 20-minute quiz.

Quiz scores averaged 88 for the AI group but only 81 for the print textbook and just 75 for the unenhanced digital textbook. Homework scores were similar: 81 for AI, 71 for print, and 74 for “plain” digital.

The conclusion? Being able to “ask” questions and view summaries right on the page they were reading apparently aided students’ comprehension and retention of the material. The 72 participants posed a total of 520 questions during two and a half hours of reading and homework. Of those, 194 questions were unique but only 59 were asked by more than one student, indicating that different students needed clarification of different textbook content.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Online Degree Programs Gain Traction

Georgia Institute of Technology wanted to lead a revolution with its low-cost online master’s degree program in computer science. It appears that revolution is gaining traction.

The study by the university found that 2,359 people applied for the computer science master’s degree program during a 21-day enrollment period. That’s big news since the total enrollment for all traditional campus-based computer science master’s degree programs was just 1,806 last year, according to an article in eCampus News.

Georgia Tech, which partnered with massive open online course provider Udacity and AT&T on the program, also found that 75% of the applicants are employed full time, 82% work in computer or IT fields, and more than 500 are AT&T employees.

Now, the Berklee College of Music will launch online bachelor’s degree programs in music business and music production next year. The degrees are part of the Berklee Online program and could save participants 60% over residential students.

The two 120-credit degree programs are aimed at musicians who are unable to move to Boston to study. Enrollment will be capped at 300 students for the first year, but applicants can submit portfolios and earn up to 30 learning credits for their professional experience. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Semantics of Online Education

It may all be just semantics, but there are some people in education technology and on campus who think the term “course” should be replaced by “learning experience” as the way to describe online education. They see the traditional 90-minute lecture as an ineffective way to deliver content online and note that instructors are being encouraged to break up content into single-concept modules.

Breaking content into modules makes it easier to share and has little resemblance to what students understand as a “course.” In addition, the term “learning experience” suggests a difference in the way students get the information, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

“The learning experience has to do with things that occur by design and all sorts of other things that aren’t on the syllabus that are spontaneous and student-generated,” said Matthew H. Cooper, CEO of Acatar, a flipped-classroom platform developed by Carnegie-Mellon University.

“We, too, see the boundaries of the traditional course eroding away,” added Ryan Gialames, senior director of product strategy and user experience at Acatar. “We’re speaking with folks at CMU who are interested in building this whole body of knowledge, then figuring individual paths to point students through it. It’s also just as important when you’ve got that body of knowledge that you can build maps and paths.”

Of course, not everyone is sold on the new terminology. For instance, Blackboard has found that more attention is being paid to learning outside traditional courses, but isn’t ready to drop the term.

“There’s, of course, good reason to be skeptical and critical, but this is not a term that is baseless or just cute-sounding,” Robert A. Lue, faculty director at Harvard University, said of the term “learning experience.” “There’s corporate speak, there’s academic speak, there’s all sorts of education speak, and this certainly falls into that. You know what, though? These terms and how they are selected carry meaning.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Humanities Attracting the MOOC Crowd

It’s probably no surprise that computer science is the most popular subject offered by massive open online course provider Coursera with nearly 9.5 million people enrolled. Humanities, as a distant second, may come as more of a stunner.

Nearly four million people have taken humanities courses, according to information from the company. The numbers may be inflated somewhat because of the highly popular “Walking Dead” course, but they are still ahead of business and management (3.5 million), economics and finance (3.3 million) and information, tech, and design (2.4 million).

The fact that humanities are so popular as MOOCs and yet were basically ignored during a panel discussion featuring Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, last June caught the attention and ire of attendee, blogger, and UBC associate professor Jon Beasley-Murray. He wrote that the model for online learning is dominated by science and points a finger at the people responsible.

“The arts and humanities should have a vital role, critical and self-reflexive, that would complicate current discussion of technology in the classroom, and more broadly enhance our understanding of the university’s main challenges and possibilities in a global, wired world,” Beasley-Murray wrote. “But what we get instead is knee-jerk enthusiasm and self-defeating short-termism. This is not the fault of the sciences themselves—they should clearly and obviously be part of the conversation, too. It is, rather, the fault of an administration and senior management that has for some reason lost faith in its own mission and its own values, and in the people that it employs to think about and even question that mission and those values.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stores Should Provide Free WiFi

Instead of being worried about showrooming, retailers should provide free Wi-Fi to encourage shoppers do even more online browsing, according to a new study from Acquity Group. The survey found that half of the responding smartphone owners are more confident making major purchases when they can use free in-store Wi-Fi to research a product.

The report also found that 30% of smartphone owners would browse for additional items to buy and 20% would spend more time shopping if stores offered free Wi-Fi. More than 1,500 smartphone owners were surveyed for the study, which also showed that 78% looked up a retailer’s inventory online prior to visiting the store and 60% said they made in-store purchases after browsing for product images and information on their phone.

“Your site has to be mobile-optimized and you need to make access to Wi-Fi easy,” said Mark Rein, group account director at Acquity Group, in an article in Marketing Daily. “In-store Wi-Fi also tends to keep customers in the store longer, where they’ll view—and be more likely to purchase—items not on their list.”