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.

The site uses Google's cookies to provide services and analyze traffic. Your IP address and user agent are shared with Google, along with performance and security statistics to ensure service quality, generate usage statistics, detect abuse and take action.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Study Shows iPads Help Learning

The iPad has been touted as a better way to learn since the tablet computer was introduced by Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2010. Now, there is research that shows the claim to be correct.

The new study found that learning on tablets tap into neurocognitive skills that help students understand difficult concepts. The students used in the research saw gains in their learning from just 20 minutes of study on an iPad, with an even more pronounced improvement with guidance from an instructor.

“The bottom line is that these iPads and similar tools actually do make a difference,” said Matthew Schneps, founding member of science education department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in an article in National Geographic.

Researchers compared test results given to thousands of high school astronomy students across the nation. The study was able to define how students performed on the test and how use of the tablets changed test results.

The results of the study also suggest that using tablets to study makes it easier to grasp difficult scientific concepts. In addition, being able to use the technology may be critical in future career training, according to Schneps.

“They’re not going to be doing things in their jobs the same way that previous generations did, so if kids can learn in school today using the same tools that they will use in their careers later on, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Report: MOOCs Deserve a Break

A report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends massive open online education (MOOCs) should be given a break from the federal government and the accreditors. The PCAST report suggests the bar for course accreditation has been set too high and could discourage innovation.

“The Federal Government (and in particular, the U.S. Department of Education) should continue to encourage regional accrediting bodies to be flexible in recognizing that many standards normally required for an accredited degree should be modified in the online arena,” wrote the authors of the report. “If the bar for accreditation is set too high, the infant industry developing MOOC and related technology platforms may struggle to realize its full potential.”

The report also recommends the government should let market forces decide how online education should move forward. PCAST suggested that grant programs should be created to encourage research on MOOCs and online education, with that information available to all through a national exchange.

“It would also be premature to impose standards and regulations that might impair the power of competitive market forces to motivate innovation,” the report stated. “The Federal Government can best encourage innovation in this critical sector by letting the market work.”

Needless to say, accreditors were less-than-thrilled with the idea that they may be biased against anything except traditional classroom instruction.

“There seems to be some worry about MOOCs, but I have not heard of a single MOOC that has suffered at the hands of accreditation,” said Sylvia Manning, president of the higher learning commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, in an article for Inside Higher Education. “Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that ‘innovative’ and ‘good’ are not necessarily synonyms, and innovation cannot serve as a cloak of immunity to criticism” Accreditors must reserve the right to call out poor quality whether it be innovative of stodgy.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Some Trends on Fire in '14, Others Sputter

T.H.E. Journal tapped five experts in instructional technology for their predictions, guesses, expectations, and wild conjectures on the status of 10 trending topics affecting all levels of education in the coming year.

According to this panel, topics that are likely to heat up in the next 12 months—or remain hot if already in the red zone—include the bring-your-own-device scenario, using social media as a tool for teaching and learning, and deploying iPads and other tablets in education. Also, the temperature is rising on learning analytics, as schools come under greater pressure to prove student success.

Topics deemed lukewarm (although possibly still hot for some) include game-based learning, digital badges, learning management systems, and, maybe surprisingly, open educational resources (OER). The panel thinks OER will cool off for higher education as more people realize how much time and cost go into finding and prepping materials for students. Learning management systems are too widespread to be hot anymore. Games and digital badges, panelists agree, are good ideas but difficult for schools to implement and integrate appropriately.

Two once-hot topics are losing steam. Desktop computers are being overtaken by mobile devices in the classroom. E-portfolios (online repositories providing a record of what individual students mastered and produced) were popular for a time until schools began to encounter technical hurdles in hosting them. Some schools are also inconsistent in how information and materials are preserved in students’ e-portfolios.

Do you agree with the panel’s assessment of these topics? Are there any other educational topics that may turn red-hot in 2014?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bigger is Better, Say Mobile Shoppers

Given the choice, many people would rather view a full-sized e-commerce site on their smartphone or tablet than a mobile-optimized version scaled to the smaller screen.

Bill Siwicki, a managing editor at Internet Retailer, comments that he discovered this bit of counterintuitive intelligence by chance. He was browsing an e-commerce site on his phone when a pop-up offered to switch to the mobile site. His response: “Of course I want your mobile commerce web site on my iPhone. I don’t want to have to pinch and zoom and swipe like mad to try to make sense of the huge desktop site on my small smartphone screen. Are you crazy?”

That’s not the response most users give, however. Siwicki found that a new study conducted last October by Retail Systems Research shows more than half of consumers bypass mobile e-commerce sites to view the full site on their mobile device. The study didn’t specifically ask consumers why they do this, but an analyst with the research company told Siwicki that it’s probably because too many mobile sites have been overly simplified, leaving out too many features and content that visitors want to access.

Another reason may be that some consumers are more familiar with the full site and know just where to go with minimal zooming and swiping on a mobile device.

Either way, it indicates that many online retailers “who believe they have great mobile sites actually have more work to do to make shopping mobile-optimized sites on smartphones more appealing,” Siwicki writes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Campus Bookstore Is Where It's At

In this TV news report, the Fox Business channel takes a look at how textbook rentals are ramping up in campus bookstores, the latest move by stores to help bring down the cost of course materials for students. The report features an interview with Alan Martin, CEO of CampusBookRentals, one of several companies that provide rental stock and technical support to college stores.

Martin explains why his company chose to work through campus stores rather than go direct to students. The bookstore, he says, sits at the “epicenter” of campus life and “holds the competency to serve students better than anyone else.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Report Compares Online and On-Campus Data

In the ongoing debate over whether online-only courses are just as good as on-campus ones, a new report shows that in-person campus courses still have the edge.

The report, compiled by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Cooperative for Educational Technologies (known as WCET), surveyed college institutions providing solely online programs as well as institutions offering a mix of online and on-campus courses.

According to Campus Technology, WCET’s report touts the finding that the online schools’ courses boasted an 89% completion rate, not bad when compared to the 94% rate for face-to-face classes. But then WCET immediately backed away from that statistic, noting just four of 10 online-only schools provided data—presumably the others had less impressive completion stats—and the rate might not represent a true average.

It’s easy to understand how busy adults might be more apt to drop an online course than one where they’ve already put in a live appearance, especially if they’re not motivated to take the course to earn a specific degree, to meet an employer’s requirement, or to keep parents off their back for not having a job.

Other results from the WCET survey, however, reveal a gap in student support services between online and on-campus programs, which might make some difference in whether students persist to completion. For example, only 59% of responding schools make tutoring available for online students. Just 30% furnish 24-hour technical support for online students, even though they’re more likely to be studying at odd hours.

Some schools don’t provide any help for disabled students taking online courses and a few institutions have no library resources available to online students.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Printed Books Not Dead Yet

E-books have gotten plenty of press over the last few years, but new research doesn’t back up the headlines. A study on IT strategies by Ricoh Americas Corp. and the University of Colorado found that 70% of consumers felt it was unlikely they would give up their printed books by 2016 and 60% of downloaded e-books are never read.

The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers reported that the top three reasons people chose printed books were the lack of eyestrain when reading paper, the look and feel of paper, and the ability to add the title to a library or bookshelf. It also reaffirmed other studies that have shown college students prefer printed textbooks.

“To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the reports of the printed book’s death are greatly exaggerated,” said George Promis, vice president of continuous forms of production solutions and technology alliances at Ricoh. “Print is alive, well, and sought after in today’s book market.”

The research also found that publishers produced more than 10% of all printed book pages in the United States since 2012 on production inkjet systems, allowing them to test titles before ordering larger runs. In addition, offering e-titles isn’t a guarantee of more income or cost savings because even the largest publishers reported revenues of no more than 20%-30% from e-book sales.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Coursera Launches Mobile App

Coursera, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider, introduced an iPhone app that will bring its free courses to mobile iOS 7 devices. The app puts Coursera ahead of its competition in the effort to reach students on their smartphones or those in emerging nations, according to a report in VentureBeat.

The app provides all the features of the Coursera website. Students can use their iPhone or iPad to browse and enroll in courses, watch video lectures, or take quizzes over cellular connections or by downloading them to the device from the app.

The app is free in Apple App Store, but the device must run iOS 7.0 or later and students have to sign up for a Coursera account to access the material.

“The app doesn’t differ all that much from the web experiences that you may be used to,” noted tech writer Christina Farr. “However, much of the content is still under development, which is frustrating. Many of the courses are listed on the app as ‘coming soon.’”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cellphone Usage Linked to Lower Grades

The old adage that statistics can prove almost anything appears to be true when it comes to college students and mobile devices. While a Wakefield Research project last summer found that students would be more likely to study if content could be accessed from their smartphone, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that 90% of the students in his study were distracted by their device, using it in class for something other than schoolwork.

Now, medical researchers at Kent State University, Kent, OH, have linked cellphone usage to lower grades and diminished levels of happiness. The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, surveyed more than 500 students, comparing how much time they spent on their phones to their cumulative grade-point averages.

The analysis found that the more students used their cellphones, the lower their GPA and the higher their anxiety. The researchers added that they could not show for certain that cellphone usage led to poorer grades and higher stress, but that it was worth noting because college students are also the most likely to adopt the technology.

“While it is plausible that spending a lot of time calling and texting affects academic performance, it could equally be argued that these results suggest students who are more anxious, perform less well in class, and are more unhappy are more likely to use cellphones,” wrote Catherine Paddock, for Medical News Today.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wearable Tech, Tablets Trending

It’s that time of year when Top 10 lists flourish. Juniper Research just released its top tech trends for 2014, predicting we’ll see more wearable tech on the streets and more tablet computers in the classroom.

Devices such as Google Glass and smartwatches from Samsung and Pebble have already established a foothold for wearable tech, but since there appear to be many more devices on the horizon, Juniper is predicting (No. 3 on its list) that 2014 will be a “watershed year” for the devices. The use of mobile fitness gadgets will grow (No. 5), which should also help to drive the wearable-tech trend.

Tablets have already found their way into education, but that trend is only going to get bigger as the devices become more affordable, according to Juniper (No. 4). 3-D printing will also become even bigger in 2014 (No. 10) as more tech companies begin to manufacture the devices.

“Most of Juniper’s predictions make a lot of sense and you can see the budding trends right now,” said John Koetsier, technology writer for Venture Beat.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Phablets Look Like the Next Big Thing

Manufacturers will ship more than 220 million tablet computers by the end of 2013, up 53% over 2012 figures. The research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts that trend will slow over the next four years as more people start buying phablets.

A phablet is a mobile device with a screen larger than most smartphones, but not as large as the average tablet computer. Phablets normally have a screen that’s between 5 in. and 7 in., such as the Samsung Galaxy Note, an Android smartphone with a 5.7-in. screen.

IDC based its prediction on the fact that there’s not enough difference between a 6-in. smartphone screen and a 7-in. tablet to convince consumers to pay more for the tablet, according to a report in Information Week.

“In some markets, consumers are already making the choice to buy a large smartphone rather than buying a small tablet, and as a result, we’ve lowered our long-term forecast,” said Tom Mainelli, research director, tablets, at IDC. “Meanwhile, in mature markets like the U.S., where tablets have been shipping in large volumes since 2010 and are already well established, we’re less concerned about big phones cannibalizing shipments and more worried about market saturation.”

As it stands, Android and iOS will continue to be the top tablet operating systems for years to come, but IDC predicts both will lose ground over the next four years. The IDC forecast calls for the market share for the Android system from Google to dip from nearly 61% in 2013 to 59% in 2017, while Apple iOS will slip from 35% to around 30%.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Are Smart Tattoos Next for Wearable Tech?

It seems like there’s something new every day on the wearable tech front. Smartwatches and Google Glass has given way to news about smarty rings and lingeriewhich is supposed to help women curb bad eating habits.

The latest is a patent for a smart tattoo from Google.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Flipped Classrooms Help Raise Test Scores

Flipped classrooms, where students view video lectures online at home and use class time to discuss the content with the instructor, are growing in popularity on college campuses. New research indicates that the model is much more than a passing educational fad.

The study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill reported that students performed 5% better on a final exam than their peers who didn’t learn in a flipped-classroom setting. The three-year study surveyed more than 300 students taking a pharmacy course taught by Russell Mumper, who helped write the report published in the journal Academic Medicine.

It took Mumper 60 hours to record 25 videos using lecture-capture technology from Echo360. The effort allowed him to spend the majority of classroom time discussing the material and dispensing career advice.

“When we asked students before the course, 75% said they preferred a traditional method,” Mumper eCampus News. “At the end of the course, 86% said they now preferred the flipped format. We flipped their preference.”

Nine out of 10 students in the survey said their learning was enhanced and 93% said their understanding of key concepts improved. In addition, nearly all respondents reported the model helped them develop skills that would be used in their careers.

“The main event in education is still, and will continue to be, in the classroom,” said Fred Singer, CEO of Echo360. “With the flipped model, we’re seeing excitement return to the classroom as students and their teachers are both engaging in more active learning that demands everyone’s full-time attention.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Students Help Create Online Study Guides

At exam time, students often pool their notes and study together. Now, an online study platform offers a way to collect such information and turn it into an online study guide.

StudyBlue already creates items such as electronic flashcards and practice quizzes for students. The content for the new study guides comes directly from students. It’s then uploaded and accessed through the StudyBlue platform.

The guides can be updated throughout the semester with students receiving notifications on their mobile devices when fresh content has been added. The guides also feature a pop-up window that lets students set their social media status to alert friends when they are busy studying.

The platform is available as a free Android or iOS app, but the study guides cost $5 each. StudyBlue founder Chris Klundt reports that the company is already creating 40,000 guides a day.

“With four million students and 175 million pieces of content, we were seeing a network effect happening,” Klundt told eCampus News. “Students input their classes into the system with their classmates, create this content, and we can put it all together in a study guide, ordering it by quality and popularity.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Academic Libraries Seek LMS Integration

Campus libraries are still popular places where students can go to study and work on papers while mixing in a little socializing. One thing most of those students won’t do during a trip to the library is open a library book. They’ll do that later—online.

As Campus Technology notes, academic libraries are experiencing a shift in how they provide materials to students for research and course readings. More students (and also faculty) are accessing the library’s collection through e-reserves.

Students may not be all that crazy about studying from a digital textbook, but they do find it much more convenient to go online from the comfort of their own laptops to tap into the library’s materials to gather information for a project or to read something their professor has placed on reserve for the class. For research, in particular, print books are too cumbersome.

From the perspective of librarians, though, there is one major hurdle: learning management systems. Far from being dismayed at the move from print to digital usage, campus libraries are eager to accommodate students online. They’d like to be able to integrate their e-reserves with the school’s LMS to create a one-stop-shopping location, so to speak, for student reading materials. At the very least, libraries want their catalog to be incorporated in the LMS search function to show students and faculty what’s available through the library.

However, library systems and learning management systems are not always fully compatible. Some schools required extensive customization to get both systems to work together, while others created an LMS from scratch in order to build in access to the library. Still others opted to develop library guides that could be placed within the LMS.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Students Turn to Smartphones to Study

A new survey of 500 students by McGraw-Hill found that nearly 40% used their smartphones to study, while just 22% turned to their tablet or computer. The results were similar to a Wakefield Research report from last summer that showed 53% of respondents would be more likely to complete a reading assignment if it were available on a mobile device and 83% used a mobile device for last-minute studying.

“Studying effectively—and with the right type of technology—is one of the best ways to ensure that students succeed in class,” said Brian Kibby, president of McGraw-Hill Education, in a report by eCampus News. “But focus is the key.”

It can also be a problem since there are just as many studies that show smartphones are a distraction, and that students know it. Nearly half of the students in the McGraw-Hill research admitted using their phones to text friends while studying. A similar number admitted to switching between schoolwork and nonstudy activities while on their tablet or laptop.

At the same time, nearly 70% of the students reported that the tools available through their mobile devices can save them up to five hours each week when studying.

Friday, December 6, 2013

App Lets Students Study Offline

Plans to assemble a mobile app with offline study capabilities hit a snag over the summer when three universities pulled out of the partnership that would have created the courses necessary for the mobile app program. That work is now back on track and the educational technology firm 2U will soon make the app available to the 10,000 students already using the service.

The app provides students with an “offline mode” that allows them to watch videos and lectures and complete online reading assignments while disconnected from the Internet.

“We have a student taking courses on an oil rig 150 miles from the closest coast,” James Keinigberg, chief technology officer for 2U, told eCampus News. “There are students who need to fit in coursework while commuting underground in New York City. There are students in all sorts of remote locations or situations where they can’t be online and they would like to take some of this content on the go.”

The app also allows students to interact with the content offline. That interaction automatically syncs with the app’s platform when it is reconnected to the Internet.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bill to Expand Use of Open Textbooks

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced legislation that would create a grant program for colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open-access  textbooks. The Affordable College Textbook Act would give the public the right to access, customize, and distribute the online content in an effort to curb the rising costs of supplies and course materials.

Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) have introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

If passed, the law would establish a grant program to support efforts to create and expand the use of open-access textbooks with priority placed on those pilots that achieve the highest savings. It would also guarantee that open educational material would be easily accessible and require institutions to report on the effectiveness of any funded program.

“Simply put, this is about making college more accessible and more affordable for students who are eager to earn their college degree,” Hinojosa wrote in a guest column for a South Texas newspaper.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

But Will Wearable Tech Sell?

Wearable technology appears to be the next wave of innovation. There are frequent announcements on the latest smartwatch, while some reports suggest tech-savvy Millennials are lining up to give Google Glass a try.

Now, a study has found that all that excitement may not translate into sales.

The study from the cloud-services company Citrix reported 60% of 1,000 adults polled felt wearable tech would continue to grow as a trend, but 61% had no intention of actually buying a device. In addition, 73% of the group that would consider a wearable tech purchase said they wanted a device that would blend in with their clothing.

The survey also found that, if given a choice, millennials would like to suit up in the full-body armor worn by Tony Stark in Iron Man, while their parents would pick up a Starfleet wrist communicator used by Capt. James Kirk in Star Trek.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Degree Programs Are Going Mobile

Using a mobile device to earn a college degree may sound a bit farfetched, yet a quarter of the 4,000 students in the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering will complete work on their degrees online.

The USC program allows students to stream live lectures and join live class discussions via chat or phone, according to a report in eCampus News.

This move to mobile follows a survey last summer that found 53% of students were more likely to complete required assigned reading on time if it was available digitally or could be read on a mobile device. The Wakefield Research study also revealed that 83% of the responding students used a mobile device to cram for an exam, a jump of 10% over the number of students who admitted last-minute mobile studying in 2012.

“The results of this survey underscore just how much students have embraced mobile devices and digital course materials to enhance their productivity, efficiency, and performance, all of which impact students’ educational success and financial prospects in this highly competitive, globally connected world,” said CourseSmart CEO Sean Devine when the Wakefield results were announced.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Young Adults Not So Web-Wary

Here is more evidence that young adults have difficulty distinguishing between valid web sites and bogus ones: A survey commissioned by the citizens watchdog group Digital Citizens Alliance showed that 18- to 24-year-olds are much more likely to get stiffed when buying merchandise online, usually because they’re less able to spot a shady web seller.

The survey was conducted Nov. 14 by Zogby Analytics and specifically asked respondents about online shopping for gifts. The results, though, showed that a whopping 35% of the youngest adult group had not received at least one online gift order (compared to just 18% for all age groups). Of those, almost 60% also didn’t get a refund for the no-show order.

Why young adults are more apt to be victimized becomes clearer when you look at their shopping habits. More than 80% of all shoppers make sure they’re ordering from secure web sites, but only 60% of young adults bother to do so. More young adults are drawn to shop at sites offering super-cheap prices—which too often are sites run by scammers. While older shoppers balk at great deals that seem too good to be true or when the seller is unknown, younger adults haven’t yet developed that sort of radar.

This survey correlates to other studies on how college students conduct online research for schoolwork and papers. Students, especially those in their first year, are less able to discern whether online information sources are knowledgeable and trustworthy.

Younger adults may spend a lot of time online, both studying and shopping, but they apparently need instruction in separating the bad sites from the good.