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

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Students Wanted Apple Gifts for Christmas

Most college students wanted cash or clothing for Christmas, but electronics were not far behind. Chegg, the online textbook rental company, polled more than 800 college students in the middle of December and found that 52% were asking for electronics, including 67% of the male respondents.

Apple topped the list of desired gadgets in most categories. More than half (51%) of the students said they wanted a new iPhone and nearly 40% wanted a Mac laptop. Beats, which was recently acquired by Apple, was the headphone of choice for 46% of the students.

Girls were more enamored with Apple than male respondents. Nearly 60% said they wanted to find an iPhone under the tree and 55% wanted Beats headphones compared to 44% of the males who wanted an iPhone and 33% for Beats. Nearly 30% of all respondents listed a Samsung smartphone and 30% of the male students preferred Bose headphones.

When it comes to tablet computers, 47% of the female students and 41% of the male wanted an iPad while Microsoft products came in second (22% of the females and 24% of the males).

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Teens Drift from Facebook to Other Sites

Is Facebook still cool with teenagers? The answer is yes and no.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, a new report by Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. shows that 88% of 13- to 17-year-olds who are on social media have Facebook accounts. That’s a pretty healthy percentage.

However, the percentage was 94% in 2013 and 95% in 2012, indicating more teens in middle and high school are moving away from Facebook—partly out of concern for security reason, the Magid report said. If the slide continues, it’s unclear what impact that might have on Facebook.

The teens aren’t really flocking to any one social media platform in lieu of Facebook, though. Of course, Instagram (owned by Facebook) remains hugely popular and Snapchat’s on the rise, too. Twitter, which most teens ignored a few years ago, is now catching on a little with this age group; almost half now tweet.

Interest in Pinterest is growing rapidly, especially among teen girls. The Magid report noted teens indicated they felt safer using Pinterest than Facebook. “Pinterest also ranked higher in ‘fun,’ with 40% saying so compared with 18% for Facebook,” Bloomberg Businessweek said.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Study Finds Texting Helps Students Succeed

Researchers at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX, found that text messages can help student learning. The study focused on communication formats used by students as a way to get them to learn outside the classroom setting, according to a report in eClassroom News.

“A text from a friend saying ‘LOL’ isn’t on the same level as an email from a professor trying to impart some knowledge necessary for the future,” said Scott Hamm, director of online education at Hardin-Simmons. “It doesn’t matter how important the email is, they won’t pay as much attention to it as a text message.”

Initially, the researchers used texting to assign classwork and to engage with students in real time. Now, they use it to give quizzes, while students complete assignments and have questions answered by the instructor.

“It’s really a personal connection where if I need to get a hold of such-and-such student, this is how I can do it,” said Chuck Ruot, professor of fitness and sports sciences. “It sounds weird, but it builds a rapport with the students.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy holidays

From all of NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as our staff in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and healthy holiday season.  

There will be no post on The CITE on Dec. 26, but will resume on Dec. 29.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Get Ready for More Wearables

Wearable technology has not been a huge hit with consumers, but that may be about to change. The tide could turn when the Apple Watch hits the market, with Forrester Research predicting there will be 10 million users when the device is finally available, according to a report in InformationWeek.

The Forrester survey of 4,500 online adults from the Unites States showed interest in wrist-based wearables increased from 28% in 2013 to 42% in 2014. While not a guaranteed success, Apple has the high-end customer base to make it work.

Smartwatches were rated higher in the survey than all other wearable devices, but wearables in clothing ranked second to wrist-based devices and 19% of the respondents said they were interested in gadgets embedded in clothing.

Ralph Lauren already put built-in sensors in its Polo Tech shirts that tracked the heart rate and movement of the ball boys at the U.S. Open tennis tournament last summer. Tech enthusiasts were also buying smart shoes and jackets that provide walking directions for the user in 2014. The trend will speed up in 2015 with monitors for pets, inside the bedroom, and even a pill-shaped camera that will show a person’s gastrointestinal tract.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

One-Size-Fits-All Email Gets Overlooked

Many higher education institutions still use campus email to communicate important information to students or promote upcoming events. All too often, students simply ignore those messages.

One reason may be that many people manage email through their phone and they simply don’t bother with messages that are too hard to read on the small screen, according to a report in Mobile Commerce Daily. The report said a survey by The Relevancy Group determined that 73% of consumers access email via mobile phone, with 31% employing the phone as their main means of checking email. The percentage goes even higher with younger consumers.

The problem doesn’t lie with short, text-only messages. The culprits are lengthy messages and especially email with graphics that aren’t formatted in a responsive design, which would serve up a readable version based on the user’s device. So recipients tend to just hit delete.

“Thirty-two percent of respondents complained that messaging for mobile was too small to read and interact with, so utilizing device-specific tecniques such as responsive design and device detection should be at the forefront of how marketers approach mobile email,” said Justin Foster, co-founder and vice president of market development at LiveClicker, sponsor of the survey.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Online Tech to Jolt Higher Ed in 2015

Virtual reality, holograms, and online learning are the three emerging technologies that may shake up higher education the most in 2015, according to the Education Dive blog.

Online learning might seem like an odd choice for this short list—after all, isn’t online learning “old” technology by now? Not in the view of writer Roger Riddell, who sees the current online academic offerings as just a start.

Riddell points to signs that postsecondary education is developing online platforms in order to be able to provide instruction more targeted to specific work skills and in shorter time frames. “It’s only a matter of time before students have the ability to learn anything they desire from anyone at any institution,” he said.

Holograms are among the tech tools that will enhance online learning, by projecting class lectures, demonstrations, performances, and even re-creations of historic events to remote locations such as students’ homes.

Virtual reality is another tool supporting online education. Already popular with students interested in gaming, virtual reality is being adapted for class instruction. Students already use it to practice dissections in medical biology classes, for instance. However, a number of colleges and universities are exploring virtual reality for recruitment purposes, to immerse prospective students in a tour of the campus without actually having to visit.

Friday, December 19, 2014

P-Commerce Lets Local Stores Back in Game

Smartphones may prove to be an Achilles’ heel for Amazon, in the view of a columnist for The New York Times. At the same time, smartphones might be a lifeline for local retailers, including those on or near college campuses.

“Like many of the local and big-box retailers it has displaced over the last decade and a half, Amazon could itself become increasingly vulnerable to the threat of technological upheaval,” wrote Farhad Manjoo.

The “upheaval” is the rapidly rising trend of shopping by phone. Obviously, consumers have been able to shop online from their computers for a couple decades now, but the ubiquity of smartphones means a lot of people have fast, private access to e-commerce all the time, no matter where they are.

The thing is, Manjoo noted, all those phone shoppers aren’t necessarily going to Amazon. Physical retail chains, as well as local mom-and-pop stores, have ramped up their website features, added more merchandise, and trimmed their prices.

They’ve also plugged into ordering and courier services such as Postmates and Instacart. Consumers can just as easily browse and purchase from local merchants, often with same-day delivery or pickup, as they can with Amazon.

“None of these technologies pose an existential threat to Amazon, but by giving physical stores some of the conveniences that Amazon has long had, they may limit its potential reach,” Manjoo said.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tech Tools Pull Students into Learning

Newer technologies that can be adapted for educational purposes will enable higher education institutions to engage students more deeply in 2015 and help them get more out of their studies, in the view of Kyle Bowen, director of education technology services for Penn State University.

In an interview with Campus Technology, Bowen pointed to video production and networked 3-D printing as examples of the type of technologies schools should be exploring. “Some of the newer technologies, or even technologies that have been around for a while, are beginning to mainstream in ways that are helping us extend learning beyond the class,” he said. “We are starting to see a generation of tools, practices, and spaces to support this, and that’s where our opportunity is.”

Bowen said Penn State set up a One Button Studio, a self-service video production space where students can record anything they want onto a mobile drive—such as presentations, performances, creative film projects, or demonstrations—without worrying about technical aspects. Penn’s networked series of 3-D printers enables students to create and print projects much faster.

Among the advantages of using these technologies for academic work is that they allow faculty “to reclaim time in their classes—time they can recover from less efficient practices and reallocate it to teaching,” Bowen said.

Looking ahead to the new year, Bowen anticipated a rise in the use of digital badges and portfolios to recognize mastery of academic content. That will coincide with institutions offering shorter, more condensed courses, a trend that’s likely to affect course materials as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Faculty Need Incentives for Technology

You might wonder why higher education institutions don’t integrate new media and interactive technologies into instruction more extensively. It turns out, according to a new report by not-for-profit consultant Ithaka S+R, that college professors are like the rest of us: They’re busy with ongoing responsibilities (like teaching, research, and working on publications) and don’t have time to mess around with new tech without a darn good reason.

The report, Technology-Enhanced Education at Public Flagship Universities: Opportunities and Challenges, is based on interviews with 214 administrators and department chairs at 10 of the 17 large schools in the Public Flagships Network consortium.

“In an environment featuring more technology-enhanced education, faculty members are constantly trying to balance their responsibilities to undergraduate teaching with requirements from their institutions that they remain active in research,” said the report. “Time is the greatest barrier preventing faculty from experimenting more with technological enhancements to their teaching.”

However, the report also noted, dangling a carrot can work wonders in encouraging faculty to use technology tools in their instruction. For instance, at campuses where academic departments receive at least a portion of fees for online courses, instructors put more time and effort into developing such courses.

The report recommended that institutions “more clearly communicate to students and faculty the value of technology-enhanced education” and provide more tangible incentives to faculty to explore technology for classroom teaching. That includes collaborating with colleagues on their own campus as well as at other schools—something that faculty are typically reluctant to do, the report said.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Integrating Smartphones into the Classroom

Smartphones can be valuable tools in the classroom, if teachers find the right way to use them. Unfortunately, the devices can’t be controlled the way textbook content can be.

Solutions range from the total bans on cellphones in the classroom to allowing students to use their smartphones as they please. Some instructors use social media to engage their students, but blogger Dexter McMillan suggests the technology has turned teachers into advertisers competing for consumers’ attention.

“Teachers are selling a product, knowledge, to their students—much of which has no interest or practical use to the majority of students,” he wrote. “Teachers are advertisers selling the most undesirable product on Earth: History. Math. Grammar.”

Teachers used to be able to stand in front of a class and lecture, but technology has created a more collaborative style of instruction that isn’t solely measured by grades. McMillan wrote that teachers need to reclaim that content control with more and better tools.

“Without control of these devices, technology will not be able to move the classroom experience forward in a significant or profound way,” he said. “Grumpy cat, sports highlights, and pictures from the party on the weekend will continue to dominate classroom attention.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Study Looks at MOOC Completion Rates

There’s been no shortage of reports on low completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs), but maybe the critics are looking at it the wrong way. Harvard researcher Justin Reich thinks so and conducted a study to understand why people take MOOCs in the first place.

Nearly 80,000 people taking one of nine MOOCs offered by Harvard responded to Reich’s survey about their goals. He sorted the respondents into categories—completers, auditors, browsers, and unsure—and found that 19.5% of the respondents who intended to complete the course did finish. Just 5.4% of the respondents who never intended to complete the MOOC in the first place actually made it to the end.

The study wasn’t conducted to convince the critics, but to find distinctions among people who take MOOCs.

“If researchers can discern how many students leave MOOCs because of life’s other commitments, it might help estimate a reasonable ceiling on retention rates in voluntary, free, and open online courses,” Reich wrote. “Further, uncovering how many students leave because they are dissatisfied with a course might better estimate the MOOC attrition levels that course developers could realistically address through better instructional design.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

List Ranks Affordable Online Degrees

It’s the end of the year and time for Top 10 lists. This one, from College Choice, ranks the most affordable online colleges for a bachelor’s degree.

Brigham Young University-Idaho, Rexburg, tops the list, which is based on the total cost to earn the online degree. The cost of tuition at BYU-Idaho is $125 for each credit earned, with Fort Hays State University, Hays, KS, second at $186.50 per tuition credit.

The schools were ranked by tuition per credit for the typical 120-credit requirement at most institutions. Information was gathered from school websites and other publicly available sources. The ranking also includes fees that were readily available on the websites.

“When considering where one can obtain an online bachelor’s degree that will work within a budget, this list will provide a definitive guide to figuring total costs,” Katie Amondson, editor of the ranking, told eCampus News.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No-Pay Way to an MBA

A master’s of business administration (MBA) can cost nearly $170,000 from a prestigious institution, such as the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Philadelphia schoolteacher has created a way around that.

No Pay MBA is a blog and website where users can find a collection of massive open online courses (MOOCs) focused on an MBA-track of study organized into three semesters. The courses are taught by some of the top business professors from around the world and are offered by the online-learning platforms edX, Coursera, Open2Study, and Udacity.

While the courses are free, there’s also no degree at the end of the road. Several of the MOOC platforms do offer certificates of completion for a small fee.

“There is a great potential for someone to create an alternative, especially for that segment of the market which is already working and doesn’t want to spend what business school costs, and doesn’t necessarily need the launchpad that business schools offer because they’re already midstream in their careers,” said Laurie Pickard, who created the website while working as a development and entrepreneurship specialist for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Rwanda. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Free 3-D Printing Curriculum Available

A U.S. manufacturer of 3-D printers has created a customizable 3-D printing curriculum for instructors teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. The 14-week course provides educators with supporting presentations, 3-D models, and grading tools that can be continuously refreshed.

Best of all, the courses from Stratasys Ltd. are free.

Materials for the semester-long college course are downloadable and designed to help instructors prepare their students for careers using 3-D printing technology. The first course, Introduction to 3-D Printing: From Design to Fabrication, familiarizes students with the history of 3-D printing and its applications, while providing hands-on experience in design. Two more courses are planned, covering material memory, multimaterial use, and 3-D printing for robotics.

“The introductory materials on 3-D printing that Stratasys offers, from the slide presentations to the videos, were impressive,” Chee Feng Ping, a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnics in Singapore, said in a report in eCampus News. “The students enjoy the hands-on activities, especially the design process with 3-D printing.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CSUN E-Text Initiative Is Helping Students

California State University, Northridge, launched an e-text initiative last year, providing grants to faculty members to produce course materials for tablets and other mobile devices. Since its launch, 70 CSUN faculty members have provided content, as well as workshops and one-on-one support.

The content varies from textbooks (26%) to manuals (48%), companion pieces (22%), and supplemental reading (4%). Materials include interactive activities, images, and audio and video components.

The university estimates the project has saved students $50 per class since it was launched. CSUN statistics also showed that 14% of students will save more than $100 and 23% will save at least $50.

“The e-texts that professors are writing are an extension of what CSUN professors have always poured energy into,” said biology professor Paul Wilson in a report at AmericanTowns.com. “Twenty years ago, the books would have been photocopied. Now, they are released from the constraints of photocopying. They can be rich in multimedia and fun little activities.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Students Value Online Learning Experience

A majority (68%) of college students think online classes are important to their educational experience and that social media will eventually be required in all classes. They’ve also taken at least one online course, with 42% saying they got better grades in the online class compared to in-person courses.

The study, conducted annually by Wakefield Research for VitalSource Technologies, found that 45% of the students said they didn’t go more than 10 minutes without accessing some form of technology during the school day. However, students may be learning how to regulate their usage as the average time they said they could possibly go without digital interaction increased from 59 minutes in the 2013 study to 64 minutes this year.

Most students (62%) said they have used interactive textbooks and 44% use mobile learning. The report also found that 77% said a professor had used or asked them to use at least one social media site for a class.

“The findings validate students’ dependence on technology to increase their productivity and job prospects in this competitive, globally connected world, while also providing insights into market trends that will affect the next generation of educational technology,” Cindy Clarke, vice president of marketing for VitalSource, said in a report in eCampus News.

Friday, December 5, 2014

States Working on OER Collaborative

Education agencies from 11 states have joined forces to create the K-12 OER Collaborative, a repository of open educational resources. The group is seeking “full-course OER” for English and language arts for all grade levels and mathematics for grades K-11 from developers, which are due by Jan. 9, 2015.

Content is expected to include comprehensive instructional material, activities that allow teachers to differentiate instruction, and assessment capabilities, according to reports. It must align with the Common Core standards and be available for free under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0.

“This is a great project for at least two reasons,” said Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Washington. “First, it’s going to support local control by empowering districts to adapt the materials to their own community needs. Second, it’s a low-cost and high-quality way to help students meet our state’s learning standards.”

Representatives from Washington, Utah, and Idaho were on the first committee for the initiative. Education agencies from Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin are also involved with the project.

Applications for developers are available at http://goo.gl/forms/gohdUxE5Gw.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Slower Year for Tablet Sales

This year is proving to be rather flat for tablet computers. A new International Data Corp. (IDC) report predicts growth in shipments of new tablets will fall to 7% in 2014, compared to 52.5% growth just a year ago.

The report said worldwide tablet shipments for 2014 will be 235.7 million units, with Android devices accounting for 67.7% of the total. The iPad comes in at 27.5% and 4.6% of the shipments will be Windows tablets.

“In the early stages of the tablet market, device lifecycles were expected to resemble those of smartphones, with replacement occurring every two or three years,” said Ryan Rieth, program director of the mobile-device trackers at IDC. “What has played out instead is that many tablet owners are holding onto their devices for more than three years and, in some instances, more than four years.”

The pace at which consumers replace their tablets is just one part of the slowdown. The iPad, which has been the industry standard, has seen its sales slip 14% because of competition from dozens of inexpensive Android models. In addition, Apple has failed to make the kinds of upgrades to the device that get people back into a buying mode, according to a report from C/Net.

IDC also reported that PC shipments continue to fall, but at a far slower rate than expected. Total shipments in 2014 will likely be around 306 million units.

“In the best case for PCs, we’d see a significant wave of replacement as users who spent on phones and tablets in recent years decide they really need to update their PC,” said Loren Loverde, vice president of Worldwide PC Trackers. “As younger generations become more mobile and web-oriented, and emerging regions in particular prioritize converged devices (or economy in number of devices to purchase), the PC market will continue to face tough competition and be more focused on replacements, with limited potential for growth.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Study Questions Effectiveness of Digital Learning

Many view digital learning as a way to make it easier for students to be more successful while cutting the costs of education at every level.  A new study from the National Education Policy Center, a research institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder, suggested that might not be the case.

The report found that despite all the hype and money spent on digital learning, it rarely improves student outcomes and costs more when it does. By comparing online-only learning with blended-learning methods where students used digital materials to prepare for class, researchers discovered the online-only course had no extra impact on learning. The flipped classroom, did improve learning, but cost more than traditional methods.

“On the whole, it is very difficult to have faith in the path we’re going down,” Noel Enyedy, a researcher from UCLA who helped conduct the study, said in an NPR report.

As one might expect, not everyone agrees with the findings.

“We have the best chance that we’ve ever had to dramatically improve achievement rates for students,” Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart and author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World, told NPR. “That’s me looking through the front windshield. It’s entirely possible to look through the rear windshield as this group did and say, ‘That was dumb, and it didn’t work.’”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

OER Guidelines under Development

Lumen Learning, which works to expand adoption of open educational resources (OER), is trying to bring a little clarity to the OER conversation. The company is planning to publish a set of guidelines and best practices available for free under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 that is scheduled for release in 2015.

5R Open Course Design Framework will offer training and certification for educators and institutions in building effective OER content. The publication will apply the five R’s—the ability to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute educational content—to designing courses and will provide third-party review of OER courses and programs.

“For any innovation, establishing common practices for consistency and quality is an essential step on the path to achieving widespread adoption,” Cable Green, director of global learning at Creative Commons, said in a report for eCampus News.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Team Seeks Next-Generation Textbook

First came the print textbook. Then digital course materials arrived. What’s next?

An interdisciplinary team at Arizona State University hopes to figure that out, with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies program.

The team’s work is intended to lead to the development of the “postdigital textbook,” defined in an ASU press release as “a new type of educational technology that combines personalized learning with community-driven features that encourage collaboration and resource sharing, and emphasize learning as a social process.”

The first phase of the project will involve researching teaching and learning behaviors. Ultimately, working prototypes of postdigital textbooks will be tested in classrooms.

“This project is about determining how we need to design textbooks of the future so that they adjust to the strengths and limitations of individuals while also helping students build 21st-century skills like working collaboratively in groups and curating and presenting multimedia resources,” said team member Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor at ASU.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Take a Tour of Independent Bookstores

Photographer Bryan David Griffith sees more in bookstores than just a place to buy books. To Griffith, a bookstore is a place where people can get away from a hectic, bustling world.

That notion took Griffith on yearlong tour of independent bookstores around the country for a photo project he called The Last Bookstore, America’s Resurgent Independents. Griffith told the online magazine Slate he was drawn to the design of the stores when he compared them to big-box retail chains. He also took inspiration from photographs of storefronts in the 1930s.

“Bookstores are holdouts from an earlier era,” he said. “It’s not nostalgia necessarily, more of a study about the retail space and how it might be different 30 years from now.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy the day with family and friends!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tech Buyers Want Multichannel Options

Most college students love the latest electronic gadget and many will be in the market for something new this holiday season. A new report on retail technology trends found most buyers like shopping both online and in-store and aren’t that interested in wearable tech yet.

Purch, an online publishing company, surveyed more than 3,000 “tech enthusiasts” to track consumer-technology buying trends and identify top brands. It found that 74% of respondents planned to shop both online and in stores for their tech purchases, while just 4% said they would limit their shopping to traditional bricks-and-mortar locations.

Smartphones, laptops, and tablets were the top product categories. Half of the respondents said they would buy a Samsung product, followed by Asus (40%), Microsoft (38%), and Apple (28%). Fewer than 10% of the respondents said they would consider a smartwatch (9%) or fitness device (8%).

The report found that tech consumers relied on product reviews (86%) and articles by experts (74%) to help them make their buying decisions. Social media (18%) and advertising (12%) were at the bottom of the sources list.

“Consumers value a multichannel shopping environment and they look to product reviews and expert content to guide their purchase decisions,” said Purch CEO Greg Mason. “You can’t deny the authority and influences these resources have on technology enthusiasts in particular.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

E-Book Sales May Rule by 2018

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the multinational professional services network, predicted e-book sales will top both print-book and audiobook sales by 2018, according to a report in The New York Times. The projection is based on inroads PwC sees being made in the e-book market in the United States and Great Britain, which represent a quarter to a third of e-book sales.

The problem is PwC has made this prediction before. In fact, the company has made the same prediction for the last four years, according to Nate Hoffelder in his Digital Reader blog post.

According to Hoffelder, the size of the e-book market can’t be accurately measured, so there is no way to prove whether PwC is right or not.

“In any case, I am looking forward to making this post an annual tradition,” he wrote. “PwC will post their prediction, and I will point out that they missed in their previous predictions. We’ll all laugh, drink hot cider, and what fun we’ll have.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pros, Cons of Digital Textbooks

Digital course materials are finding their way into more classrooms, particularly at the middle- and high-school levels. Teachers and students of the Miami-Dade County school district, which ramped up its digital efforts this year, found the devices are great when they work.

Tablet computers give teachers the opportunity to be more creative with their lesson plans and let students work more efficiently, according to a report in the Miami Herald. At the same time, teachers aren’t always sure what students are doing online. Students also complain of poor Internet connections and say sometimes the digital textbooks just don’t work.

“It’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship,” said Nadia Zananiri, a teacher at Miami Beach High School.

Insufficient training with the devices is a big concern for teachers, but there are also a number of technological issues causing frustrations, such as students without the proper access codes, apps for online material that disappear, and not enough electrical outlets in the classrooms when students fail to recharge prior to class. Spotty Internet connection tops the list of complaints for both teachers and students.

The district offered 18 training sessions for teachers and is working to add more Wi-Fi capacity at its schools. It already manages 20,000 access points and 45 million sq. ft. of wireless coverage.

“It’s like anything else: There will be hiccups the first year, but eventually we’ll get it down,” said Daniel Francia, a teacher at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School. “I see the merits.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

Social Media Finds a Place in Higher Ed

While there’s not a lot of data about how social media impacts online education, it does appear professors are beginning to find uses for social media in the classroom. In fact, one survey showed that 41% of responding professors reported using social media in their teaching.

“We’ve had online learning for quite a long time—since the 1990s when it started to become popular—but the inclusion of social media is something that’s relatively new,” Michael Menchaca, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii, told U.S. News & World Report. “A lot of us are starting to use it more. I guess we’re still tinkering around and trying things.”

Among other uses, social media is seen as a way to communicate and share information with students. For instance, Menchaca requires his students to introduce themselves to the rest of the class with a 15-second Instagram video. He also uses Google Hangout for group meetings and Twitter for discussions.

On the other hand, instructors have discovered that there are so many social-media tools available that it can become difficult to manage them all. Because social media is open for anyone to see, there are also concerns that students could be discouraged from participating. Another worry is how faculty can be sure a student is actually the one posting an assignment.

“I think that as we all become more comfortable with using social media, it will generate more opportunities for students to network, communicate information with their professors and instructors, and eventually enrich and enhance the overall educational experience,” said Abbie Brown, a professor of instruction technology at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Google Offering Unlimited Cloud Space

Google is offering students using its Apps for Education unlimited space on an upgraded Google Drive. Previously, students could access 30 GB of space, but the unlimited offer will make it possible to store files as large as five terabytes, according to the company.

Along with the storage space, all files are encrypted for security. Students are also able to access the Google Apps Vault, an add-on tool that allows users to organize their files and assignments.

Google sees the service as a virtual locker for students. It also provides the company an opportunity to interact with users before they start looking for similar services they would be required to pay for after they graduate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cameras Used to Study Lecture Attendance

Harvard University raised a few eyebrows when reports surfaced about its use of secret cameras in select classrooms to study student attendance habits. Some questioned the ethics of the research, while others thought the results were rather predictable.

For instance, an average of 60% of students showed up for any of the 10 lecture courses that were filmed, but more showed up on Wednesdays than on Fridays. Lecture attendance also declined over the semester.

A course’s grading policy and students’ motivation for enrolling were the two factors most likely to get them to class. The three courses with the highest attendance had a grading policy that required students to be there and more than 50% of the students who enrolled in those three did so to fill a requirement.

The official reason for the study was to find out how engaged students were in classes using a lecture format, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Harvard was also trying to find new ways to make lectures more interactive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chegg Hosting Virtual Career Fairs

Online textbook-rental company Chegg launched its Career Service Center to give student users another way to locate a job. Now, it’s adding virtual career fairs to the mix.

The fairs let students and prospective employers meet online in real time on a monthly basis. United Healthcare has already participated in one of the first and Adobe is set to take part before the end of November, according to a report in eCampus News.

At the virtual career fair, students fill out profiles about themselves and the career they would like to find, while recruiters can specify the kind of employee for which they are searching. Students and recruiters then share information during an eight-minute online chat, with both asked to rate and review each other at the end of the session.

“There are two ways you can choose to follow up. Recruiters can say, ‘Yes, I’d love to follow up with this student,’ and they get a separate list of the students they liked, or they can choose to share their contact information with a student as soon as the session is over,” Carly Keller, marketing manager of career services at Chegg, told USA Today. “Then those students go into a regular phone or in-person interview after that. It’s in the hands of the recruiter.”

Chegg has to be pleased with the initial results. More than 1,500 students from across the nation signed up for a fair that focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) companies, including Adobe, Progressive, and AIG.

“There’s no way in which we would ever plan to charge a student to attend something like this,” Keller said. “The world of recruiting is that the talent teams and HR teams send money to reach out to candidates, and we are just trying to find more and more effective ways for students to have these opportunities with employers.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Coursera Working on Instructor Video Chats

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been pretty good at attracting crowds, but personal interaction with the instructor is difficult. Coursera is looking at providing one-on-one online discussions between student and instructor.

“Down the road, we’ll probably go to a premium layer that you could pay for that would give you live interaction with a professor by video or something like that—a seminar within a MOOC,” CEO Rick Levin told Wired.

Levin compared the idea to Google Hangout, a feature that allows videoconferencing from a computer or mobile device. Coursera is running more than 800 MOOCs, so the scale would be much larger. At the same time, it would be another way for the company to make money as students would be charged to participate in the online seminars.

“We think higher-touch interaction will appeal to some people,” Levin said. “It’s a way to get some money out of the lifelong-learner population, as opposed to the career-builder.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

UT Creates Mobile-First Competency Courses

The University of Texas System is taking competency-based education mobile. It is creating a new program to offer adaptive degrees and certificates aligned with industry standards and available through mobile technology developed by the UT System.

The educational pathway will be supported by a platform of technologies and services known as Total Educational Experience (TEx). The tools available in TEx can be adapted to a student’s preferences and adjusted to meet the student’s level of mastery.

“We made the decision to initially deliver TEx on mobile devices to ensure we meet students where they are, with the technology that they are used to,” said Marni Baker Stein, chief innovation officer for the Institute of Transformational Learning, which is developing the TEx program. “The experience will still be available on the web, but the mobile delivery will allow them to take their education with them wherever they go.”

The program will launch in fall 2015, offering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and medical science courses. It will be offered in online and hybrid formats available for students from high school through postgraduate levels.

TEx tools will also provide students customized advising and mentoring on career objectives. In addition, it will support teaching methods in the classroom.

“We are developing a new model of education that provides an alternative and potentially accelerated pathway to a UT-quality degree,” Baker Stein said. “Our degree and certificate programs are designed to build on critical skill sets so that students achieve enduring mastery that better prepares them for the workplace of the future.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Instant Log-in for Teachers, Students

The San Francisco-based educational technology startup Clever launched in 2012 with a tool that integrated new software with student information automatically. Last May, it added a new feature to the program, providing teachers and students with access to more than 100 software programs with a single username and password.

Now, Clever is partnering with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to allow teachers to use the single-sign-in technology to access thousands of free, teacher-generated course materials through the AFT’s free online Share My Lesson site.

AFT’s platform provides teachers with a place to find open educational resources to use for their lessons. On the other hand, students can use Clever’s single-sign-in function to access a variety of free online tools, such as a web-based graphing calculator, an online computer-programming course, and a program that teaches used to type faster.

“There’s all this really incredible content available online for free that schools would love to use if it were just easier,” Tyler Bosmey, founder and CEO of Clever, told Digital Education

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nonfiction E-Books Need a Lot of Work

Digital textbooks are way too cumbersome, complain college students, and a consulting firm specializing in the usability of digital media agrees.

Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher with the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), took a look at the electronic versions of various nonfiction books and discovered a lot of things that would drive students crazy. The books in question weren’t specifically written as class textbooks, but they’re the type of nonfiction titles often selected by professors for their courses.

“As any college student will certify, lugging around a backpack full of books is no fun,” Budiu wrote in NNG’s newsletter, Alertbox. “Digital books are light and convenient, yet they still leave much to be desired in terms of usability.”

In some cases, the problems were in the formatting of the e-book, while others stemmed from the e-reading app. Either way, Budiu found that some books offered no means for readers to turn back to previous pages, something students do all the time while studying print books.

Other annoying difficulties included annotations that displayed out of whack with the main content, tables that hadn’t been resized so they broke up across multiple pages, low-resolution illustrations, text that references another portion of the book but provides no direct link there, text that links to a full-size illustration yet the adjacent thumbnail illustration doesn’t, and photo captions that disappear when you zoom in on the image.

Budiu recommended nonfiction publishers pay more attention to navigation in e-books, support more in-text hyperlinking, and improve the quality and detail of illustrations.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Seeing Comic Books in a Different Light

A comic-book section is probably not high on the list of things for a campus bookstore to offer, but maybe it should be. Our brains process print and digital media differently, according to Tufts University professor Maryanne Wolf, and comics just might be a bridge between the multitasking brain used when viewing digital content and the “deep reading” brain used for printed material.

Comics, often presented like a collage, can provide a reading experience that is different from other forms, wrote Bill Kartalopoulos, editor of Best American Comics 2014, in a blog post for The Huntington Post.

After centuries of reading one way, it’s not always easy to process the way information is presented online. Constant linking to different websites is also disruptive when reading, but Kartalopoulos said comics are a form that melds linear typography with an Internet-like real-time grouping of different parts.

“Artful comics induce a kind of double vision in the reader. We fully experience the work by understanding the relationship between parts and the whole; between linear sequence and the simultaneous perception of related fragments,” Kartalopoulos said. “This is the medium-specific quality that make comics something more than simple storyboards, and this is the element of comics that brings us back to the Internet and our endangered ‘deep reading’ brains.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ga. Tech Online Program Works for AT&T

The Georgia Institute of Technology online master’s degree program in computer science, that is being offered online and for around $6,000, has been lauded by the media and politicians since it was launched in January. A $2 million donation from AT&T helped get the project off the ground, but many wondered what was in it for AT&T?

Part of the reasons is the great publicity the move has generated for the company. The $2 million is about the same amount the telecommunications giant would pay for a 30-second commercial run during the Super Bowl. AT&T also sees the financial commitment as an affordable training and recruiting tool.

The master’s degree program through Georgia Tech is not like the program Starbucks is offering its baristas through Arizona State University because AT&T staffers receive no discounts for taking the classes. That hasn’t proven to be an obstacle: 18% of the 1,268 students currently enrolled are AT&T employees.

“I can send employees that would never be able to go to a bricks-and-mortar university and be able to train [them] up on these advanced technical skills,” Scott Smith, senior vice president of human resources at AT&T, told Bloomberg Business. “This adds another talent pipeline to my staffing.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

Building a Better Dinosaur

The potential of 3-D printing is attracting a lot of attention in education circles. Campus stores are using it to drive traffic, universities are launching crowdsourcing campaigns to pull in funding, and students are learning everything from design to collaboration.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is using it to show students how to reconstruct a dinosaur.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

E-Reading Tracking Not as Invasive

After some slightly scary reports that Adobe was monitoring the reading habits of those using its e-reader application, it turns out the reality is not so Big Brother after all.

A TechWorld article reported the Electronic Frontier Foundation investigated Adobe’s actions and found the application only tracked e-book titles with digital rights management (DRM). Even then, Adobe only checked the first time the e-book was opened to make sure the copy was legitimate and not pirated. For books being used under a metered pricing model, Adobe was also measuring the length of time or number of pages consumed.

Readers of Fifty Shades of Grey can rest assured Adobe wasn’t looking to see how long they lingered over the juicy bits. In response to the reports, though, Adobe did make changes in how the application reported information, switching from easily hacked plain text to an encrypted file.

However, an app that follows e-reading patterns would actually yield a lot of useful data for publishers and would probably result in better books. For instance, publishers would be able to determine how many readers finished the book, where they tended to abandon it, whether they flipped back to previous pages, or if they seemed to skim through some parts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Prof Makes Web Distractions Part of Class

One big complaint about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) learning is the distraction the devices cause. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania is trying to find out just what is possible from that sort of distraction.

“Wasting Time on the Internet” is a creative writing seminar where students will be required to divide their classtime between the Internet and the classroom. Kenneth Goldsmith wants his students to be distracted in hopes they will be inspired to write something particularly creative by the end of the term.

“Creative writing and art is the place where you get to try out … things that might seem a little bit outrageous,” Goldsmith told The Washington Post. “Isn’t that what an undergraduate education is, really? It sounds like a perfect undergraduate class to me.”

Goldsmith admitted he isn’t sure what sorts of writing he will get from his students, but he does have some experience with unusual teaching methods. He has taught “Uncreative Writing” at Penn for years, a class in which students must plagiarize other works to complete assignments.

“Once you take away the forbidden fruit, then they shift their orientation and view it as a creative exercise,” Goldsmith said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Campus Libraries Aim to Cut Textbook Costs

University libraries are taking it upon themselves to help alleviate the cost of course materials for their students.

For example, the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries created a new program to loan textbooks for selected courses, focusing on large-enrollment classes with a high rate of student withdrawal or failure. Sixty titles (including standards such as Campbell Biology and Mankiw’s Principles of Macroeconomics) are available for two-hour checkouts, although students must remain within the library during the checkout period. They’re allowed to copy portions of the text, however.

This program might not seem all that innovative—a number of campus libraries across North America already loan out textbooks—but the UTA library system previously didn’t offer current textbooks at all. The libraries established the program to address the problem of students trying to make it through a difficult course without the textbook because they didn’t have money to buy or rent it.

“We are committed to helping students get the resources they need to succeed academically and textbook lending is one way we hope to accomplish that,” said Rebecca Bichel, dean of libraries.

The Universityof Massachusetts at Amherst Libraries recently launched the fourth round of its Open Education Initiative to provide cash incentives to faculty for the development of free or inexpensive alternatives to regular textbooks. The alternatives can include materials created by the instructor, library resources, or open-access resources available elsewhere.

The Open Education Initiative offers grants of $1,000 to faculty teaching a course of 200 or fewer students and $2,500 to faculty teaching a larger course. To date, 30 instructors from eight Umass schools and colleges have participated. The libraries claim to have saved students upward of $1 million on their textbooks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Faculty Still Not Sold on Digital

Two recent surveys of faculty members found that many instructors aren’t buying into online courses as an effective method of learning and aren’t really sure what open educational resources (OER) are.

The first report, Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, found that 52% of responding faculty members said online courses produce inferior results when compared to in-person courses. The survey of 2,799 faculty members and 288 academic technology administrators was conducted by Gallup in August and September.

Humanities instructors disapproved of online courses the most (54%), but 51% of social sciences teachers and 46% of engineering, biological, and physical sciences instructors agreed with them. In addition, just 18% of faculty who had taught an online course thought they outperformed in-person classes, while 71% said online courses provided lower-quality interaction with students.

“My general reaction is that the data show that the more exposure a faculty member has had to online or blended learning, the more positive their view,” Ronald Legon, executive director of the Quality Matters Program, told Inside Higher Education. “But clearly, not all faculty have seen the potential of online learning to match and even exceed the effectiveness of face-to-face learning because they have not had the opportunity to become familiar with best practices and research-driven course design and delivery.”

The second study, to find out if faculty are using OER, reported that nearly two-thirds said they were unaware of open educational resources, even though about half reported using them. More than 2,100 faculty members responded to the survey, conducted by Babson Survey Research Group.

“The answer appears to have two causes,” authors of the report wrote. “The [lack of] faculty understanding of the term of ‘open educational resources,’ and the fact that faculty often make resource choices without consideration to the licensing of that resource.”

The report noted that the most popular types of open content were images (89%) and videos (87%). Nearly 75% of respondents said the quality of OER materials was the same as or better than traditional resources. That quality was one of the most important considerations for faculty members who used OER, but 85% rated OER superior to traditional materials when it came to cost for students.

A major problem is the availability of OER. Faculty members cited lack of a comprehensive catalog as the largest barrier to using OER, followed by difficulty in finding the resources and concerns about licensing.

“While awareness of OER remains low among teaching faculty, it is not the critical barrier to wider adoption,” said Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “The time and effort required to find, evaluate, and adopt these materials is the critical factor for faculty.”