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, February 28, 2014

Comic Books Subject of New MOOC

Educators have turned television shows into massive open online courses (MOOCs), so it should come as no surprise that comic books would find their place in the MOOC world. In fact, a Ball State University instructor has already taught the MOOC Gender Through Comic Books, with another, Social Issues Through Comic Books, set to begin March 10 on the Canvas Network.

The new course will use comic books, lectures, and live interviews with academics and comic-book authors to cover topics such as addiction, immigration, privacy, and sex. Students will “learn about social issues and how they are presented in comic books and the impact that those books have had on the issues whether large or small scale,” according to the course description.

Christina Blanch uses comic books in MOOCs to show how teachers can incorporate them into their own classes. She started using comic books in courses she taught at Ball State and found they engaged all students.

“It got them actually reading the academic books because they wanted to do well on the assignment and understand it,” Blanch told Campus Technology. “It also created this kind of equality in the classroom, where everybody was reading the same thing and they started talking about it inside the class and outside the class and in other classes.”

Blanch had 7,200 students enrolled in her first MOOC, with nearly 3,000 responding to a postcourse survey. She used that survey to make changes for the second class, such as  scheduling the MOOC from March through August to allow students time to keep up, instead of the six-week timeline of the first course.

“Every week we had a new unit and they just didn’t have enough time,” she said. “A week just wasn’t enough for the amount of material because it’s not just reading one or two things; there are articles, quizzes, live interviews, discussions. There are a lot of components to it, so people got behind and felt like they couldn’t catch up.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

University of the People Earns Accreditation

In April, the first seven students will graduate from the University of the People. The nonprofit, tuition-free online institution, based in Pasadena, CA, recently reached an even bigger milestone by earning accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council.

The university, founded in 2009, has an enrollment of about 700 students from 140 counties. The staff consists primarily of volunteer instructors and class size is limited to 20-30 students. While there are no tuition fees to attend, students do pay a registration fee based on income and country of residence, and a $100 administration free for each exam taken.

Accreditation should help the school attract more students and donors. Donations provide funds for scholarships that help defray the cost of the examination fees.

“It’s thrilling to think that with this accreditation, more students, employers, and leaders will begin to recognize the worth of a University of the People degree,” John Sexton, president of New York University, told eCampus News.

On the heels of the University of the People announcement, Thomas Edison State College (TESC) said it would begin offering an open-course option that provides credits to students for passing a preapproved credit-by-exam program. The TESC option is free and designed to attract adult learners returning to school.

“This is an interesting option for adult learners who prefer to work independently, enjoy credit-by-exam programs, and are interested in prior learning assessment,” said Michael Williams, dean of the TESC school of business and management. “This model offers students a more flexible, efficient way to completing their associates’ degree that has the potential of saving time and tuition dollars.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Patent Issued for Library E-Book Sales

Libraries claim to be places where readers can discover authors and titles, even more so now that there are fewer traditional bookstores. However, unlike bookstores, libraries generally aren’t able to monetize a patron’s enthusiasm over a new find.

That might change. On Feb. 18, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent to Ronald Dicke and Gordon Freedman, both of Ottawa, ON, Canada, for a system to enable libraries to sell e-books to borrowers.

Here’s how it works: Once a borrower downloads an e-book to a reading device, the system tracks how much of the e-book the borrower actually accesses. When the lending period is almost up and the e-book is about to disappear from the device, the system determines whether the borrower finished the book. If not, the borrower receives an on-screen offer to buy the e-book on the spot and keep it permanently.

The assumption is that some borrowers may be willing to pay for the ability to complete the book at their own pace. The system also allows borrowers to purchase the e-book as a gift for another borrower, or even to donate another copy to the library (although at three to four times the retail price, since the library’s copy will be available for lending).

In effect, the system would permit readers to try before they buy, giving them a way to browse through an entire tome—not just a sample chapter or two—prior to purchasing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Students Report Shift to Digital

College instructors are moving away from print textbooks and using more digital course materials, according to students surveyed for the most recent Book Industry Study Group survey. The report, Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, also found that use of tablet computers is on the rise, but textbook rental numbers have dipped.

“Today’s students are becoming increasingly flexible about their course materials selections, and more open to new product innovations than ever before,” said Nadine Vassallo, project manager, research and information, for BISG.

The survey found 11% of responding students reported their classes required “no formal course materials” in October 2013, up from 4% just three years earlier. Students also said they preferred tablet versions of textbooks over PDFs or print textbooks.

At the same time, about 17% of students said they rented textbooks, down from 19% last spring. Three quarters of the students who did rent said they were either somewhat or very satisfied with the experience.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Degree Programs Offer at UF Online

The University of Florida has teamed with Pearson Education to offer an online undergraduate degree program for new and transfer students. Florida is hoping that UF Online will reach 24,000 students within 10 years.

The program started in January with degree programs in business administration, criminology and law, environmental management in agriculture and natural resources, health education and behavior, and sports management. Plans call for bachelors’ programs in biology and general psychology to be added in the fall.

The cost to students is estimated to be about $112 per credit hour, or about $10,800 less than students on campus pay.

Pearson will provide technology, recruitment marketing, enrollment management, and student support services, along with e-textbooks upon request from instructors. The goal is to offer the same academic quality and content that students get on campus, but with the flexibility to complete a degree program from anywhere. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Paying Tuition with Bitcoins

Bitcoin is a digital currency that uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money. Users earn bitcoins by processing transactions through specialized computer hardware or in exchange for products, services, or other currencies.

The University of Cumbria in Great Britain is planning to accept bitcoins as tuition payment for two degree programs by the end of the year, but not everyone is impressed.

“Target students probably don’t already have ready access to bitcoin and will have to buy it in order to pay their tuition fees, so the move is probably best seen as a publicity stunt than a real convenience,” Mark D. Ryan, professor of computer security at the University of Birmingham, wrote in a post on phys.org.

One bitcoin costs about $800 in a constantly changing market. Last year, Merrill Lynch and the Bank of America released a report that predicted bitcoins could account for 10% of online transactions, but that the unregulated nature of the currency made it a favorite for cybercriminals.

“The university is not taking any financial risk by accepting bitcoin,” Gordon Fletcher, senior lecturer in information systems at the University of Salford, told TechWeek Europe. “At a simple transactional level, the announcement is the equivalent of stating that students can choose to pay in U.S. or Zimbabwean dollars.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Making Faculty Cough Up Textbooks

When people get into a discussion on how to ensure college students can afford to buy textbooks, inevitably someone suggests that instructors could create the reading materials for their own courses—usually without asking whether instructors are willing to take on that added work, especially if they don’t get compensation or recognition for it.

But two law professors seem to think it’s an idea worth exploring, at least for law classes. In a back-and-forth exchange on their separate blogs, Matt Brodie, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law, and Christine Hurt, co-director of the Program in Business Law and Policy at the University of Illinois College of Law, talk about work-for-hire and self-publishing arrangements for producing course materials.

In a post about academic publishing on Prawfs Blawg, Brodie questions whether it makes sense for schools to incorporate the authorship of textbooks into their faculty’s contractual work for the institution, with the royalties going to the school in the same way that research grants do.

On The Conglomerate blog, Hurt responds that the small royalties wouldn’t make much difference to the schools’ revenues, but they provide some incentive to professors to spend time creating textbooks. She suggests, however, that some textbooks—law casebooks, in particular, which are mostly public information—could be assembled by faculty (or departments working together) in a reasonable amount of time and given to students at no charge. Hurt says she already puts together casebooks for her own classes.

Brodie, in a follow-up post, says a possible business model would be for schools to pay faculty to write textbooks, with the money coming from a course materials fee included with tuition. The fee would be less than what students now spend on course materials, and the books could be tailored precisely to the needs of each course.

If schools don’t want to get involved with textbook publishing, he adds, they could still institute the fee and buy textbooks at bulk wholesale rates for distribution to students.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Digital Textbooks Study Students

Student study habits and learning problems are part of the information available to educators through predictive and learning analytics.This software is now being installed in digital textbooks, giving researchers the opportunity to learn more about how students use the course material.

When CourseSmart commissioned a study of 236 students in a 2013 pilot program, it found that students read an average of 551 pages through a 16-week semester and spent, on averaged, 442 minutes reading their digital textbook. Students used their digital textbooks for 11 days over the semester and engaged in 17 reading sessions, creating an average of four highlights, 42 bookmarks, and 16 notes in the digital material.

“No matter what a student’s prior academic ability, which may not be specifically known, the course instructor can have an unobtrusive real-time method to identify students at risk of academic failure that is not tied to activity on a learning content management system,” the authors of the report wrote.

The report indicated that, generally, the more a student engaged with the digital textbook, the better their final grade. However, engagement didn’t always lead to better outcomes.

“What was especially interesting was that highlighting was related to student course outcomes, although not in the way that you might think,” wrote Reynol Junco, associate professor of library science at Purdue University. “Those students who were in the top 10th percentile of number of highlights had significantly lower course grades than students in the lower 90th percentile.”

Junco attributed the difference to the fact that lower-skilled readers often highlight more text than better readers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Baraniuk Bullish on Future of Free Content

You might think there wouldn't be much room for traditional publishing in the world of open and free educational content. However, Richard Baraniuk, director of the Connexions and OpenStax initiatives at Rice University, would disagree.

Baraniuk is already using open educational resources (OER) to create free learning materials through his nonprofit organization, OpenStax College. If traditional publishers can build on the material, he's all for it.

"We're trying to provide better access to all high-quality learning experiences," he told University Business. "If what we offer saves traditional publishers money, they're able to lower their costs and that will help advance education."

Textbooks will be modular, allowing instructors to choose multiple sources for each class. They will then be able to modify the difference sources of content to suit each student, who will also be able to collaborate on developing the text, according to Baraniuk.

"There's nothing stopping students from becoming authors," he said. "The students in my engineering class conduct a research project every year and then archive their results in Connexions, so they're published authors. These projects get used by people around the world and they get referenced and built on by others." 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Technology Slows Down Online Cheating

When it comes to massive open online courses (MOOCs), completion rates and cheating have been lightning rods for public opinion. Plagiarism-detection software may be the solution to the cheating issue.

A study from Turnitin, an online plagiarism-prevention service, found that schools using its software had seen a 39% drop in unoriginal writing since 2009, according to a report in eCampus News. More than 55 million online assignments from 1,000 colleges and universities over a five-year span were used in the study.

Additional results showed that two-year colleges with between 3,000 and 5,000 students had the largest reduction (78%) in unoriginal writing for online assignments. Four-year institutions with fewer than 1,000 students saw a 19% decrease in plagiarism, the smallest change in the study.

More than 75% of institutions have adopted academic-integrity policies for nontraditional courses, according to a report released in December from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). That study also found that 40% of the responding schools use technology to authenticate student test-takers and another 14% said they had adopted policies to curb cheating in online courses.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Students and Their Tech tools

Students are pretty tech savvy. The Chronicle of Higher Education asked three students from Georgetown University about the tools that make their lives easier.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gauging Teacher Readiness for Digital

Just how well prepared is the next crop of new K-12 teachers to deploy digital learning materials and online resources in the classroom? Project Tomorrow aims to find out by asking education majors and their professors.

Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit education advocacy group, conducts the annual Speak Up survey of K-12 students, teachers, and parents to track how new technologies and new media are being used in schools and at home. Again this year, the Speak Up research will include a separate survey for students and faculty in undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs.

Through the survey, Project Tomorrow hopes to discover how student-teachers are being trained to use tech tools and how they anticipate such tools will help their productivity and improve student achievement. As this is the fifth year for the Speak Up for Higher Education survey, it should yield some comparative data to show if and how teacher preparation is evolving. The survey is now open until May 16.

Results from the survey will be released in a report to Congress next fall. Colleges and universities that promote the survey to their School of Education will receive a separate report with findings about their own students and faculty.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lessons from the MOOC Phenomena

Aswath Damodaran, professor of finance, Stern School of Business, New York University, doubted massive open online courses (MOOCs) were actually going to be the “next big thing” in education. Then, he watched as the initial buzz over MOOCs gave way to criticism about completion rates, which has some administrators ready to scrap the idea entirely.

That would be a mistake on the level of record companies celebrating the demise of Napster only to have Apple iTunes blow the industry apart just a few years later, according to Damodaran.

“The MOOC model represented the first serious foray of online entities into education and, like Napster, it failed because it not only came with flaws, but because its promoters failed to fully understand the business it was trying to disrupt,” he wrote in a column for eCampus News. “It is also worth nothing that the failure of MOOCs really rests on your definition of the word ‘fail.’”

Damodaran points out that his own MOOC on corporate finance had a completion rate of about 10%, but also saw more than 50,000 people registered, meaning around 5,000 individuals finished the course. Those are enrollment and completion numbers that would take years to achieve in a traditional classroom.

The problem lies in the perception of what college tuition actually pays for, and it’s not always about education. According to Damodaran, colleges and universities are really more than just a collection of courses taught in a classroom. He points to networking, career advice, and entertainment as part of the bundle.

“As my third child went off to college last year, I had a chance to revisit the question of what it is that you get in return for that check you write out to the educational institution of your choice,” he said. “The first thing to note is that universities operate like cable companies (and other monopolistic entities) and force you to buy a ‘bundled product,’ whether you want the individual piece or not. The second is that classes are only a piece, and perhaps not even the most critical piece, of the ‘education’ bundle.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Students Learn By Creating Content

Students becoming content creators rather than merely content consumers is a trend identified in the New Media Consortium Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition (page 14). The trend started with “makerspaces,” a communal place where a group of people join forces to purchase a range of tools that are then shared among the group.

Colleges and universities are developing the concept on campus, providing students with spaces where learning and content creation is integrated as part of their instruction. The spaces provide traditional tools, along with electronic equipment and 3-D printers, to allow students to work on class and self-directed projects.

“A shift is taking place in the focus of pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world as students across a wide variety of disciplines are learning by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content,” the authors of the report wrote. “Creativity, as illustrated by the growth of user-generated videos, maker communities, and crowdfunded projects in the past couple years, is increasingly the means for active, hands-on learning.”

The report highlights the work at Indiana University, Bloomington, which uses its Make-to-Learn Initiative to examine how a do-it-yourself culture can advance learning. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, has created its Student as Producer program that creates semester-long opportunities for student-centered activities, such as creating podcasts and multimedia entries on course blogs.

Campus libraries have become the location of choice for makerspaces because they also provide students with video equipment loans and studios, digitizing facilities, and publication services. The report predicts the trend will reach its full impact on campus in three to five years.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Parents Question Mobile Education Apps

Data from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center showed that parents believe their children are spending more time each day on mobile devices, but learning more from television. The parents reported their kids spend 2.5 hours each day on screen-based devices, but time with educational material decreases as children get older.

The study found that toddlers spent one hour and 16 minutes each day playing with educational media, but that kids ages 8-10 spent just 42 minutes a day doing so. The report added that most of those 42 minutes were in front of a television.

Parents also said 52% of the TV programming their children watched was educational, while just 36% of their time spent on mobile devices was for educational purposes. Nearly 57% of the parents said all education media did help for subjects such as math and reading, but those same parents were not as confident about the value of educational media when it came to the arts and sciences.

“Most parents don’t consider television or interactive digital media such as computers, video games, and mobile devices to be very important sources of learning,” the authors of the report wrote.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Google Glass Gets Fashion Boost

Thinking about buying Google Glass when the device is available to the public? It just got a touch of fashion with trendy frames and sunglasses, but the upgrades won’t come cheap.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sonification Enhances E-Book Audio

Although e-books have had mixed success in the classroom—with many students still preferring print books—new assistive technologies can make digital books more accessible to the visually impaired.

The new technologies go beyond just the usual text-to-audio provisions. One new e-book, Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn, created by software developer SAS through an education grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute, uses sound cues in a process called sonification to help demonstrate information presented in a diagram on an iPad screen. For example, when the user touches the screen, levels of pitch indicate the brightness of individual stars in the solar system relative to their surface temperature.

All of the content in the e-book can be accessed through read-aloud functions, including images. It also comes with a high-contrast feature for readers with low vision and an option for refreshable Braille displays. SAS also created tactile screen overlays to use with some images.

The e-book can also accommodate those with hearing impairments. All audio features are captioned and there is a compatibility option for use with hearing aids.

Reach for the Stars was written for the 10-12 age group, but its technologies could be applied to course materials at any level. As part of the grant funding, the e-book will be available free from the Apple iBooks Store this summer.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Faculty Starting to Tweak MOOCs

The massive open online course (MOOC) movement is still in its infancy, but some faculty members are already tweaking the format. One form emphasizes interaction between students, whether between high-achieving students and their peers within a MOOC or between online and on-campus students.

“In a classroom or a learning setting, people want to connect with others,” Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, told University Business. “My big insight is not that they want to connect with the teacher. It’s that connecting with other students is equally important.”

Seelig taught a MOOC last spring that had 25,000 registered students. She reported that 50% of the students who completed the first assignment finished the course, but she also recruited the most active students onto a teaching team to respond to the thousands of comments that appeared on the discussion board for the course.

Gordon Mitchell, associate professor of communications at the University of Pittsburgh, has developed a hybrid open online course that gives online students the chance to interact with graduate students on campus. The graduate students teach lessons, which they prepare themselves to the online students, who participate by posting comments on Twitter.

“It’s a symbiotic evolution for two courses that are happening at the same time,” Mitchell explained. “They’re working on a parallel, evolutionary path.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Blackboard Opening Virtual Campus Store

Blackboard is branching out, testing a virtual bookstore within its learning management system that allows faculty to choose content and students to buy online. Content offered will run the gamut of new, used, rental, e-text, open source, and material faculty members produce themselves.

The store is designed to provide students with the required content for all their classes in a shopping cart ready for checkout. Blackboard is working with MBS Direct to provide the content.

The bookstore service is being tested on about a dozen campuses this spring and will expand in the summer, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“We simply thought there was room for something different: A convenient, student-focused option designed specifically to support the educational experience,” Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt told The Washington Post. “Students already use their learning platform to find out which materials they will need for their courses. It just makes sense that they should be able to buy or rent the materials in the same environment without having to go somewhere else or having to worry about whether they are getting the right items.”

Monday, February 3, 2014

Google Wants to Watch You

Google would love to know how readers on its site react to content. The company has even gone so far as to apply for a patent on ways to collect information captured by a device’s video camera.

Many online companies collect customer information, but Google proposes to gauge readers’ reaction to content through video and audio analysis, eye-tracking, head position, body inclination, and physical expression, according to a report in InformationWeek. There’s no mention of advertising in the application, but understanding user interest would certainly be useful.

“Providers of the media content find great value in determining the user’s attentiveness to the displayed media content, as knowing the user’s interest in media content can help media providers tailor future content or recommendations more closely to the user’s interest,” Google wrote in the patent application. “Accordingly, in some implementations, a user’s interest in displayed media is determined by analyzing visual data of the users (such as visual data from photographs or video) for physical indicia of user interest.”