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, April 30, 2014

Students Want Tablets for Play

A Ball State University study found that just 29% of students on the Muncie, IN, campus reported owning a tablet computer, down slightly from a 2012 survey. Only 8.2% of the students said they planned to buy a tablet this year, according to Michael Hanley, an advertising professor and director of mobile media research at BSU.

“Tablets are for entertainment purposes, not for writing papers and doing class projects—key components of higher education,” Hanley told University Business. “Tablets don’t have the keyboard accessibility and power as compared to laptops and PCs. However, many students plan on getting a tablet when they graduate in order to watch movies, play games, or access social media. After graduation and getting a job, you can afford to splurge on entertainment.”

Having studies media consumption by college students for 10 years, his research shows that 65% of students receive mobile advertisements and 70% of those wish they didn’t. He found that 75% of student smartphone users are getting ads on their devices, up 14 percentage points since 2009, and that 58% are not interested.

His study also found that smartphone usage is up 51% since 2009 and that parents pay the bill for 61% of student smartphone owners. About 80% of the students said they watch videos on their smartphones, compared to 24% just five years ago, while 92% of students reported accessing social media sites from their mobile phone, up from 49% in 2009.

“Just a few years ago, college students would access social media sites through their laptops or personal computers, but smartphones have made social media increasingly popular by upgrading cameras,” Hanley said. “Now, students can post a photo or video from their phones, allowing them to share their lives instantly—something they love to do.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tax Collection Dings Amazon Sales

Bricks-and-mortar retailers long complained that online merchants such as Amazon had a substantial advantage because they weren’t required to collect state sales tax. Researchers from The Ohio State University found that those retailers were right.

The “Amazon Tax”: Empirical Evidence from Amazon and Main Street Retailers, a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, showed that households reduced spending on Amazon by about 10% in states where an online sales tax was collected, compared to those in states that don’t. It also found that sales fell 24% on purchases of more than $300.

“There is no ambiguity,” Brian Baugh, an author of the report, told Bloomberg. “It had been their competitive advantage.”

The study tracked the spending of 245,000 households that spent at least $100 on Amazon during the first six months of 2012. About a third of the respondents lived in states where new tax laws have gone into effect.

While the researchers found there is a benefit for e-tailers in not collecting sales tax, bricks-and-mortar stores didn’t get a huge rise in sales in states that did require Amazon to collect the tariff. The study found physical stores saw just a 2% bump in sales in states with online sales tax collection because shoppers turned to alternatives such as using Amazon Marketplace, which has products from merchants who pay a fee to Amazon but are not required to collect sales tax.

“If they make one extra click on Amazon, they can continue to realize these tax savings while still enjoying the whole Amazon ecosystem,” Baugh said.

Any dip due to online tax collection hasn’t kept Amazon from growing, at least not in the first quarter of 2014. On April 24, the online retailer reported growth of 23%, to $19.74 billion, in the first quarter, up more than $3 billion from 2013 and surpassing analysts’ estimates of $19.4 billion, according to a report in The New York Times.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Don't Track Me by Phone, Shoppers Say

Lots of people possess smartphones and use mobile apps for a variety of purposes, but that doesn’t mean they’re altogether comfortable with shopping apps that track their whereabouts and text promotional messages.

This type of app has been touted as the next big thing for retailers, as it allows them to follow customers while they shop and tempt them with offers if they’re nearby. However, a survey of 3,000 mobile app users indicates shoppers are a little creeped out by that prospect.

More than 71% of respondents said they don’t want merchants to track them via smartphone. They were a little more receptive to getting push notifications with special offers—only 56% overall were against such messages, although more Apple iOS users than others were willing to receive them. Even so, most of the survey takers didn’t know anything about Apple’s new iBeacon technology, which enables retailers to send notifications to customers while they’re in the physical store.

Despite considerable news coverage of near field communications technology, only 38% of respondents were familiar with it and fewer than 6% actually use it for contactless payments.

The survey was conducted by a company, Retale, that may have reason to be pleased by the results. Retale helps participating retailers get their traditional sales circulars—the kind typically inserted in print newspapers or mailed directly to homes—into shoppers’ hands by aggregating them online by geographical location.

Friday, April 25, 2014

B&N Launches E-Textbook App

Barnes & Noble retired its NookStudy digital education platform and is replacing it with Yuzu. The new e-textbook app was launched as a beta version in April for the iPad and the Internet Explorer or Safari 6.1/7 web browsers.

Students will still be able to read digital content and take notes with Yuzu, just as they could with the Nook Study app. The app is also linked with the B&N FacultyEnlight website, according to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader. FacultyEnlight allows instructors to search for content and assemble it into coursepacks, and provides a place to sell original course materials through Nook Press and the Nook Store.

B&N plans to have an Android app and support more web browsers by the time Yuzu officially launches this summer. However, Hoffelder is already on record as saying the future of digital textbooks is in publishers selling directly to schools, so he doesn’t see a bright future for Yuzu.

“Everything I have read today suggests that Barnes & Noble is pursuing a retail strategy where they sell (or rent) digital textbooks to students,” he wrote. “Given the general failure of the digital textbook market, this does not bode well for B&N.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Flipped Learning Making Inroads on Campus

The 2013 Speak Up National Research Project found that flipped learning has surpassed all other digital learning trends in K-12. According to the study, 25% of responding district administrators reported flipped learning is having a significant impact on teaching and learning and 40% said they are interested in their teachers using flipped learning methods this year.

Despite gaining popularity in K-12 circles, flipped learning still lags behind in higher ed. That could change as more colleges and universities discover how to effectively use the technique.

“One thing that’s been lacking has been a consensus on what the flipped classroom actually is,” Robert Talbert, a math instructor at Grand Valley State University, wrote for a Chronicle of Higher Education blog. “If a professor assigns readings to do before class and then holds discussions in class, is that ‘the flipped classroom’?”

The Flipped Learning Network (FLN) came up with a definition based on FLIP, which stands for flexible environment, learning culture, intentional content, and professional educator. The four components form a teaching method that allows students a variety of ways to learn, focuses on student-centered inquiry instead of lectures, offers accessible content available to all prior to class, and features instructors who are willing to collaborate with students.

“Just because you’ve been giving reading assignments outside of class and holding discussions in class, it doesn’t mean you’ve ‘always been flipping the classroom,’” Talbert wrote. “There’s more at work and at stake here. The focus in the above definition is on student learning and not on course design and I think that’s totally correct.”

FLN didn’t stop at a definition but collaborated on a series of university case studies and research with Pearson Education. The information gathered showed that flipped learning improves critical thinking and professional skills, increases student participation and motivation, and improves team-based skills and peer-to-peer interaction.

However, challenges remain regarding course redesign, faculty workload, student buy-in, and student evaluations.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NASA Releases Software Catalog

NASA has released a software catalog of more than 1,000 apps available free to the public. A PDF version is available online and a printed version will follow on May 21.

Software comprises about a third of the innovations developed by NASA each year. The agency’s goal is to get its software to as many people as possible.

“Traditionally, our [apps] were distributed at different offices and labs around the country, so we needed to gather everything in one place,” Daniel Lockney, manager of the NASA technology transfer program, told Information Week Government. “We’re excited about the potential of this catalog because of how valuable it can be.”

Each app has been assigned a tag that shows the software release authority (SRA) to contact to acquire the item. Users then must request the item by email using the case-number prefix.

While most of the software is scientific in nature, there could be an application or two that would be of interest for collegiate retailers. But truth be told, it’s just kind of neat to browse.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Undergrads' Tech Use Not So Trendy

College students love technology, but some of their devices aren’t always that cutting-edge, according to a report in eCampus News. 

For instance, the Educause Center for Analysis and Research annual report on undergraduate students and technology found 85% of respondents said laptops were the most important device for academic success, closely followed by printers at 84%. More high-tech gadgets, such as tablets (45%), smartphones (37%), and e-readers (31%), ranked far behind.

Students use their tablets to communicate, but said they are an awkward tool for academic work. Respondents also said Google and Blackboard were the websites they can’t live without. Three quarters (74%) had taken at least one online course, and the use of social studying sites rose 26%, while use of Facebook fell 7%.

At the same time, 67% said their tech devices keep them connected with the campus and 53% wanted more face-to-face interaction with their instructors.

“When it comes to [undergrad] college students, technology is not only a critical part of learning, it’s an essential tool for communications and a means of engagement,” wrote the authors of the Educause report. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

No Degree Required for Some Students

While most students head to campus with an eye on a degree, there’s a new breed of learner who arrives with no intention of graduating. These “skill builders” are taking only those classes that provide a certain expertise or training to help land better jobs.

Skill builders normally enroll for no more than four semesters and take six or fewer credits per semester, according to a study of students in the California Community College System. Students in the study were focused on construction, real estate, computers, law enforcement, and early childhood education courses. They saw their median salaries go up from $49,800 in 2008-09 to $54,600 in 2011-12 after taking the classes.

“The workforce is changing so dramatically and the economy is changing so dramatically that people need to keep going back to school to get the skills they need to stay employed or seek new employment,” Kathy Booth, co-author of the study, told Community College Week magazine.

Skill builders are an issue on campus because colleges are increasingly being evaluated on completion rates. However, institutions are starting to work on new types of credentials for these students.

One method is bundling the courses most skill builders are taking. For example, Macomb Community College, Warren, MI, has developed a six-week noncredit program for students taking the state’s certified nursing assistant exam and other schools are working on plans to offer programs focused on skills to help the unemployed return to the job market faster.

“Going to school for a piece of paper is the worst reason to go to school,” said Kevin Floerke, a 2010 graduate of UCLA who has become a skill builder at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA. “Go to school because you want to learn something.” 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mini Printer May Soon Be Available

More college students make their way around campus with a variety of mobile devices at their fingertips, and yet big and bulky printers remain part of their dorm furniture. ZUta Labs is trying to change that with a mobile, pocket printer.

The bottom of the baseball-sized device slides open to expose a standard-size HP printer cartridge that should last for 1,000 printed pages. The device aligns to the top left edge of the paper with four wheels designed to allow it to turn in any direction.

It uses a USB rechargeable battery, is connected by Bluetooth, and is compatible with Android, iOS, Linux, OS X, and Windows operating systems.

What ZUta Labs is lacking is startup funds, so it turned to crowdfunding through Kickstarter. More than 2,100 people have already pledged $355,000 toward the $400,000 goal. If the goal is reached by May 10, the final prototype will be finished in August with delivery to backers next January, according to a report in TechNewsWorld.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Digital Tools for K-12 Students

Use of technology tools in K-12 classrooms continues to grow steadily, according to the latest Speak Up survey conducted by Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization supporting educational preparedness. In general, researchers assume students accustomed to these tools in grade school will also expect to use them when they head off to college.

The 2014 survey, which captured data on 325,279 students in more than 9,000 schools and 2,700 districts throughout the U.S., focused on how digital tools and resources were being used to support learning activities both in the classroom and out of school.

The survey report said 75% of high schoolers (grades 9-12) access class information through an online portal and 52% take tests online. Some 37% have used online textbooks in the classroom and 22% have watched videos created by their teachers.

At home, the majority of high school students have access to at least one mobile device: smartphone (89%), laptop (66%), tablet (50%), or digital reader (39%). Federal programs designed to level out digital access between haves and have-nots seem to be having an impact. Among high schools that receive federal aid for low-income students, more than 25% issue tablets to each student for homework, compared to just 13% at high schools not receiving aid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Employers Still Don't Know About MOOCs

A study by Duke University and the nonprofit research organization RTI International found employers like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and would consider using them in hiring decisions. Unfortunately, the researchers first had to explain what a MOOC was to most of those surveyed.

The data, based on a survey of more than 100 human resource professionals from North Carolina, found that 70% had never heard of MOOCs. Once the concept was explained, 75% said that applicants would have a leg up in the hiring process if they had taken a MOOC related to the job, and nearly half said they would consider using MOOCs in their recruitment process.

“We found that there’s still a ways to go before most employers know about the availability of these classes, but once they learn of them, they see their potential, especially for professional development purposes,” Alexandria Walton Radford, program director at RTI International, told eCampus News.

Only 7% of respondents said they currently use MOOCs for professional development and training, but more than 70% said they would consider it. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More Americans Trust Online Universities

A new Gallup poll found more Americans trust the quality of online universities, but most still believe that traditional education is the best. The findings were taken from a random sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adults from Nov. 25-Dec. 15, 2013.

The study found that 37% agree or strongly agree that online institutions offer high-quality education, up from 30% in 2011. The percentage of respondents who said they agree or strongly agree that traditional colleges and universities offer high-quality education was 77%, and 58% felt the same about community colleges.

When it comes to employment, 59% were at least somewhat likely to hire a candidate with a degree from an online institution over a candidate with the same degree from a traditional school, although just 15% said they were very likely to make that choice. That result is similar to the findings of another 2013 Gallup poll of business leaders, in which 54% said they would be at least somewhat likely to hire a person with an online degree.

“Although online colleges and universities are still in their nascent stage, these findings seem to indicate an increasing acceptance of Internet-based education as a viable alternative to other more traditional institutions,” the authors of the report wrote. “As online colleges continue to grow and adapt to the needs of students and the marketplace, they have the potential to lower costs and increase accessibility to higher education, while imparting knowledge and skills that may be more relevant to today’s high-tech employers. Online colleges, however, must continue closing the gap in regards to perceived quality if they aim to someday rival traditional colleges and universities.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

MOOC Helps Develop Blended Learning

Blended learning may be all the rage on campuses, but only when instructors can make their way through the vast amount of content that is available to develop an effective course. A massive open online course (MOOC) may offer a solution.

Educause, Instructure, and the University of Central Florida (UCF) have teamed to develop BlendKit2014, a free five-week MOOC designed to provide an introduction to blended learning. The course gives educators step-by-step instructions on how to develop digital media, content pages, and peer-review feedback tools for blended-learning classes.

“By offering this tool to educators and administrators across the country, we will be able to share the valuable tools, information, and methods that we, along with other participants in the course, have developed during the past two decades,” said Tom Cavanagh, associate vice president of distributed learning at UCF.

Participants in the MOOC can earn a UCF/Educause Certified Blending Learning Designer certificate at the completion of the course by submitting a portfolio of the blended learning materials developed throughout the class, according to a report in eCampus News.

Registration for Blendkit2014 is open on the Canvas Network. The course is set to begin April 21.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rental Firm Making Inroads with Students

Packback has received plenty of attention since its founders earned a $250,000 investment on the ABC program “Shark Tank.” The startup is an e-textbook platform that allows students to rent titles for 24 hours at an average cost of $5.

Founded by a pair of Illinois State University undergrads in 2012, the company already features 2,500 titles, has deals with the University of Chicago Press and Sage Publications, and provided content for a pilot program with McGraw-Hill Higher Education last fall.

During the pilot, 27% of students on campus rented or purchased a digital textbook from Packback. That percentage was considered successful since a student survey found that 47% said they already had the course material when the program was launched.

“We’re disrupting the used-book market disruption and paving the way to organic student adoption of the next great learning tech products,” co-founder Mike Shannon told The Washington Post, “all the while kicking back significant new revenue streams to learning content providers.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Retail Coupons Find New Life Online

Brand manufacturers and bricks-and-mortar retailers used to run coupons in newspapers and other print media to entice customers with discounts and special offers. Some still do. However, since many people shop and read online now, the coupons have gone digital, too.

The first digital coupons that appeared on websites and in email resembled their newspaper predecessors, complete with dotted borders. The latest types of digital coupons have evolved quite a bit.

That’s Biz, a marketing solutions company that makes coupon apps for smartphones, just released a new system that enables restaurants and stores to post coupon offers on a Facebook page for customers to text to their smartphones. Customers just have to show the coupon on the phone screen when they visit the retailer. They can also share it with friends. The system allows the merchant to put time limits on the coupon or restrict the number of times an individual can use it, without having to involve the store’s main point-of-sale system.

There are many websites, such as FatWallet, that offer a wide variety of downloadable product coupons in cooperation with manufacturers and retail chains. Coupons.com recently began letting consumers “link” selected coupons to a registered credit or debit card with the discount automatically applied at the point of purchase in the store (although they can also be used for online shopping).

Some coupon sites are experimenting with gamification as a way to attract interest and give customers a means to earn additional discount points. No Kidding Coupons, a new site, says its members can earn coupons for online purchases up to 99% off by reviewing products and promoting ones they like. However, unless you register, the site is a little cagey about what brands are participating.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Graphene May Be Key to Flexible Electronics

Samsung may be on the verge of a game-changer when it comes to wearable technology. Researchers from the company reported in Science that they have discovered a way to create graphene in a single wafer layer.

Graphene is an ultrathin flexible material that is about 200 times stronger than steel, but also very expensive and difficult to produce, according to a report in VentureBeat. Prior to the Samsung discovery, graphene crystals had to be stacked to make large amounts, which also reduced its electrical conductivity.

An inexpensive method for producing graphene would make wearable devices stronger, thinner, and more flexible. It would also position Samsung at the front of the technology.

Graphene, discovered in 2004, is made by shaving simple graphite into transparent sheets of carbon atoms. One ounce is enough to cover 28 football fields and its possible uses are only limited by the imagination of the researcher.

There are also reports that Apple is on the graphene bandwagon, working with the material to power its next generation of iPhones or iPad smartcovers by integrating solar technology. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Campus Stores Participate in Digital Pilot

The University of Minnesota Bookstores, Minneapolis, have been actively working to reduce the cost of textbooks for years. Now, they’re taking part in a digital coursepack pilot to provide online material as an alternative to printed coursepacks.

The project started with seven course sections from the College of Education and Human Development in the fall of 2012. It has now been expanded to 81 course sections, allowing students to pay an average of $12 per pack compared to $30 per pack for printed materials.

The goal of the program is make coursepacks as affordable as possible by making course-related materials in various formats available through a single online point of access. It also makes coursepack creation easier for faculty.

The content is free to the pilot via the electronic reserves system through the school’s digital library and made available to students through the bookstore website. In addition, pilot program officials are working with the Copyright Permissions Center on campus to lower costs by streamlining the permissions process.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Amazon Moving into K-12 Content

Amazon has been pursuing the higher education market with Kindle e-textbook sales and rentals. In the last year, it has also hired Raghu Murthi from Microsoft to lead its education and enterprise efforts; acquired TenMarks, a math materials ed tech company; launched Whispercast, which allows educators to distribute and manage e-books; and introduced new models of the Kindle Fire HD and HDX that support corporate-level security and encryption.

Despite that, the online retail giant seems a bit more passive when it comes to the K-12 market, according to Frank Catalano, an author and analyst of digital education and consumer technology, in his post for EdSurge. However, that could be about to change.

Amazon has been working with educators in Brazil on a Kindle app that has wirelessly provided more than 200 e-textbook titles using Whispercast. The company also claims it has distributed more than 40 million e-textbooks through its new Kindle Reading app.

It allows teachers to read, highlight, and make notes directly into textbooks even when the device is offline. The Kindle Reading app is free and can be used on iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android devices, turning practically every electronic device into a Kindle and making every user a potential Amazon customer, according to Catalano.

“It may be that Amazon isn’t disinterested in the overall K-12 education game. It may simply prefer to redefine the game’s rules and playing field,” Catalano wrote. “By focusing on global opportunities and the Kindle Reading App—irrespective of the underlying hardware—it can do what Amazon does best: sell content that, in this case, just happens to be e-textbooks.”

Friday, April 4, 2014

Progress Made in Online Retention Rates

Retention rates for online courses continue to be a concern for academic leaders. However, a New America Foundation study showed some progress has been made on that front. The research focused on six public research universities that have been able to use online learning to increase enrollment without sacrificing retention.

For instance, the University of Central Florida is using online technologies to grow demand for courses using a mix of online and face-to-face instruction during the semester. Meanwhile, student retention at Northern Arizona University has increased through competency-based courses that allow students to master concepts at a more personalized pace.

“The self-paced nature of competency-based programs allows students to take the time they need to truly learn a concept,” Fred Hurst, senior vice president for extended campuses at NAU, told eCampus News. “If it is a difficult one, they can spend more time on it until the concept is mastered, something that may not happen in a traditional classroom where the faculty member may move ahead quickly, not realizing that the student is falling behind.”

Purdue University is tracking its students through Signals, an online program that uses an algorithm to spot struggling students. The university found in two courses using Signals that students graduated at a 21.5% higher rate than students taking courses that didn’t use the data analytics program.

“Academic analytics can help shape the future of higher education, just as evolving technology will enable new approaches to teaching and learning,” Kimberly Arnold, educational assessment specialist for Purdue’s Teaching and Learning Technology group, said in the eCampus News article.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Maryland Starts Open-Source Pilot

Students at the University of Maryland took their complaints about the costs of textbooks online, and they caught the attention of school officials.

They posted photos of whiteboard messages spelling out the amount each spent on books. That led to the University System of Maryland launching a pilot program this semester that makes course materials available as open-source digital content.

The pilot is part of a partnership with Lumen Learning, a company that helps instructors locate content used in creating open-source electronic books. The school estimates the program will save the 1,100 students participating a combined $130,000 in textbook costs.

Even with the partnership, compiling content requires a time commitment from professors. Scott Roberts, who teaches an introductory psychology course on the College Park campus, told the Baltimore Sun it took about 80 hours to write the open-source textbook he created for a class in 2010.

“Maybe one of the bigger issues is in certain academic circles, the rigor of a course is judged by the textbook you use. If you stray from that, you might be met by some furrowed brows,” said Robert Javonillo, a biology professor from Coppin State participating in the pilot. He added that the open-source material he has used has been high quality and that his students are relieved when they find out their assigned course materials are free instead of the $158 textbook he used to assign for this class.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Schools Need Better Mobile Options

A number of session presenters at CAMEX 2014 talked about the need for campus stores to use mobile technology and how e-commerce through a mobile website is a must. A study from the brand marketing firm Princeton Partners found that need extends across campus.

Its research showed that 70% of Pennsylvania and New Jersey colleges surveyed had no mobile presence at all and half of the campuses that did had major deficiencies. In addition, six of 10 students surveyed said they were “unlikely to ever return to a website” if they couldn’t access it from their mobile device.

That’s a problem at a time when more people are using their mobile devices to access the web than their personal computer. And the issue is only going to get bigger since 74% of all teenagers have cellphones.

“The rapid increase in use of mobile devices has left many schools ill-equipped to address the needs of what marketers now call ‘constantly connected consumers,’” Jeanne Oswald, an industry advisor to Princeton Partners, told eCampus News.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

College Putting All Classes Online

Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, plans to go all-online by fall 2017, according to the campus publication, The Sandspur.

The school is moving all coursework online into Blackboard and other virtual environments. Since most students will be able to connect with their classes via Internet from anywhere they can get online service, Rollins has decided it no longer needs space for classes to meet. The college will sell off most of its lecture halls to finance the technology infrastructure.

One wealthy student has already expressed interest in acquiring one of the halls to convert into a private residence.

Use of print textbooks will be abolished in favor of e-books or any other online material the professor chooses. “Simply put,” commented Vice-Vice Director of Education Eli Nobbes, “Wikipedia is a great place for accurate summaries, and fanfiction is quickly replacing what, for many years, has been uncontested ‘classics’ with more modern, and superior, adaptations.”

Rollins plans to keep its campus library but intends to ditch the books and convert the space into a technology center.

If all of this sounds a little extreme, be sure to catch the very last sentence in The Sandspur report.