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, May 30, 2014

Could Ads Be Next for Wearable Tech?

Wearable technology has gone from fitness wristbands to Google Glass to brain-sensing headbands that can help people clear their minds of distractions. The Muse headband provides wearers with an image of what their mind is doing by measuring brainwave activity.

The Muse uses neurofeedback, biofeedback made up of real-time displays of electroencephalography (EEG), to show brain activity and stress levels. A smartphone app lets wearers see what their mind is doing and provides calming exercises to practice.

“For me, neurofeedback and meditation generally feels like a gentle hit of coffee,” wrote Gregory Ferenstein, who tested the device for an article for VentureBeat. “My inner voice silences, an incessant need to rush melts away, and I just do things. Neurofeedback is one of the best things I do for my productivity, and the Muse makes it fairly easy to do regularly.”

While many see the benefits of increasing focus and decreasing stress, the next trend in wearables could lead to location-based advertising. The idea is to combine the technology to monitor emotion and health data with real-time activity to deliver instant advertising.

“Your Google Glass knows where you are, what you’ve been searching for, and, of course, the kind of pictures you’ve been taking,” wrote Chris Matyszczyk in CNET. “Add brain-scanning technology to that and the whole caboodle can become simply a part of you.”

For the record, Google currently forbids advertising on Google Glass.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

MOOCs Not As Disruptive, But Not Going Away

While it’s not particularly earthshattering news, separate reports from the Teachers College at Columbia University and Bellwether Education have concluded that massive open online courses (MOOCs) are not going to be as disruptive as first predicted. They’re not going to disappear either.

Both studies concluded MOOCs will ultimately be incorporated into online education efforts by colleges and universities.

“It seems clear that MOOCs are neither the cataclysmic disrupter that advocates predicted nor the flash in the pan their critics were hoping for,” wrote Andrew P. Kelly, director for the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the Bellwether report.

The 211-page Columbia study also found no indication that colleges will see a return on investment in the free online courses. However, the report predicted MOOCs will eventually become more like current online courses, available to students willing to pay for them.

“MOOCs have inspired a lot of thought, but people are not necessarily deciding what their goals are in advance, then using MOOCs to address those goals,” Fiona Hollands, co-author of the Columbia report, told Bloomberg. “They’re spending an awful lot of money and not necessarily knowing whether it’s effective.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Net Neutrality Debate and Higher Ed

The recent ruling by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on net neutrality created more questions than answers for education, according to Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of education policy for McGraw-Hill Education. His biggest concern is how the bandwidth needed to accommodate a more interactive and digital way of learning will be provided and at what cost.

“What we are most interested in with net neutrality and this conversation is in making certain those educational uses that are essential to a really important public purpose are not de-prioritized in favor of bigger and better entertainment solutions,” Livingston told eCampus News.

The FCC ruling does not specifically mention the needs of education. That is an issue for Livingston, who is concerned it could eventually pit the bandwidth needs of digital content with the public’s desire to access their games and movies faster.

“Now, if the final rulings do come out and there is not an explicit prioritization of education, I believe you will definitely hear a lot more from educational institutions than we’ve heard this far,” he said. “Frankly, they fully expect it to be OK—but I just want to make sure.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Social Networking Tops Phablet Usage

A recent International Data Corp. survey found that phablet sales are on the rise and becoming a threat to tablet sales. Opera Mediaworks followed with a study that showed 54% of phablet owners use the device for social networking, which is much higher than the global average for all mobile gadgets.

The phablet is a hybrid device combining smartphone features with a larger screen, ranging from 5 in. to 7 in. The Opera research studied traffic running through its mobile ad platform in March and April to see what sites and apps were being used.

Social networking on smartphones ran a distant second in the study, at less than 30%, with tablet usage coming in around 10%. On the other hand, tablets continue to be the device of choice when it comes to playing games or watching videos.

“What we discovered is people now want to use their [phablets] for both purposes: to run around town, use the map, check email, text a friend that you’re running late,” Scott Swanson, president of Opera Mediaworks said in an article for Re/code. “Then they were also using it at home, sometimes instead of a tablet, for checking social media.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

What's That?

This will probably make anyone over the age of 30 feel kind of old. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A College Degree Is Worth It

There’s no question a college education will take a bite out of your wallet. As costs have gone up, many students and their parents have wondered if a college diploma is really worth it. The 2014 Pew Research Center survey suggests that it is.

The study found that young adults ages 25-32 with college degrees earn about $45,500 a year, approximately $17,500 more than workers who only have a high school diploma. In addition, a 2012 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education found adults with a bachelor’s degree earned more as they got older, on average 25% more than their less educated counterparts who had been on the job for 20 years or more.

College grads can expect to earn about $2.3 million during their lifetimes, a figure that is 74% more than workers with just a high school diploma. Along with higher earning potential, the March 2014 unemployment rate for college graduates age 25 and older was 3.4%, while the rate for workers with only a high school education was 6.3%.

“Majors in engineering, math, and science typically have an easier time finding jobs and are offered higher starting salaries than college grads with degrees in arts and humanities,” the Northwestern MutualVoice Team wrote in an article for Forbes. “However, regardless of major, 91% of college grads overall and 88% of millennials say that college has been, or will be, worth the investment.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

MOOCs for 'Generation Distracted'

Like all college classes, massive open online courses (MOOCs) require a commitment to complete. That was an issue for Coursmos, the educational platform designed for “Generation Distracted”, according to its website.

The company reasoned that the time it took students to sit through online lectures that went on for weeks could be why completion rates for MOOCs were so low. Its solution was to develop more than 900 free micro-courses that allow students to learn concepts in short bursts through videos that run no longer than 10 minutes.

“[With Coursmos,] students get specific answers to specific questions,” Maria Davalos, Coursmos customer development manager, told eCampus News. “The courses are made by successful professionals who are practicing this knowledge on a daily basis.”

The company started in October 2013, when it made micro-courses available through iPhone and Android apps. The website was launched in March and includes subjects ranging from cooking to lifestyles, although its main focus is business-related courses.

Students sign up through their Facebook or email accounts and all courses are available to view without registration. Users that do register are offered personalized course recommendations with their accounts.

“We try to make the user interface simple,” Davalos said. “Anybody can get the app and try to create a course with the app.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Investors May Not 'Understand' Chegg

Not long ago, Chegg’s business model of renting textbooks was disrupting the way students acquired course materials and how college stores did business. But times change and the company’s attempts to change with the times has left some investors scratching their heads.

In an effort to keep pace with the market, Chegg acquired the student platform Cramster, an online food-ordering service Campus Special, and Zinch, an online service that tries to match a student with a college. The purchase of Campus Special cost $17 million alone, and Chegg paid $2 million in expenses during the first quarter with no revenue and a sales cycle that doesn’t begin until July.

Since going public last fall, Chegg has watched its stock price tumble from the initial offering of $12.50 per share to less than $6. The company reported a net loss of $25.8 million in the first quarter of 2014, despite a 66% increase in digital revenue to $17.8 million.

"Everything we do is designed to solve the pain points students have,” said Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig in an interview with BuzzFeed. But he did admit that investors “may not understand our business right now.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Apple Buying Beats Does Make Sense

Critics claim Apple has failed to come up with any game-changing devices since introducing the iPad in 2010, settling instead for upgrades and improvements on its existing products. Now, word has filtered out that Apple is thinking about paying $3.2 billion to purchase Beats Audio, bringing a new round of financial and tech critics out of the woodwork.

Since Apple has people who could develop great headphones and Beats Audio’s streaming music service hasn’t made that big of a dent in similar services, such as Pandora or Spotify, many critics wonder just what the heck is Apple thinking. Tech journalist Sean Hollister may have an answer in The Verge, an online tech and media publication.

“Apple’s modus operandi has always been to acquire firms that help it build things,” Hollister wrote. “Do you remember SoundJam MP? P.A. Semi? How about C3 Technologies? Probably not, because Apple ground their bones to make its bread. Apple baked their technology and talent into iTunes, the Apple iPhone processor, and Apple Maps, respectively.”

Wearable technology is an area Apple has been eyeing for some time, if you believe all the rumors of an impending iWatch. At the same time, nothing has resonated with consumers quite like Beats. The headphone brand has become a status symbol, worn by star athletes and celebrities and desired by teens and college students. In fact, the spring 2014 PiperJaffray survey found 46% of teens identified Beats as the headphone brand they’d like to purchase.

Apple’s particular genius has been the ability to take a product and turn it into something much better. Beats provides Apple with a product it can improve on that already has “celebrity cachet,” according to Hollister.

“My hunch is that if Apple is buying Beats, it’s because Apple is ready to announce the iWatch,” he wrote. “It just needs [Beats co-founders] Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine to wear one. Then, Apple would be doing something totally in character, something not surprising at all: buying the last key piece it needs for a technology that could change the world.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Institutions Picked for CBE Program

Fourteen colleges and universities have been chosen to participate in the Competency Based Education (CBE) Jumpstart program, an initiative that will allow students to earn degrees based on skills and competencies they have learned through experience, rather than just through the completion of credit-hour courses.

“Competency-based education is particularly relevant for adults and nontraditional learners who bring learning from work and life experiences into higher education,” said Philip Coyle, provost at LeTourneau University, Longview, TX, one of the schools named to the program. “With the rising costs of education, students expect education that is flexible enough to meet their needs and provides them skills that are immediately transferable into the workplace.”

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is providing on-site training for faculty and staff at each participating institution. CAEL also offers follow-up support through webinars on selected topics and in-depth technical assistance for schools experiencing issues with getting the program going.

“We are in the very beginning stages of planning,” said Larry Frazier, dean of the school of arts at LeTourneau, which is hoping to start the program in fall 2015. “We are just now starting and we must think of how to reframe and shape the degree plans for CBE.”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mobile Devices Change Study Habits

Earlier this year, StudyBlue asked 1,000 college students how they used their mobile devices to study. The online study platform found students think their gadgets help them study more and get better grades, according to a report in eCampus News.

In fact, nearly 90% said their grades had improved through the use of study apps available on their mobile devices.

Apps aside, the report found students are studying more because their mobile devices are, well, so mobile. Nearly 20% said they’ve used their phones to study, 22% did homework in bed, 13% studied while eating, and 10% while in the bathroom.

The study reported that 43% still use pen and paper during study time, but 26% use their laptops and 14% use their smartphone. Mobile may also make it easier to put off studying as nearly 60% of the students admitted to cramming for midterms or finals and 88% said they used their devices to study right before a test.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

College Expenses Yield Big Dividends

The cost of attending a college or university has been heavily criticized, with extra digs at the retail prices of textbooks and other course materials. In the view of one economist, though, that expense represents an investment that will pay off handsomely in the end.

David Howden, professor of economics at St. Louis University at its Madrid campus, and academic vice president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, an economics education organization, sifted through data from the U.S. Federal Reserve related to student-loan debt and adult employment.

Some 70% of college students graduate with loans, to the tune of $29,400 on average, Howden noted in an article for the Mises Institute. Most students also “lose” the job earnings they would have received during the years they were in school. The total cost, he said, is around $300,000.

“But the decision to not pursue a college degree and enter the workforce directly also comes with a cost,” he said. “It seems like a good deal at first, but for most it means fewer opportunities, less promotions down the line, limited access to higher-paying jobs, and, ultimately, lower lifetime earnings.”

How much lower? Howden calculated that today’s college graduates will bring home some $800,000 more by retirement than those who didn’t pursue higher education. That’s an average figure.

To Howden, that’s a pretty good return on investment. “It may seem onerous to pay back student loans, but the alternative is monetarily far worse,” he said.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tablet Shipments are Slowing

The sales of tablet computers may be leveling off, with shipments dropping 35.7% when the first quarter of 2014 is compared with the 2013 holiday season, according to International Data Corp. (IDC)

Apple has shipped 16.4 million iPads since the first of the year, but that’s a drop of more than three million over the first quarter of 2013, while Samsung increased its first-quarter shipments to 11.2 million.

At the same time, phablet sales are on the rise, which the IDC report suggests is a direct threat to tablet sales. Phablets combine the smartphone and tablet into one device, using a display screen of 6 in. or larger. The three Galaxy Note phablets from Samsung have sold well, with devices from HTC, LG, Nokia, and Sony also becoming big sellers.

IDC also said replacement cycles for tablets have become an issue. Manufacturers usually implement modest upgrades to the devices, making it easier for consumers to hang on to older models for longer periods of time.

“The rise of large-screen phones and consumers who are holding on to their existing tablets for ever-longer periods of time were both contributing factors to a weaker-than-anticipated quarter for tablets,” said Tom Mainelli, program vice president for devices and displays at IDC. “In addition, commercial growth has not been robust enough to offset the slowing of consumer shipments.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Students Are Leary of Mobile Payments

A new study found that college students are still not sure about mobile payments. The April survey from Balance Innovations showed that 42% of the 2,503 students who responded would “probably not” or would “definitely not” use mobile payments.

Another 42% said that using mobile payments would depend on the retailer or purchase, while just 16% said they use mobile payments all the time.

“Because they are frontrunners of technology and avid smartphone users, we anticipated higher interest in the use of mobile payment among these 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Steve Rempel, president and CEO of Balance Innovations.

The survey also found that 21% of men said they would likely switch to mobile payments when they become widely available, compared to just 12% of the female students who responded. Students with majors such as accounting or business administration were more likely to use mobile payments, while students in the Midwest were less likely to use their phones to pay for purchases than students on either coast.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Printed Textbooks Still Have a Future

There must be a reason why new surveys keeping finding that students prefer physical textbooks to digital formats. It could be that paper is just a better way for human beings to learn, according to technology writer Brandon Keim in an article in Wired.

A 2013 study showed that a group of Norwegian teens comprehended content better from books than from electronic devices. Other studies have suggested that’s because the feel of paper is important to learning, according to Keim.

“Reading experts say that sense of position is important,” he wrote. “It provides a sort of conceptual scaffold on which information and memory is automatically arranged, and the scaffold is strongest when built from both visual and tactile clues.”

An Israeli study showed that learning on screens was less effective than on paper and led to overconfidence in students. However, the same report also found that when students preferred using an electronic device, they learned less when required to read from paper, suggesting there’s room for both formats.

“Maybe it’s time to start thinking of paper and screens another way: not as an old technology and its inevitable replacement, but as different and complementary interfaces, each stimulating particular modes of thinking,” Keim wrote. “Maybe paper is a technology uniquely suited for imbibing novels and essays and complex narratives, just as screens are for browsing and scanning.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Students Can Learn Together on Facebook

Researchers at Baylor University found that Facebook may provide a key to better learning, particularly in larger classes. They studied 218 students in an introductory sociology course who were given the choice of being in a course-related Facebook group.

The study, Using Facebook to Engage Learners in a Larger Introductory Course, found that the students in the Facebook group did better on quizzes and tests and wrote stronger papers than those who just listened to lectures. The students in the Facebook group also reported a more positive overall experience in the class, according to a report in Campus Technology.

“Although some teachers may worry that social media distracts students from legitimate learning, we found that our Facebook group helped transform students from anonymous spectators into a community of active learners—and this has important consequences for student performance,” said Kevin Dougherty, associate professor of sociology at Baylor. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Young Americans Worry About College Costs

Paying for college, or the loans taken out to go to college, is the main financial concern for young adults in the United States, according to a new Gallup poll. College expenses were the primary concern for 21% of respondents in the 18-29 age bracket.

It also shared the top spot among the 30-45 age group, with an overall lack of money or low wages at 14%. The poll was based on telephone interviews of 1,026 adults in all 50 states conducted between April 3-6.

Not surprisingly, the research showed that financial concerns are age-specific. While younger Americans are concerned with education costs, seniors are focused on paying for health care and the rising cost of living.

“Knowing these differences could help lawmakers and financial advisers better serve consumers’ financial needs,” wrote Lydia Saad for Gallup Economy. “And if consumers become familiar with what others of a similar age or income level are concerned about, it might help them better understand and cope with their own financial challenges.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Multiple Devices Use Rising

A study by the consulting firm Deloitte found that 37% of American consumers own a tablet, smartphone, and laptop computer. That’s 42% higher than the previous year, according to Deloitte’s eighth annual Digital Democracy Survey.

“At least for now, the tablet is not being viewed as a replacement for a laptop, but rather for its own distinctive uses,” Gerald Belson, the U.S. media and entertainment sector leader at Deloitte, told Marketing Daily. “The primary uses are around watching video, as well as Internet activity and games.”

Women make up 45% of the group using multiple devices. In addition, the percentage of people streaming content rose from 17% in 2012 to 32% in 2013. Belson added that millennials are spending more time watching content on devices other than television, even if the content was originally created for television.

The survey of 2,000 consumers in the United States also found that just 6% of respondents with a pay-TV service were thinking about stopping that service over the next 12 months. At the same time, 86% admitted to multitasking on other devices while watching television, with just 22% doing something directly related to the program they were watching.

“The second-screen experience hasn’t been compelling enough for a majority of consumers to link the second screen to the primary content,” Belson said. “The good news from an opportunity standpoint is that the second device is in consumers’ hands and it tends to be an interactive device.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Breakthrough Tech Has Hi-Ed Implications

MIT’s Technology Review has released its annual 10 Breakthrough Technologies list, with at least three having the potential to impact higher education.

One technology, microscale 3-D printing, has already received a great deal of attention in the news media. It might ultimately be used in a variety of design courses, but may show up first in campus retail stores to create custom products.

The concept of mobile collaboration, another technology cited on the list, isn’t really new. However, the Technology Review noted the rise of new apps that enable people to work more effectively on group projects through their smartphones and tablets. More college and university courses require students to work together, yet students are more comfortable with text-messaging than word-processing.

“By incorporating streams of messages about the work being created, these apps reflect the fact that many communications are now brief, informal, and rapid,” the article said.

The third technology, Oculus Rift, sounds like a character from a science-fiction tale. It’s actually a new type of virtual-reality headset for ultra-immersive video games. According to the Technology Review, the Rift not only provides a much more realistic experience, the Oculus company plans to price it within the means of the average consumer.

“While video games are where this improved virtual-reality technology is likely to take off first, it could also have applications in telepresence, architecture, computer-aided design, emergency response training, and phobia therapy,” according to the article. Older versions of this technology are already used in simulations for medical surgery and industrial design.

The seven other breakthroughs on the list are agricultural drones, ultraprivate smartphones, brain mapping, neuromorphic chips, genome editing, agile robots, and smart wind and solar power.

Monday, May 5, 2014

NACSCORP, OpenStax Announce Partnership

OpenStax College open-source titles will be available to more than 3,000 college stores through its new distribution partnership with NACSCORP, a subsidiary of NACS. The agreement provides stores with low-cost printed versions of free digital textbooks produced by the nonprofit publisher based at Rice University.

“As a trade association, NACS is committed to the mission of making sure course materials and all aspects of a higher education are more affordable to students,” NACS CEO Brian Cartier said. “I’m proud to say that this new partnership between NACSCORP and OpenStax College fully supports that mission.”

Printed versions of the OpenStax College textbooks costs about $30-$54, but the agreement will allow those prices to drop by around 2% by next year. Students will also save through reduced shipping costs that are part of the deal.

“NACSCORP distributes to the vast majority of college campuses across the country and many more outside the U.S., and they are committed to making a college education accessible to as many students as possible,” said Daniel Williamson, managing director of OpenStax College. “This deal will make it possible for us to expand our reach but also to lower the prices on our print books at the same time.”

OpenStax College has already published seven textbooks that have been downloaded more than 500,000 times. Its seventh title, Principles of Economics, is the first aimed at courses that normally enroll more than a million U.S. students each year. The publsiher plans to release titles in precalculus, psychology and U.S. history later this year.

“All our books are free online, but many students prefer a printed copy, and thanks to our partnership with NACS, we plan to do something next year that no major publisher has done for a generation: reduce the price of every print title in our catalog,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder of OpenStax College and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice.

Friday, May 2, 2014

ROI of Higher Education

One question college students and their parents often ask is whether the education received is worth the cost. The website eCollegeFinder has compiled data from the National Center for Education Statistics into a graphic that shows the overall graduation rate by state.

What remains to be seen is if a list of the schools with the highest graduation rates around the country really helps students get a better return on their education investment or not.

Highest Graduation Rate by State

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New OER Platform Debuts

Many think open educational resources (OER) are the answer to reducing textbook costs. The education start-up panOpen has launched a new software platform it claims is a solution to making the collection and distribution of open content easier for instructors.

The platform, currently still in beta testing, allows faculty to build custom course libraries and share them with others around the world. The company has already partnered with nearly 900 subject-matter experts to collect and review content for business, chemistry, biology, psychology, and physics.

panOpen was started by Brian Jacobs, who also founded the online bookstore Akademos. While the service is free now, it could eventually charge between $15-$30 for content to fund customer support and analytics, according to a report in the student paper at the University of Connecticut.