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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Monday, June 30, 2014

App Allows Mobile Users to Avoid Ads

It took more than a century for telephone consumers to get the Do Not Call registry to opt out of unwanted calls from marketers and salespeople. Far less time has elapsed for the debut of an app that allows consumers to opt out of targeted mobile ads.

At its annual conference in San Francisco in late June, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) introduced its new AppChoices app, which will enable people to just say no to receiving targeted ads on their mobile devices.

“The app will prevent people from seeing ads that are targeted based on the apps they use, the mobile equivalent of online behavioral targeting (which segments audiences based on the types of web content they view),” according to an article in Advertising Age. Those ads sport a small, blue, triangle-shaped icon in the corner.

The app doesn’t interfere with any mobile data collection based on the device’s location, just the receipt of ads. Right now the DAA is making it available to the advertising industry for evaluation and comment, but expects to roll it out to the public sometime this fall.

Assuming consumers latch onto AppChoices in droves like they did with Do Not Call, such an app could impact the marketing efforts of retailers trying to reach certain demographics through mobile media. Colleges and universities could also be hampered in recruiting enrollees, especially as more students turn away from other media channels in favor of mobile.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nanodegrees Offer New Way for Students

Last year, Udacity promised a new path for students to earn a diploma. The online education provider is delivering on that promise by developing nanodegrees, online learning that is vocationally focused and can lead to a degree within 12 months.

Learners will acquire bite-size chucks of information through select hands-on courses with an emphasis on skills that can be applied to a job. AT&T partnered on the program, will accept the nanodegree as a credential for entry-level jobs, and has reserved 100 internships for graduates, according to a report in The New York Times.

The first nanodegrees to be offered this fall will focus on front-end web developers, back-end web developers, iOS and Android mobile developers, and data analysts. It should take a working student six to 12 months to complete the degree.

“We will teach all the necessary skills together with why those skills matter along with career guidance,” Clarissa Shen, vice president, business development and partnerships, wrote on the Udacity blog. “In other words, you won’t just learn ‘how’ to code, but also ‘why.’”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Laptop Note-Takers Don't Absorb Much

Dan Rockmore, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, made his case for banning laptops in the classroom in The New Yorker magazine. A study done at Michigan State University suggested that Rockmore might have a point.

The MSU study focused on the nonacademic Internet use of 500 students in an introductory psychology class and used ACT scores to determine the intellectual ability of each student. Past research indicated smarter students tend to be better at filtering out distractions and score better on tests.

Instead, the study found the more all students used the Internet for nonacademic purposes in class, the lower exam scores. It also showed that students didn’t believe their Internet use in class would have an effect on their classroom performance.

Another study found that students using laptops for taking notes write more but retain less than those who write out their notes with pen and paper. Researchers found that students who type notes don’t always mentally process the information.

“They tend to try to write everything down instead of trying to sort out what’s important and what’s not,” Pam Mueller, a Princeton grad student, told The Toronto Star. Mueller teamed with UCLA psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer on the study The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bitcoins Find Their Way onto Campus

Bitcoins, a virtual currency that uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money, is working its way onto campuses. King’s College, an evangelical school in Lower Manhattan, plans to allow students to pay their tuition with it this fall, while the British Columbia Institute of Technology will soon install a bitcoin ATM on its Burnaby, Canada, campus.

The ATM will charge users a transaction fee of 3%, with one percentage point of the fee going to the BCIT Student Association (BCITSA).

“It is very exciting to see the advancements BCITSA is able to provide our student population,” said Tyra Bermudez, vice president of external affairs for BCITSA. “Having a bitcoin machine is one of the many ways we are able to provide students with up-to-date industry and business trends.”

While there are not a lot of bitcoin ATM machines in North America, the number is growing. The BCIT machine is the first in a college building, but there are already machines near universities in Edmonton and Montreal.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Case for Textbooks Through the LMS

From the perspective of college faculty, the digital rights management (DRM) controls that are inherent in commercial electronic textbooks simply serve to prevent students from acquiring or fully utilizing their course materials. In the end, that means students aren’t as prepared for class as they should be.

In an article for Educause Review Online, Gerd Kortemeyer, associate professor of physics education at Michigan State University, makes an argument for replacing e-textbooks with a “truly interactive, adaptive, and individualizing online coursepack—instead of a PDF file with static book content—delivered via a free course management application to any web-capable client platform.”

Kortemeyer, who is also director of the Learning Online Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach (LON-CAPA) project, sees a number of advantages to distributing course materials through the school’s learning management system. Among them: It would be easier for faculty to assemble a collection of the exact readings they want for their classes and to display materials during lectures. Students could access their coursepacks from anywhere with one login (including studies abroad), right from the first day of class—no more waffling about whether to buy materials or not.

Students would still have to pay for their class coursepacks, he noted. The system would add up the cost for each student and charge a single fee.

“The question we face in education today is: Will textbook publishers stick with the dead-end strategy or opt for a model that actually supports the education process?” he wrote.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Are Tech Tools Too Cool for School?

Teachers know there are plenty of education apps and websites available. The question is whether those tools actually help students or merely look cool.

“Putting technology ahead of pedagogy” is a common pitfall, according to Steps to Mobile Learning, a guide published by the Consortium of School Networking. That can be avoided if teachers understand what they are teaching and how they plan to teach it, pick a set of technology skills students need to learn and stick with it, and find the right tools to use, according to Eric Patnoudes, an instructional technologist.

“Whether you’re new to integrating technology into the classroom or you’re looking to use your time more effectively, keep teaching and learning at the forefront of your planning,” Patnoudes wrote in an article for EdTech. “I’ve found that this approach relieves teachers from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of cool tools available. Consider it just-in-time learning for teachers.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Free is New Higher Ed Price-Point

One way colleges and universities can address the rising costs of higher education is to give it away for free. That’s exactly what the program Tulsa Achieve has meant for about 10,000 high-school graduates in Tulsa, OK.

Tulsa Achieve, the brainchild of Tulsa Community College President Tom McKeon, provides a free two-year degree to students living in Tulsa County who compile at least a C average in high school and commit to at least two years of community service. McKeon convinced local businesses and political leaders to find ways to fund the program.

“We established Tulsa Achieves seven years ago because we no longer believed that a high-school diploma was sufficient in terms of the jobs of the future,” McKeon told National Public Radio.

The cost is $3,400 per student each year, with the lion’s share coming from local property taxes. The program also provides each student plenty of support along the way. McKeon reports that eight of 10 students who enter the program finish it.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a similar program that has helped 3,200 students of the Kalamazoo, MI, public schools since 2005. Funded by anonymous donors, the program covers 100% of the tuition bills for students who’ve attended school in the district since kindergarten and 65%-95% for others based on how long they attended schools in Kalamazoo.

Promise scholarships were limited to the 15 public universities and 23 community colleges in Michigan until this month, when 15 private colleges in the state joined the program.

“Evidence indicates that for some students, they are more likely to graduate college if they attend a small, liberal arts school,” Brad Hershbein, an economist at The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, told Michigan Live. “This could help them.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Do Consumers Care About Amazon's Tactics?

Recent news coverage seems to portray Amazon as a bully for trying to keep readers from J.K. Rowling’s latest novel and The Lego Movie as it negotiates better deals with its publishing and movie distribution partners.

The question is, do consumers really care?

“People selling things seem more aware of Amazon’s action that those buying things,” Joshua Brustein wrote in Bloomberg Business. “Anyone who has shopped online is familiar with inconsistent availability of items at any given time. Even if someone ends up leaving Amazon to buy a book or a movie from a rival website, it won’t necessarily generate hostility toward Amazon.”

Prominent authors have been complaining, but there hasn’t been much of a public outcry. In fact, a survey from YouGov showed there’s been virtually no change in the public perception of Amazon, which remains No. 1 in the American Customers Satisfaction Index.

“Some think that the way for publishers to change this is to beat Amazon at its own game, pulling all their titles and making it clear why they’re doing it,” Brustein wrote. “That would be very likely to grab attention. The outcome of the ensuing standoff would probably come down to which side needs the other more. That seems a risky bet for the publishing industry.”

At the same time, the price of Amazon stock is climbing.

“While it’s hard sometimes to say why Wall Street behaves the way it does, it could be that investors see Amazon’s struggle in terms of its effort to increase its raze-thin profit margin, or similarly, as was posited by David Streitfeld of The New York Times, who initially broke the Amazon-Hachette story, to help finance its many investments in its future business,” wrote Jeremy Greenfield in Forbes. “Or, perhaps investors are ignoring Amazon’s moves in book publishing and focusing on its other businesses.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

edX Data Shed Light on MOOCs

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released data last month on the first 16 massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by their edX partnership. It turns out that while millions may register, far fewer actually complete the class and most people taking MOOCs already have a college degree.

While that comes as no surprise, the report may provide developers with valuable information for the future.

“There was a lot we didn’t know, especially about who took different types of MOOCs and how much of the course content they viewed,” wrote Jonah Newman and Soo Oh in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “This information may be valuable to those looking to design and lead successful MOOCs.”

For instance, while 57% of students on campus are female, 76% of students taking MOOCs are male. The median age of the participants is 24, with a third coming from North America. More than 20% of the students come from South Asia and students from that part of the world. They are most likely taking engineering and computer science courses, while Africans enroll in social science courses at nearly twice the rate of any other offering.

Students with a doctorate viewed the most course materials and students who took more than one MOOC were the most engaged in the course material, unless they took more than five classes, which is when engagement fell off.

Perhaps the most troubling trend is that nearly half of all registered students never look at any content associated with the class.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Workforce Needs Better Preparation

There is an employee skill gap and higher education isn’t doing enough to bridge it, according to the third Innovation Imperative Poll conducted by Northeastern University. The survey found that 73% of the business leaders who responded believe employees in the United States don’t have all the skills they require, while 87% think most college graduates lack the important skills needed to succeed.

Nationally, 54% of the business leaders said they think the U.S. higher education system lags behind both developed and emerging nations in preparing students for the workforce. Over the next 10-15 years, 27% of the leaders said they believe college graduates will be better prepared to join the workforce, 32% predicted they will be less prepared, and 39% said they will be equally prepared.

Nearly all of the leaders (97%) said colleges and universities in the U.S. must expand opportunities for experiential learning and teach about entrepreneurship (89%).

“These findings underscore a critical call to action for all of us in higher education to innovate,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “Business leaders, who are key partners for colleges and universities, want higher education to be more experiential and want us to instill entrepreneurial qualities in our graduates.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

Universities Create Tech Consortium

While universities offer different programs to attract students, the technology infrastructure necessary to deliver them is often the same. That led Colorado State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan to join forces.

The schools created a consortium called Unizin to negotiate contracts with technology vendors for products and services they purchase individually. Schools are currently paying millions to build and buy systems for storing and managing digital content, but Unizin is designed to allow its members to purchase a set of services in an effort to create a common infrastructure.

“Right now, that stuff is going into digital shoeboxes, one campus at a time,” Bradley C. Wheeler, vice president for information technology at Indiana, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The goal of Unizin is to allow member institutions to share data and learning materials through the common infrastructure without losing control of student data or intellectual property. The effort follows a 2013 position paper from the Committee on Institutional Cooperation that suggested institutions needed a better way to make smart technology decisions.

“It’s not about owning everything,” Wheeler said. “It’s about owning the rights to make choices that are in the interest of universities.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

K-12 Mobile Learning Gains Acceptance

A new study found that mobile learning is on the rise in K-12 classrooms. The Speak Up 2013 survey from Project Tomorrow reported that 41% of principals surveyed said they were comfortable letting students “bring your own devices” (BYOD) to school, up from 22% in the 2010 study.

The report also found that 10% of the principals said they already made policy changes to allow BYOD learning in their schools. In addition, nearly 60% of the more than 32,000 parents of school-aged children who participated said they would like their children to be in classes where BYOD was allowed.

School administrators report that mobile learning helps build the skills needed for college and in the workforce. However, changing policy is not always easy because of issues concerning access and equity.

“As appealing as all the benefits of using personal mobile devices are, district leaders are still facing some serious challenges that must be addressed, like student safety and district liability in case students misuse their own devices,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “Even districts who have adopted a BYOD policy are struggling with providing devices for students who may not be able to afford them and with training teachers on best practices for teaching in a classroom where conceptually every student has a different device with various levels of functionality and content.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Conde Nast Working on Higher Ed Offering

Conde Nast publishes some of the most iconic magazines in the industry, such as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. Those magazines and others may soon be part of a master’s program, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

The publisher has partnered with colleges and universities to create an accredited certificate program in media studies, and eventually wants to develop a master’s degree program. The plan calls for Conde Nast writers and publishers to contribute expertise and content as part of an interactive online and in-person component to a program to be launched by fall 2015.

“For a media company, if you look at the economics of that, increasingly you want to be able to diversify your revenue streams,” Michael Moe, an analyst for GSV Capital, told National Public Radio. “I think it’s a natural extension of the brand and the intellectual capital within that brand.”

Conde Nast already offers the Vogue Fashion Certificate for students of the Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design in London. Higher ed partners for this new initiative have yet to be identified, but Jill Bright, chief administrative officer, considers allowing editors and writers to share content expertise for credit the “natural next step” for the company.

“We think our brands have a far-reaching influence and would like to use that in a positive way to educate people,” she said.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DRM Keeps Amazon in Driver's Seat

The contract tussle between Hachette and Amazon has been all over the news of late, but the problem is more than Amazon’s tactics. It’s the deal with the devil publishers signed up for years ago when they decided proprietary digital rights management (DRM) was the way to go, according to Ben Thompson in a Bloomberg News article.

Thompson, founder of Stratechery.com, a blog about the business and strategy of technology, wrote that since publishers were so worried about allowing free access to their content, they ended up putting Amazon in the negotiating driver’s seat.

“The problem with DRM, as Nook owners now know all too well, is that it ties your books to a single company,” Thompson wrote. “If you start buying Kindle books, you will always buy Kindle books, because your books will only ever work on a Kindle app.”

Thompson said he thinks publishers could change the balance of power by eliminating proprietary DRM.

“To be sure, this digital future would require a new business model,” Thompson wrote. “Publishers would need to rework their businesses from speculative investment to publishing-as-a-service, with upside directly tied to a book’s success.”

Such change might be difficult. In fact, George Packer wrote in an article for The New Yorker that Amazon executives believe publishers are so woefully behind the times that they probably will never catch up.

“I’ve worked with publishers, and here’s the thing: Amazon is largely right,” Thompson said. “Publishers, as currently constructed, simply aren’t prepared to compete in a world based on Internet economics.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Stanford Analyzes Its Online Learning Effort

A study from Stanford University reported that 1.9 million people around the world have registered for at least one of its massive open online courses (MOOCs) and that four million hours of instruction have been delivered since 2012.

Stanford Online: 2013 in Review also found that 73% of the students for its OpenEdX courses were male and that most students came from the United States. In addition, 40% of the students spent between one and 20 minutes each week with the MOOC materials, while 32% spent more than an hour in study.

The Stanford Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL) has issued 66 grants to encourage experimentation and innovation by faculty. Among the initiatives is a project to create scalable virtual labs and a nine-week course on statistics in medicine that showed a much higher rate of active users when compared to other MOOCs, according to data from the course.

“Stanford’s vision is much broader than MOOCs,” John Mitchel, the Stanford vice provost who directs VPOL, told Campus Technology. “We’re thinking about how we will be educating students for generations to come.”

Friday, June 6, 2014

Students Now Have a Crowdlearning Site

Crowdsourcing brings together a large group of individuals to find solutions for needed services, ideas, or content. Now, a Polish ed-tech firm has created a “crowdlearning” website, an online community where students can share their insights on one subject in exchange for help with another.

Brainly, originally launched in 2009 under the name Zadane.pl, targets middle- and high-school students with a Q&A platform that provides peer-to-peer help. In an effort to balance the number of answers with the questions, students earn points for answers and can then use those points to ask questions.

“Our advantage is fast answers,” Michal Borkowski, Brainly co-founder and CEO, told The Next Web. ”Generally, if the question received an answer, it’s there in 80% of examples in 10 minutes. Competitors at the U.S. market are way slower.”

Since changing its name to Brainly in 2012, the company has developed sites for students in 13 countries. It has more than 20 million users worldwide and nearly 60,000 in the United States since its launch here earlier this year.

“It’s interesting that math tops almost every country’s most popular subject, but then the more you think about it, the more it makes sense,” Borkowski told Forbes. “There is often more than one way to arrive at the correct answer to a math problem, and this is where peer-to-peer learning can really deliver value.”

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Another Look at College's ROI

As graduation season winds down, questions surrounding whether a college degree is worth the cost heat up. The U.S. Labor Department suggests that a degree does pay off, finding that Americans with a four-year college degree earned an average of 98% more per hour in 2013 than people without a degree, according to a report in The New York Times.

To play devil’s advocate, National PublicRadio came up with three instances when college may not be worth it.

For starters, statistics show that 59% of students actually complete a degree. The rest, about 34 million Americans, are in the workforce with some college but no degree. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, those workers have less earning power and are more likely to be unemployed.

Then there’s the study from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment which found that students attending for-profit colleges are less likely to find a job and more likely to have lower earning potential after enrolling when compared to students going to traditional colleges and universities. It also noted that students at for-profit institutions generally carry heavier debt and are more likely to default on student loans.

Picking the wrong degree can also be a problem. A Chronicle of Higher Education report in 2011 showed an earning gap that ranged from $120,000 for petroleum engineers to $29,000 for psychology counselor. With the average student debt burden at $29,400, an argument can be made that some degrees simply are not cost effective.

“Now, we’re not arguing that a college degree is a bad idea. It’s not,” wrote NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz. “Our point is, when it comes to bold, blanket statements about the value of a college degree and whether it will pay off … words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ aren’t helpful. Or true.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Study Estimates Cost to Connect All Students

While there’s been plenty of discussion about providing high-speed Internet access to all students, there’s not been as much talk about how much that might cost. Research from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the EducationSuperHighway puts the figure at about $3.2 billion.

The total includes the cost of purchasing, installing, and maintaining equipment to meet classroom needs for local area network (LAN), wide-area network (WAN), and WiFi. CoSN and EducationSuperHighway surveyed 50 district chief technology officers, equipment vendors, and networking experts to come up with per-classroom, per-school, and per-district cost estimates.

“This is the first time that we have come out with an actual number,” Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, told EdSurge. “It’s based on an actual analysis rather than simply saying, ‘Let’s double the pool of funds needed for more broadband.’”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently reported it had already committed $450 million for broadband for schools and libraries. It is also working on updating the E-rate policies that subsidize school and library purchases of telecommunications services.

“We’re hearing that the FCC will do something at the July meeting,” Marwell said. “Some issues have a lot of consensus, such as focusing the [E-rate] money on broadband and phasing out ‘legacy services.’”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

'National Knowledge Network' Launched

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has launched knowledge.tt, the first online educational initiative designed for an entire country. The nation partnered with Khan Academy and Coursera to provide massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a resource for hybrid and lifelong learning.

The initiative is part of the Coursera Learning Hub program, which the MOOC provider started in 2013 to give the global community access to free online courses and engage in blended learning. Coursera is providing online courses, materials, and video programming in Trinidad, which is setting up learning centers on the local University of Trinidad campuses where students can get help from instructors.

“We wanted to work with groups that will move the ball forward most quickly,” Lila Ibrahim, Coursera president, told the BBC.

The focus of the initiative is using MOOCs to provide skills for workers. The government is offering a certificate of participation for individuals who complete one of the MOOCs and students are eligible for an internship program that has more than 400 employers taking part, according to a report by National Public Radio.

“You can learn as you earn and you can earn more learning,” Fazal Karim, minister of tertiary education, told the BBC. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Asessing Gaming Skills

Game-based education has become a popular trend because it helps students develop skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. Now, research is being done to help teachers understand what a student knows and how they apply it when playing.

Kristen DiCerbo, principal research scientist at Pearson, was part of the team that developed SimCityEDU and Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy for the Institute of Play’s GlassLab. The work led the group to research student interactions while playing the games and ways to use the information.

“One of the things that games and simulation games do is provide those problems that are in context and ask learners to apply those to situations they might encounter,” DiCerbo told eSchool News. “We want them to be able to transfer the skills and use them in a different way.”

Tracking information such as students’ in-game actions could lead to models of student understanding that might then be fed back to the students through the game. DiCerbo and her team are also working on ways to measure skills developed through gaming.

“These underrepresented skills are a big place where we can potentially have an impact,” she said. “If we think about the idea behind, say, persistence and how much you continue in the face of trying to solve a difficult problem where you’re experiencing failure—do we assess that just by asking kids? In a game, we can see that and see how many times a student tries.”