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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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Millennials Looking for More from Education

A survey last year by IdeaPaint found that the education industry gets low marks from its millennial employees on using brainstorming meetings to generate ideas as well as on supporting collaboration among co-workers.

“Millennials are rapidly expanding the traditional college classroom, demanding more online learning solutions and a more collaborative atmosphere between students and teachers,” Zach Cutler, founder of the public relations firm the Cutler Group, wrote in The Huffington Post. “If higher-education institutions take note, they’ll be ready not only for Gen Y, but also for the upcoming Gen Z.”

According to Cutler, millennials stay in school longer and colleges and universities need to be doing more to attract students into master’s programs. Institutions have also been slow to take advantage of massive open online courses at a time when millennials are becoming more comfortable with online learning.

Higher ed needs to find new, more collaborative approaches to learning, Cutler said. A study by New York University found that student retention rates were much higher when learning was more collaborative rather than simply a lecture or reading. Retention rates jumped to 90% when students were put into a teaching role.

“Millennials want to play a more active part in their own learning, and the best way to speak directly to these students is to put away the PowerPoint slide and get students more fully immersed in work,” Cutler wrote.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Course Material Assessment Pilot Launched

Reports that students still prefer print textbooks when studying are old news. San Jose State University and Hewlett-Packard are trying to find out why and if there is a middle ground between print and digital.

The SJSU School of Library and Information Science and HP launched a pilot this summer to compare electronic and print textbooks using a personalized hybrid tool offered in two of the school’s online master’s degree programs.

Instructors use METIS (Meaningful Education and Training Information System) to compile reading materials by combing PDFs and URLs of chapters they want students to read and create specific assignments from that content. The platform allows them to follow students’ work and find content that best fits the needs and interests of individual students.

Students can access course material as an e-book or print it out using the platform. Digital content includes embedded links and multimedia, while print versions use QR codes that lead to the same material. METIS also allows students to organize color-coded notes that connect to relevant content in the course materials.

“We are trying to learn what students prefer when it comes to working with print material and digital versions of the material,” said Debbie Faires, director of online learning at the SJSU information school. “Faculty members can use what we learn about the best formats to support student learning when they select the types of reading materials and formats they will use in their classes.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mobile Apps Coming into Focus on Campus

Nearly 80% of the colleges and universities responding to the 2013 Campus Computing Survey reported they either have mobile platforms for their students or are in the process of developing one. These platforms allow students to use their smartphones to keep tabs on nearly every aspect of college life.

“The challenge is it’s a very rapidly evolving field, so you want something that is flexible to do applications you don’t even know about today,” Michael Barrett, associate vice president and chief information officer at Florida State University, told University Business.

Students are using mobile learning apps to check grades, submit assignments, and post comments on discussion boards. They are even taking the lead in app development. In fact, one grad student at the University of Albany helped create an app that lets students know when their laundry is done.

“Make sure you understand what the users want and what they would use; those are not always the same,” said Steve Fischer, director of web and mobile at The Ohio State University. “Putting something out there with three of the right features is better than putting out something with a lot of features and only one of them gets used.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cognizant Computing on the Horizon

Cognizant computing is the next phase in cloud computing, according to a report from research firm Gartner. Cognizant computing uses information to develop services and activities that enhance the consumer experience and includes bill payment, managing health and fitness, and delivering context-specific ads.

It will impact mobile devices and apps, wearable technology, networking, services, and cloud providers, and should become one of the most important parts of customer retention over the next few years.

“Cognizant computing is already beginning to take shape via many mobile apps, smartphones, and wearable devices that collect and sync information about users, their whereabouts, and their social graph,” said Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner. “Over the next two to five years, the Internet of Things and big data will converge with analytics. Hence, more data will make systems smarter.”

The use of cognizant computing will allow businesses to gain insight into products and services their customers want. They will then be able to turn data into personalized services and offers for customers.

“The increased awareness of and implementation of analytics and self-learning systems will force business-to-customer companies to hasten their adoptions of these technologies to stay competitive and better serve the consumer of the future,” Ekholm said. “Analytics is the key component and creates the backbone of cognizant computing.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

E-Textbooks Could Look Like Mozart Project

One promise of digital course material is its potential to provide students with interactive content that engages in multiple ways. That could look something like The Mozart Project.

The Mozart Project is an e-book and mobile app created by Pipedreams Media, which spent 18 months collecting information on the composer. The e-book would run nearly 430 pages if it were a traditional printed volume, according to the two British app developers who helped create it.

“It looks and behaves more like an app than like a conventional e-book, and it is part of a growing trend in hybrid apps, e-books, and what were formerly known as record albums, in which new releases make the most of the multimedia capabilities of computers, smartphones, and tablets,” wrote Allan Kozinn, music critic for The New YorkTimes.

The e-book contains more than three hours of music, two hours of video, and exclusive commentary from top musicians and composers from the classical world. It covers each phase of Mozart’s life and times, with chapters that discuss different categories of his music.

There are plenty of illustrations, examples of manuscripts, and pop-up reference material that are accessed by touching bold-faced words and phrases in the text. There are also video performances and documentaries that were filmed for the book, making it the kind of resource that could easily find its way into a music-appreciation classroom.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MOOC Content Helps Students in Classroom

A new study reported that using online content in the classroom does boost productivity and student results. The 18-month study by the research firm Ithaka S+R compared the use of digital course materials provided by massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera, the Carnegie Mellon University Online Learning Initiative (OLI), and Pearson.

The study, Online Learning on Campus: Testing MOOCs and Other Platforms in Hybrid Courses in the University System of Maryland, looked at how faculty members used the different platforms and how students responded. It found a few more students passed and received slightly better final grades in the hybrid classes than students in traditional classes. The study reported similar results for students who were at risk academically.

However, faculty members said the online material didn’t always work well with the way they had set up the class. Some students failed to see how the material related to classroom instruction, while others retained less information from video lectures watched on their own time.

“One key takeaway is that careful planning for the implementation of new course formats and technologies is absolutely critical, and the results of any individual test are influenced by a large variety of factors that have nothing to do with the technology,” the authors of the report wrote. “Course redesign can take several iterations to fine-tune as platforms get better and instructors grow more comfortable with the technology.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Laptop Is Tool of Choice for College Students

College students certainly love their laptops. In fact, 25% of the respondents to a back-to-school technology usage survey conducted by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) said they would choose their computer over a family member or beer if they were stranded on a desert island.

The survey found that 85% of U.S. college students own a laptop and 41% consider their laptop their most important possession over their car or television. More than half of the students surveyed said they planned to buy new machine before heading back to school in the fall, with a third of those students considering a new laptop purchase.

Fast performance is the No. 1 consideration for students when buying a laptop (40%), followed by price (26%) and battery life (25%). Students preferred laptops to tablets by a two-to-one margin, according to the study.

“Students expect more from their computers than ever before—they want them to be equally as good at streaming their favorite TV show as they are at crunching numbers in a math class,” Gabe Gravning, director of marketing at AMD, said in a press release.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unlimited Unlikely for Student Users

Online news outlets, bloggers, and social media have been bubbling over Amazon’s announcement of Kindle Unlimited, a new service offering a buffet of 600,000 e-books and 2,000 audiobooks for $9.99 per month. Those in the business of selling college textbooks might be concerned over the potential impact of Kindle Unlimited.

At first glance, according to The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch, the service has a number of features that might lure college and university students. Although Kindle Unlimited is strictly a loaner system, subscribers can access as many titles as they want—there’s no cap and, unlike with many public and academic libraries, no waiting until someone else finishes the only e-copy the library has licensed. You don’t even need to own a Kindle, as long as your device can accommodate the Kindle app.

Amazon automatically bills your account each month for the service, but it doesn’t require a minimum subscription so you can quit any time. Presumably, that means a student could hop on and off the service as needed.

The list of titles covers many academic subjects (including history, politics and social sciences, science and math, literature and fiction, foreign languages, and business and money) as well as reference works and technical topics.

However, almost all of those titles are trade books geared to the layperson, not true textbooks written specifically for pedagogical use. It’s possible some of those books might be adopted for courses, but not all that many.

The literary fiction does include a few contemporary stars, such as Pat Conroy and Jonathan Safran Foer, although numerous big-name authors are missing because the five largest trade publishers aren’t participating (not yet, anyway). The classics on the list are mostly in the public domain and already available free online.

As is, Kindle Unlimited isn’t likely to be much help for college students and may only be a good deal for certain avid readers, in the view of Huffington Post.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Concerns About the Future of the Internet

Most of the 1,400 experts who responded to a new Pew Research Center survey said there will be plenty of innovations and no real changes to the Internet over the next 10 years, but they did point to trends in the open flow of content that could become an issue.

One possible threat to open educational resources is the pressure to commercialize everything online. That could monetize the open structure of the Internet and lead to efforts to fix what the report calls a “too much information” problem.

“There are too many institutional players interested in restricting, controlling, and directing ordinary people’s ability to make, access, and share knowledge and creative works online—intellectual property rights holders, law enforcement and security agencies, religious and cultural censors, political movements and parties, etc.,” Leah Lievrouw, professor of information studies at UCLA, wrote in the report. “For a long time, I’ve felt that the utopianism, libertarianism, and sheer technological skill of both professional and amateur programmers and engineers would remain the strongest counterbalance to these restrictive institutional pressures, but I’m increasingly unsure as the technologists themselves and their skills are being increasingly restricted, marginalized, and even criminalized.”

The biggest concern to the experts who took part in the 2014 Future of the Internet survey was the possibility that nation-states would be tempted to block or filter the Internet to maintain security and political control. In addition, many worried that trust will erode if government and corporate surveillance increases.

“Privacy issues are the most serious threat to accessing and sharing Internet content in 2014, and there is little reason to expect that to change by 2025, particularly given the cyberterror threats confronting the Internet users and worldwide businesses,” wrote Peter S. Vogel, an Internet law expert.

The good news is that 65% of the experts said they believe the web of the future will be more open.

“The collision of ideas through the sharing network will lead to explosive innovation and creativity,” wrote filmmaker Tiffany Shlain.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Market for Fitness Trackers is Exploding

For college stores dabbling in wearable technology, fitness trackers are the way to go. More than 2.3 million trackers were shipped in the first quarter of 2014 and more than 10 million will be shipped by the end of the year, according to ABI Research.

“Activity trackers are currently the most viable consumer electronics wearable-device category, because they have a clear use case that cannot be matched by smartphones, in contrast to smartwatches,” Nick Spencer, ABI senior practice director, said in a Campus Technology report.

College students are a big part of the fitness-tracker market. Campuses have spent millions on new unions that often include state-of-the-art fitness facilities. Tracker prices are also affordable for the college-age demographic.

In addition, the market for smartwatches is not nearly as robust, with just 510,000 being shipped in the first quarter of 2014. Despite those numbers, collegiate retailers may want to keep up on the smartwatch market.

“Smartwatches will develop rapidly in 2014 and 2015, with hybrid activity trackers/smartwatches soon to hit the market, more specialized components being developed, and most importantly the use case improving through a growing applications ecosystem,” Spencer said. “As the value proposition of smartwatches increases, however, the price will still need to decrease to balance with end-user expectations.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Is It Time to Omit Textbooks?

There have been plenty of studies showing college students are not always running out to buy their assigned textbooks. At the same time, every collegiate retailer knows that collecting textbook adoption information in the first place can be like pulling teeth, so why not just drop them altogether?

“Banning textbooks is not capitulation to their misguided frugality. It’s recognition that students don’t view their textbooks the way we expect them to—and they may have a point,” The Good Enough Professor wrote in a recent blog post.

The problem with textbooks, according to the blogger, is students know they probably can find the same information online for free, making the assigned book redundant and expensive. Besides, students come to understand during their K-12 days that learning is more about locating the right information to pass a test than it is working through concepts and ideas.

“Students want to adroitly navigate the world of information—hence their zeal for finding workarounds,” she wrote. “By abandoning textbooks, we can better work with that grain rather than against it.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shoppers Start on Desktop, Move to Mobile

Mobile shoppers seem to take a try-before-you-buy approach, according to the findings of a new study on m-commerce.

According to the MobileShopTalk blog on MediaPost, the latest Custora E-Commerce Pulse survey found that 76% of online consumers still use only a desktop computer to make their purchases, with the rest shopping on a mobile device or a combination of devices.

“One of the interesting insights in the study is that once consumers trust a retailer after their first desktop transaction, they’re more willing to make repeat purchases on a mobile device,” said blogger Chuck Martin.

Also something of a surprise were the ways that consumers shop on their smartphones. Survey results showed that 27% of purchases via smartphones were prompted by email promotions. Another 33% were derived from shoppers who went straight to a specific retailer’s m-commerce site.

The Custora survey estimates mobile commerce may reach $50 billion by the end of 2014. Compare that to the puny $2 billion mobile market back in 2010.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Smartphones Enable Fingerprint Security

Biometrics, such as fingerprint ID technology, would solve some security problems for college and university campuses. Without having to remember passwords or carry an ID or payment card, students could log into campus systems, access their dorms, and buy course materials at the bookstore, using just their finger.

At least one expert thinks the retail industry is ready to plunge into biometric tech. If it’s successful, that may encourage the use of biometrics in more consumer applications, including higher education. Sebastien Taveau, chief evangelist for touchpad vendor Synaptics, said smartphones are making fingerprint IDs easier and more palatable to consumers.

In an interview with the National Retail Federation’s Stores magazine, Taveau said consumers didn’t like the idea of pressing a fingerprint-sensing pad at retail checkouts. However, “they likely are going to be more comfortable having the fingerprint validated on their own smartphone or device so they can control it,” he explained.

That also means the fingerprint data are stored on the device, not in the retailer’s network, so the store doesn’t have to worry about hacking.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Research Authors Lean Toward Open Access

Academic researchers appear to be warming to the idea of publishing their articles in open-access journals rather than subscription-only publications. It’s a trend that would also make libraries and legislators very happy.

The results of the second annual Taylor & Francis Open Access Survey showed a rising number of journal authors agree or strongly agree that open access on a website or online repository provides wider circulation and higher visibility than traditional subscription journals. These authors want to attract more eyeballs to their articles and are willing to give up some control to get it.

Almost half of the 7,936 respondents (who had published a total of 28,219 articles in the past year) were amenable to publishing their work openly as “green open access,” which usually involves the original article version submitted for publication and not the reviewed, edited version.

Some 71% wouldn’t mind if their work was reused for noncommercial purposes without their permission, as long as they were credited and the user followed whatever Creative Commons license had been applied to the article. Of those who had placed an article in an open repository, 46% did so out of a strong sense of “personal responsibility to make my work freely available.”

Legislators at the federal level have been pushing for more open access to research journals, at least those featuring research underwritten by tax dollars or performed using tax-supported campus facilities or materials.

Libraries, especially those that serve a largely academic clientele, are concerned about the increasing subscription costs for journals, both print and digital, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Many campus libraries, such as the one at Cornell University, have had to cut back on subscriptions.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Study Takes Another Look at MOOCs

Researchers from Cornell Tech and Stanford University examined how students really use online courses and found that traditional teaching methods don’t always work online. More than 300,000 students who participated in massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by Stanford through Coursera were evaluated for the study.

The immediate takeaways came as no surprise: Gaming helps increase participation and people have different learning styles. Digging deeper, researchers identified different ways students engaged with the online course.

“All-rounders” do all the work, attempt to pass, and make up about 10% of the active students in the class. “Viewers,” who watch the material but do little of the homework, and “solvers,” who only take the tests, make up nearly 40% of the students enrolled. “Collectors” only download the course material and “bystanders” sign up for the class, but neither group is heard from again.

“Our whole idea of what these courses are is narrower than the experiences people have of them,” Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of the Cornell Tech campus, told BetaBeat. “I think we don’t understand the value and motivation for a large number of users.”

Huttenlocher suggested that schools need to look at MOOCs differently. He said students can no longer be termed a dropout just because they didn’t do the assignments. The real effectiveness of MOOCs won’t be understood until they can serve the different styles of learning.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Making BYOD More Effective

Educators are starting to accept the benefits of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in the classroom. At the same time, teachers should keep in mind that mobile learning isn’t always the best way to go.

For instance, mobile devices are great for accessing a resource, but not really good for creating content. A report from Educause found that students think their laptops and printers are still the most important devices for their academic success.

At the same time, college students spend most of their device time staying connected with their friends and family through texting and social media, which means it’s a good idea for educators to incorporate elements of peer interaction into the lesson plan when possible. Teachers also need to choose wisely when using educational apps and understand students may not actually be as tech savvy as they seem.

“Don’t fall for the iPad or ‘app mania,’” Fran Simon, chief engagement officer for Engagement Strategies, told eCampus News. “Apps designed for [students] aren’t always better than what you may already have, and that goes for mobile devices, too. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tablets Top Campus Bandwidth Concerns

According to a Marketing Charts study, students now own an average of seven mobile devices and spend 3.6 hours each day on their smartphones. But smartphones are not the biggest concern for campus IT officials, according to the 2013 State of ResNet report.

The report, the second part of a five-year tracking study from the Association of Information Communications Technology Professions in Higher Education (ACUTA) and the National Association of College University Business Officers (NACUBO), found that 84% of the IT officials on more than 250 campuses across the country said tablets are going to consume the most bandwidth. Laptops and desktop computers were next on the consumption list at 75%, followed by Internet-connected Blu-Ray players (64%), smartphones (63%) and video games (61%).

“There is an expectation right now among students of, ‘Any device, any time, as much as we want,’” Joe Harrington, director of network services at Boston College, told eCampus News. “That has [IT officials] back on their heels a little bit, looking for ways to deal with this proactively rather than reactively.”

The report found that most institutions provide network support, with 60% providing at least 40 hours of support to students and 12% offering 24/7 support. In-room network assistance is available to residential students at 89% of the schools and 47% will dispatch a technician upon request.

In addition, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) found that while educators view technology integration as important, just 36% who responded to the group’s survey said the bandwidth on their campus was ideal.

“The survey indicates that educators in both K-12 and postsecondary have a desire to integrate technology at a much higher level than they currently have, but need support and assistance to make that happen,” the SIIA report said. “As technology evolves and technology solutions expand, there may be new opportunities to reach ideal goals with more cost-effective and less hardware-dependent solutions.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tech Trends Reshape K-12 Learning

Schools are rethinking the roles of teachers, finding new approaches to learning, and starting to use more open educational resources (OER). All three are emerging technology trends that will have an impact over the next year or two, according to the Horizon Report 2014 K-12 Edition.

Redefining teachers as mentors who guide groups and individual learners through technology-based lessons tops the list. Schools are also emphasizing technologies that promote college and career readiness skills and using OER to keep budgets in line.

The report noted that more hybrid classes will be used within the next three to five years, allowing students to do online homework at home and free up class time for group discussions and projects. The report said long-range trends include the use of more intuitive technology through mobile devices and gaming systems, a focus on innovative school designs, and restructuring schedules to provide more flexibility.

“As online learning and free educational content becomes more pervasive, stakeholders and administrators must seriously consider what schools can provide that cannot be replicated by other sources,” the authors of the report wrote. “It is no longer necessary for parents to send their children to school for them to become knowledgeable and gain skills that will lead them to gainful employment. There are, however, valuable skills and attitudes that many believe can only be acquired in school settings.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

Teens Still Use Facebook in Droves

News about Facebook usage hasn’t been all that positive of late. There’s a Pew Research survey that said teens are turning away from the social media site because of an increased adult presence and then Princeton University reported Facebook would lose 80% of its users by 2017.

Forrester Research took another look at the data and came up with a different interpretation. It found that while Facebook usage has declined, a large majority of young people still use it. In fact, a comScore report  in 2013 found Facebook usage for college-aged adults dropped just 3%, with 89% still using the site.

“Young adults aren’t using Facebook is a fun story that some lazy people like to tell,” Jason Stein, president of the social media agency Laundry Service, told Digiday.

The Forrester study also showed that nearly 80% of the 4,517 online respondents, ages 12 to 17, used Facebook, well ahead of any other social media site except YouTube. Instagram, Twitter, and Google+ were all used by less than 60% of the respondents, while Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest, and Tumblr were all used by less than 40%.

“The bottom line: The sky is not falling,” Nate Elliott, co-author of the report, wrote in his blog. “Facebook does not have a problem attracting or retaining teen users.”

That’s good news for the college store industry, which has latched onto Facebook as a way to engage with students on campus.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Biometrics Take on Online Cheating

Biometrics is the newest tool colleges and universities are using in the battle against online cheating. Instead of using passwords and personal identification numbers to authenticate a student taking an exam, biometrics involves gestures and writing patterns which can’t be duplicated.

The technology requires students to write a series of letters and numbers into a designated box. The gestures used must match previously entered examples and handwriting habits before the student is allowed to take the online test.

The technology was 99% effective in third-party testing, triple the rate required by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, according to a report in eCampus News. In addition, a study from eduKan, a consortium of Kansas community colleges, saw an 80% reduction in test-proctoring costs.

“It’s a real budgetary issue for colleges,” said Jeffrey Maynard, CEO of BiometricSignature ID, the company that developed the system used in the eduKan research. “So it’s not just a more reliable way to protect against [cheating on exams], but it makes perfect financial sense.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fire Is a Real threat to Retail

The Amazon Fire may be a remarkable advance in smartphone technology or an underwhelming device that costs too much, depending on which article you read. But Fire’s real value for Amazon is what the company does best: make Amazon indispensable to its users.

“The Amazon Fire phone exists so Amazon can showroom the world,” Sascha Segan wrote in PC Magazine. “It’s the hardware device for the Everything Store. And any actual store that competes with Amazon should be just a little afraid.”

There have been reports suggesting consumers are starting to shy away from showrooming in favor of webrooming, using their smartphones to learn about products that they later purchase in a store. The Firefly button on the new Fire could change that because it makes showrooming so much easier. A single click from the lock screen provides a user with information on the product in question and an easy path to the Amazon checkout page.

“Apple, Samsung, and AT&T can be Amazon’s suppliers, even though Apple and AT&T have successful retail arms,” Segan said. “But pure retail stores are just the enemy.”

That includes the college store industry. Just imagine a student walking in, pointing his Fire at a textbook and Amazon does the rest, making sure the student has plenty of options to rent or buy, along with suggestions on hoodies and dorm supplies that can be added to his or her cart.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Google Working on Better MOOCs

Google is trying to find ways to lower the dropout rates for online courses and improve the perception of massive open online courses (MOOCs) by sponsoring a Carnegie Mellon University project designed to provide feedback on student work, create social ties between learners, and design more effective MOOCs.

“I think we need to enable MOOCs to be more immersive, adaptive, and social,” Alfred Spector, vice president for research and special initiatives for Google, said in an article in VentureBeat.

The project is trying to personalize the MOOC experience through data-driven evaluations monitored by teachers and targeting the parts of the course students have mastered. Researchers are also trying to find ways to reduce dropout rates with data that identify students at risk. The final part of the project is to make more interactive and engaging course materials available to students.

“Ninety percent of people that sign up for MOOCs never finish the course,” said Robert Kraut, a professor at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU. “We’re trying to build an intervention in order to keep the engagements up.”