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, August 29, 2014

Students Enjoy No-Cellphone Experience

Louise Katz, professor of psychology, Columbia State Community College, Columbia, TN, offered extra credit for students who turned off their cellphones before class and put them on the front desk. After nearly all the students accepted the offer, Katz decided to take her experiment to all of her classes for an entire semester.

She found more students paying attention, taking notes, and participating in class discussions. Then she upped the ante, offering five points of extra credit to students who completed a questionnaire and wrote an essay about their class experience.

Eighty-two of the 90 students in her classes took advantage of the opportunity, with 94% saying they either loved or at least liked turning off their phone during class. In addition, 67% said they could concentrate better in class with their phone off and 71% said the classroom atmosphere was more respectful.

“In addition to learning about psychology, the students also learned something else—a little bit about what life was like before the dawn of cellphones,” Katz wrote in a guest column for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “And perhaps, just perhaps, they may have begun to look forward to their brief visits to that different way of life.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Women Still Aren't Taking STEM MOOCs

A 2013 study by Western International University found that as many as 90% of the students taking massive open online courses (MOOCs) were males. Yet, the same study found that 75% of women who responded view online degrees as more attainable for them than traditional programs.

The prevalence of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses is one reason often given for the enrollment discrepancy. In fact, Coursera researchers took a look at the company’s MOOC enrollment figures and found that to be a valid explanation.

The MOOC provider found less than 20% female enrollment in engineering, computer science, and software engineering. Physics, economics, and finance also saw a significantly lower percentage of female students, according to an eCampus News report. At the same time, 60% of the enrollment for food and nutrition courses was female, followed by professional development courses for teachers, and medicine, arts, and health courses.

Studies show women perform better in MOOCs with more women in the class. Overall female enrollment has increased, rising from 20% in May 2012 to nearly 40% last May.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Students Earn Credit With DIY Project

The Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla, is rethinking how lab classes are taught. One part of the effort this fall will make it possible for students to earn extra credit for using their smartphone to build their own microscope.

Students in one section of General Biology will be able to build the microscope from a collection of carriage bolts, nuts, wing nuts, plywood, Plexiglas, laser-pointer lenses, and LED click lights from keychain flashlights. The course instructor plans to compile all the components into a kit, which will be sold at the university bookstore.

Once completed, the do-it-yourself microscope will be able to magnify samples up to 175 times with a single laser-pointer lens, according to Daniel Miller, who created the prototype that was used in a lab last spring. Extra credit was offered to the 50 students in that class, with 15 building the microscope.

“They loved it,” Miller said. “They get to take it home and can use it to look at specimens whenever they want.”

The university hopes to create a how-to manual for teaching lab courses from its Transforming Instructional Labs project. Other labs involved in the project are cell biology, general chemistry, introductory physics, microbiology, the mechanics and materials laboratory, and various labs in nuclear engineering, with instructors planning to develop learning kits for each.

“We’re working with different lab courses on campus that use blended or online learning and plan to come up with an instruction model that could be reproduced anywhere,” said Angela Hammons, manager of instruction technology services at Missouri S&T.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New University Redefines 'Library'

A few universities have converted their campus libraries into computing centers or study halls with Wi-Fi, but Florida Polytechnic University might be the first institution of higher education to be built with a bookless library from the start.

The newly constructed campus in Lakeland just opened for its first classes as part of the Florida State University system. The library services area housed in the Innovation, Science, and Technology Building does provide access to 135,000 titles, according to the Los Angeles Times, but they’re all digital. There are no print books at all in the library.

The library does have printers available. It’s also possible for Polytechnic students to arrange to borrow a hardcover book from another Florida State campus through interlibrary loans. However, students will be discouraged from doing either.

“Instead, the staff hopes students will organize their research online with tools that are part of the library service,” the article said.

On the school’s home page, the link labeled “Library” takes students to a page inviting them to “create your personal Florida Poly library.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Report: Digital Is the Only Way to Go

Developing interactive digital course materials is the best recourse for textbook publishers to regain sales lost to rentals and used books, said a recent report from research firm McKinsey & Co.

McKinsey’s three-year study of the college textbook market showed a steady rise in the number of copies rented by students, accompanied by a slide in the volume of used textbooks bought. Sales of new textbooks also took a hit during that time, but were partly bolstered by purchases to stock rental programs.

By 2018, McKinsey predicted, rentals and used books will each account for 30% of college textbooks, while new books will slip to 26%. Plain-Jane e-books will get 5% and “no buy” options such as sharing with a friend, borrowing from a library, or pirating content will make up the remaining 9%.

Although McKinsey acknowledged that custom textbooks have helped some publishers hang onto sales, “the custom-publishing market is already quite mature, which means that growth opportunities are limited,” the report said.

“The larger opportunity for publishers lies in the creation of dynamic digital-learning resources,” the report noted, adding, “Time is not on the side of textbook publishers. They face a near-term competitive threat from the rental market, even as they serve a customer base that is increasingly dominated by digital natives.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Students Buy Computers in a Vacuum

It’s a given that college and university students need some type of computer for their school work. However, students and their parents apparently pay little heed to the requirements of the campus and/or specific classes when they buy the devices.

For the first time, the National Retail Federation’s annual back-to-college shopping survey asked respondents how much of their electronics spending for fall 2014 was influenced by course and school requirements. Not much, as it turns out.

Only 18.2% said they were 100% influenced by requirements, while 12.2% replied that they took no account whatsoever of requirements in making their purchases this year. The largest group (19.4%) admitted they were swayed 26% to 50% by requirements in deciding what electronics to buy.

Women were almost three times as likely to take school requirements into account in picking out electronic devices, and nearly half of parents over age 65 used requirements to guide their purchases.

Not considering class requirements before buying computers and other devices for use on campus could be a problem for students. NACS member stores report students often need to purchase additional electronics and/or software later in the school year in order to fulfill the requirements of their courses.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Barriers Put Skids on Retail Apps

For a time, the retail industry was gung-ho for mobile apps. Every merchant had to develop an app for shoppers to download so that the store and customer could remain in constant touch.

Some retailers may be cooling on that idea, which is possibly good news for campus stores that didn’t have the budget to build a custom app anyway. According to Mobile Commerce Daily, many attendees at the eTail East 2014 conference in early August thought developing mobile websites made more sense.

While apps are able to provide greater functionality and are easier for customers to use once downloaded, they typically cost more to create, partly because each platform (iOS, iPhone, Android, Windows) calls for its own app. Retailers also have to constantly market the availability of the app and worry whether customers are using it successfully.

“Research has shown that approximately 70% of users lose faith in a brand if an app frustrates them, and one in five apps is only ever used one time,” Joel Evans, vice president of mobile enablement at Mobiquity, told Mobile Commerce Daily.

On the other hand, responsive design allows mobile websites to shapeshift to accommodate most devices. The investment to develop such sites is much lower, and a big bonus is that mobile sites will pop up in search results. Some retailers are opting to put their money into responsive design, at least until it’s easier and cheaper to create apps.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

'Fair' Fight over Copyright in Canada

Content owners and content users have been battling over whose rights take precedence almost since the first stone tablet was carved. The latest tussle, according to Publishers Weekly, is in Canada, where publishers are growing concerned about the amount of content used by educational institutions without permission or payment.

In 2012, Canadian legislators updated the copyright law, extending the uses allowed under “fair dealing” (known as fair use in the U.S.) to include education as well as satire and parody. Already permitted were news reporting, research, personal study, and criticism. Although the law in Canada, as in the U.S., doesn’t provide a specific limit, in general it has been acknowledged that “fair” means permitted users can copy no more than 10% of a work.

Some schools may be stretching that 10% interpretation. In comments to Publishers Weekly, the executive director of the nonprofit Access Copyright licensing organization said educational institutions seem to “believe it is fair to copy a chapter, put it on a course management website, and share it with a class of 10 students or a class of 150 students…. It would be fair to take chapters from multiple publications, journal articles, and 10% of a book, compile it all into a coursepack, and use that as the readings for a given class, without paying any of the rightsholders.”

Publishers have seen a drop in textbook sales since the copyright law was amended and Access Copyright reported fewer universities are renewing their collective licensing agreements. Other educational organizations claimed those declines are due to other factors.

The revised law is up for legislative review in 2017 and a court case involving fair-dealing guidelines is set to be heard in May 2016. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Class Mass Offers Economy of Scale

Size matters when it comes to developing enhancements for college and university courses, in the view of an Inside Higher Education contributor who has taken multiple massive open online courses, better known as MOOCs.

In educational researcher Jonathan Haber’s opinion, the “massive” aspect of MOOCs allows schools to spread the cost of high-tech wizardry across many more students. One of his MOOCs, for example, included videos of a number of professors discussing Chinese art and history on location in various museums and sites around the world.

“Try getting the budget to do that for a 50-person live class,” he wrote.

A MOOC’s inherent hugeness also means a large number of the enrollees already possess a degree, raising the quality of discourse about the class subject. In a Shakespeare MOOC, Haber had a question about Greek mythology relating to Troilus and Cressida, and got a prompt response from another MOOC-taker.

“Try finding that level of expertise in a class full of 18-19-year-olds,” he said.

Haber took a variety of MOOCs in an effort to show that it was possible to accumulate the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in the space of 12 months.

Monday, August 18, 2014

E-Books Via Phones Raise Literacy

Most college and university students would rather not use their cellphones for course readings, but phones are becoming an increasingly important tool in boosting literacy in underdeveloped nations.

The nonprofit Worldreader organization, based in San Francisco, CA, has created an app for feature phones and Android devices that gives youngsters from these countries a means to access thousands of digital books stored in a cloud platform. They pay nothing; the venture is supported by donations from organizations such as Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While printed books and desktop computers are often scarce in rural areas across Africa, Asia, the Mideast, Indonesia, and other territories, many people there do have cellphones with Internet service. Worldreader is also working to make more e-books available in native languages, as children learn to read faster when the books are in their first language.

Worldreader’s latest effort is a partnership with Cambridge University Press to provide 390 titles in African languages. In all, Worldreader reaches kids in 37 countries and 23 languages.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Paying Profs to Find Free Course Materials

Indiana State University is dangling an incentive in front of its faculty to get them to switch from traditional course materials—which students must buy on their own—to open materials that are completely free to students.

Any professor who moves their classes to no-charge reading lists will receive a $3,000 stipend from the school, according to the Indianapolis Star. The stipend is intended to compensate the instructor for the time and effort spent finding, organizing, and/or creating the free materials.

The program is part of a pilot intended to help students save money on course materials. With “more than a dozen” instructors participating in the first year, the university estimated about 700 students saved approximately $90,000 in textbook expenses.

“The ultimate goal, of course, is to make college more affordable for students and also, hopefully, in doing that make them more successful in their college career,” said Heather Rayl, an emerging technology librarian at Indiana State.

More colleges and universities are encouraging faculty to seek out free or cheaper course materials. Some campuses have signed on with nonprofit repositories to help provide faculty with vetted sources for materials.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

OpenStax Working on Personalized Textbooks

OpenStax was founded to lower the cost of course materials through peer-reviewed open textbooks made available in print and digital formats. Now, it is trying to craft individualize textbooks for each student.

The nonprofit organization based at Rice University has received a $9 million grant to develop personalized, interactive textbooks for advance-placement Biology and high school physics. The new textbooks will be housed in the cloud and employ the same sort of algorithms Google and Amazon use to provide course materials that match the learning pace of individual students.

“Imagine a digital textbook where because I’m a different person and learn differently, my book is different than your book,” said OpenStax founder Richard Baraniuk. “Because I understand things in a different way from you, the book itself should change.”

Baraniuk envisions textbooks that will provide students with quizzes that pop up while they work through a topic to gauge their comprehension. Additional study material would also be available, depending on how the student does, and teachers could receive automatic email messages to track students’ progress.

“You know which page a student is on. You also know as they’re scrolling around where they might be within the page,” Baraniuk said. “You know when they’ve clicked on different simulations, practice problems, videos, etc. You have a sense of whether they’re playing those videos through to the end, going back to review material.”

OpenStax will spend the next two years working on these new textbooks, which will be viewable from a variety of digital devices and will go through the same sort of vetting process traditional textbooks go through to ensure quality.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is 3-D Printing Really Educational?

As 3-D printing is becoming more affordable, many in public and higher education are racing to get on the bandwagon. The question for Trevor Shaw, director of technology at the Dwight-Englewood School in New York, is: What are kids learning?

While doing research for a summer class on 3-D printing, Shaw found there wasn’t much to teach after turning on the machine. He also determined that the focus of current 3-D printing is more often on the product rather than the design process needed to make it.

“Schools have been teaching 3-D design for a long time. How could a single piece of equipment, whose job seems to be all about the output of learning products rather than the design of them, have a meaningful impact on instruction?” he asked in a column for eSchool News.

Shaw decided there were 3-D printing lessons to be taught, starting with the understanding that precision is valuable but has constraints and costs. Students could also be shown that design tools have a limited number of variables; that persistence and adaption can lead to success; that collaboration is difficult but powerful; and that it’s possible to create something that was once just the figment of someone’s imagination.

“Sure, students should learn the tips and tricks of removing stuck objects from the build plate and knowing when it’s important to use rafts and supports, but these are probably not anyone’s real objectives,” he wrote. “Quick access to the tangible products of their imagination makes learning opportunities possible, where students can begin to uncover enduring understandings that make them fundamentally better designers and problem-solvers.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MIT Researchers Study MOOC Content

With all the talk about completion rates in massive open online courses (MOOCs), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to conduct a study on how students interact with MOOC content. That led researchers from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) to develop LectureScape, which they call a YouTube for MOOCs.

The study used data supplied by edX, the online learning platform run by MIT and Harvard University, on the second-by-second viewing habits of more than 100,000 learners watching more than 6.9 million video sessions. Researchers found that six minutes is about as long as students will watch. They also get more from watching instructors casually seated at a desk rather than standing behind a podium. In addition, lively visuals work better than PowerPoint slides, while the most engaging professors spoke at 254 words per minute and provided more time during the presentation to allow students to understand diagrams.

LectureScape gives instructors tools to identify the most frequently watched parts of a video and to create an interactive transcript that allows users to enter keywords to find segments of interest. The tool also compiles summaries of individual sections and the entire presentation, and presents popular slides automatically so students can refer back to them.

“Our findings reflect the fact that, to maximize student engagement, instructors must plan their lessons specifically for an online video format,” the authors of the study wrote. “Presentation styles that have worked well for centuries in traditional in-person lectures do not necessarily make for effective online educational videos.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is Apple Getting into E-Book Subscriptions?

The e-book subscription-service bandwagon is starting to get pretty crowded. Oyster and Scribd keep growing and Amazon recently launched its Kindle Unlimited program, which provides assess to around 600,000 e-titles for $9.95 a month.

Now, Apple may be angling to get into the game, according to Andrew Rhomberg, founder of the start-up Jellybooks, which is focused on sampling and sharing e-books. Rhomberg predicted in a Digital Book World article that Apple’s purchase of the e-book recommendation service BookLamp earlier this year could have the company launching a subscription service before the end of the year.

Subscription services must find ways to keep customers paying the monthly fee, and recommendations put interesting things to listen, watch, or read in front of subscribers. It’s sometimes less about the bestsellers and more about providing subscribers with the titles in which they are most likely interested, which is where the algorithms used by the recommendation services come into play.

“Serving up relevant recommendations (and sometimes that means genre fiction rather than literary fiction) is critical to keeping subscribers engaged,” Rhomberg wrote. “Thus the acquisition of BookLamp by Apple could possibly herald Apple’s entry into e-book subscription services.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

NDUS Makes Free Online Textbook Pitch

Students in the North Dakota University System (NDUS) pay an average of $1,100 each year for course materials. A new plan presented to the state legislature may bring that amount down.

The proposal would provide funds to train faculty members in the system to learn about using free online textbooks in place of traditional textbooks. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education approved a budget of $500,000, which includes incentives to attract faculty members to participate in open-textbook training.

“I’m giving them training and the opportunity to learn about it and faculty who are not interested at all in doing open textbooks don’t have to, so it’s purely self-selective,” said Tanya Spilovoy, NDUS director of distance education and state authorization, who proposed the open-textbook plan to the state legislature.

A partnership with the University of Minnesota , which created its own free online textbook library in 2012, will allow NDUS instructors to get accustomed to educational videos and interactive online tools that have already gone through a vetting process at Minnesota. Becoming comfortable with digital course material is an important part of the process, according to David Ernst, chief information officer at the Minnesota College of Education and Human Development.

“In higher education, faculty’s academic freedom is probably the most important thing they have,” Ernst said. “Their right to choose their course material, basically anything academic, is their call and all we can do and all that’s appropriate to do is educate them about open education resources, specifically open textbooks. You answer questions and help remove barriers.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Small Data Can Accomplish Big Changes

There’s plenty of talk about big data and how it is changing everything, including education. However, colleges and university officials should be thinking about “small data,” according to Stephen Laster, former chief information officer of the Harvard Business School and current chief digital officer of McGraw-Hill Education.

“I love the idea of bringing data together to look for patterns and insights, but not in education,” he said during his keynote address at the Campus Technology 2014 conference in Boston.

A lot of students start school, but not enough finish, a fact that Laster considers “almost a crime.” A program that helped summer students at the University of Texas El Paso prepare for college math through the use of knowledge maps and artificial intelligence engines is just one example of the kind of small-data initiative Laster recommends.

“Small data is not going to be the sole driver, but it can be one small piece,” he said. “We cannot unilaterally drive the change, but we can drive a lot of it. Let’s start small.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mobile Payments May Ramp Up Sooner

Of all the new technologies that higher education administrators need to monitor, mobile payment is probably fairly far down the list. However, Business News Daily identified five trends indicating mobile-payment systems are heading into the mainstream.

Although some forms of mobile payment have been somewhat slower to take root—near field communication (NFC), for instance—there has been much more rampant growth in others, such as smartphones. Any organizations that must deal with consumer transactions, including colleges and universities, will have to keep an eye on how smartphone payments play out.

Even NFC is expected to become more common, once consumers get over their worries about privacy, because it is fundamentally easier to use. Payment apps will move to the cloud, allowing for greater customization of services, while stronger security and data protection will be put in place, an aspect of mobile payments of particular concern to campuses.

“As such, security will continue to improve and integrate both technology and personal validation measures,” the article says.

Although Amazon is rumored to be launching a mobile-payment reader soon, Business News Daily doesn’t think the retail behemoth will be able to gain a toehold in that space, given the more-established competitors and the mixed reaction to Amazon’s new phone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Drive for Diploma May Leave Books Behind

Under pressure from state and federal legislators to graduate more students in a shorter period of time, colleges and universities are searching for ways to remove barriers to student success. Some of their efforts might have an impact on course materials.

Coordinated by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Transformational Planning Grant project gave money to seven urban universities for new initiatives to bump up grad rates. The University of Akron in Ohio is using its grant to explore how to award credits to students for their personal experience or knowledge, possibly by testing out of course content. In Oregon, part of Portland State University’s project also involves giving credit for previous learning.

“These different approaches to credentialing knowledge could theoretically speed up students’ time to graduation and knock off semesters of tuition,” noted Government Technology magazine. With fewer courses to take, students could also knock off a number of textbooks.

Georgia State University is looking to build off its successful mathematics program, which uses online adaptive-learning software to engage students and help them complete the course. Using only traditional textbooks, as many as 40% of enrollees failed or dropped out of introductory math. The school wants to try using adaptive-learning software with accounting and introductory chemistry classes, which also have high withdrawal rates.

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Ed Tech Needed, But Not in the Classroom

While technology plays a big role in the classroom experience, the last thing an instructor needs is more of it, according to Jordan Shapiro, educational technology writer and professor at Temple University.

Shapiro, who teaches humanities and is the digital learning coordinator in his department, has flipped his classroom and provides his students every type of content he can find that can be accessed from any type of digital device. However, he still reserves classroom time for working with students on a more personal basis.

“My job is to know where the treasures are, that all paths lead to jewels of critical thinking,” he wrote in a column for Forbes. “This happens through nuanced conversation, through discussion, through debate and interaction.”

Shapiro said that education technology is a tool to get content to students and allow instructors to teach.

“Online, I certainly can’t teach students to verbally articulate complex arguments,” he wrote. “Nor can I teach them through conversational debate. But I can teach them to think critically about online tests and to express themselves articulately in writing.”

Friday, August 1, 2014

Twitter's Place in the Classroom

Educators are searching for ways to put social media to work in the classroom. Twitter might fit the bill the best.

Students are already using the social networking platform to follow experts in their field and to stay informed on breaking news. It is also used as a personal learning network, linking students with peers and resources, according to Debra Beck, public relations coordinator at the University of Wyoming, in an article in the online newspaper The Evolllution, which focuses on lifelong learning.

Using a common hashtag, students can search topics and share discoveries with peers. Twitter promotes live discussions and interaction with a global audience, allows students and instructors to share class information and reminders, and gives students a way to directly connect with their professor.

However, to make Twitter work best, Beck said policies need to be established for interacting with classmates, respecting privacy, and protecting it from becoming a distraction in the classroom.

“Those risks are real. They also are part of online life in a space where, if students are not already engaged, they will be—or should be—as working professionals,” Beck wrote. “Modeling appropriate online behavior and jointly engaging in critical assessment of information can be an important additional contribution to their learning experience.”