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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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Students Push for No-Cost Course Materials

Not surprisingly, college and university students love the idea of free, open-source course materials. Some students, notably at the University of Minnesota, are trying to persuade more faculty to assign open materials.

According to the Minnesota Daily campus publication, the Minnesota Student Association plans to set up a task force to preach the open-source gospel. The task force will contact professors individually to make them aware of open educational materials, in particular to explain what’s available in the university’s open-textbook library, which launched in 2012.

Last year, the student association was active in legislative efforts at the federal and state level to support open materials with grant programs, but those bills petered out. Now the association hopes the personal approach will encourage more faculty to use free materials instead of asking their classes to buy or rent books.

Campus grass-roots efforts like this are likely to sprout up at more institutions in response to student dissatisfaction over the cost of course materials.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Millennials Say Get Mobile or Get Out

Millennials want to use their smartphones for pretty much everything, and they’re starting to look askance at any organization that doesn’t accommodate their mobile needs.

According to a new survey from research company Zogby Analytics and image software provider Mitek, more than a third of millennials have already made a purchase or selected a brand on the basis of the company’s mobile capabilities and almost half interact daily with at least one retail mobile site.

Most respondents indicated retailers ought to offer robust mobile-commerce apps to their customers. About 42% are still willing to shop with retailers that don’t provide an app or mobile-optimized site “but they are likely to complain and feel negatively about it,” said a Mobile Marketer report on the survey. “Fourteen percent claim to avoid businesses that do not offer mobile capability.”

Millennials, the age group dominating college and university enrollment at present, also feel they should be able to use their smartphones’ image-capturing technology to auto-populate electronic forms, such as registering for classes or signing up for an online store’s membership program.

“Institutions must adopt a new way of communicating and interacting or they will be left behind,” said Jim Debello, CEO of Mitek.

Friday, September 26, 2014

LMS Useful, But Not Very Usable

The average learning management system (LMS) has been in place for eight years and about 15% of institutions are looking to replace theirs in the foreseeable future, according to a new study by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). Most schools want systems providing improved functionality.

However, the study determined that faculty and students don’t use all the available features in their current LMS, creating something of a conundrum in deciding what a higher-level system should constitute. Being able to post content (for faculty) and access content (for students) in the system generated the highest satisfaction for more than 75% of both groups. When it came to advanced system tools, though, satisfaction ratings took a plunge.

Both instructors and students told ECAR researchers they don’t know how to utilize LMS features beyond the basics. Most received sketchy training on their system and were left to explore the LMS on their own. Despite that, both groups still believe the LMS helps teaching and learning and they’d like to take greater advantage of its capabilities.

“To meet users’ needs and expectations, the next-generation LMS should be mobile friendly, personalized, customizable, adaptive, intuitive, integrated, and designed to enhance student learning. These systems will function as digital learning environments for students, administrative systems for faculty to manage their courses, and interoperable systems that institutions can integrate into their administrative IT portfolio to leverage analytic applications,” the report concluded.

Students showed enthusiasm for LMS features that would enable them to interact and communicate with each other more easily, such as instant messaging, video chat, online tutoring, and social group discussions and forums. Faculty were more interested in tools to help manage classroom tasks more efficiently and to recommend new or different academic resources.

The study, The Current Ecosystem of Learning Management Systems in Higher Education: Student, Faculty, and IT Perspectives, is part of a larger Educause initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore the next iteration of digital learning and identify where efforts should be focused.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Look to Lurkers for Fruitful 'Engagement'

“Engagement” is probably the buzziest buzzword these days. From schools to retailers to employers, all are admonished to engage their students, their customers, and their workers, or suffer abandonment.

Online engagement is often measured by the amount of two-way interaction—likes, posts, retweets, comments, and such. However, Sephora, the beauty-products retail chain, discovered that wasn’t such an effective indicator of true engagement.

According to a Fast Company article, Sephora analyzed user data for its online community site, which was launched in 2010. Visitors to the site, called Beauty Talk, could set up profiles, share tips, and ask questions. Before the analysis, the company assumed the users who actively participated the most often were also their best customers.

The data showed otherwise. Many posts were questions from new visitors seeking advice on specific beauty problems. Once they got an answer, they didn’t necessarily return to the site.

“Instead, it turns out that superfans can be predicted based on their lurking,” noted the article. “The more a user logs into a site day after day, week after week, month after month, the more likely they are to become an active superfan. Posting activity had relatively little to do with it.”

It seems superfans enjoy viewing posts and other content on Sephora’s community, but they don’t feel like chiming in. The upshot is that superfans shell out 10 times the amount spent by the typical Sephora customer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

To Stem Attrition, College Cuts Tuition

The rising cost of higher education always seems to be in the news. Grace College is trying to change that narrative on its campus.

The evangelical Christian school in Winona Lake, IN, has launched “A Measure of Grace,” an initiative that lowers the cost of tuition for incoming freshmen by 9%. The program also provides upperclassmen with a decrease in tuition of about $500 a year, plus many textbooks are now free and students can earn most degrees offered by the school in three years.

“We’ve looked hard at how we’ve spent our money and we have looked hard at keeping costs down,” Grace President Bill Katip told WBST 22, a CBS affiliate station in Mishawaka, IN. “And we believe you can have excellence and also keep it affordable.”

College officials launched the initiative after watching the number of incoming freshmen decline after the economic recession of 2008. They made cost-cutting a priority and are now passing the savings on to students.

“My tuition is the highest it is ever going to be this year and it will go down a little each year—actually go down instead of go up like any other college in the world,” said Grace student Lydia Bronner.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Students Taking MOOCs Do Indeed Learn

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported students who complete massive open online courses (MOOCs) are learning something, regardless of how prepared they are coming into the course. Researchers found that all students who took an MIT physics course offered on the edX platform in the summer of 2013 showed signs of learning the subject, as long as they spent time doing the work.

“There was no evidence that cohorts with low initial ability learned less than the other cohorts,” the researchers wrote in the paper, which was published by The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Researchers also found that students taking the MOOC learned at a similar rate to MIT students taking the on-campus version of the class. Less-prepared students did earn significantly lower scores than their better-prepared counterparts, but their learning progress was the same, according to David E. Pritchard, a researcher on the study.

“If they stuck it out, they learned,” Pritchard told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Students See Tablets in Their Future

A new Harris poll found that college students see tablet computers as the wave of the future. The survey of 1,228 U.S. college students reported that 81% agreed that tablets will transform the way they learn and 74% said the device made learning more fun.

The 2014 Student Mobile Device Survey also found that 82% of the respondents thought using the device would encourage them to purchase digital textbooks instead of print. However, 89% reported using their laptops on a regular basis and 83% said they used their smartphone regularly, while just 45% said they regularly used a tablet.

A majority (54%) of the students said they used a single mobile device during a schoolday, with most using a laptop (89%) or their smartphone (56%) each week when doing schoolwork compared to 33% who said a tablet. Nearly all also reported having access to the Internet.

“The market for tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices has grown dramatically over the past few years,” the authors of the report wrote. “These mobile devices have the potential to transform learning and to impact the delivery of course materials.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Google Starts Chromebook Lending Library

Google already considers its Chromebook a low-cost laptop alternative for the classroom. Now, the company is taking that a step further, creating a notebook Lending Library that will provide students free access to a device whenever they happen to need it.

The online giant is placing a café-style kiosk at 12 U.S. colleges and universities for three days in the initial phase of the Lending Library project, which will run through October. Devices are available at the kiosk on a first-come, first-served basis and can be kept for the duration of its stay on the campus. Students will be charged for the devices if they are not returned on time.

“The Lending Library is a bit like your traditional library, but instead of books, we’re letting students borrow Chromebooks [no library cards needed],” Lindsay Rumer of the Chrome marketing team told Digital Trends. “Students can use a Chromebook during the week for life on campus—whether it’s in class, during an all-nighter, or browsing the Internet in their dorm.”

The operating system is cloud-based, allowing students to switch back and forth between devices with a Google account, username, and password. It also is a way for students to become more familiar using the Google operating system and devices and possibly become more dedicated Google customers, according to the Digital Trends report.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Educational Challenge of Wearable Tech

With Apple joining the wearable technology fray, educators have to understand that the devices will inevitably become a part of the classroom. There will be challenges, but also opportunities, according to Teresa Fishman, director of the International Institute for Academic Integrity at Clemson University.

“I hope that what is going to happen in response to something like this is not more emphasis on surveillance, but instead something related to changing what’s going on in the classroom,” she told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

To counter some of the challenges, Fishman suggested educators provide assignments that take advantage of the fact that students are going to use the Internet and work with their friends. She also said she believes it will take a greater emphasis on ethics and probably some old-fashioned methods to combat the potential of using a smartwatch to cheat.

“Rather than getting higher tech, the solution is often the lowest-tech one of all: an oral exam with a student in which you can talk through a problem,” she said. “It’s time-consuming, and time-consuming means expensive, but there’s almost nothing that beats a conversation.”

Using wearable technology to cheat may be a minor issue compared to the distractions it causes. At the same time, there is the potential for new applications to be created that will make learning even better.

“It’s first going to be a distraction and detriment, and it’s going to be a learning curve for how to make this a clear benefit for learning and social skills,” said B.J. Fogg, consulting professor at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, who wrote about an app called Study Buddy that could prompt students to study in his 2002 book Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CMU Studies MOOC Completion Rates

The high drop-out rates of massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been widely reported and roundly criticized. Carnegie Mellon University has received a $600,000 grant from Google to look for solutions to reverse that trend.

One big problem for MOOCs is the lack of social interaction, CMU researchers said in a National Public Radio report from the affiliate station in Pittsburgh, PA. Taking a MOOC means students learn in isolation, but dealing with other students is important for effective learning.

“Learning in the MOOC context is not correlated with watching the filmstrips of the professor,” said Justine Cassell, associate vice provost of technology strategy and impact at CMU. “It’s correlated with the time you spend in an online discussion group and I love that. Of course, it’s not surprising: It’s the same thing for a real classroom.”

An even bigger issue for MOOCs is that when they are free with no credit attached, students are often just browsing with no intention of becoming active participants.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the vision that was kind of hyped up in the media, but there will be something new that’s coming,” CMU Associate Professor Carolyn Rosé said about her work in the study on MOOCs. “And so, I think it’s worth working towards that. I think it offers something and we have to find out what that new thing is that we’re ready as a community to offer.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Digital Reading Often Superficial

College students keep telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s easier to study from a print textbook than a digital one. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence to back that up, according to an article in The New Yorker magazine.

Many researchers are considering the impact of digital reading, including Maryanne Wolf, who has spent years studying the development of brain comprehension as reading media have changed over the centuries.

Since the recent rise of digital materials, Wolf has seen a rapid decline in “deep reading”—the kind students need to fully understand and retain subject matter. She’s gotten letters from college and university professors concerned that their students couldn’t master the course topic because they were simply skimming the reading on-screen.

Several studies determined people read more quickly on an electronic screen, and therefore tend to think less about the topic as they go. That, in turn, means they don’t retain as much. Links embedded in digital materials, which are intended to provide a richer reading experience by connecting directly to additional information, actually ended up interrupting the flow of reading and sidetracked the reader’s mental processes.

However, a new study with fifth-graders showed that annotation tools, which are included with most reading apps and mobile devices, can help improve digital reading considerably, provided that students are taught how to use the tools. Students who highlighted, added notes, and bookmarked pages were able to engage more deeply with the content and remember what they’d read.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Students See Tablets in Their Futre

A new Harris poll found that college students see tablet computers as the wave of the future. The survey of 1,228 U.S. college students reported that 81% agreed that tablets will transform the way they learn and 74% said the device made learning more fun.

The 2014 Student Mobile Device Survey also found that 82% of the respondents thought using the device would encourage them to purchase digital textbooks instead of print. However, 89% reported using their laptops on a regular basis and 83% said they used their smartphone regularly, while just 45% said they regularly used a tablet.

A majority (54%) of the students said they used a single mobile device during a schoolday, with most using a laptop (89%) or their smartphone (56%) each week when doing schoolwork compared to 33% who said a tablet. Nearly all also reported having access to the Internet.

“The market for tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices has grown dramatically over the past few years,” the authors of the report wrote. “These mobile devices have the potential to transform learning and to impact the delivery of course materials.”

MOST Initiative Off to a Good Start

The University System of Maryland Open-Source Textbook (MOST) initiative was successful enough during the spring that it’s being expanded this fall. Eleven instructors from seven Maryland universities participated in the voluntary program, assigning open-source online course materials for at least one course during the spring 2014 semester.

Data collected after the spring pilot was complete indicated that most students and faculty were pleased with the experience that saved $130,000 in textbook costs, according to a report for the local CBS affiliate in Baltimore. The total amount of savings was based on the prices of new textbooks that would have been assigned for the courses.

Lumen Learning LLC, a provider of open-source course materials, helped finance the MOST pilot through a grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges. Lumen helped faculty find and collect online course material ranging from complete course packages to individual articles, graphics, and video.

While the pilot showed initial promise, there were complaints. Professors had to spend additional hours in preparation and students had issues with the limitations of the open course materials. However, university officials said they believe the issues can be addressed and that more participation and feedback will allow them to identify the course materials that work the best.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Coursera Is Quick to Fix Possible Breach

While preparing to teach Stanford Law’s first Coursera class, the instructor stumbled across a potential breach that could have knocked Apple’s issues with a hack of iCloud security and compromising photos of entertainers out of the headlines. Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer, while setting up his massive open online course, was able to gain access to nine million Coursera names and email addresses.

In a blog post, Mayer wrote that: 
  • Any teacher can dump the entire user database, including over nine million names and email addresses.
  • Once logged into your Coursera account, any website that you visit can list your course enrollments.
  • Coursera’s privacy-protecting user IDs don’t protect much. 

Mayer alerted Coursera, which addressed the issues immediately and sent an apology to its users. Once the patches were completed, Mayer found plenty of improvements, but problems still exist.

“The bad news is that anyone with teacher access can still look up any individual student’s contact information, so long as he or she either knows the student’s internal ID (it’s embedded in many pages) or can guess a distinctive part of the student’s email address (maybe try first initial last name?),” he said. “That’s a questionable security model, and it’s potentially inconsistent with Coursera’s privacy policy.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Skills May Be More Valued Than Degrees

Most college grads and employers agree a degree helps employees advance in their jobs, but a recent Harris poll found that learning a specific skill may be worth even more, with 72% of the respondents reporting that specialized training is more valuable than a degree.

The survey, conducted in June, showed that 63% of the respondents with jobs said learning a new skill or receiving specialized training helped them advance or earn a bigger paycheck. Just 45% said having a college or graduate degree was a factor, followed by moving to a new company (38%) and networking with professionals (34%).

The report also found that 74% of employees believe their bosses value work experience and related skills more than an education when comparing job candidates. In addition, 48% of employed college graduates think their degree is not very relevant to their job and 80% report that they have never been asked about their grade-point average in an interview.

“While education is still valued as one piece of the puzzle for a successful career, we’re seeing a shift in the workplace in which most employees feel gaining the latest skills relevant to their job and industry is more valuable to help advance their careers, and they’re feeling it’s what employers are truly seeking to really help move business forward,” Rusty Rueff of Glassdoor said in an article for eCampus News.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Study Shows Online Can Cost More

Many view online courses as the answer to lowering the cost of higher education. A Dallas Morning News report concluded that’s always not the case, at least in Texas.

The News analyzed 18 universities in Texas and found that only the University of North Texas, Denton, and the University of Texas, Austin, offered online courses at a lower cost to students than traditional classes on campus after extra fees and additional costs per credit hour were included. The newspaper reported that a semester of online courses at UT-Arlington was $4,439 for on-campus students, compared to $4,415-$4,490 for online students.

“There’s sort of a snake-oil quality to some of the facile answers that people periodically throw out there,” Barmak Nassirian, director of federal regulations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told the News. “Online education can be a tremendously valuable component for actual academic delivery, but if you were to do it right, it would not only not save money, it would cost money.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

YouTube Ads Bag the Sale

If a picture’s worth 1,000 words, then a video’s apparently worth 15 million clicks to buy.

Compared to other prominent social media, YouTube is the most effective at getting consumers interested in products as well as persuading them to make the purchase, according to a VentureBeat report.

The study, performed by AOL Platforms, analyzed the interaction of some 500 million clicks on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, and YouTube. All that clicking resulted in 15 million purchases. The study looked at three stages of shopper interaction (introduction to products, re-exposure to products on other social media platforms, and searching out a product with intent to buy) as well as instances where consumers bought something right away via social media without encountering further marketing.

As it turns out, YouTube was tops at both calling consumers’ attention to products and at closing the sale at the third stage. YouTube also got more shoppers to purchase immediately. At the other end of the spectrum, Twitter didn’t have much impact at all in those areas but did have the most influence in the middle stage of shopping, by reinforcing advertising messages that consumers had already seen on other social media.

Overall, paid messaging on all social media platforms got more people to buy than “organic” messages shared by users, except for posts relating to food, beverages, apparel, and accessories. For those products, what users had to say influenced purchasers more than marketing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

E-Textbooks Are Coming, Eventually

A 2012 study from the computer networking consortium Internet2 reported students found e-textbooks to be lacking in usability, visual presentation, and navigation. Students participating in e-text pilots said the material was hard to read, complained of eyestrain, and found the content was not always compatible with mobile devices.

Yet, two years is an eternity in the world of technology.

In that time, the price of tablets and the digital course materials have become more affordable while the functionality of e-textbooks has improved, according to a column from Meris Stansbury in eCampus News. In addition, a survey from the Pearson Foundation found that 63% of college students and 69% of high school students believe traditional textbooks will no longer be used within five years and more than half of the college students said they now preferred reading digital textbooks.

Stansbury wrote that the shift is coming, but there are factors that will move the transition along. For instance, she noted the need for more faculty training with the technology, that self-publishing can be an attractive option for instructors, and that there’s a place for the college store partnering with educational publishers to facilitate the bulk purchasing that can lower prices for students.

“Saying that e-books will never take off is like saying, ‘Long live the tape cassette,” Stansbury wrote. “But one fact is clear: printed texts are video rental stores and one day (it may take some decades) those doors will shutter.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Educational Technology Is Being Used

A 2014 Student Watch poll from OnCampus Research reported that 91% of all college students own a laptop and 81% own a smartphone. What they are doing with those devices in the classroom may come as a surprise.

To get a sense of how devices are being used in the classroom, this graphic from information gathered from the Pew Research Center, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other studies illustrates the technology and the issues students and faculty have with it. For instance, 75% of the students said they are bringing their laptops into the classroom more often, but not necessarily to do things related to classwork.

While 83% of the students said they used their laptops to take class notes and 81% said they send emails during class, more than 40% said they used their laptops to surf the Internet and 25% played games. They also reported spending just six minutes each day on school-based emails and complained about professors sending emails.

The faculty reported that the benefits of having electronic devices in the classroom include gaming, online simulations, blogging and forums, and online learning. However, among the negatives are the distractions they cause, cheating, and lower grades. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Georgia Tech Online Program Shows Promise

Low completion rates have been a stumbling block for massive open online courses (MOOCs). Studies have shown that just 5% of the thousands of students enrolled in the first MOOCs from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finished the courses, while another found the number of students now enrolling online is at its lowest rate in a decade.

However, good news may be on the horizon.

The online master’s degree program in computer science offered by Georgia Institute of Technology has gotten off to pretty solid start with 375 students enrolled in the first semester of the program. The average age of the students is 35, most are employed, and all are paying a fee.

Working students who pay a fee, which was estimated at less than $7,000 to complete the three-year program, could be the key to success for the program. Georgia Tech faculty and officials believe those two elements keep students more engaged in the class than traditional students on campus.

Of course, the program isn't “massive” with just 375 students, nor is it “open” because of the fee, according to Michael Feldstein, partner at the education consulting firm MindWires. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

“To be able to offer an online degree at the level of quality consistent with Georgia Tech at a lower cost would be an important innovation,” Feldstein told The Hechinger Report.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

'Modularization' Is Next for Higher Ed

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology task force forecast that “modularization” will be the next big thing for higher education. The group’s final report said using the approach of Apple iTunes, which allows users to purchase music in bits and pieces, will play an important part in improving web-based learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The report said breaking courses into units that are in sequence but can be studied separately can make the work more accessible and affordable for students. It would also add “malleability” and “fluidity” to online learning, which could help address the issue of low completion rates for MOOCs.

The task force advised that modularization would require an online place where students could find and download the necessary materials for the course. It should use tags and filters to make it easier for faculty and students to work with the repository.

“The way in which students are accessing material points to the need for the modularization on online classes whenever possible,” the task force wrote in its final report. “This in many ways mirrors the preferences of students on campus. The unbundling of classes also reflects a larger trend in society—a number of other media offerings have become available in modules, whether it is a song from an album, an article in a newspaper, or a chapter from a textbook. Modularity also enables ‘just-in-time’ delivery of instruction, further enabling project-based learning on campus and for students worldwide.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Google Goes All-In on Education

Google is trying to create what it calls the “paperless classroom,” offering its low-cost Chromebook laptop and Google Apps for Education as part of the effort. Now, it has launched Google Classroom, free productivity tools for teachers and students that integrate with the rest of the Google Apps, such as Gmail, Drive, and Docs.

Classroom allows teachers to create assignments, make copies of Google documents, and create Drive folders for each assignment. Students are able to track homework and get real-time feedback and grades in the app.

While it all sounds fine, some are still leery. One problem is making sure each student has access to the Internet so they can use the app. Other issues include student privacy and Google’s ability to advertise itself to students with the app.

“The thing about Google is they’re a technology company, not really a solution company,” said Phil Hill, an educational technology consultant and market analyst, in a National Public Radio report. “Rather than understand the needs and build a holistic solution, Google has the ability to throw stuff out and see what happens.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Labor Day

Have an enjoyable Labor Day. Stay safe!