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, November 28, 2014

Take a Tour of Independent Bookstores

Photographer Bryan David Griffith sees more in bookstores than just a place to buy books. To Griffith, a bookstore is a place where people can get away from a hectic, bustling world.

That notion took Griffith on yearlong tour of independent bookstores around the country for a photo project he called The Last Bookstore, America’s Resurgent Independents. Griffith told the online magazine Slate he was drawn to the design of the stores when he compared them to big-box retail chains. He also took inspiration from photographs of storefronts in the 1930s.

“Bookstores are holdouts from an earlier era,” he said. “It’s not nostalgia necessarily, more of a study about the retail space and how it might be different 30 years from now.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy the day with family and friends!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tech Buyers Want Multichannel Options

Most college students love the latest electronic gadget and many will be in the market for something new this holiday season. A new report on retail technology trends found most buyers like shopping both online and in-store and aren’t that interested in wearable tech yet.

Purch, an online publishing company, surveyed more than 3,000 “tech enthusiasts” to track consumer-technology buying trends and identify top brands. It found that 74% of respondents planned to shop both online and in stores for their tech purchases, while just 4% said they would limit their shopping to traditional bricks-and-mortar locations.

Smartphones, laptops, and tablets were the top product categories. Half of the respondents said they would buy a Samsung product, followed by Asus (40%), Microsoft (38%), and Apple (28%). Fewer than 10% of the respondents said they would consider a smartwatch (9%) or fitness device (8%).

The report found that tech consumers relied on product reviews (86%) and articles by experts (74%) to help them make their buying decisions. Social media (18%) and advertising (12%) were at the bottom of the sources list.

“Consumers value a multichannel shopping environment and they look to product reviews and expert content to guide their purchase decisions,” said Purch CEO Greg Mason. “You can’t deny the authority and influences these resources have on technology enthusiasts in particular.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

E-Book Sales May Rule by 2018

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the multinational professional services network, predicted e-book sales will top both print-book and audiobook sales by 2018, according to a report in The New York Times. The projection is based on inroads PwC sees being made in the e-book market in the United States and Great Britain, which represent a quarter to a third of e-book sales.

The problem is PwC has made this prediction before. In fact, the company has made the same prediction for the last four years, according to Nate Hoffelder in his Digital Reader blog post.

According to Hoffelder, the size of the e-book market can’t be accurately measured, so there is no way to prove whether PwC is right or not.

“In any case, I am looking forward to making this post an annual tradition,” he wrote. “PwC will post their prediction, and I will point out that they missed in their previous predictions. We’ll all laugh, drink hot cider, and what fun we’ll have.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pros, Cons of Digital Textbooks

Digital course materials are finding their way into more classrooms, particularly at the middle- and high-school levels. Teachers and students of the Miami-Dade County school district, which ramped up its digital efforts this year, found the devices are great when they work.

Tablet computers give teachers the opportunity to be more creative with their lesson plans and let students work more efficiently, according to a report in the Miami Herald. At the same time, teachers aren’t always sure what students are doing online. Students also complain of poor Internet connections and say sometimes the digital textbooks just don’t work.

“It’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship,” said Nadia Zananiri, a teacher at Miami Beach High School.

Insufficient training with the devices is a big concern for teachers, but there are also a number of technological issues causing frustrations, such as students without the proper access codes, apps for online material that disappear, and not enough electrical outlets in the classrooms when students fail to recharge prior to class. Spotty Internet connection tops the list of complaints for both teachers and students.

The district offered 18 training sessions for teachers and is working to add more Wi-Fi capacity at its schools. It already manages 20,000 access points and 45 million sq. ft. of wireless coverage.

“It’s like anything else: There will be hiccups the first year, but eventually we’ll get it down,” said Daniel Francia, a teacher at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School. “I see the merits.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

Social Media Finds a Place in Higher Ed

While there’s not a lot of data about how social media impacts online education, it does appear professors are beginning to find uses for social media in the classroom. In fact, one survey showed that 41% of responding professors reported using social media in their teaching.

“We’ve had online learning for quite a long time—since the 1990s when it started to become popular—but the inclusion of social media is something that’s relatively new,” Michael Menchaca, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii, told U.S. News & World Report. “A lot of us are starting to use it more. I guess we’re still tinkering around and trying things.”

Among other uses, social media is seen as a way to communicate and share information with students. For instance, Menchaca requires his students to introduce themselves to the rest of the class with a 15-second Instagram video. He also uses Google Hangout for group meetings and Twitter for discussions.

On the other hand, instructors have discovered that there are so many social-media tools available that it can become difficult to manage them all. Because social media is open for anyone to see, there are also concerns that students could be discouraged from participating. Another worry is how faculty can be sure a student is actually the one posting an assignment.

“I think that as we all become more comfortable with using social media, it will generate more opportunities for students to network, communicate information with their professors and instructors, and eventually enrich and enhance the overall educational experience,” said Abbie Brown, a professor of instruction technology at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Google Offering Unlimited Cloud Space

Google is offering students using its Apps for Education unlimited space on an upgraded Google Drive. Previously, students could access 30 GB of space, but the unlimited offer will make it possible to store files as large as five terabytes, according to the company.

Along with the storage space, all files are encrypted for security. Students are also able to access the Google Apps Vault, an add-on tool that allows users to organize their files and assignments.

Google sees the service as a virtual locker for students. It also provides the company an opportunity to interact with users before they start looking for similar services they would be required to pay for after they graduate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cameras Used to Study Lecture Attendance

Harvard University raised a few eyebrows when reports surfaced about its use of secret cameras in select classrooms to study student attendance habits. Some questioned the ethics of the research, while others thought the results were rather predictable.

For instance, an average of 60% of students showed up for any of the 10 lecture courses that were filmed, but more showed up on Wednesdays than on Fridays. Lecture attendance also declined over the semester.

A course’s grading policy and students’ motivation for enrolling were the two factors most likely to get them to class. The three courses with the highest attendance had a grading policy that required students to be there and more than 50% of the students who enrolled in those three did so to fill a requirement.

The official reason for the study was to find out how engaged students were in classes using a lecture format, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Harvard was also trying to find new ways to make lectures more interactive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chegg Hosting Virtual Career Fairs

Online textbook-rental company Chegg launched its Career Service Center to give student users another way to locate a job. Now, it’s adding virtual career fairs to the mix.

The fairs let students and prospective employers meet online in real time on a monthly basis. United Healthcare has already participated in one of the first and Adobe is set to take part before the end of November, according to a report in eCampus News.

At the virtual career fair, students fill out profiles about themselves and the career they would like to find, while recruiters can specify the kind of employee for which they are searching. Students and recruiters then share information during an eight-minute online chat, with both asked to rate and review each other at the end of the session.

“There are two ways you can choose to follow up. Recruiters can say, ‘Yes, I’d love to follow up with this student,’ and they get a separate list of the students they liked, or they can choose to share their contact information with a student as soon as the session is over,” Carly Keller, marketing manager of career services at Chegg, told USA Today. “Then those students go into a regular phone or in-person interview after that. It’s in the hands of the recruiter.”

Chegg has to be pleased with the initial results. More than 1,500 students from across the nation signed up for a fair that focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) companies, including Adobe, Progressive, and AIG.

“There’s no way in which we would ever plan to charge a student to attend something like this,” Keller said. “The world of recruiting is that the talent teams and HR teams send money to reach out to candidates, and we are just trying to find more and more effective ways for students to have these opportunities with employers.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Coursera Working on Instructor Video Chats

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been pretty good at attracting crowds, but personal interaction with the instructor is difficult. Coursera is looking at providing one-on-one online discussions between student and instructor.

“Down the road, we’ll probably go to a premium layer that you could pay for that would give you live interaction with a professor by video or something like that—a seminar within a MOOC,” CEO Rick Levin told Wired.

Levin compared the idea to Google Hangout, a feature that allows videoconferencing from a computer or mobile device. Coursera is running more than 800 MOOCs, so the scale would be much larger. At the same time, it would be another way for the company to make money as students would be charged to participate in the online seminars.

“We think higher-touch interaction will appeal to some people,” Levin said. “It’s a way to get some money out of the lifelong-learner population, as opposed to the career-builder.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

UT Creates Mobile-First Competency Courses

The University of Texas System is taking competency-based education mobile. It is creating a new program to offer adaptive degrees and certificates aligned with industry standards and available through mobile technology developed by the UT System.

The educational pathway will be supported by a platform of technologies and services known as Total Educational Experience (TEx). The tools available in TEx can be adapted to a student’s preferences and adjusted to meet the student’s level of mastery.

“We made the decision to initially deliver TEx on mobile devices to ensure we meet students where they are, with the technology that they are used to,” said Marni Baker Stein, chief innovation officer for the Institute of Transformational Learning, which is developing the TEx program. “The experience will still be available on the web, but the mobile delivery will allow them to take their education with them wherever they go.”

The program will launch in fall 2015, offering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and medical science courses. It will be offered in online and hybrid formats available for students from high school through postgraduate levels.

TEx tools will also provide students customized advising and mentoring on career objectives. In addition, it will support teaching methods in the classroom.

“We are developing a new model of education that provides an alternative and potentially accelerated pathway to a UT-quality degree,” Baker Stein said. “Our degree and certificate programs are designed to build on critical skill sets so that students achieve enduring mastery that better prepares them for the workplace of the future.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Instant Log-in for Teachers, Students

The San Francisco-based educational technology startup Clever launched in 2012 with a tool that integrated new software with student information automatically. Last May, it added a new feature to the program, providing teachers and students with access to more than 100 software programs with a single username and password.

Now, Clever is partnering with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to allow teachers to use the single-sign-in technology to access thousands of free, teacher-generated course materials through the AFT’s free online Share My Lesson site.

AFT’s platform provides teachers with a place to find open educational resources to use for their lessons. On the other hand, students can use Clever’s single-sign-in function to access a variety of free online tools, such as a web-based graphing calculator, an online computer-programming course, and a program that teaches used to type faster.

“There’s all this really incredible content available online for free that schools would love to use if it were just easier,” Tyler Bosmey, founder and CEO of Clever, told Digital Education

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nonfiction E-Books Need a Lot of Work

Digital textbooks are way too cumbersome, complain college students, and a consulting firm specializing in the usability of digital media agrees.

Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher with the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), took a look at the electronic versions of various nonfiction books and discovered a lot of things that would drive students crazy. The books in question weren’t specifically written as class textbooks, but they’re the type of nonfiction titles often selected by professors for their courses.

“As any college student will certify, lugging around a backpack full of books is no fun,” Budiu wrote in NNG’s newsletter, Alertbox. “Digital books are light and convenient, yet they still leave much to be desired in terms of usability.”

In some cases, the problems were in the formatting of the e-book, while others stemmed from the e-reading app. Either way, Budiu found that some books offered no means for readers to turn back to previous pages, something students do all the time while studying print books.

Other annoying difficulties included annotations that displayed out of whack with the main content, tables that hadn’t been resized so they broke up across multiple pages, low-resolution illustrations, text that references another portion of the book but provides no direct link there, text that links to a full-size illustration yet the adjacent thumbnail illustration doesn’t, and photo captions that disappear when you zoom in on the image.

Budiu recommended nonfiction publishers pay more attention to navigation in e-books, support more in-text hyperlinking, and improve the quality and detail of illustrations.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Seeing Comic Books in a Different Light

A comic-book section is probably not high on the list of things for a campus bookstore to offer, but maybe it should be. Our brains process print and digital media differently, according to Tufts University professor Maryanne Wolf, and comics just might be a bridge between the multitasking brain used when viewing digital content and the “deep reading” brain used for printed material.

Comics, often presented like a collage, can provide a reading experience that is different from other forms, wrote Bill Kartalopoulos, editor of Best American Comics 2014, in a blog post for The Huntington Post.

After centuries of reading one way, it’s not always easy to process the way information is presented online. Constant linking to different websites is also disruptive when reading, but Kartalopoulos said comics are a form that melds linear typography with an Internet-like real-time grouping of different parts.

“Artful comics induce a kind of double vision in the reader. We fully experience the work by understanding the relationship between parts and the whole; between linear sequence and the simultaneous perception of related fragments,” Kartalopoulos said. “This is the medium-specific quality that make comics something more than simple storyboards, and this is the element of comics that brings us back to the Internet and our endangered ‘deep reading’ brains.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ga. Tech Online Program Works for AT&T

The Georgia Institute of Technology online master’s degree program in computer science, that is being offered online and for around $6,000, has been lauded by the media and politicians since it was launched in January. A $2 million donation from AT&T helped get the project off the ground, but many wondered what was in it for AT&T?

Part of the reasons is the great publicity the move has generated for the company. The $2 million is about the same amount the telecommunications giant would pay for a 30-second commercial run during the Super Bowl. AT&T also sees the financial commitment as an affordable training and recruiting tool.

The master’s degree program through Georgia Tech is not like the program Starbucks is offering its baristas through Arizona State University because AT&T staffers receive no discounts for taking the classes. That hasn’t proven to be an obstacle: 18% of the 1,268 students currently enrolled are AT&T employees.

“I can send employees that would never be able to go to a bricks-and-mortar university and be able to train [them] up on these advanced technical skills,” Scott Smith, senior vice president of human resources at AT&T, told Bloomberg Business. “This adds another talent pipeline to my staffing.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

Building a Better Dinosaur

The potential of 3-D printing is attracting a lot of attention in education circles. Campus stores are using it to drive traffic, universities are launching crowdsourcing campaigns to pull in funding, and students are learning everything from design to collaboration.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is using it to show students how to reconstruct a dinosaur.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

E-Reading Tracking Not as Invasive

After some slightly scary reports that Adobe was monitoring the reading habits of those using its e-reader application, it turns out the reality is not so Big Brother after all.

A TechWorld article reported the Electronic Frontier Foundation investigated Adobe’s actions and found the application only tracked e-book titles with digital rights management (DRM). Even then, Adobe only checked the first time the e-book was opened to make sure the copy was legitimate and not pirated. For books being used under a metered pricing model, Adobe was also measuring the length of time or number of pages consumed.

Readers of Fifty Shades of Grey can rest assured Adobe wasn’t looking to see how long they lingered over the juicy bits. In response to the reports, though, Adobe did make changes in how the application reported information, switching from easily hacked plain text to an encrypted file.

However, an app that follows e-reading patterns would actually yield a lot of useful data for publishers and would probably result in better books. For instance, publishers would be able to determine how many readers finished the book, where they tended to abandon it, whether they flipped back to previous pages, or if they seemed to skim through some parts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Prof Makes Web Distractions Part of Class

One big complaint about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) learning is the distraction the devices cause. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania is trying to find out just what is possible from that sort of distraction.

“Wasting Time on the Internet” is a creative writing seminar where students will be required to divide their classtime between the Internet and the classroom. Kenneth Goldsmith wants his students to be distracted in hopes they will be inspired to write something particularly creative by the end of the term.

“Creative writing and art is the place where you get to try out … things that might seem a little bit outrageous,” Goldsmith told The Washington Post. “Isn’t that what an undergraduate education is, really? It sounds like a perfect undergraduate class to me.”

Goldsmith admitted he isn’t sure what sorts of writing he will get from his students, but he does have some experience with unusual teaching methods. He has taught “Uncreative Writing” at Penn for years, a class in which students must plagiarize other works to complete assignments.

“Once you take away the forbidden fruit, then they shift their orientation and view it as a creative exercise,” Goldsmith said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Campus Libraries Aim to Cut Textbook Costs

University libraries are taking it upon themselves to help alleviate the cost of course materials for their students.

For example, the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries created a new program to loan textbooks for selected courses, focusing on large-enrollment classes with a high rate of student withdrawal or failure. Sixty titles (including standards such as Campbell Biology and Mankiw’s Principles of Macroeconomics) are available for two-hour checkouts, although students must remain within the library during the checkout period. They’re allowed to copy portions of the text, however.

This program might not seem all that innovative—a number of campus libraries across North America already loan out textbooks—but the UTA library system previously didn’t offer current textbooks at all. The libraries established the program to address the problem of students trying to make it through a difficult course without the textbook because they didn’t have money to buy or rent it.

“We are committed to helping students get the resources they need to succeed academically and textbook lending is one way we hope to accomplish that,” said Rebecca Bichel, dean of libraries.

The Universityof Massachusetts at Amherst Libraries recently launched the fourth round of its Open Education Initiative to provide cash incentives to faculty for the development of free or inexpensive alternatives to regular textbooks. The alternatives can include materials created by the instructor, library resources, or open-access resources available elsewhere.

The Open Education Initiative offers grants of $1,000 to faculty teaching a course of 200 or fewer students and $2,500 to faculty teaching a larger course. To date, 30 instructors from eight Umass schools and colleges have participated. The libraries claim to have saved students upward of $1 million on their textbooks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Faculty Still Not Sold on Digital

Two recent surveys of faculty members found that many instructors aren’t buying into online courses as an effective method of learning and aren’t really sure what open educational resources (OER) are.

The first report, Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, found that 52% of responding faculty members said online courses produce inferior results when compared to in-person courses. The survey of 2,799 faculty members and 288 academic technology administrators was conducted by Gallup in August and September.

Humanities instructors disapproved of online courses the most (54%), but 51% of social sciences teachers and 46% of engineering, biological, and physical sciences instructors agreed with them. In addition, just 18% of faculty who had taught an online course thought they outperformed in-person classes, while 71% said online courses provided lower-quality interaction with students.

“My general reaction is that the data show that the more exposure a faculty member has had to online or blended learning, the more positive their view,” Ronald Legon, executive director of the Quality Matters Program, told Inside Higher Education. “But clearly, not all faculty have seen the potential of online learning to match and even exceed the effectiveness of face-to-face learning because they have not had the opportunity to become familiar with best practices and research-driven course design and delivery.”

The second study, to find out if faculty are using OER, reported that nearly two-thirds said they were unaware of open educational resources, even though about half reported using them. More than 2,100 faculty members responded to the survey, conducted by Babson Survey Research Group.

“The answer appears to have two causes,” authors of the report wrote. “The [lack of] faculty understanding of the term of ‘open educational resources,’ and the fact that faculty often make resource choices without consideration to the licensing of that resource.”

The report noted that the most popular types of open content were images (89%) and videos (87%). Nearly 75% of respondents said the quality of OER materials was the same as or better than traditional resources. That quality was one of the most important considerations for faculty members who used OER, but 85% rated OER superior to traditional materials when it came to cost for students.

A major problem is the availability of OER. Faculty members cited lack of a comprehensive catalog as the largest barrier to using OER, followed by difficulty in finding the resources and concerns about licensing.

“While awareness of OER remains low among teaching faculty, it is not the critical barrier to wider adoption,” said Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “The time and effort required to find, evaluate, and adopt these materials is the critical factor for faculty.”