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, January 30, 2015

Badges Part of CBE Degree Program

Competency-based education (CBE) matches workplace skills with a formal degree program, normally using digital badges to confirm the skills and abilities a learner has acquired. Brandman University, a private nonprofit institution, is helping its students use the badges they earn through its online CBE program more effectively.

Brandman partnered with Credly, an online platform for managing the credentials, to provide students with a way to share badges. The badges link back to the issuing source and deliver data about the criteria and issuer, giving the credential context for LinkedIn profiles, talent-management systems, e-portfolios, social networks, online communities, and websites.

“Employers inform us that there is a need to validate the skill set of business students and graduates,” said Gary Brahm, chancellor of Brandman University, in a press release. “Digital badges will arm our students with a form of professional capital that has immediate value in the workplace.”

Brandman is approved by the U.S. Department of Education to award financial aid to CBE students and is the first institution to issue digital badges certifying skills as students work through their degree-based program. It uses the Credly Enterprise edition, a cloud-based platform to manage and display the badges.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

College Affordability Is Topic of NJ Study

A new report offers recommendations for making college more affordable and easier to complete. The report, Finding Solutions, Building Public Trust in an Era of Change, included a survey that found New Jersey residents say they believe state colleges provide excellent/good quality (87%) and high value (90%).

At the same time, it reported that 87% of respondents felt there needed to be changes in educational and business practices to increase value (87%), according to an article in eCampus News. The study was conducted by the Higher Education Strategic Information and Governance Project (HESIG) at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

The HESIG report recommended that colleges work with high schools to help better prepare students and with community colleges on transferring credits. It also suggested expanding partnerships with business to combine workforce and academic skills; allowing students to earn credit for knowledge gained outside of college; providing a clear set of skills students are expected to master; and restructuring financial aid to increase affordability and reduce debt.

“What’s at stake is citizens’ future opportunity to compete and prosper in New Jersey,” said Darryl Greer, the HESIG senior fellow who headed the project. “This initiative goes to the heart of fulfilling the promise of the benefit of a college education.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More Educational Apps Needed

A study of smartphone application usage found users spend 50% of the time on their devices accessing digital media, while the 18-to-24-year-olds are the heaviest users. Smartphone owners also spend about three times longer using apps vs. browsing websites, according to the study by comScore.

While many colleges and universities are launching smartphone apps, are they missing the potential of apps in the educational process?

“Apps are purpose-built, so it’s not a stretch to imagine one app for Economics 101 and another for Psychology 110,” Ryan Craig, founder of University Ventures, wrote in a VentureBeat post.  “Apps are ideal for simulation and gamified learning experiences. They’re also perfect for incorporating real-world inputs (such as location of the student) into learning.”

Most schools aren’t using apps for mobile learning, focusing instead on course selection and campus maps. Even the Blackboard Mobile Learn product doesn’t access course materials, according to Craig.

“So, although most online degree programs are now delivered via learning management systems that claim to be ‘mobile platforms,’ believing that the solutions to the mobile problem is simply allowing mobile access to a course with traditional online architecture is tantamount to believing your institution’s online strategy is effectively addressed by putting lectures on YouTube or iTunes,” he wrote.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Game Makes Creative Writing Fun

A new video game that teaches the fundamentals of composition and creative writing is attracting attention and awards. Students playing Elegy for a Dead World explore and write about past civilizations that are based on the works of British Romantic poets.

The mission of the game is for students to compose firsthand accounts of new worlds they explore. The game prompts the players to complete sentences on what they’ve seen and then fashion those into short stories.

Challenges become more advanced as students move through the game, sending them on different paths that force them to come up with different conclusions and still finish with logical endings. The game is meant to be fun and thought-provoking, but also provides fill-in-the-blank questions that help students learn proper grammar usage.

“What we’re trying to do is motivate people so they get into a mindset where they have something they want to put out and write,” Ziba Scott, game co-creator, told Eurogamer.net. “We found just dropping them in a blank slate is too much. It’s intimidating. The roles are about giving them something to play as to set the stage for their writing.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Amazon Launches E-Textbook Creator

Amazon is targeting educators and textbook authors with its new Kindle Textbook Creator. Authors use the tool to create PDFs of educational content that works on multiple devices.

Once the content is finished, it’s uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing for use by students. The tool allows students to highlight in multiple colors, store notes in a single location, create flashcards, and find definitions and information for difficult terms, while providing authors with 70% royalties.

Blogger Nate Hoffelder sees even more benefits for Amazon.

“There may not be much money in digital textbooks, but there is value in getting teachers and students to use the Kindle apps,” he wrote in The Digital Reader. “This keeps them in reach of the Kindle Store where Amazon can sell them other e-books.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Website Matches Students, Online Instructor

An online education company has developed a system that uses algorithms to help students determine the best instructor for them. MindLaunch redesigned its website to be an educational support platform for students of any age and in any subject.

The platform allows students to select the type of instruction they prefer and then schedule learning sessions with teachers. Only vetted, U.S.-licensed instructors are used for the online classes, which are equipped with two-way video and audio, interactive whiteboards, and real-time lessons.

Students use an online questionnaire about their learning style, preferences, and desired subjects. The algorithm developed by MindLaunch then matches them with teachers certified in the subject.

Once the student has registered and paid for the instruction, classes are automatically scheduled with a confirmation showing subject, teacher, dates, and login information. Classes for all grade levels are available, along with college entrance prep and corporate skills.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Students Need More from Instruction Software

Adaptive learning products are one of the hotter trends to hit the academic world lately, largely because of their potential to customize instruction to each student’s capabilities and comprehension. That’s easier said than done, according to a new Dutch study published in the Review of Educational Research and reported by the blog Education by the Numbers.

The adaptive function typically kicks in when a student gives a wrong answer in the assessment portion and tries to help the student understand the correct answer, sometimes simply by flagging an erroneous response and inviting the student to pick another. The idea, apparently, is that the student will immediately understand how they goofed.

“But just the opposite is true,” noted the blog’s post. “Simply marking wrong answers was the worst form of feedback.” Some students using this type of software even got lower scores than students without any sort of feedback at all.

Providing the right answer helped students more, the Dutch researchers found, but an even more effective method was offering an explanation or at least some kind of clue that might steer a student toward the correct answer. However, the study determined it was difficult to customize explanations or hints because students may be misunderstanding the material for different reasons.

The study also discovered that adaptive learning software sometimes jumped in with the correct answer or explanation a little too quickly, before the student had time to digest the lesson. When the topic was “something more complicated, students learned more when the feedback was delayed a bit, perhaps until after the student had answered all the questions,” the blog noted.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Community Colleges Bolster Online Enrollment

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported in December that nationwide enrollment at community colleges dropped 6% in 2014. However, online enrollment is on the rise, up more than 15% at some two-year colleges.

To accommodate online students, community colleges are trying to provide additional support for students and more professional training for instructors. The schools are also trying to create new online programs that meet the needs of local businesses.

Offering flexible scheduling, such as semesters divided into two eight-week blocks instead of the standard 16-week track, is one way community colleges are trying to make online programs more accessible. Some even offer tutoring, counseling, and additional resources to help students. Seminole State College, Seminole, OK, provides students with a team of advisors who can be reached by Skype, phone, or email, while online students at Odessa College, Odessa, TX, are assigned a success coach.

“The traditional approach is that teaching online courses is easy. Once you set it up, you can mail it in,” Don Wood, vice president of institutional effectiveness, Odessa College, said in a report in U.S. News & World Report. “It is actually much more challenging for faculty to teach online than face-to-face.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Not Everyone Is High on OER

In North Dakota, the governor set aside $220,000 in the state budget to fund open education resources (OER), including the North Dakota University System sharing resources provided by the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library.

David Ernst, executive director of the open textbook initiative at the University of Minnesota, even gives seminars around North Dakota to educate faculty on using the library.

“Our focus has been on open textbooks,” said Ernst. “And it’s really meant to be an open resource for faculty to find textbooks to consider that are openly licensed and freely available for their students.”

Not everyone is impressed.

“What the stupidity of this is is pointed up by the fact that the state officials in North Dakota—and other states as well—see nothing wrong with the oil industry, the health-care industry, or any other industry making profits from the fruits of their labors, but when it comes to education, well … people should be willing to work for free or produce scholarly work for free,” Dana Eugene Creasy, assistant professor of communications, University of Jamestown, Jamestown, ND, wrote in the comments section of the Prairie Public Radio article. “I am in debt over $150,000 for a college-teaching career in North Dakota that pays less than a third of that on an annual basis—one reason why I’m leaving the state in May.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Learning App Allows 'Real-Time' Access

Technology continues to up the ante when it comes to mobile learning.

The online learning company WizIQ developed a mobile app allowing teachers to schedule live classes that students can join from anywhere. In addition, students can use the app to access recorded classroom sessions, course videos, class documents, and presentations via their smartphones or tablet computers.

The platform makes it possible for teachers and students to communicate in real-time, allowing them to stay current on classes, tests, and assignment deadlines. The app is an enhancement to the cloud-based management system WizIQ launched in the fall and requires no dedicated IT support.

“After all, people are now accessing more content on mobile devices than anywhere else,” WizIQ CEO Harman Singh told CampusTechnology. “Why should education be any different?”

The app is available through the App Store for iPhones and will soon be launched in the Google Play store for Android devices.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Conference Ponders Cost of Textbooks

As college and university students head back to campus for another term, they may feel no one cares how much they pay for course materials—if the online complaints are any indication.

However, the stakeholders involved in the development, selection, and distribution of course materials are taking students’ concerns seriously. They will explore challenges and solutions at the inaugural Textbook Affordability Conference on Feb. 11-13 in San Diego, CA.

NACS is joining with the Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA), Verba Inc., and the California State University System’s Affordable Learning Solutions (ALS) program to co-host the event, which is open to anyone interested in textbook affordability.

The conference will approach the question of affordability from various aspects—teaching and learning, content and platform development, libraries, campus administration, sales and distribution, governmental policies, and open resources—with a particular focus on the role of campus bookstores, where the majority of students still acquire the bulk of their course materials. Stores already work with instructors, publishers, and distributors to obtain materials for students and generally serve as students’ go-to helpdesk when they have questions.

TAC attendees are also invited to take part in the ALS conference on Feb. 13.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Text Comparison Plug-In Causes a Stir

A textbook price-comparison tool has been making a lot of news, particularly after reports surfaced the tech start-up that developed the Chrome plug-in was threatened with a lawsuit by a campus retailing company. Texts.com only had about 200 downloads for its add-on software before news of the lawsuit went viral, which swelled to 15,000 downloads within days of the report.

The Chrome plug-in is an opt-in feature students can install that will show prices from third-party vendors such as Amazon, Valore, and Chegg. It interacts with the end-user’s browser and works with bookstore websites maintained by Barnes & Noble College, Follett Higher Education Group, and Nebraska Book Co., according to The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ also confirmed that Follett sent an email to Texts.com expressing concern that the extension was changing “the presentation of information on the screen.” The start-up rebuilt the extension and rebranded it as #OccupyTheBookstore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

U.S News Ranks Top Online Programs

U.S. News & World Report has been ranking the best colleges in the United States for years. The publication now ranks online programs and released its most current list.

The Best Online Program Rankings lists more than 1,000 programs in eight categories. The survey now includes the Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Program, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11% increase in law-enforcement careers by 2016, and the Best Online MBA Program, because of the increased popularity of that degree.

The University of California-Irvine beat out Arizona State, Boston University, and Pace University for the top spot in the criminal justice program, while the program offered by the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, finished first in the MBA category.

The Penn State University-World Campus was ranked first among online baccalaureate programs and the University of Houston was named No. 1 in the graduate education program category. The University of Southern California had the top-ranked online graduate information technology program and Medical University of South Carolina was on top in the graduate nursing program ranking.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

EdX, Microsoft Partner on Office Mix

Office Mix is an application to the Microsoft Office platform that makes it easier for users to create PowerPoint presentations. EdX, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider, collaborated with Microsoft on the project, which it’s betting will make online learning more interactive for student and easier to use for instructors.

The initiative allows developers to create new learning courseware for the online learning platform. Office Mix includes a software development kit using the XBlock platform that allows instructors to include editable audio and video, hyperlinks, white board-style writing, animation, and clip art into lectures.

Through the app, course creators can embed programs into their presentations, such as quizzes and polls, and applications in support of concepts being taught. An analytics feature provides instructors with insight on how the course keeps students’ attention, allowing for quick changes when necessary.

The focus is on keeping things simple for teachers, letting them create lessons one slide at a time while giving them the ability to update as needed. In addition, the courses can be shared on the Office Mix website and published on edX.

“The motivation and action for the Office Mix project was that we believe online and blended learning will be big, and we want to create tools that will be used to enable new scenarios for students,” said Anoop Gupta, a Microsoft scientist who worked on the project.

Monday, January 12, 2015

ACE Pilot to Help Nontraditional Students

The America Council on Education (ACE) launched a pilot providing nontraditional learners a more flexible pathway to a degree. To be part of the pilot, 25 colleges and universities institutions agreed to accept all or most transfer credit from a pool of about 100 low- or no-cost lower-division general education online courses.

The program, made possible by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is focused on the more than 31 million adults who finished some college-level coursework but not enough to earn a degree or credential. Each institution will provide ACE with data regarding the credits accepted, along with progress and success rates of the students in the project.

ACE is also working on ways to develop new guidelines for issuing college credit for digital micro-credentials, competency-based programs, and nondegree certificate programs.

“This project will yield multiple and long-lasting benefits to the participating institutions, the wider higher education community, and, potentially, millions of nontraditional learners,” said Deborah Seymour, ACE assistant vice president for education attainment and innovation. “It will help lead to great acceptance of alternative forms of credit in a way that ensures quality and encourages more people to complete their postsecondary education.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

Teaching Teachers Could Be Key to MOOCs

Massive hype surrounded massive open online courses (MOOCs). They were going to revolutionize higher education, offering college-level courses to anyone with a computer and Internet access as a no-cost alternative to heading to campus.

Of course, MOOCs are not all that, but they can be a valuable tool, according to Justin Pope, chief of staff at Longwood University, Farmville, VA.  Pope argued in a guest column for MIT Technology Review that colleges and universities just have to figure out the proper way to use MOOCs, pointing to the all-MOOC master’s program in computer science at Georgia Tech as a first step.

“It’s not clear how well such programs can be replicated in other fields, or whether the job market will reward graduates with this particular Georgia Tech degree,” he wrote. “But the program offers evidence that MOOCs can expand access and reduce costs in some corners of higher education.”

One area of promise is new ways of thinking when it comes to teaching. Pope reported that current or former teachers made up 28% of the students taking 11 MOOCs offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last spring.

“This is particularly promising because teachers pass what they learn on to their own students. When they make use of edX and other resources in their classrooms, they multiply the effect,” he said. “As Coursera moves explicitly into teacher training, its classes could have as much impact by reaching a few hundred teachers as they would with thousands of other students.”

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Digital Dominates Campus of 2023

Eight years from now, today’s fourth-graders will be finishing up high school in preparation for their higher education experience. The campus classroom will be much different by then, in the view of several experts interviewed by eCampus News.

For starters, they think more students will arrive on campus with a number of college credits already under their belts, thanks to more Advanced Placement courses and partnerships with colleges near their high schools. That’s assuming students even need to show up on the physical campus.

“The average student, an admittedly fluid term that will be even harder to define a decade from now, will likely take some courses on a traditional campus, but also an equal mix of online courses, flipped or blended courses, and massive open online courses (MOOCs),” wrote Jake New.

Some—possibly many—traditional universities may go out of business. The Clayton Christensen Institute, founded by a notable Harvard business professor, puts the bankruptcy rate at 25% to 50% of universities by 2030. Those that survive will have to reimagine graduation requirements, breaking the normal 15-week courses into shorter, more focused learning segments that award certificates for successful completion to students who may never need degrees as long as they continue to update their knowledge and skills.

“Big data” systems and digital apps will also help colleges and universities track student progress, help those who are struggling with certain concepts, and steer others to the right courses.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ed Tech Will Continue to Grow in 2015

Educational technology has become very big business, according to a market study from Futuresource Consulting. The firm reported that classroom tech spending reached $13 billion in the United States last year, up 11% since 2012, and predicted it will continue growing over the next three years.

“Despite a lull in some technology markets, education technology continues to perform, even with pressure being applied to education budgets across the world,” said Colin Messenger, senior market analyst for Futuresource. “Our annual strategic report also shows that there’s growth aplenty to come, with the total value expected to reach $19 billion by 2018.”

All that spending is an opportunity for ed-tech developers. Optimized distribution tools and video streaming for flipped classrooms, device-agnostic services, more mobile learning applications, and better personalized blended-learning experiences are just a few, according to Harman Singh, CEO of the education platform WizIQ, in a column for InformationWeek.

“Different approaches to learning, such as project-based learning, maker education, game-based learning, and more will continue to be explored as part of personalized blended-learning models,” Singh wrote. “Accordingly, such innovations will push ed-tech vendors to deliver more than technology or content, but will require them to demonstrate how their product or service improves learning outcomes.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Apple tops Christmas Tech Gift List

College students told a Chegg survey they wanted electronic devices for Christmas and most said they preferred an Apple product. The mobile analytics firm Flurry found they most likely got what they wished for.

Flurry looked at activation statistics from Dec. 19-25 and found more people fired up an iPhone, iPad, or a new iPod than all other devices combined. Apple accounted for 51% of the new activations, with Samsung coming in a distant second with about 18% during the six-day stretch.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus probably helped spur the Apple dominance, according to Flurry, which reported a more than 300% increase in new activations of large-screen smartphones during Christmas week over the same period in 2013. The iPhone 6 topped the list of new devices activated and the iPhone 6 Plus was in the top five.

Flurry also found there were 2.5 times as many apps downloaded on Christmas day than in any December day leading up to the holiday. Apple iTunes and App Stores, along with the Google Play Store, were slow to respond during the Christmas-day rush because of the heavy volume.

“If Christmas is a bellwether for the year ahead, we should expect strong performance from iOS devices and a continued shift to the once-derided phablet form factor,” wrote Jarah Euston, vice president, analytics and marketing, at Flurry. “This was the year that time spent on mobile finally eclipsed TV and the data shows that we are spending this time in more apps than ever.”

Monday, January 5, 2015

App Provides OER Attribution Solution

One goal of open educational resources (OER) is to make it easier for teachers to find high-quality content at lower costs than textbooks and other classroom materials. Making sure that content is properly attributed has become a roadblock for many instructors in the state of Washington.

The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) developed a solution, providing users with a way to cite sources correctly through its OPEN Attribution Builder application. The app, part of the OPEN Washington site launched by the SBCTC in July, was designed to simplify the attribution process and advocates hope that will lead to an increase in OER adoption, according to a report.

Much of the OER content available is released through Creative Commons, which requires users to properly attribute the author and licensor. The app provides users with a form that automatically finds the correct attribution, along with a default attribution statement.

“We’ve found that confusion over attribution and licensing is a pain point for many in our system who otherwise want to take advantage of OER,” said Mark Jenkins, SBCTC director for e-learning and open education. “OPEN Attribution Builder solves problems for them by eliminating a barrier to using OER easily and correctly.”

Friday, January 2, 2015

Khan Teams with Xbox on Learning Apps

The popular Xbox gaming platform is expanding into education. The Khan Academy is making it possible, launching a free app that makes more than 5,000 of its learning videos available through the Xbox One Live app.

“We’ve heard from many students who want to watch Khan Academy videos in a lean-back experience on their big screen and are excited by the ease of use in Xbox One apps,” a Khan Academy spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Khan Academy already makes its videos available through Microsoft desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The Khan app also helps Microsoft in its multibillion-dollar battle with Sony’s PlayStation 4, which has no learning apps.

The app is available to Xbox One users in Australia, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Microsoft also reported that there are 48 million Xbox Live account holders.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

From all of NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as our staff in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and successful new year.