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, February 27, 2015

Mixed Messages from Online Students

It’s said you can make statistics mean anything you want. That appears to be the case with a pair of recent surveys focused on how students view their online education.

The National Survey of Student Engagement reported that students earning online degrees felt as connected and engaged as their on-campus peers. The report, which polled more than 350,000 students, singled out the online, competency-based Western Governors University after its students ranked the institution 20% higher than the national average for quality of interaction with faculty and 23% higher for quality of academic support.

On the other hand, students taking online courses at Kent State University said they missed the personal interaction with their professors. A survey of 250 students found they reported online courses to be much harder than expected, but they had more success with an online course when the professor created a personal connection, even if it was done by computer.

"I was surprised that was at the forefront of students’ minds and they were so aware of what was missing from the online classroom,” Bethany Simunich, KSU’s director of online pedagogy and research, said in an article in The Akron Beacon Journal.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Online Students Could Use More Support

A new report on online learning found that the more virtual courses students take, the worse they do. The study on virtual learning effectiveness in K-12 schools, mandated by the Michigan legislature, reported that the number of students taking online courses increased in the 2013-14 school year by 38% over 2012-13.

However, the completion/pass rate fell from 60% for the 2012-13 year to 57% last year.

The research also found that while 65% of students were taking at least one online course, the completion/pass rate slipped dramatically as more courses were added to the schedule. Only 42% of students who passed three online classes and just 24% passed six online classes. At the same time, 40% of students who took six online courses were failing all of them.

“Good local policy ought to be such that they temper the number of enrollments a kid can take virtually at any given time until there’s evidence the kid is successful,” Joe Freidhof, executive director of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, told The Detroit Free Press. “It really is a different skill set, from what they’ve done traditionally to what they’re doing in an online environment. They’re going to need more support.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Amazon Giving Bricks-and-Mortar a Try

Amazon’s first bricks-and-mortar location is aimed squarely at fostering customer loyalty with the millennial generation, according to a report in ZDNet. Amazon@Purdue at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, provides the online retail giant with a way to conveniently reach the 18-34 demographic.

“The millennial generation of customers, which includes those in college right now, is going to be the most important generation of consumers our country has ever known,” said retail consultant Micah Solomon. “There are more of them than the baby boomers and they will soon control a dominant share of the purchasing power as well.”

The Purdue location is really more of a post office, with pickup lockers and a staffed counter where students can claim their orders. It’s also an expansion of the Amazon Student initiative that provides students with discounts and perks on textbooks and college essentials for a subscription fee.

While Amazon@Purdue allows the e-tailer a way to give bricks-and-mortar locations a try, some wonder how pickup locations will work off campus. After all, one of the reasons Amazon became an online retail powerhouse is because it has avoided the costs associated with physical locations.

“Amazon is the acknowledged king of online commerce, but there are many things about physical commerce that cannot be replicated online,” Solomon said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CSU Libraries Launch OpenStax Initiative

California State University libraries are working with OpenStax College to provide free and low-cost digital and print textbooks to students on 13 CSU campuses across the state. The initiative is the largest coordinated library showcase of open educational resources (OER) in the nation.

The initiative includes rotating displays, copies of published books, and information on digital offerings and supplemental materials. The effort gives faculty the opportunity to review and evaluate the resources.

The OER content is professionally produced, peer-reviewed, and developed to meet the requirements of introductory college courses. Instructional resources are also available, along with PowerPoint slides and test banks for faculty.

“It is clear that we must take every effort to lower the cost of education for students,” Gary Michelson, who contributed more than $1.3 million to OpenStax College through his 20MM foundation, said in a release. “One area that is often overlooked is the skyrocketing cost of textbooks, which are an underreported financial burden on students. This program will help grow awareness of open textbooks and more affordable education options across a wide swath of the CSU system.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Digital Textbooks Growing, But Slowly

Does the future of higher education textbooks lie in digital? If so, then that future’s still a ways off, according to data gathered by Verba, which developed software allowing campus stores to let their customers view competitors’ prices on course materials.

Jared Pearlman, co-founder of Verba, shared the findings of his company’s data-gathering in the session Data-Driven Strategies for Course Materials at CAMEX 2015 in Atlanta, GA. Verba tracked actual textbook purchases made by students through the Compare software and found that sales of e-books doubled in the past year, but still only accounted for 2.42% of total textbook sales.

“Digital is still too expensive but, overall, we’re seeing some changes in the marketplace,” Pearlman said. Those changes may bring prices down.

In cases where students have a choice between a used print book or an e-book, about half the time the used book is cheaper than the digital, he noted.

Most academic e-books are available only as rentals. On average, a digital rental is five times more likely to cost more than a print rental, Pearlman said. As a result, print rental “outperforms digital by seven-and-a-half times,” he said.

But there’s a potential game-changer in the works, according to Pearlman: inclusive access pricing, also known as academic content licensing, subscription model, text with tuition, course-fee model, and 100% sell-through model. This involves providing each student with digital access to the required textbook for a fee, which may be folded into tuition, that’s discounted from the usual retail price because the publisher and store are guaranteed sales for the entire class.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Trend Ahead: Change for Publishers

It's no secret that the course materials world is being turned on its ear, with new forms of content, delivery, and distribution. In a Thought Leader session Feb. 20 at CAMEX 2015 in Atlanta, GA, presenter Richard Katz gave a few glimpses of the disruptions facing course materials providers. Katz has been working on a new study, underwritten by the NACS Foundation, to map the current and future course materials ecosystem.

Among the disruptions identified in the study may be a major shift in the role of publishers. Already, publishers are tilting toward developing chunks of academic material, rather than longer book-length materials. Chunks can be better targeted to the objectives of a course and combined to suit the professor's needs.

However, the study's preliminary findings spotted a long-term trend (more than five years away) that may be even more disruptive: publishers may give away course materials. In this business model, publishers would make revenue from a variety of educational services ranging from courseware development to assessment and certification. Many textbook publishers already dabble in such services.

The ecosystem study report will be released in about two months.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The CITE Goes to CAMEX

The CITE’s writing and research team is heading for NACS’s Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) in Atlanta, GA, to cover presentations on digital content platforms and distribution, mobile and web commerce, retail and educational technologies, open educational resources, data mining, academic content licensing, and course materials affordability, among others.

Watch The CITE for upcoming posts on what retail experts, academic leaders, and campus store professionals had to say about these topics.

If you’re also attending CAMEX sessions, be sure to share your own thoughts and observations in the comments.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Online Students Focused on Outcomes

Transferring credit and total degree costs are among the issues most important to online college students, according to a report. Online College Students 2014: ComprehensiveData on Demands and Preferences found that the majority of the 1,500 students surveyed were taking online courses to improve their job status and were satisfied with their studies.

A majority (54%) said they were taking online courses because they were unemployed and that high job-placement rates was the best message to attract them. Business is the most common field of study, while reputation and the price of the institution are key selection criteria.

The number of online students enrolling at institutions within 100 miles of where they live slipped from 80% in 2012 to 54% in 2014. A majority reported that cost and financial aid were not deciding factors in their selection of a program.

“As competition intensifies, the convenience of online study is less compelling to students,” wrote the report’s authors. “Outcomes such as placement rates and features such as price and credit transfer are gaining importance as attractive points of difference. Institutions need to articulate clearly what makes their online programs distinct and track student outcomes to provide quantifiable data to prospective students.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Higher Ed Heads for the Cloud

Some higher education campuses are cautiously trading in their well-worn learning management systems for cloud computing, reported EdTech magazine. Schools are also shifting other technology services to the cloud, such as student email accounts and administrative applications.

The move isn’t usually about cutting costs. “Cloud services are not necessarily cheaper,” noted a university official. “The value lies in the ways they accelerate the speed of innovation and free you from day-to-day maintenance.”

The colleges and universities highlighted in the article chose cloud services as a means to scale technology services as necessary, remain more nimble as each school’s needs change, and provide reliability to students, especially for schools with a large commuter enrollment.

With many schools tapping into licensed reading materials through their learning management systems, it’s possible cloud services could offer the same. Marian University, Indianapolis, IN, used the cloud to provide electronic textbooks to students at its medical school, along with lecture capture, electronic polling, and assessments.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Online Learning Important on Campus

Online education has become a critical component for colleges and universities, according to the 2014 Babson Survey Research Group report. That’s particularly true for smaller campuses, where 70% of the academic leaders from schools with fewer than 1,500 students told Babson researchers that online education was a critical long-term strategy at their institutions.

Overall, 71% of respondents said online education was an important part of the educational plans at their schools, up from 66% in the 2013 report.

The study, Grade Level: Tracking Online Education inthe United States, also reported that 74% of academic leaders said they believe online courses are at least as good as face-to-face courses, but that most professors continue to be wary of online courses. In fact, just 28% of the academic leaders said their professors thought online courses were legitimate, the same percentage from the 2002 survey, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The study reported just a 3.7% increase in the number of distance-education students in 2014, the lowest increase in the 13 years of research. It also found that only 8% of the institutions in the survey offered massive open online courses (MOOCs). Just 16% of the academic officers said they believe MOOCs are a sustainable way to offer online courses.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Freshman Year for Free Initiative Launched

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been hampered by low completion rates and the fact that no credit is being offered. Steven Klinsky, founder of the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, believes he has a better plan.

Klinsky recently launched the Freshman Year for Free initiative, which will offer a full range of freshman-level courses to anyone for free online. These courses, unlike MOOCs, will prepare students to take exams that can earn college credit. The courses could potentially allow students to earn enough credits to skip their freshman year.

“It’s not meant to attack the traditional system,” Klinsky said in an article in Wired. “What we’re trying to do is have an on-ramp that helps you with the initial costs.”

Klinsky has already donated $1 million to the MOOC platform edX to develop courses for the Freshman Year for Free program. The funding will help edX create 20 test-prep courses that will be available though a portal from the Modern States Education Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded by Klinsky.

“There’s a clear need for wider universal access to postsecondary education, and a lot of people are thinking about how to solve it,” he said. “The revolution started totally separate from us. We’re just trying to make it useful for people.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Students Rewarded for Not Using Phones

There are plenty of smartphone applications focused on college students, ranging from study guides to textbook markets to games and quizzes. One new app helps keep students focused on class.

Two students from California State University at Chico created Pocket Points, a smartphone app that provides students coupons from local businesses as a reward for keeping their phones in their pockets during class. The app was launched last September and had 3,000 users and 15 local businesses participating within the first month.

“I looked around in my class of 100 people or so and I see half the kids with their heads down,” Rob Richardson, a junior computer-science major at CSU Chico who helped create the app, told a Chico news site. “Our initial name was going to be ‘heads up’ or something like that.”

Students earn points for keeping their phone locked based on the number of people in the class using the app. Once the class is finished, students simply swipe the Pocket Points notification to unlock their phone and see how many points they’ve earned.

Points can them be redeemed for coupons and discounts from businesses around the Chico campus. CSU Chico professors have inquired about providing extra credit or attendance points as rewards through the app and there’s a leaderboard and ranking that adds a gaming element to the app.

Richardson and his partner, Mitch Gardner, have taken a leave of absence from school to expand the program to more colleges and high schools. They are even working on plans to take the app off campus and offer it everyone.

“We want to be the biggest coupon outlet in the country, and we think we can do that,” Gardner said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Campus Stores Scoping Out Texts and Tech

Collectively, campus bookstores still remain the dominant purveyor of course materials for college and university students. Making those materials available is becoming increasingly complex, with new formats for textbooks and new options for providing them.

On Feb. 20-24, campus bookstores will gather in Atlanta, GA, for the annual Campus Market Expo (CAMEX), a combined professional conference and trade show put on by NACS for collegiate retailers. The stores’ course materials managers and coordinators will be focusing on the ConTEXT track, designed to explore new trends in textbooks and supporting technologies and allow stores to share what’s working.

This year, ConTEXT will discuss the preliminary results of a six-month study of digital course materials, sponsored by the NACS Foundation. Other educational sessions will examine mobile course materials; parsing textbook sales data to help keep prices affordable to students; new software tools for course materials management; how to get started in selling digital content; open educational resources; providing publishing services for faculty-created materials; academic content licensing; research data on student and faculty attitudes toward course materials; trends in health-science textbooks; purchasing habits of students; how adaptive content fits in with print and digital books; sourcing textbooks more efficiently; and what stores can learn from Amazon’s sales tactics and its new campus program.

The Course Content Technology Fair will allow stores to see some of the latest offerings in course materials and related technologies from publishers, digital content platform providers, and textbook management systems. More demonstrations will take place in the designated ConTEXT Pavilion during the trade-show portion of CAMEX.

Since students can’t take advantage of digital tools and content without the necessary hardware, software, and accessories, stores that provide technology products will also head for CAMEX for the related CCRA (Campus Computer Resellers Alliance) Conference. Tech sellers will learn how to better meet the needs of students and faculty, as well as campus IT and other departments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Study Shows Need for Technology Access

A study on the impact of mobile devices on teaching and learning found technology is helping students achieve more in their studies. Making Learning Mobile 2.0, a two-year study by wireless service provider Kajeet and the educational nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow, looked at one-to-one tablet implementation to evaluate how students used the devices in and outside of the classroom.

The research focused on 127 fifth-graders from Chicago. A majority (93%) of the students were low-income and 45% were considered English language learners. About a third said they didn’t have home Internet access at the beginning of the study.

The report found that home Internet access increased by 53% after the tablets were issued, which led to more reading and writing homework and an increase in reading and writing fluency. In addition, 60% of the students said the tablets helped them improve their reading and writing skills.

“As technology spreads through schools, students are proving eager to embrace it, but that same technology increasingly demands mobile Internet connectivity—preferably broadband—to be fully effective as a tool,” Daniel Neal, CEO and founder of Kajeet, said in an article for eSchool News. “There are still many schools without adequate wireless Internet connectivity to allow mobile devices to function to their full capability. Studies like this one show teachers, students, parents, and administrators the value of not only the technology, but the necessity for connectivity as well.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

University Servers Could Be Targets

Hackers may be turning their attention to data stored on college and university IT infrastructures. A hacker gained access to data from an unnamed U.S. university early in 2014, according to a warning issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The hack initiated a denial-of-service attack against the servers and used about 98% of the school’s bandwidth. The DHS memo warned that government-funded research programs are appealing targets and university networks can offer hackers a way in.

“University networks, which often have multiple levels of connectivity and accessibility to fuel collaboration, may present easier targets for cyber-espionage actors than sensitive government or private-industry networks,” the memo said.

The memo also warned that less sophisticated cybercriminals may look to hack university networks to carry out phishing scams, insert ransomware, or create havoc with student financial information. The university network can also be used as a base for cybercriminal attacks on other IT systems because constant use by students can mask the criminal activity.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Individualized Courses Isn't College

There have been predictions that technology will drag down textbook publishing, just as it did the music industry. Now, some experts suggest that the same consumer demand for single tunes will impact higher education as a whole.

“This last decade of the music industry presages the coming decade of education,” wrote Martin Smith, chief revenue officer of Noodle, a company that creates interactive tools designed to help students with online research, in an essay for Quartz. “Choice is expanding at every level, from pre-K to graduate school. The individual course, rather than the degree, is becoming the unit of content. And universities, the record labels of education, are facing increased pressure to unbundle their services.”

While Smith may have a point, it doesn’t mean he is right. Music lovers may have had little trouble turning away from $20 compact discs in favor buying a song for 99 cents or paying a monthly fee for a music-streaming service, but students deciding on college are not the same sort of consumer.

“The consumer choice is for the bundler—the brand, the label, university—and not the individual course content,” Derek Newton, senior communications director at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, wrote in an article for The Atlantic. “Consumers buy Stanford or Princeton in a way no one ever bought EMI or Universal.”

To Newton, turning the college experience into individual courses may provide plenty of great content, but also much less to study.

“In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them,” he wrote. “It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Apple Not Worried about iPad Sales

The iPhone 6 produced record sales for Apple during the fiscal quarter that ended Dec. 27. The iPad failed to impress, however, with unit shipments falling by around 4.5 million in 2014 over the total shipped in 2013.

At the same time, Apple still sold more than 21 million iPads in the quarter and first-time-buyer rates remained strong. Apple CEO Tim Cook reported at a recent press event that about 50% of iPad buyers in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom were first-time customers, adding that rate is more than 70% in China.

Cook also noted that user rates are six times higher for iPads than its nearest competitor. He said iPad usage, measured in web browsing, is more than 70%, while 80% of e-commerce on tablets is being done on iPads.

In addition, no other tablet-maker can claim it shipped more tablets than Apple during the holiday season. The company also sold nearly four times more iPads than Mac desktop computers in the most recent quarter, according to a report in InformationWeek.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

LED Devices Interrupt Brain Chemistry

College and university students, who already prefer to study from printed pages rather than digital, may have yet another reason to stick with paper textbooks. A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that sustained reading from a tablet or e-reader right before going to bed can disrupt sleep and diminish mental capacity the following morning.

The study group was small—just 12 students—and involved reading for four hours in a dimly lit room prior to bedtime, first with e-books for five nights and then with printed books for five nights. Then the participants switched the order for the next 10 nights.

On average, after reading the e-books, the students took about 10 more minutes to fall asleep and felt more drowsy in the morning. Researchers concluded that the light emitted by many tablets and e-readers delayed production of melatonin in the brain by more than 90 minutes. Production of the hormone peaks during sleep.

The concern, according to the research report, is not just the cumulative impact on readers’ sleep and alertness. Ongoing suppression of melatonin production has been linked to cancer and other serious illnesses.

The report noted students could reduce the negative effects by limiting the use of light-emitting devices at night, including phones and computer monitors, or using only devices that don’t put out light.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More Innovative Learning Needed

While colleges and universities are good at creating outside opportunities for their students to learn—such as study-abroad programs, internships, and service learning—the core learning experience remains centered on courses taught in classrooms on campus.

“Many of our students are too bright and too entrepreneurial to be the recipients of the kind of education acquired in traditional lecture halls, laboratories, or even seminar rooms,” Steven Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning, University of Texas System, wrote in an Inside Higher Education column.

Mintz said a solution would be to organize undergraduate education into project-based learning experiences. For instance, the University of Texas at Dallas is merging computer science and engineering with creative arts and the humanities for a program that teaches technical skills while trying to provide an understanding of the impact that technology has on communications, culture, and commerce.

“They merge the innovation process of artists, scientists, and engineers and explore experimental models through new technologies,” Mintz noted. “Departments are transformed into innovation labs and students into innovators.”

Monday, February 2, 2015

Digital Learning Software Studied

A recent study looked at 137 online and hybrid courses to determine what parts of the learning software helped students the most. The research was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success initiative.

Researchers found that math courses and those that featured problem-solving produced the most positive learning effects. Individualized pacing received high marks from the study, while the learning impact from digital courseware was greater in community colleges than for four-year institutions.

The report recommended colleges and universities should invest in high-quality courseware for lower-division courses and that these innovations should be phased in. Institutions should also use third-party evaluators to get an objective look at the data on how well the courseware works.

“Our goals were to determine courseware features associated with greater learning effectiveness and to provide guidance for funders as they look to make learning technology investments in the future,” said Barbara Means, director of the Center for Technology in Learning, SRI Education.