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, March 31, 2015

Use of Digital K-12 Course Materials Grows

Education Market Research found that digital content may be reaching a tipping point. The company reported that delivery of digital products to the K-12 market grew by 43% in 2013, while nondigital options dropped by 8%.

The survey of 100 publishers found that 82% said they used online or digital to deliver supplemental materials. Print still owned 46% of all course material sales in 2013.

In addition, the supplemental market for print fell by 2.6% from 2013 to 2014, while sales of digital resources increased by about the same amount.

The study also found that schools use digital more often for classes in social studies, math, and science. Digital usage in those subjects averaged about 1.5 full days or class periods each week, according to Education Market Research founder Bob Resnick in a report in The Journal.

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Site Offers Affordable Path to a Degree

Education-Portal.com started as a way for students to find inexpensive study resources for exams. The start-up then began creating online courses to help students pass College-Level Examination Program exams, which provided college credits for about $80 per course.

The firm recently relaunched as Study.com, offering 19 courses accepted for credit by the American Council on Education and another 30 under review. Upon completion of the course and passing proctored exams, students can submit their scores to more than 2,900 accredited colleges for transfer credit and could conceivably earn enough credit to test out of their first two years of college.

The old website had more than 10 million visitors each month. The new Study.com site requires a $50 monthly fee, but that provides access to the site’s full library of more than 1,000 courses and 10,000 individual lessons.

“This system is designed to be extremely accessible and can really help students to afford college in a highly efficient way,” Jessica Bayliss, director of education for the company, told eCampus News.

The classes consist of a series of video lessons that generally last five to 10 minutes. Students then take the multiple-choice quiz for immediate feedback. There is also an “Ask The Instructor” link to each course that allows students to submit questions to an instructor, who will reply to within a day or two.

“We want to become the ultimate study resource,” Bayliss said. “That means providing lessons to teach students everything they would want to learn. So, more specialized courses will be developed. And we want to expand the age range of students we serve.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Can Games Teach? Big Players Say Yes

For some, “educational games” mean the simple types that teach counting to preschoolers or vocabulary words to fourth-graders. They have a hard time seeing how computerized gamification, currently a flame-hot academic trend, can lend itself to serious learning for older students.

A couple of heavy hitters in the education world are betting on gaming to help high-schoolers build math and science skills. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the MIT Education Arcade collaborated with Filament Games to create the Radix Endeavor, a multiplayer online game that sneaks in lessons about biology, geometry, algebra, probability, and statistics while students explore a mysterious island world and save its people from destruction.

The game has the look and feel of something students might play on their Xbox or PlayStation. Through their on-screen avatars, players must work together to gather and process information and come up with solutions to help the island’s inhabitants.

The Radix Endeavor is still in development, although it recently won a 2015 Cool Tool Award from EdTech Digest in the new product/service category. Currently, the developers are piloting a free version of the game to monitor how students interact with it, what they actually learn from the instruction, and whether gaming can be implemented in a classroom environment. Teachers can set up an account at no charge for their classes to try it out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Microsoft Offering edX Courses

One of stated the missions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Now, the company Bill Gates founded, Microsoft, has partnered with the online learning initiative edX to offer courses focused on coding, cloud computing, and assessment.

The massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by Microsoft experts on edX will help students understand front-end web development and programming language. Additional courses are being offered in cloud computing, data platforms, and Office 365.

The courses, offered for free at edx.org, will begin at the end of March. A verified certificate of completion is available for a fee.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Failing Grades For K-8 Math Content

A review of K-8 math instructional material gave most publishers failing grades. EdReports.org found that 17 of 20 math series evaluated failed to align with the Common Core State Standards.

“In general, the results are pretty bad for all publishers,” Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, told Education Week. “I think people will really pay attention to this.”

Publishers have, and they are not happy. They are particularly concerned that the use of thresholds content needed to pass to continue through the EdReports.org review process led to an incomplete review, according to Jay A. Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ P-12 learning.

The report used a three-tiered rating system that broke down each criterion into “meets,” “partially meets,” or “does not meet.” The group’s website provides a more detailed report for each textbook rated and documentation on how reviews came up with their scores.

“There can always be methodological quibbles,” Polikoff said. “It would be useful to look at all three gateways for all the books, but this seems to me a perfectly reasonable way to constrain the task.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Feds to Launch Online Skills Academy

The Second Open Government National Action Plan, released last fall, spells out ways the government plans to improve public services. Part of the plan calls for a commitment to expanding the use of open educational resources (OER), a pledge that was reaffirmed during Open Education Week 2015, according to a report in Campus Technology.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the use of open education resources improves the quality of teaching and learning, including accelerating student comprehension and by fostering more opportunities for affordable cross-border and cross-cultural educational experiences,” wrote the authors of the plan.

The plan includes an online skills academy that will offer open online courses to create high-quality but free or low-cost ways for students to earn degrees, certificates, or other employer-recognized credentials. The Departments of Labor (DOL) and Education (ED) will provide around $25 million in competitive grants to launch the academy this year.

Courses offered by the skills academy will be free and available on an open learning platform, while credits would be made available at low costs. The academy will also use OER for course materials, including content developed through a DOL community college grant program.

In addition, the State Department plans to conduct overseas pilots using OER to support learning. The results of those pilots will be made available to the public and to interested educators.

Monday, March 23, 2015

UC Irvine Offers Chemistry Curriculum

The University of California Irvine is making its university-level chemistry curriculum and educational resources available through a new partnership with the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges (CCC) systems. The partnership will make full-captioned lecture videos freely available to students and faculty around the world.

As part of the collaboration, UC Irvine’s Open Chemistry (OpenChem) curriculum will be offered to the CSU and CCC systems. OpenChem consists of 16 quarter-length undergraduate and select graduate lecture classes and is available at no cost.

UC Irvine is also collaborating with other providers of open educational resources, such as the UC Davis ChemWiki textbook.

“This partnership extends UC Irvine’s commitment to open education and its worldwide impact, with a focus on the needs of students in the California public education system,” said Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education, distance learning, and summer sessions at UC Irvine. “It advances our goal of a world where high-quality education is available to all for free.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Old-Fashioned Note-Taking Works

One solution for increasing student success has little to do with interactive content and electronic course materials. It’s as simple as taking better notes.

Carol E. Holstead, associate professor of journalism, University of Kansas, Lawrence, decided she had had enough of students mesmerized by their laptop computer screens instead of listening to her lectures, so she banned the devices from her classroom. She did continue using PowerPoint presentations to outline her lecture and provide examples, but also instructed her students they needed to be more selective in writing down important points.

“It turned out my theory was right and now is supported by research,” Holstead wrote in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A study published last year in Psychological Science showed that students who write out notes longhand remember conceptual information better than those who take notes on a computer.”

The problem for students who used laptops is they become so intent on capturing every word of a lecture they don’t always listen to what is being said. Students who used paper and pen to take notes were more selective because they couldn’t write fast enough, allowing them to retain more information and understand it better, according to the research.

Holstead ended her first semester without laptops by having students fill out a questionnaire. Nearly 52% of the 95 responding students said they paid more attention without a computer in front of them. More importantly, test scores went up in her classes.

“Their answers reinforced the note-taking study,” Holstead said. “The students who tried to transcribe my lectures, even without a laptop, hated taking notes longhand. The students who figured out how to take selective notes liked it.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A New Way to Provide Proactive Learning

A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that students learn better when they use active forms of learning.

The group found students with no access to active learning methods, such as peer discussions and group work, are 1.5 times more likely to fail. In addition, students taught with active learning outperformed those taught by lectures by six percentage points on exams.

To provide more avenues for active learning, a tech firm has launched a video classroom that allows students to create and control live video study rooms. The tool, created by Newrow, allows students to form their own online study groups and instructors to create on-the-spot, in-class group video discussions.

Students will be able to use the tools to start learning conversations on their own that can last throughout the semester. The videoconferencing will be similar to face-to-face study groups with text chat functions and real-time resource sharing.

The tool also allows instructors to generate breakout groups of up to 10 students during online lectures. The sessions can be recorded and stored in an online learning library for future reference or group project management.

“Our goal is to remove learning barriers for students by giving them a seamless way to facilitate the discussions they want and need to have with peers,” said Rony Zarom, founder and CEO in an article in eCampus News.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Retailers Pick Mobile Sites over Apps

The cost of developing a mobile app for shoppers is prompting many retailers to opt for a cheaper, albeit less personal, alternative: building a mobile-optimized e-commerce website.

A new study by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Forrester Research, as reported by CNBC, indicated that 58% of retail companies are placing a high priority on mobile commerce this year but they’re balking at the expense. For a national retail chain, that might top $2 million in development fees, not to mention the costs to market the app to consumers.

A campus bookstore could get a decent app for much less, maybe four figures, but that would still represent a fairly large piece of the budget for such a store.

Retail apps do boost online sales—possibly as much as 30% for some merchants—and help strengthen customer loyalty to the store, according to the NRF/Forrester study, although the bump may not compensate for the yearly maintenance and upgrade costs.

The majority of shoppers are using apps to determine if sellers have certain merchandise on hand. A mobile-friendly website, if designed correctly, can provide the same information to consumers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lynn U. Testing App to Track Attendance

Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL, is planning a beta test on a new iPad application that notifies students when they miss a class. The app, Class120, will send students a reminder when they are not in the classroom.

The app could also be used to notify the student’s academic coach and parents, although Lynn is not planning to reach out to Mom and Dad.

“We’re not interested where you are on Friday night,” Christian Boniforti, chief information officer at Lynn, said in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We’re just interested in whether you’re in the classroom when you’re supposed to be.”

Downloading the app is optional, although the university wants all of its students to use it. Lynn already has a strict attendance policy that includes weekly reporting from instructors.

The app is considered an intervention tool because weekly attendance figures show students who miss 25% or more of their classes have a 68% chance of getting a grade-point average below a C. A Harvard study also showed that class size falls throughout the term unless attendance is measured and graded.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Free Community College Works in Tulsa

The idea of tuition-free community college is not all that new. Tulsa Community College, Tulsa, OK, has been offering students the credits to earn a free associate degree since 2007.

The program, Tulsa Achieves, pays tuition for three years of college for high school grads from Tulsa County. The only stipulations are the students must enroll right out of high school, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and perform 40 hours of community service each year they’re in the program.

The college even covers book costs for several hundred of the students through a textbook trust created through private donations. The school enrolled 1,350 students the first year of the program and has had about 1,500 local students sign up each year since then.

There is a cost, of course. Tulsa CC paid nearly $3 million in additional aid in the program’s first year and $3.7 million last year. However, 44% of the first class transferred to a four-year institution and 22% of those first students have earned since a bachelor’s degree.

“We consider it a strong economic-development tool for Tulsa County,” Lauren Brookey, vice president for external affairs at Tulsa CC, said in a report for Inside Higher Education. “People in Tulsa love this program.”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Why Students Prefer Print

Surveys have shown that readers, particularly college students, still prefer print. A University of Washington study even found that a quarter of its students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that were available for free.

Researchers have found the location of information on a printed page plays a key role in comprehension. The problem for on-screen reading is that users tend to skim and comprehension suffers because of it, according to Naomi S. Baron, a linguist at American University and author of Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s quite astounding.”

Online distraction is another issue. Baron found that 90% of the students reported they were more likely to multitask while online. Students also seem to have a lazy streak. Many told her they preferred renting textbooks that have important passages already highlighted and have notes in the margins.

Students do prefer digital for science and math classes, especially course materials that include online portals to help them work through problems. They also prefer digital materials that help them locate information quickly and—no surprise here—content that is free, even though Baron found that many would take the printed book if price wasn’t a factor.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Purdue Expanding It's Use of OER

Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, recently partnered with Amazon with the intent of saving its students money on everything from soup to textbooks. Now, the institution is working to take textbooks out of the equation altogether, or at least some of them.

The university is hoping to save geometry and calculus students up to $1 million by expanding its use of the Learning Online Network with Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach (LON-CAPA), according to a report in The Lafayette Journal & Courier. Professors can use the open education resources (OER) that make up the LON-CAPA program instead of textbooks or the university’s WebAssign program, which offers online lessons and grades assignments based on content from major publishers and can cost more than $100 per course.

Purdue’s biology department has been using LON-CAPA since it was developed by Michigan State University in 1992; physics, chemistry, and political science are also using similar programs. With 4,500 students enrolled in geometry and calculus, Purdue will be among the first to launch the program on such a large scale.

“It used to be a student could get by maybe without buying a book or buying a used book or sharing a book,” said Frank Dolley, vice provost for teaching and learning. “Now, these courses have access codes. You have to have the code to get into the class because you have to have that system to submit your homework. The students are somewhat trapped.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Initiative to Provide More Tech Workers

TechHire was launched to provide more U.S. workers in the growing technology field. More than 300 employers and local governments from 21 regions across the country have committed to the initiative, announced by President Obama at the National League of Cities.

The Obama administration pledged $100 million in competitive grants to fund joint initiatives to target workers who may not have access to tech training. The money for the grants will come from fees companies already pay to hire skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program.

“We’ve got to keep positioning ourselves for a constantly changing global economy,” Obama said during the announcement of the initiative. “If we’re not producing enough tech workers, over time that’s going to threaten our leadership in global innovation, which is the bread and butter of the 21st-century economy.”

Business leaders are also committed to offer free online training to prepare workers for higher-paying technology positions, such as software development, network administration, and cybersecurity. The communities involved are working on ways to use data-driven assessments of employer workforce demands; recruit and expand accelerated tech-learning programs such as coding bootcamps and online training; and find ways to connect people with the jobs.

“The world’s technology needs are just moving a lot faster than traditional education solutions. That’s the fundamental problem here,” said Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, KY. “So that’s why these nonconventional methods are needed right now.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Students Turning to Paper for PARCC Exams

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is an effort to provide information on how prepared students are for higher education or work after high school. The exams are based on Common Core standards for reading and math, but technical glitches in the computer-given tests are driving some districts to turn to paper instead.

“Our concern was really that the results of this testing taken online wouldn’t necessarily give clear data on what students know and should be able to do,” a spokeswoman for one school district told The Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune reported that one in four students in Illinois will use paper to take the exams during the spring testing period, costing districts an additional $2.4 million. The percentage of students taking the test online vs. paper is about the same in other states giving the test, according to PARCC officials.

About 11% of the school districts in Illinois plan to use paper and pencil to give the exam and another 34% will use a combination of paper and computer exams. The cost to administer the test to grades 3-8 is about $24 per student, but it rises to $33 each for paper testing.

The Tribune also reported that some students are planning to not take the exams at all, but opting out could be an issue. State officials said that if more than 5% of students statewide opt out, Illinois could fail federal requirements and face sanctions and that the state could then penalize districts for not testing enough students.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Report Promotes Way to Make CBE Work

Many colleges, particularly community colleges, view competency-based education (CBE) programs as a way to improve learning opportunities while lowering costs for students. One problem has been finding ways to use CBE programs in an environment dominated by the use of credit hours to reward student achievement.

The solution may lie in an integrated and transparent competency management framework, according to a report from Tyton Partners. The report, Evidence of Learning: The Case for an Integrated Competency Management System, found that colleges and universities should focus on ways that allow students to reach college and career goals and that knowledge, skills, and experience an individual achieves during their lifetime should be part of the process.

“As the bridge between students and the workforce, postsecondary institutions are uniquely positioned to find and deliver the best tools and resources to capture and communicate evidence of learning,” Adam Newman, co-founder and managing partner at Tyton said in an article for eCampus News. “Colleges and universities must rise to this opportunity or risk erosion of a core value proposition in linking learning and employment and lifelong development.”

The way to begin, according to the report, is for institutions and business to work together to provide students the skills that employers need. Colleges and business must also find ways to award proper credit for accumulated skills and maintain files to record that progress.

There should be ways for students to promote the skills they have already accumulated, along with access to feedback, coaching tools, and services so they can see how they are progressing. Schools need ways to evaluate that progress and employers must be willing to provide feedback to the institutions so they can adequately prepare their students.

“There’s no quick fix to this,” Newman said. “Institutions need to think internally about how connected their own departments are to one another in order to provide an effective learning experience and about whether or not outside experiences are valued. That’s the first wave of this: Institution-centric discussion.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Online Testing Has Become Big Business

Online testing and assessment is a growing business for software vendors and publishers. The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) reported digital assessment products brought in $2.5 billion in revenue in the 2012-13 school year.

The report, The U.S. Education Technology Market: PreK-12, estimated that the amount spent on software and content in the U.S. for preK-12 education was up $480 million to $8.38 billion, according to a report in The Journal. The SIIA researchers noted that 39% of the revenues were used on content, with language arts and math listed as the largest academic areas covered by the content.

The study also found that revenue for online courses grew 320% percent when compared to the 2011-12 school year.

“The rapid growth of testing and assessment will slow but remain an important area of investment in school districts and states,” said John Richards, president of CS4Ed. “Digital assessments and interest in personalized learning contribute to this growing market.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chegg Goes All-In on Digital

Chegg rented $213 million worth of textbooks online to students in 2014. The company recently turned that part of its business over to Ingram Content Group so it could focus on digital products.

Students will continue to be able to rent textbooks through the Chegg platform, but Ingram will be managing and shipping the physical inventory. Chegg plans to put more time, money, and effort into improving and enhancing its digital operations, which range from college admissions to internship placement.

“The rental model is where we started; the real product is what you’re seeing today,” Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig told Fast Company. “Everything we think students want is online.”

The strategy could cost the company in the short term, since Chegg will only receive 20% on the books Ingram rents. Chegg earned $91 million last year, but projects revenues to increase to $133 million-$143 million in the next two years as more colleges and employers pay it for leads and students pay for learning materials and services.

Ingram will start taking over the physical textbook rental business for Chegg by May 1 and be running all warehousing operations by the end of the year, according to a report in Ink, Bits, & Pixels.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Some Questions for Amazon@Purdue

Purdue University went all out for its new Amazon@Purdue bricks-and-mortar location in the Krach Leadership Center on the West Lafayette, IN, campus. The university president was there to cut a ceremonial ribbon and student employees in Amazon gear gave away gift cards and apparel to students in attendance.

But not everyone was impressed.

Tom Frey, owner of the University Book Store, which is technically off-campus but only by a few feet, has given lawyers a list of 57,000 titles Amazon is selling below his costs, according to a report by the public broadcasting station on campus. The University Book Store has been a licensed retailer of Purdue items and has sold textbooks to Purdue students for 75 years.

Bobby Haddix, the Purdue student body president, also questioned giving space in a building designed for students to an outside corporate entity. Amazon even flew Haddix out to Seattle so he could learn more about the company after he made two presentations against the idea to school trustees.

“This is a brand-new building. It was supposed to be specifically dedicated for students,” Haddix told the radio station. “And the decision was made over the summer while there weren’t a lot of students here to share their input to give this conference room away.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Online Reading Needs to Improve

Students have become very proficient in operating technology, but that doesn’t mean they comprehend what they are reading on-screen. Online learning requires students to use the Internet to read and grasp new information, but a study by the University of Connecticut found a large achievement gap.

The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension: Rethinking the Reading Achievement Gap studied the reading habits of seventh-graders in two Connecticut school districts. The two groups of students were asked to complete online reading assignments in science and then write reports on their findings, but both did poorly.

“They tend to be strong in social networking, texting, video, and gaming, and incredibly weak with information,” Donald Leu, director of the new Literacies Research Lab at UConn, said in an article for District Administration. “We’ve learned that it’s important to look at those categories of skills very differently and not to assume that students are strong with online information use when they are strong with social networking.”

There was also an income gap between the two districts studied. Students who lived in the district with a median family income of $119,000 got about half of the questions right, while students in the district with a median family income of $59,000 responded correctly on fewer than 25% of the answers.

Leu said the difference may be due to spending more time teaching students to do well on standardized tests rather than to online literacy skills. He suggested students should be doing more online reading and that librarians trained in online research need take a lead role in the instruction.

Monday, March 2, 2015

OER Can Keep Students in Class

Open educational resources (OER) are often presented as a way for college students to save money. The discussion should perhaps focus on how OER can keep students in class.

Many studies report that some students put off buying textbooks because of cost. When that happens, they often fall behind in their assignments, which can lead them to withdraw from the institution. Matt Reed, vice president for academic affairs, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke, MA, said he believes OER should be considered a retention solution, since having course materials at little or no cost would contribute to student success.

Institutions will still have to find affordable ways to put larger electronic devices in the hands of all students, but Reed is optimistic it’s an issue that can resolved.

“I can’t help but think that the device issue is much more solvable than, say, the political opposition to free community college,” Reed wrote in his Inside Higher Ed blog. “And the payoff isn’t merely economic. Students who have class materials from day one are likelier to succeed academically than students who don’t. This is an economic issue, but it’s also a retention issue. And it’s one we can solve without waiting for the political winds to shift.”