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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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Biometrics Offer Convenience with a Catch

Colleges and universities are no doubt watching the development of biometrics security with interest. Biometrics might be the remedy for a number of headaches for schools, such as authenticating exam-takers for online programs, dealing with students who frequently lose their campus ID cards, and thwarting professional thieves trying to rip off the bookstore.

Companies are coming out with new systems that scan fingerprints, a face, or an iris, or that match voices to a recorded database. Users don’t need to remember a password or carry a piece of plastic, although some systems work through smartphones.

However, biometrics aren’t foolproof, as NPR’s All Tech Considered noted. Savvy fraudsters could trick a biometric system with a high-resolution photo of a face or a recording of someone’s voice. If that happens, taking care of a hack becomes more difficult.

“Either a password or a biometric can be stolen,” David Cowan of the Bessemer Venture Partners investment firm told NPR. “But only the password can be changed. Once your fingerprint is stolen, it’s stolen forever, and you’re stuck.”

Some suggest biometrics might be helpful only with low-risk security, such as locking down mobile devices to keep snoopy roommates out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Better Results from Sharing Tablets

Schools across the nation are trying to bring more technology into the classroom by making tablet computers available to each student. A new study found that while the tablets do help, academic performance may be better if students share the device.

Northwestern University researcher Courtney Blackwell studied iPad usage and the academic performance of kindergarten students at three schools. Students at one school had an iPad for their personal use, the second school had students sharing 23 units, and a third school didn’t provide the device at all.

Blackwell found that kids sharing iPads did 28% better on literacy tests at the end of the year. Kids with their own device improved by 24% and those who did not have iPads in the classroom improved by 20%.

“I think it’s important to remember that iPads and technology in general are just one part of the curriculum, with many other factors playing a role in children’s achievement,” she said in an article in Time magazine. “Technology has always been touted as a potential panacea for education, but historically it has never changed the U.S. education system on a large scale. That said, with so many schools integrating one-for-one tablets and other devices, we need to know how technology is affecting learning to understand the best way to make tablets and technology most effective for students and teachers.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Making Gaming Work in the Classroom

While gaming has shown promise in academic circles, education-specific games may not be the best products for the classroom, according to an eCampus News interview with two game-based-learning professors.

According to Sherry Jones, philosophy, rhetoric, and game studies instructor, University of Colorado, Denver, educators who use gaming in their classrooms are either passionate gamers in the first place, nongamers looking at games as a way to teach concepts, or nongamers who hire designers to build educational games from scratch. She found that the most successful games in the classroom were the ones available to all consumers, such as Angry Birds or World of Warcraft.

“Educational games designed specifically around a concept, especially custom-built ones, impose a certain way of teaching a concept on game designers, whose job it is to make games fun and interesting,” Jones said. “Educational games can be inflexible and very boring to play. Students don’t like them and then the whole process falls apart.”

She suggested that instructors need to spend more time finding out how games work and how they can work in the classroom. Karen Novack, instructional designer at Front Range Community College, Westminster, CO, said faculty should inform students why a particular game was chosen and provide them with the learning objectives of the game.

“Anytime you use a commercial game, or really with any kind of change, you get resistance, and because we’re higher-ed, our students run the gamut from 16-year-olds who are getting early college credits to retired adults,” she said. “So you need to be explicit with students about why you’re using these games in this course and how learning this game will benefit their education.”

Faculty must also be willing to get it wrong from time to time.

“Present the class with the game and the parameters they need to go unpack the game,” Jones said. “Survey the class to see how they liked it and if the game was more effective in assessing their understanding of the concepts. The best way to determine if it’s going to be effective is to do it.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

UCLA Library Expands OER Initiative

The UCLA Library launched its Affordable Course Materials Initiative in 2013 to encourage faculty to use online content that can be freely accessed. That pilot will become an official program this fall.

Instructors can apply for up to $2,500 in grant money to help find resources and adjust syllabi and assignments. Since the pilot started, the library has awarded $27,500 to 23 instructors, saving students an estimated $160,000, according to a report in the Daily Bruin student newspaper.

The program started as collaboration between the library, the Undergraduate Students Association Council, and the UCLA Store to find databases of licenses the library already owned. Identifying the databases allowed the bookstore to produce coursepacks of materials the library had rights to without paying additional permission fees.

“That’s how we started on this path of both hearing what the problem was from the students and also seeing some ways that the different moving parts of UCLA, if worked together, could improve this situation more than any of us could independently,” said Sharon Farb, associate university librarian.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Apple Watch Hits the Ground Running

Reviews of the new Apple Watch have been mixed, but that isn’t stopping people from placing orders. The device became available for preorder on April 10 and it took only hours for the ship dates to be pushed back from April 24 to July because of heavy demand at the online Apple Store.

The financial services firm Cowen & Co. estimated that worldwide preorders for the watch reached one million units during the first weekend of sales, according to a report in CNET. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray agreed with the one-million preorder mark for Marketwatch and KeyBanc Capital Markets lowered its earning estimates for traditional watchmakers Fossil and Movado because of the Apple numbers.

“After trying on the Apple Watch, visiting stores, and based on our fieldwork, we are now more convinced that the Apple Watch will be disruptive to the fashion-watch market,” KeyBanc analysts told investors. “At a minimum, the widespread buzz may cause something of a standstill in the watch market.”

A majority of the buyers ordered the least expensive version of the Apple Watch, according to a report in InformationWeek. Slice Intelligence estimated there were more than 950,000 orders for the device in the United States alone, and that the average buyer spent about $500 for each device. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Google Algorithm's Impact Uncertain

If you noticed a sudden drop in visits to your website in the last couple days, it might be the “Mobilegeddon” effect. All in all, though, many site owners remain oblivious to any impact in traffic as the result of Google’s new search algorithm favoring mobile-friendly sites.

On April 21, Google tweaked the algorithm to give more weight in search results rankings to sites with mobile-compatible navigation. Google announced two months ago that it would be making the change and provided developer tools to help site owners determine if alterations were needed.

The date was dubbed Mobilegeddon in the tech press due to the potential hit some sites might take.

According to the Greenlight digital marketing agency, the first link in search rankings usually gets about 20%-30% of all clicks on the page. The second and third links receive 5%-10%, and the rest yield 1% or less. For organizations that rely on search traffic, a lower berth in the rankings might cost them a lot of business. In early April, TechCrunch found 44% of all Fortune 500 company sites failed Google’s mobile test.

The up side for websites is that only searches conducted on smartphones are subject to the new algorithm. Searches via desktop or tablet will produce the same results as before, at least for now. Google clearly thinks web searching is becoming a mobile thing.

To enhance your site’s mobile friendliness, Search Engine Land offers some recommendations.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Environmental Gaming Pilot at ASU

A series of five story-based environmental games is being piloted by Arizona State University, Tempe, on its ASU Online site. Students take leadership roles in the game to help the community in each story face environmental and sustainability issues.

“I’m excited by how these authentic experiences will add a ‘human element’ to the learning process,” Tahnja Wilson, senior manager for EdPlus at ASU, said in an article for eCampus News. “The interactive features will be a great complement to the other course components.”

Students will be able to download information, take notes, and respond to questions using mobile phones or emails in the game’s day-in-the-life tools. The game is designed to get students to think about real-life environmental situations, with students and instructors receiving a performance summary at the end of each module.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New Ed-Tech Guide for Developers Available

The Department of Education released a guide for developers who create solutions in the education space. The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide: A Primer for Developers, Startups, and Entrepreneurs is free and available for download at tech.ed.gov/developers.

The guide focuses on the key needs of the nation’s school systems and pinpoints 10 long-term issues facing education. It highlights issues such as increasing family engagement, professional development for teachers, and accurately measuring what students have learned as potential areas for digital tools.

“Technology makes it possible for us to create a different dynamic between a teacher and a classroom full of students,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at a conference where the guide was introduced. “We need tools designed to help students discover who they are and what they care about, and tools that create portals to a larger world that, in the past, would have remained out of reach for far too many.”

Education technology must do more than just deliver content to students, according to Duncan,  who added that he hoped paper textbooks would soon be extinct. He also said developers need to keep disadvantaged students in mind when designing new tools.

“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution,” he said.

Monday, April 20, 2015

EdX, DOJ Reach Accessibility Agreement

A compliance review by the U.S. Department of Justice has led to an agreement with edX to make its massive open online courses (MOOCs) more accessible to people with disabilities. EdX agreed to make its website, mobile applications, and learning management system fully accessible within the next 18 months.

As part of the settlement, edX will provide guidance for course creators on best practices in creating accessible online courses, hire a web-accessibility coordinator, and develop a web-accessibility policy. The settlement acknowledges that edX has taken steps to improve access, but needs to do more.

“We were very aware in 2012 or so about the emergence of MOOCs and the importance, or the potential importance, that they offer to students who have distance barriers and cost barriers to getting good educational content,” Eve L. Hill, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “And they offer a potentially really good avenue for students with disabilities.”

Details of what was wrong with the edX platform were not provided, but Hill told The Chronicle that common website accessibility problems include videos without captions and pop-up windows that can’t recognize screen-reader applications used by the visually impaired. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Discovery Leads to Fast-Charging Battery

Nearly every smartphone user has a story of how their device died at the most inopportune time. That problem may be eliminated now that researchers at Stanford University discovered a way to charge batteries faster and have them last longer.

Experimenting with graphite as a cathode, researchers found that aluminum-ion prototypes were able to charge a smartphone battery 60 times faster than a lithium-ion battery. The aluminum-ion concept was also able to recharge 7,500 times, is flexible, and can be safely drilled without causing a fire.

“There is a woefully short amount of cycles to go through with lithium-ion batteries,” Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for Tirias Research, said in an article for TechWorldNews. “To extend that would allow phones to last longer. You wouldn’t have to worry about having to have your phone repaired if the battery wears out and you have an iPhone or the latest Samsung handset.”

But the Stanford research is just a beginning. The new technology must also show that it can be produced on a scale to meet the demands of the electronics industry.

"In these types of research programs, much of the research is done on very small cell sizes,” said Eric Lind, sales manager for Varta Microbattery. “The results are then extrapolated to a commercial cell. However, generally, the scale-up does not typically correlate linearly with what is found in the lab.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Competency-Based Online Degree Piloted

Community colleges in the state of Washington will soon offer a competency-based associate degree in business using open educational resources (OER) for every class.

The online, self-paced classes are designed to adapt content and activities based on a student’s prior knowledge of the subject, according to a report in eCampus News. Students will also have access to free online course materials.

The 13 community colleges signed up for the pilot will work with Lumen Learning to design the courses. Lumen Learning is also collecting course material that will include textbooks, videos, and embedded assessments to gauge students’ progress.

“A motivated student could complete a two-year transfer degree in just 18 months,” said Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director for education for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “All this adds up to quicker completion at a lower cost, while achieving the same learning outcomes required for traditional courses and programs.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Researchers Study MOOC Trends

Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looking at massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by the two schools found more females and older students were taking the classes. The survey also noted that nearly half of MOOC participants were not interested in pursuing certification and that 39% of the respondents were teachers.

The survey, based on two years of data from online courses launched on the edX platform, reported that certificate rates for computer science and other technology-based offerings were about half the rate of those in the humanities and social sciences. It also showed that 59% of participants who paid for ID-verified certificates went on to earn certification.

The researchers hope to develop a “Top 5” list of MOOCs based on course attributes, demographics, and level of interaction.

“These courses reflected the breadth of our university curricula and we felt the need to highlight their diverse designs, philosophies, audiences, and learning outcomes in our analyses,” Isaac Chuang, associate dean of digital learning at MIT, said in an article in eCampus News. “Which course is right for you? It depends, and these lists might help learners decide what qualities in a given MOOC are most important to them.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

App Enables Location-Based E-Books

Rook Labs, based in London, plans to release an app that allows people to access e-books on their mobile devices at no charge while they’re in a defined location, such as a cafĂ©, park, hospital, or subway car. When the person starts to move out of range, they’ll be invited to buy and download their own copy of the e-book right from the app.

A beta version of the location-based app, also dubbed Rook, will be unveiled at the London Book Fair this week. The company’s website claims users will be able to read “premium” e-books with the app and The Guardian reported Rook has two independent book publishers lined up to participate. It’s not clear how many titles are currently available.

“The biggest hurdle to overcome will be publisher suspicion about a great e-book giveaway,” The Guardian article commented, noting that readers are unlikely to pay for the book if there are enough Rook hotspots to finish it for free.

The beta version will be rolled out only in London and New York City.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Smartphones Will Make You Lazy

There are those who believe smartphones are making users less smart, but a study from the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada, found the devices actually tend to make users lazy.

Researchers tracked the smartphone habits of 660 people and found that the more people used their mobile devices to access search engines, the more likely they were to rely on intuitive thinking. Analytical thinkers in the study were much less likely to use smartphones as search engines.

“We don’t really like to do the extra work that comes with analytical thinking,” David Wagner, executive editor of Community & IT Life, wrote in a column for InformationWeek. “We prefer heuristic or intuitive thinking. The problem is that heuristic thinking is more likely to be wrong than a solution reached when we stop and think about stuff for a minute.”

The research also found that offloading information to smartphones led users to rely on it more and learn less.

“The good news is that smartphones probably aren’t a pact with the devil by which we agree to receive all knowledge in the world via the Internet without having the intellect to use it,” Wagner wrote. “Smartphones don’t make us dumb. They make us lazy. They make us cognitive misers. If we’re willing to give up the lazy habits and employ our cognitive skills, we’ll use the smartphone the right way.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Text Messages Used to Boost Student Success

Most schools use technology to push information to students. A Texas college is using text messaging to get the word out.

A study conducted at Cisco College provided text messages to half of a class of developmental psychology students. The messages included notes on readings and quizzes that would take place during the upcoming week, current events the students should review for the class, student-specific notes on ongoing work, and a message asking students to send questions, comments, or concerns to the instructor.

The students who received the text messages scored higher on quizzes, papers, and exams than the control group, which did not receive the messages. Students also reported they spent more time on assignments because the information was made convenient.

“Digital natives—basically everyone in a K-12 classroom today—are comfortable using handheld devices to interact and communicate,” Scott Hamm, director of online education at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX, wrote in an article about the research for EdTech Magazine. “Staying connected through one’s smartphone is an ambient part of communication habits today, and texting is the primary communication medium of 14- to 18-year-olds.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Acceptance Letter Carries Online-Only Caveat

The University of Florida is taking a bold—some say sneaky—approach to expanding its enrollment in online courses. The school recently accepted an additional 3,118 students into its fall 2015 freshman class, but only for online classes they access from home.

The university had already accepted about 12,000 freshman students who will be free to take either online or traditional courses right on the campus. The add-on group will be limited to online classes for at least their first two semesters, although once they accumulate 60 credit hours, they may be eligible to transfer into regular freshman enrollment.

Florida didn’t inform applicants in advance that there might be two different acceptances, and none of the students specifically applied to be an online-only enrollee, according to The Washington Post.

The move “allows us to offer admission to additional qualified applicants with academic potential and demonstrated success,” Steve Orlando, senior director of media relations, told The Post. The school isn’t sure how many will actually enroll in the online program, but estimates about 10% will probably take the offer.

In part, the decision to admit additional freshmen as online students was made to help fill the university’s new online undergraduate program, launched in 2014. The Florida state legislature, which has been promoting online education, provided $15 million in startup funding.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wearable Tech Ready to Take Off

International Data Corp. (IDC) predicted that wearable technology will grow and the Apple Watch will play a key role. The firm said that 45.7 million wearable devices will ship this year, with that number climbing to 126.1 million in 2019, according to a report in VentureBeat.

Just over four million smart wearables—defined by IDC as wearable devices that run apps—were sold in 2014. The IDC forecast called for that number to reach 25.7 million this year, while “dumb wearables”—devices like fitness trackers than don’t run apps—will grow from sales of 15.4 million units in 2014 to 20 million this year.

“The Apple Watch raises the profile of wearables in general, and there are many vendors and devices that are eager to share the spotlight,” said Ramon Llamas of IDC. “Basic wearables, meanwhile, will not disappear. In fact, we anticipate continued growth here as many segments of the market seek out simple, single-use wearable devices.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

OER, For-Profits Can Work Together

While open educational resources (OER) are sometimes free to the user, there are always costs involved in the production and delivery of the content. To cover those, many OER providers turn to for-profit companies to keep the content available to students.

That opens the door to criticism that nonprofits are selling out. Advocates counter that the for-profit world has a role in keeping OER in front of students.

“Yes, the corporations earn money,” wrote Barbara Illowsky, professor of mathematics and statistics at Foothill-De Anza Community College, Los Altos Hills, CA, District and co-author of a statistics textbook published by OpenStax College, in a column for eCampus News. “But the big ‘yes’ is that students increase their learning. These innovations offer immediate feedback and formative assessment 24/7, link to similar examples, and offer multiple attempts, which lead to increased student participation and success.”

The bottom line for Illowsky, also director of basic skills and OER for the California Community College Online Education Initiative, is student success and choice.

“Students have lifetime free access to open textbooks. Not just one term, not being a log-in site—OER are always available to everyone,” she wrote. “Students have a choice to use the online text only, to download the PDF, or to read the book on their mobile devices. None of these versions cost money. If students want hard copies, they may print parts or all of the text at home, or may purchase a bound low-cost copy from a for-profit company. The cost of printing the text is the student’s choice.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

UMass Amherst Opens 3-D Printing Center

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, partnered with 3-D printer manufacturer MakerBot to open a 3-D printing center in the university library. The MakerBot Innovation Center provides students, faculty, and the surrounding community access to 50 MakerBot Replicator 3-D printers, desktop 3-D scanners, and the filament necessary to create 3-D models.

The printers will be linked together to allow for remote access, print queuing, and mass production of 3-D items. MakerBot is also providing training for university staff.

The center will provide a way to bring together departments on campus to work on projects. A makerspace class using the center is already being planned by faculty from the environmental conservation, building and construction technology, biology, public health, public policy, and engineering departments.

Plans are also in the works for an entrepreneur-in-residence program, mini-courses and workshops, and business-plan competitions, as well as support for start-ups and small businesses.

“The MakerBot Innovation Center ties in firmly with the campus’s personality of being entrepreneurial and community engaged and will allow us to work more closely with the local business community,” said Jay Schafer, director of libraries at UMass Amherst. “Having a large-scale installation of MakerBot 3-D printers makes this a resource more broadly available on campus and puts UMass Amherst at the forefront of technological innovation.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

More Young Adults Own Smartphones

The largest cohort of smartphone owners can be found on a college or university campus.

According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, the 18-29 age group comprises the single biggest block of smartphone-toting adults in the U.S., with 85% of them owning at least one smartphone.

Even the highest-income crowd (adults earning more than $75,000 per year) is only at 84% smartphone ownership.

Overall, 7% of U.S. adults with smartphones rely on those devices as the sole source for Internet access. However, young adults are even more dependent on their smartphones, with 15% saying this is the only means they have for getting online at home. It’s not clear from the survey, though, whether this group can’t afford broadband service or they simply don’t want to mess around with larger devices at home.

As you might expect, young adults use their smartphones for a wide variety of purposes, apart from making calls. About 44% told Pew they have accessed educational content via the phone and 70% engage in online banking through the phone. More than a third have even submitted a job application by using their phone. All of them send and receive text messages.

However, entertainment is often the allure for many young adults. Some 91% said they used their smartphones for social networking, music, and videos. And when older adults complain about the younger folks always being on their phones and ignoring everyone around them—they should know that 47% of young adults said they do it deliberately to avoid contact.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Potential, Issues of Digital Courseware

A new report on digital courseware adoption found that 54% of responding faculty members used it during the 2013-14 school year and 52% said they saw the potential impact it could have on learning. Time for Class: Lessons for the Future of Digital Courseware in Higher Education, Part 1: Faculty Perspectives on Courseware also reported there were still barriers to be addressed.

“I feel pressured to use online instruction in some way at our institution, but I believe it mostly requires an increase in labor for instructors,” one respondent wrote in the report. “I am not sure of the benefit it actually provides over traditional delivery in my area of teaching.”

The report described digital courseware as “curriculum delivered through purpose-built software to support teaching and learning.” It is seen as a way to deliver personalized instruction on a variety of technology-driven platforms and improve student outcomes, according to an article in eCampus News.

The survey noted that 60% or respondents said they were encouraged to use digital courseware in their class, but just 30% said they were trained to use it effectively. Faculty members also saw costs to students, the overall effectiveness of the programs; lack of alignment with instructional design, reduced control over content, and resistance to the new instruction methods as barriers to widespread adoption of digital courseware.

“Once you decide to use courseware, you are in for a long but interesting ‘slog’ to learn a system, to create materials for class, and to keep growing,” wrote another faculty respondent. “After 12 years and the use of four different packages, I have yet to find a student who thinks it has improved their education in ways other than decreasing the amount of time they have to spend in the library.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Students Going Mobile to Study

Every college store professional knows students on campus are practically tethered to their mobile devices. Not surprisingly, new research from McGraw-Hill Education found that use of the technology for studying is on the rise as well.

The survey, The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits, reported that 81% of students who responded said they used a mobile device to study, a 40% increase over the 2014 findings. In addition, 77% said they believe using the technology can lead to better grades.

Mobile devices are still second to laptops for studying, but 66% of the students reported that it was moderately to extremely important to have them available for study. The technology saved time, according to 48%, while 62% said using mobile technology helped them feel better prepared for class.

“The rise of studying via mobile isn’t simply due to the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets on campus; it’s a case of mobile suiting the way students study now,” said Sharon Loeb, vice president of marketing for McGraw-Hill Education. “The feedback we’ve received from students and instructors suggests that today’s students tend toward shorter, more concentrated bursts of studying anywhere they’re able, rather than waiting for several hours to hunker down in the library.”