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, May 29, 2015

Device-Agnostic Tools Needed for BYOD

College students are bringing many different types of electronic devices with them to campus. Colleges and universities are grappling with how to accommodate all those gadgets.

The many devices on the market means educators have to create lessons that work on all of them, whether students are toting a laptop, smartphone, tablet, or all three. The age of the device even comes into play, because operating systems change so frequently.

“These devices all have different quirks,” Gauri Reyes, CEO of Triple Point Advisors, said in an article in eCampus News, “and that makes it hard to predict which ones will ultimately be brought into the classrooms, who will be using which ones, and who needs to know what about the devices and the capabilities.”

Device-agnostic applications are being built to provide a solution. The tools are compatible with most operating systems, helping instructors and students work together without wasting class time or IT resources.

“Start by taking the most popular devices that are out there and making sure your applications, lesson plans, videos, or other content work on those devices,” Reyes advised. “Just make the assumption that whatever you’re developing or using has to work on iOS, Android, or another platform, and then create an environment where your students can learn, engage, collaborate, and communicate effectively.”

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exam Scores Better After Smartphone Ban

The mayor of New York recently lifted a ban on mobile phones on school premises. New research from the London School of Economics indicates that’s probably a mistake.

Researchers Richard Murphy and Louis-Phillppe Beland studied how phone policies at 91 schools in England have changed since 2001. Comparing the data against results from national exams taken by 130,000 students showed that test scores improved by 6.4% after schools banned phone use. Average test scores for underachieving students rose by 14%.

The researchers said that banning phones in schools was equivalent to adding one hour of instruction each week. They also found that banning mobile phones had no effect on high achievers and 14-year-olds were not affected in either direction.

“These findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones and other forms of technology could be useful in schools if their use is properly structured,” the researchers wrote. “However, our findings do suggest that the presence of mobile phones in schools should not be ignored.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Amazon Launches Free Cloud Platform

Amazon continues to muscle its way into higher education. It’s latest step is the launch of AWS Educate, a program that allows instructors and students to use real-world cloud technology in the classroom.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) was started in 2006 as a technology platform providing computing services from data centers from around the world.  AWS Educate is a free service designed to make it easier to find cloud-related course content and combine it with class curricula.

Students and teachers have access to web-based training and self-paced labs through the program, along with in-person and online forums that will help integrate cloud technology with coursework. By joining the program, students and teachers also gain access to the AWS library of educational content, including full courses, syllabi, lectures, and homework assignments.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Online Class Assumes Manual's Role

MOOCs (massive open online courses) and blended or hybrid learning (combining online and in-class instruction) have gotten a lot of attention recently in higher education, with both earning mixed ratings for academic effectiveness.

At George Washington University, another version of online course is receiving much better reviews. An associate professor of archaeology created a four-week online course as a precursor to a fieldwork program in Kenya. The online course replaces a 150-page, custom-published manual that students were supposed to study before they set off for Africa.

The problem was, the students rarely looked at the manual until they got to Kenya and were in the middle of field studies. The required online course “features videos from previous trips to Kenya and key information that the manual covered, but presents it in a way that’s more accessible for the students,” according to The GW Hatchet, the school’s independent newspaper.

The university couldn’t require students to take a traditional face-to-face class to prepare for the program because some enrollees were based in other countries. However, the online class is available to all students, regardless of location, and ensures they start the program armed with the necessary basic concepts to conduct fieldwork.

The videos incorporated into the course also help students to grasp the unfamiliar conditions in which they’ll be working and living in Kenya, something the old print manual couldn’t really convey.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day

The NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as our staff in California and Washington, D.C., salute all veterans on this Memorial Day.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Contradition of Online Learning

Research has shown that community college students are more likely to fail or get lower grades in online courses than students in traditional classrooms. Yet, other research has found those community college students are more likely to graduate than their counterparts.

A study conducted by Peter Shea, associate provost of online learning at the University of Albany, revealed that community college students who take online courses are 25% more likely to finish their two-year associate degree than students who didn’t take any online classes. He also discovered that students who take online courses tend to graduate sooner.

“It’s a bit of a paradox,” he said. “They’re doing worse at the course level, but at the program level—despite lower grades—they’re finishing.”

Hans Johnson, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, reported similar results in a 2014 study. He found that while just 60% of California community college students passed an online class, they were more likely to graduate and transfer to a four-year institution.

Part of the reason for this contradiction may be that it’s easier for students who are juggling a job and family to enroll in an online class necessary to graduate, according to Jill Barshay in her column for The Hechinger Report. While those students may not be getting great grades, they are collecting credits toward graduation.

“The question for community college leaders is whether they should continue to expand their online courses to help a small minority of students get through college as quickly as possible,” Barshay wrote. “It will be tempting, since those students are boosting graduation rates. But online courses are helping the most prepared students who are most likely to succeed, not the struggling students who need the most help.”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Carnegie Mellon Offers 3-D Printing Program

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, is integrating business, design, and engineering aspects of product development in its undergraduate engineering course in 3-D printing. The new AdditiveManufacturing for Engineers course allows students to turn an idea into a product ready for market.

“This is the only course of its kind to expose undergraduate students to the two 3-D metal printing processes of greatest interest to industry,” said Jack Beuth, professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and co-creator of the course. “Students will gain an understanding of the full range of additive manufacturing processes—from maker machines to metal machines—and the market and uses for them.”

Students will work in teams to develop ideas and perform the necessary market research. They will then design the product, upload the files to a 3-D printer, and fulfill orders on demand from Andy’s Shop, the 3-D printing marketplace provided by Shapeways.

In addition, the Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology (IDeATe) network and the Hunt Library are working together on a collaborative 3-D printing fabrication lab, called IDeATe@Hunt. The courses, open to all students at CMU taking IDeATe courses, provide instruction on using 3-D print technology in their field of study.

“IDeATe@Hunt creates a work environment where students are exposed to a variety of common enthusiasts from a wide array of varying backgrounds,” said P. Zach Ali, technical director of IDeATe. “It is our hope that this community begins to learn from each other’s work.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oculus Rift May Soon Be Available

Trade shows have been about the only places consumers have been able to discover the wonders of Oculus Rift. Some are miffed that it has taken so long for the virtual-reality headset to make its way to market, but that could be about to change.

The manufacturer announced it will begin taking preorders for the device later this year and start shipping them in the first quarter of 2016. The headset, which looks like a scuba diver’s facemask, has a 100-degree field of vision with accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to track the position of the wearer’s head.

Oculus Rift was designed for video gaming, but could be used in virtual tourism, real-time cinema, and education. The latest prototype is lighter and faster than previous models with an improved tracking system.

“Just release the damned thing already,” one commenter posted on the Oculus blog. “You guys have been dragging on this marketing hype for years and your competitors are getting to market well ahead of you.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Illinois Piloting Online MBA Program

The University of Illinois, Champaign, is working with the massive open online course (MOOC) platform Coursera  to launch a low-cost, online MBA program. Students who enroll in MBA should be able to complete an entire degree for about $20,000, or around $30,000 less than the on-campus version.

The content will be available to anyone at no charge, just like other MOOCs offered by Coursera. Students in the program will pay about $1,000 per course, but also receive greater support from faculty and access to online discussions with other students enrolled in the program, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In addition to the degree track, the Illinois plan allows students to earn certification every time they finish three courses. The idea behind what is being called “stackable credentials” is students might be able to use the credentials with potential employers.

The program was designed to meet the university’s land-grant mission of improving access, as well as to create a new stream of revenue for the institution. It will be limited to 200 students in the pilot stage.

“This is our 100th year for the College of Business and we’ve been thinking about our land grant,” Raj Echambadi, associate dean for outreach and engagement, told The Chronicle. “At the end of the day, we are about democratizing information.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Lynn Launching New iPad Programs

Lynn University has been a pioneer in the use of iPads in education. The Boca Raton, FL, institution is at it again, using the device to offer an online bachelor’s degree program that will cost students about the same as the average state university tuition.

The iLynn program, which will begin in the fall, is designed to provide personalized learning and unlimited access to its collaborative tools. The school is also launching the Lynn University Digital Press to publish scholarly works for its iPad and iTunes U academic content.

Lynn faculty members have already created 24 e-textbooks and are working on another dozen. Instructors receive a new laptop with iBooks Author software and a $2,000 stipend for participating in the program.

“We’ve felt we really needed infrastructure around our faculty so they could concentrate on the right content and not necessarily on being experts in being an author or editing or rights and permissions,” Chris Boniforti, chief information officer at Lynn, told Inside Higher Education.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Standing Students Are More Engaged

Traditional classrooms normally have row after row of desks where students sit and listen to the instructor standing in front of them. New research suggests that may not be the best way for students to learn.

A study by Texas A&M University, College Station, found that elementary-school students using standing desks stayed on task 12% better than those sitting at traditional desks. That equals seven extra minutes of instruction time per hour, according to a report in The Journal.

The study observed 282 students in grades 2-4, monitoring actions such as answering questions, raising hands, participating in discussions, and talking out of turn. Researchers found that academic engagement was greater for students using standing desks than for those seated at traditional desks.

“Considerable research indicates that academic behavioral engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement,” said Mark Bender, a Texas A&M professor in the Health Science Center School of Public Health. “Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat.”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Apprenticeships Making a Comeback

The concept of people learning a trade from a skilled employer may be about to make a big comeback. The Obama administration announced a $100 million program to support apprenticeships, with a goal to double the number of apprenticeship programs in the United States over the next five years.

“Apprenticeships are dramatically underutilized in this country, and if we expand our apprenticeship system, it is a good way to help businesses meet the demand for skilled labor that labor economists have said is a concern that we should be worried about over the next 10 years,” Sarah Ayres Steinberg, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said in an eCampus News article.

The concept is growing fastest on community college campuses. Some of the two-year schools are already working with businesses to help students gain experience and credentials, such as Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, which offers credits to apprentices in trade programs for time spent on the job that can then be used to earn an associate degree or technical certificates. In addition, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor launched the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, which allows graduates to convert on-the-job training into college credits.

“Our current system of education and training is not sufficient to meet the demands for skilled labor,” Ayres Steinberg said. “We have to do something different. We have to make it easier for young people to get the postsecondary education and training that they need.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Penn State to Study Uses of the Apple Watch

Apple certainly made a splash with its new Apple Watch, selling at least one million during the first weekend that it was available for preorder. Now, Penn State University, University Park, is planning to study how the device can be used in the classroom.

Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), a unit of the university’s Information Technology Services, will conduct a pilot program this summer to study the effectiveness of wearable devices for delivering self-regulated learning. TLT plans to expand the study through the 2015-16 academic year.

“Wearable devices are unique because they can co-exist with the student, in a virtually transparent way, at the moment of learning,” Kyle Bowen, director of education-technology services, said in an article for eCampus News. “Using mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, enables students to consume information and create content. Wearable technologies, like the Apple Watch, enable a new layer of reflection that students can use to evaluate their learning experiences.”

One promising area for the watch is the hands-free opportunities it provides faculty members. For instance, the device makes it possible for an instructor to no longer have to stand at the lectern or have a clicker to advance slides.

“A lot of these small little apps that we’ve seen to, say, identify a random student—these types of small tools to automate the classroom experience can be put onto a watch, and no longer do I have to think about having to stand at the lectern because I want to use my hands or carry around a tablet,” Bowen told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Now, I just have a device on my wrist and I can interact with it.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Campus ID Cards Destined for Phones

As college and university administrators know, students have a tendency to lose or damage their campus ID cards. That can create quite a hassle, especially when cards are used for multiple purposes, such as a dorm key, a meal card, a credit/debit account, and financial aid disbursement.

However, students are a lot less likely to misplace or mishandle their cellphones, their lifeline to all things social. For that reason, Robert C. Huber, a consultant for the campus card industry, predicted as many as 100 campuses will shift to a smartphone-based ID credential by fall 2015, eliminating the need for a plastic card.

Huber’s Campus Card Industry Forecast 2015 says more students will be toting an Apple iPhone 6 than any other smartphone brand, with students at private residential campuses leading the trend. That raises the likelihood that the next big thing will be wearable ID credentials, possibly via the new Apple Watch.

The forecast also sees campus card systems and services moving to the cloud. For those campuses that haven’t yet converted to key cards for residence halls, Huber not only anticipates they’ll do so by 2020, but speculates that security concerns will lead schools to install wireless access on all buildings to better control who roams those halls.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Are Students Ready for the Workforce?

The perception that colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to prepare graduates for the workforce appears to be widespread. Just 13% of Americans reported feeling confident that colleges are doing a good job in preparing students, according to a Gallup poll released in April.

The survey also found that just 6% of adults with college degrees strongly agreed that college grads were prepared for the workforce. At the same time, 96% of Americans in the survey said that it was important for adults to have a degree beyond high school.

“’Unnerving’ is the only word that comes to mind regarding this finding,” wrote Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “Why? Because no matter whom you ask—the general population of Americans, parents for 5th- to 12th-graders, or current college freshmen—they all give the same answer to their top reason for valuing or attending college: to get a good job.”

Many point to a skills gap as the problem, but Busteed said the real issue is the communication and understanding gap between higher education and employers. Institutions are failing to provide real-world work experience, projects that require solving real problems, and mentoring from faculty and staff.

“The honest question is whether higher-education leaders and their regional and national employer counterparts have the courage to change,” he wrote. “First, to admit the current system isn’t working the way we want it to, and second, to take the steps needed to get on track.”

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hackers Go After Distance-Learning Funds

It seems as if scammers are never far behind the flow of money. For instance, rings of hackers have discovered a way to use “straw students” to obtain Title IV funds from institutions that participate in online learning.

These distance-education fraud rings employ students who provide their identities to enroll in online courses. The San Jose Mercury News reported about one California case that generated as much as $6 million a year in tuition payments to students who never attended classes and lived in other states on student visas.

“If anybody has any illusions there is just one bad apple, that’s not the case,” Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told The News. “There are plenty of them out there.”

According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just one fraud ring can claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal financial aid. Past audits by the OIG have found problems in verifying student identities, determining attendance, and the cost of attendance.

“Even though the OIG mandates that schools have a process in place to verify that the student who registers in a distance-education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit, technology solutions to date haven’t been keeping pace with the technology used by hackers,” said Don Kassner, president of the online proctoring company ProctorU. “It’s no longer enough to verify IP [Internet protocol] and email addresses.”

The OIG has recommended that institutions modify their disbursement rules for students who only participate in online programs. Schools also have the right to delay disbursement of Title IV funds until the student has participated in the distance-education program for a longer time and to make more frequent disbursements so that not all the funds are sent out at the beginning of the semester.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

AP 3.0 Platform Plans to Compensate Faculty

Academic Partnerships, which helps colleges and universities transition to online courses and degree programs, is about to begin sharing the wealth with faculty.

The online company added a revenue-sharing model as part of its updated online education platform, Academic Partnerships 3.0. Faculty members who host live online sessions can earn up to 3% of tuition revenue from the company.

The revenue-sharing agreement normally is between the university and the company, with the institution’s share growing as enrollment increases. In this new model, Academic Partnerships will not pay faculty members directly but will work with its institutional partners to distribute the money.

“This type of activity is highly desirable, and we want to properly reward and see that the professor is compensated,” Randy Best, CEO of Academic Partnerships, said in an article for Inside Higher Education. “We know universities’ budgets are tight, and we believe that the enhancement that is gained by participating [in live online sessions] is so significant that we believe it’s our responsibility to compensate.”

The faculty-hosted learning sessions will provide students with a blended learning opportunity that is fully online and available globally. The Academic Partnerships 3.0 updates will be completed by the fall and will include translation services at no extra cost to partner universities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kids Want More Tech in Class

An awful lot of grade-schoolers have access to computers and mobile devices these days, and with that comes the availability of the web and social networks. Many kids think electronic media should be used far more often for classroom lessons and homework, according to the Speak Up 2014 national research project findings released to Congress April 30.

The latest iteration of the annual survey, conducted by Project Tomorrow last fall, captured the thoughts of 431,231 students in grades K-12 nationwide. Three-quarters of the respondents said all students should be able to tap into some sort of mobile device during the school day. Some 58% are already using their own smartphone for classwork (and quite a few students have personal access to smartphones, even 46% of youngsters in grades three to five).

Not surprisingly, students are very enthusiastic about gaming and videos in class. About two-thirds think games hold their interest longer and help them to master complicated concepts. They often seek out videos online to assist with homework, especially teens.

In the 2011 Speak Up survey, only 11% of high school students were active on Twitter but now almost half of them are tweeting. Many still connect through Facebook, however, an increasing number are drawn to social sites that allow them to create and share their own content. Half of students—both boys and girls—would welcome a class in coding so they could develop web-based content by themselves.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Limiting Distractions Helps Online Students

Studies have shown that distractions can hinder the success of students in online courses. New research by Richard W. Patterson, a doctoral student at Cornell University, found that software that limits distractions helped students do better and improved course completion.

Patterson’s report, Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence from a Massive Open Online Course, divided 657 students into three groups and examined how they used the Internet while participating in a nine-week MOOC on statistics.

Each group was assigned a tool that made up the limitation software Patterson used in his research. Students using the commitment tool could set limits on the amount of time they wanted to spend on websites such as Facebook or Twitter. They were also sent an email each morning to adjust the time they spent on the Internet and which blocked individual sites when too much time was spent on them.

The second group used a reminder tool that would just send them a link to the course website after a half hour was spent on other websites. The third group used a focus tool that would ask if they wanted to block distractions and for how long if they wanted uninterrupted time to study.

The commitment tool was the only tool to show significant improvement on student homework submissions, scores, and course completion. Users spent 24% more time on the course and 40% more of them completed it.

Students said spending time on distractions was much less enjoyable when using the commitment tool, because it forced them to unblock sites when they exceeded the time limits they set each morning. It also combined the reminder element and the focus elements into one tool.

“The idea behind the commitment device is that it makes impatient behavior more costly or more difficult, and that’s consistent with the way that students seem to be responding,” Patterson told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The study also showed that distractions bother all students. Patterson expected the software would help the least-prepared students the most, but found that students who were most prepared got the most benefit from it. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Amazon Updates Textbook Creator App

A major update for the Kindle Textbook Creator app has made the platform more useful, according to blogger Nate Hoffelder. The updated app allows educators to embed video and audio files in e-textbooks and now supports pop-up images.

“I’ve tested the app and I can confirm that you can embed audio,” Hoffelder wrote for Inks, Bits, & Pixels. “The app freezes while the media is being embedded in the project e-book file (it takes a while), but then it unlocks and lets you move the audio icon or video window around. You can also change the media’s title or description.”

Amazon added new options for building a table of contents and using a checkbox to choose which pages are added to the table of contents. Kindle Textbook Creator is specific to the Kindle platform but creates e-books that can be read on the Kindle app for Android, iOS, PC, and OSX.

“Amazon already sold digital textbooks and now they are also making it easier for educators to publish their own textbooks on the Kindle platform,” Hoffelder said. “It’s hard to say what is coming next, but I think we can expect Amazon to make a play for schools and the curricula market.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Success Rates Fall for Online Students

A study of California’s community college system found that students aren’t doing as well in courses taken online when compared to traditional classroom teaching. Researchers found that online students lag behind their in-class peers in completing the course, completing it with a passing grade, and completing it with grades of A or B.

The results were the same across subjects, as well as across courses of different types and groups of students, according to a report in Inside Higher Education. No group of online students performed better than their counterparts in face-to-face classes.

Researchers noted that the results may vary in other states. However, the California system has placed a priority on online education and has a huge student population to study.

“Faculty members teaching online should be aware of the performance penalty associated with taking courses online and consider implementing course policies and practices that would allow them to detect student disengagement in the absence of the physical clues that face-to-face instructors can rely on,” the authors of the study wrote. “Students should be made aware that success rates are systematically lower in online than in face-to-face sections so that they can make informed enrollment decisions, and should be introduced to study strategies and time-management strategies that promote success in online formats.”